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Archive for October 2011

An American Legacy in Belgium: Leuven Library

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
    

 

 

   In the memory, we are walking down the wide stone steps—I must have been no more than five or six at the time—and I was holding my grandfather’s hand as we left an upper floor of the public library and made our way to the door. The building, with its ornate murals and elaborate carved wood, was hushed and filled with whispery voices and the unmistakable perfume of old books. It was a place of treasures and discovery and, before the advent of keywords and Googling as a verb, the place that held the key to the wider world. It was, although I could not have articulated this, a safe place.

    The memory played in the corners of my mind as I walked across the square in the small city of Leuven, Belgium and my guide told me the story of the university library there. Picturesque Leuven is home to one of the oldest universities. A center of learning since the 15th century.  But at the time of the first World War, the library - filled with priceless medieval books and manuscripts - was deliberately targeted, bombed and burned. And to deliberately destroy a library was, even in war, a violation of the code.    


    Visiting Europe one encounters many stories of war, especially the great wars. The scars of battles and bombings and the occupation of enemy troops still remain and remind most Americans of just how short new and relatively undisturbed our history is. It widens the gulf between our continents and our cultures. With our own civil war and the bombing of Pearl Harbor as the notable modern exceptions, we have always gone away to war. It has never come to us.


    But the “new” library in Leuven  is stitched into our own academic and social history in an unexpected way.
   

    Herbert Hoover, who would later become the nations’s 31st president, was deeply affected by the plight of Belgians during World War I and he was involved in major relief efforts. It was his plan that schools and students across the United States would make it possible to rebuild the library and they did. From the pennies donated by small children and the dollars given by university students, the money was raised in his campaign and a new, grand, quietly defiant library was built on the square. It was dedicated in 1928, and etched into the stone exterior are the names of American schools and universities, large and small. Some well-known and other less renown.


     I walked slowly around the building, reading the names of the schools, imagining the enthusiasm with which the students would have joined in the campaign. The pennies collected and the earnest contributions of adults and institutions. I wondered how many might have made the journey later, after yet another world war ravaged the tiny country, to see the name of their school carved into the soft stone.


    I said goodbye to my guide  and spent the rest of the day exploring the city on my own.


    Leuven is a place of beautiful buildings, good food, artisan breweries and a sense of gentle intellectual history that is evident in the old colleges and the golden hue of the stone facades. But my mind kept coming back to the story of the library.


    As I made my way back to the train station to catch the express back to Brussels, I crossed the square again. The angle of the sun had changed, washing the grand library building in a soft and subtle light. A tangible reminder of what people can do to - and for - one another.
    




Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Disney Tricked Me With a Treat

    Not that there’s ever been any shortage of evidence, but my three older children now have solid proof that we love the youngest more. By their standards, of course.
    

   When I was raising my three older children, three little stairsteps born in just under six years, I was firm about one thing. We would not, I insisted, be a Disney family. I didn’t see the appeal of packing up and driving or flying to an oversized amusement park. I had all sorts of arguments: long lines, sunburn, expense, crowds, and nothing but whirling rides to entertain us. When they got old enough to take themselves to the happiest place on earth, I told them, they could go.

  

    I got my way. They grew up as Disney theme-park virgins.  My son was the only one who ever got there and he, just as I’d insisted, drove himself and his girlfriend the summer they graduated from high school.   But something changed last year. I had an assignment in Orlando and we decided to make a family vacation out of it. The others were already out of the house, away at school or living on their own, so it was just the three of us: me, my husband and the 15-year-old “baby.”

    

   I got my work done and we spent a few days playing at Walt Disney World. As luck would have it, we were there in October and each night the park was transformed into Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
    

   So much for sticking to a position. I took one step inside the gate and went completely over to the mouse’s side. I elbowed my way to the front of the line to watch the parade both times it threaded through the park that night. As we “trick-or-treated” (naturally there was trick-or-treating)  I was scolded by my daughter for (accidentally, I swear!) going through one line twice. I stood in queue for the rides without complaining. I traded pins with the pre-schooler waiting behind me and then worried he might have gotten the better deal.

    

   While my daughter watched bemused, I acted like, well, a kid.
    

   Of course. Exactly as Walt Disney and his army of imagineers planned. I didn’t throw myself down on the ground and pitch a tantrum when it was time to leave, but I dragged my feet all the way to the airport.
    

