Thursday, June 28, 2012

Poem for a hot summer's day

Love Story: A Heavenly Blend

by Ruth Friesen

I met you at the ice cream shop.
Me—dark and husky, slightly nutty.
You—rosy-checked and sweet.
Mr. Truffle introduced us
Said we were a perfect match.
You were shy
Too timid to resist under pressure.
I was used to standing on my own
Not sure I wanted a partner.
But he took us to a mixer.
"Just try it," he said.
Everyone who saw us together
"oohed" and "aahed"
And now I'm convinced.
My strength and your delicacy
Are a blend made in heaven.
Your seeds lure me.
Let's join forces
We two become one
And surprise the world with our own
Little bush of chocoraspberries.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I am---
The recycled rusty bit mounted on a post as art
An eagle soaring with sunlight framing each feather in my wings
An owl calling "who?" in the night. Who will listen?
Twenty years old in the skin of an elephant
The whoa Nellie that my mom rode
A world globe, sepia with age, calling out places that no longer exist
Advisor, hand holder, séance maven in a paisley turban
The dots in a paragraph precisely aligned
Curly spiced French fries
The woman in the box cut in half
A toddler using my security blanket as a cape to fly

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Desert Rain


Please, sleep, not tonight.
Music of desert rain thrills my soul.
Can't miss a beat of it.
Deep humming waterfall pounds
The roof drum over my bed and
Counterpoint staccato needles of raindrops
Rise and fall with the rhythm of rain.

No lying in bed.
Wonder pulls me to spattered windows.
Glimpses of impatient waterfall on patio steps.
Mountains hidden behind a curtain of rain
Tame craggy desert into Kansas flatland.
Valley lights twinkle through thick clouds of mist.
Puddles call for wet dashes and dips of bare toes.

Abed, drifting to sleep.
Desert earth opens wide to the rain,
"Yes, I've waited for you so long."
Red plum tree, drooping in October chill, moans,
"Too late, baby. But I'll take your wetness to live."
Cacti, drought slack, plump up, proud of their spikes.
A wet dream, relief comes to dry stony ground.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Musings on Memories of Tehran

As I polish the final draft of my memoir book, I stop to reflect on so many memories of living in Bolivia, Austria, Dominican Republic, Somalia, New Zealand, Cameroon, and Iran. If you've been following this blog you might have read my earlier post "Terrorism and Traffic" on May 28 (see blog archive on the sidebar). Iran has been on my mind even more since I joined the Facebook group, Tehran American School. This TAS group was created for former students and teachers of Tehran American School, but I felt justified in joining even though I am neither former student nor former teacher. My connection with TAS occurred at the back of our yard where the tall brick face of the high school loomed over our garden. Every weekday I picked up evidence of the stolid building's rowdy teenage occupants – wads of gum, paper airplanes made from notebook paper, cigarette butts – revealing bits of adolescent life that I preferred to keep away from my three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.

Now, when I look at the photos on the TAS Facebook wall and read the posts of students from the graduating classes of 1975 through 1979, I am carried away by profound emotions. Even though the conditions in Tehran in those days churned with unrest and violence, these young people enjoyed their coming of age and still cherish their memories of high school days. Almost every post demonstrates deep respect for the Iranian people and the Persian culture. Our American youth who grew up in Tehran during the pre-revolutionary days do not come across as ugly – quite the contrary; these young people impress me as solid citizens of the world, compassionate and accepting of differences among nationalities.

The Facebook Tehran American School page introduced me to an outstanding novel that I want to recommend to you. Written by Anthony Roberts, TAS class of '79, Sons of the Great Satan portrays an enthralling story of a boy's coming of age -- and much more. Set in Tehran in the 1970s, this tightly written novel weaves the author's political insights throughout the thrilling action. Well-crafted scenes take the reader straight to the heart of a city on the brink of revolution. Roberts artfully draws three-dimensional characters who eloquently express a multitude of conflicting viewpoints on the place of religion and government in society.

Considering the level of current conflict in the Middle East, I see this fascinating historical novel as a must-read for anyone interested in the history and the future of that tumultuous region. Sons of the Great Satan
is available at at a 50% discount until July 31, 2011.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Fire! I've been told never to use an exclamation point in my writing unless I'm yelling, "Fire!" So I'll say it again, "Fire!"

New Mexico is burning. We are drier than anyone can remember in recent history. The moisture content of the trees and brush burning near Los Alamos was 3%, per the fire chief. Our overall humidity has been under 10% for days. The desert is brown, our lawns are brown. One spark from a match, an engine exhaust, a tossed cigarette, fireworks, or lightning and up we go into flames.

Yet the governor and mayor say they can't ban the sale of fireworks, unless the