   When we were all together at Thanksgiving there was a lot of teasing and good-natured grumbling about how the baby was the favorite and the trip to Orlando was just one more example of getting the best of everything. And there were more than a few comments about my fall from my high horse.
    

   Now, here it is October again. And I keep thinking about that skeleton band in the parade. And the way the lights illuminating the castle changed colors every few minutes. And just how much fun it was to spend a few days in a magic kingdom away from deadlines and the aggravation of the real world.
   

    You win, Disney. I want to go back. Just do me a favor, please. Don't tell my kids.


   Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Ticket for One: Riding the Rocky Mountaineer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


    I had a single ticket for the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxurious train that crosses some of the most scenic routes in Canada. So did the woman in the seat beside me.

    We boarded in Vancouver, British Columbia and for two days on the First Passage to the West route, as the train climbed across British Columbia and into Alberta, we swapped stories and shared a table in the dining compartment. We saw the gold-leafed Aspens and the bald eagles perched in the tops of trees by the river as the train swept across the countryside. We passed through small towns and through tunnels cut into stone mountains. Wrapped in the intimacy of train travel, we talked about who we are and how we each came to be on the train. She’s a nurse and I’m a writer. She is single. I’m married with grown children. I was just up from Washington State but she’d come from the other side of the world, from a small town a 7-hour train ride from Sidney Australia.


    We are different people in so many ways but we soon realized we share one quality: we want to see the world while we can. I spent 20 years at home with my children and only started traveling again when they were launched. Sometimes I leave for a trip headachey and groggy from lack of sleep because I’ve stayed up all night meeting work deadlines so I could get away. But I get away. For now. When the grandchildren come along, they’ll again be the ballast that keeps me from flying away and I look forward to that. But for now, I get away as often as I can.


    The woman on the train has serious heath concerns that could hold her back if she let them, but, as she pointed out, we only have so much time. So she works and saves and gets away when she can.
    We discovered that we are both women who, if that’s what it takes to get to a place we want to see and we can find a way to get there, aren’t afraid to go it alone.

    When the train pulled into Banff, Alberta we took a photo, exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. She was off to visit her brother before boarding another train that would take her all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was staying in Banff for another day before flying home.

    The next morning, after a night in the beautiful historic Canadian Pacific hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs “castle”, a place I’ve always wanted to stay, I dressed and walked into the small town of Banff. I caught the bus to the base and then stepped into one of the small cars of the gondola that climbs Sulfur Mountain in a matter of minutes. I’m not particularly afraid of heights but I do have a secret anxiety about riding things that dangle on wires or rails stretched to the tops of mountains. But this shames me so I usually opt to ride the  gondolas or inclines or funiculars - whatever they’re called wherever they are - to push past my uneasiness. I don’t want fear to get the better of me.

    As usual, once the ride was underway, I relaxed. The view from the summit, overlooking the valley and the town of Banff below, was spectacular. Mountaintops stretched as far as I could see. The wind was crisp and light and the air was thin and clean. I followed the trail to an even higher overlook and looked out at the breathtaking scene wishing I could share it with my family; wishing their lives and schedules were as flexible as mine. But, since the moment was mine alone, I embraced it.


    A man was climbing the same trail and we took one another’s photos so each could bring home a souvenir, proof that we’d been there. Something else you learn to do when you travel alone.

    Later, back in my room, I looked at the photo the man had taken.  I thought about my seat mate on the train. I hope her day in Banff was as good as mine. I hope someone snapped her photo and captured for her the image of a woman who was - at the instant the shutter clicked - just happy to be standing where she was. I hope she has that recorded forever so she can look at it again and again and remember one perfect day. 

    Because, as a wise woman once told me, we only have so much time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 


  

October: The Power of Pink, The Power of Community

Each October I honor my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, by re-posting this 2006 column.  She was, and will always be, an inspiration and a guiding force in my life. CAM

 

 

The Home Planet: Community potent weapon against breast cancer

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
Oct 30., 2006

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sure you’ve noticed – next to the orange and black Halloween and harvest decorations – the pink ribbons, pink tools, pink kitchen gadgets, all being sold guaranteeing part of the profit will go to work for a cure for breast cancer.

Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, pink is the other color of October.

Now pink is the signature color of breast cancer awareness, the color of breast cancer research and, for some, the color of hope and success.

Pink is also the color of community. And that might just be one of the most powerful weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer

When I was a small child I went with my younger sister and infant brother to live with my grandparents. Our young mother was simply unable to care for us.

Two years later, in 1963, my grandmother – a woman who had just turned 50 – found a lump in her breast. After her surgery, the surgeon walked into the waiting room, put his hand on my grandfather’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. It was cancer. And it was very serious. She might not make it.

Both of my grandmother’s breasts were removed and she started her treatment. I don’t really know what was done to fight her cancer, beyond the surgery and radiation treatments, but I know she lost her hair.

During this time my brother, sister and I were aware that our grandmother was ill; I have a vague memory of her being in the hospital, of my grandfather brushing my hair, something my grandmother usually did. I remember the strangeness of finding him in the kitchen cooking hot cereal. I remember her wearing a wig.

We knew she was sick but the seriousness of her illness was never mentioned. You just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Especially with children.

As soon as she was well enough, my grandfather went back to work and so did she. She went back to keeping house, to cooking all of our meals and caring for three young children. Back to raising a second family.

Although, when we got older, we were told that my grandmother had had breast cancer, the full impact of what she had been through didn’t hit me until much later. Until the pink campaign.

In 1990, at the first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., pink ribbons were worn to signify status as a breast cancer survivor. The little badge took off and became a universal symbol. The simple pink ribbons worn that day have evolved into a potent marketing tool.

Now October has gone pink. I’ll admit that when I see pink kitchen mixers, pink umbrellas and pink vacuum cleaners, each promising to donate a portion of the profits from each sale to breast cancer research, I am vaguely irritated by all the hype. Enough already, I think. I get it.

But then I think about the monumental effort behind the campaign, and the work that has been done because of it, and I think about the world my grandmother lived in and changes that have come about. There’s a lot of power in that pink.

Just 40 years ago, we didn’t talk about cancer. You especially didn’t talk about breast cancer. Women like my grandmother had no choice but to soldier on taking care of homes and families, keeping what they endured to themselves, without the benefit of therapy or counseling. There were no support groups.

My grandmother was a relatively young woman to be raising grandchildren. She didn’t have a large circle of friends. She didn’t go to clubs or meetings. She didn’t meet other mothers for lunch downtown. She didn’t even drive. She was a true stay-at-home caregiver.

She battled cancer and the permanent effects of that battle, with only my grandfather to hold her hand. And she beat the odds. Despite a poor prognosis, she lived 20 years after her surgery before the disease reappeared. But what she didn’t have access to when she was so sick, and what I have to think would have been good medicine, was the support that only other fighters and survivors can offer.

She had sympathy but no empathy. She had no one to go to and complain, or cry, or shake her fist and scream about the pain and unfairness of what had happened to her.

That is a tool that, if today I was to find myself in her place, I would reach for immediately.

The scars after my grandmother’s surgery were disfiguring. But as I get older I wonder about the scars that were hidden. The scars no one ever saw.

There were no stitches or soothing salves for those wounds. She was left to care for them on her own.

The advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; the advances in the search for a cause and a cure since my grandmother’s illness in 1963, have been huge.

Now, there are television commercials and magazine ads urging women to get mammograms and to make a pledge to remind one another to do regular breast self-exams.

Now, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there is a community for her.

The disease is no longer shuttered and closeted. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t just have the benefit of science and medicine behind her. She has the benefit of a corporate identity; a network of support groups, literature, advocacy and caring. That community is a big advance.

October only lasts 31 days, but the power of pink can last a lifetime.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Seeking a Sense of the Right Place

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

Like someone who had looked straight into the baking sun, the hot New Mexico desert, a landscape of painted sand and strange towering rock formations, was burned into my mind’s eye. Even as I settled into the window seat of the airplane to fly back to my own home in the Northwest, the people and places I’d encountered filled my mind.

The effect of the light and climate and otherworldly terrain of New Mexico on visitors is the stuff of legend. And it isn’t just the rich and famous who feel it. Or the artists and intellectuals who crave space and freedom to create and find it in the vast empty state. There is something in the place that strikes a chord with people of all walks. Everywhere I went along the road from Santa Fe to Taos, I met people who had left the crush of big cities in the east or the lush green overgrown vegetation of the south or the frenetic pace of southern California. People who, after spending a few days in the desert, pulled up stakes and moved there for good.

Traveling teaches you a lot about yourself. One of the most important revelations is that each of us has deep, deep, inside a kind of internal temple bell that can only chime when struck by a certain place. For some it is the sea, the churning surf and the taste of salt in the air. For others it is the dark forested mountains or wide views from soaring peaks. Many can’t focus or think clearly without the pounding pulse of a city built of skyscrapers and asphalt grids.

Most of us never know what kind of bell we carry until we step into the landscape that resonates within us.  The lucky ones who hear the tone, feel the vibration and realize they are living their lives in the wrong place, can act. They have the means or sometimes just the determination to make the move and settle where they feel most at home. Others find a happy place in the middle, spending most of the year where they have to be and a week or a couple of weeks in the place that fills them with happiness. Saddest of all, some either cannot or will not ever find the place that makes them sing. They flop on the surface like a fish in a shallow pool and never know exactly why they are not happy, just that they can’t find peace. Because of circumstances beyond their control they never get the chance to discover where it is they feel most at home. Or, worse, they are deaf to the ring and never know the source of their restlessness.

We are each born with a kind of spiritual divining stick that sends us out to see the world, or, at the very least, new corners of our familiar world. We have what we need to find the spring that sends a shiver through us, that pulls us down to the right patch of earth. It’s up to us to dig the well.




Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Well-behaved Women Didn’t Make New Mexico’s History

(Photo courtesy Georgia O'Keefe Museum)

 


Coronado led the expedition to what would eventually become the state of New Mexico seeking a king’s ransom in gold. But what he found instead was a wide, burning landscape of stark contradictions and unique natural beauty; a land of painted desert, rolling hills, jagged mountains and endless blue skies ornamented with picture-perfect cloud formations.


The Pueblo people, unaware they were reputed to be wealthy beyond imagination, lived in houses made of mud bricks baked in the hot sun. Flakes of Mica and bits of straw embedded in the surface glinted in the hot sunlight.

In time, important trade routes were established and in the centuries that followed the cultures, beliefs and traditions of the native people, the conquering Spanish and Anglos who followed rutted paths and broken roads, blended.


 The result is a place like no other.


I was just in New Mexico, spending most of my time along the road between Santa Fe and Taos. And I discovered, wrapped in all the history of the region, the natural beauty and the contemporary focus on wine, food and art, the unexpected legacy of more than a few determined women. New Mexico may have been shaped by the men who laid claim to it, but it was made even richer by a flood of stubborn, demanding and eccentric women who took one look at the mountains in the distance, the pinyon trees and the wide open spaces, and never left.


The list is curious and impressive: Movie star Greer Garson—the implacable Mrs. Miniver— married into a ranch outside Santa Fe in the late 1940s and by the time of her death, in her 90s, she’d funded and endowed what would become Pecos National Park.  


New York socialite Millicent Rogers swept into Taos in 1949 and, consumed by a passion to conserve - while immersing herself in it - the culture of the Southwestern Indian, amassed an enormous collection of native turquoise and silver jewelry, pottery, textiles and paintings that would eventually, after her death in 1953, become the Millicent Rogers Museum of Taos.


Earlier, Mabel Dodge Luhan purchased land and a rambling adobe house and set out of to create a desert salon, a writers colony. Her tempestuous personal life became the stuff of literary legend, but her house still stands as a retreat center and bed and breakfast.


Georgia O’Keefe’s life and art changed forever when she planted herself—already in midlife—in the dry soil. Her home sits high on a hill in the Village of Abiquiui and looks out on a wide view she captured on canvas again and again.


Willa Cather, Frieda Lawrence, Edna St. Vincent Millay were all drawn to New Mexico, and so many other women—some rich, some rich only in talent and vision—came and stayed to sculpt a new life in a wild place. They played by new rules or their own rules. and they all possessed a restless energy that matched the place they’d settled.

In the dazzling New Mexico light, fed by the raw elements of sun, sky, earth and water, women blossomed like the cacti and golden Chamisa that blooms across the desert.   They proved that sometimes - to paraphrase Virginia Woolfe - all a woman needs is money and a territory of her own.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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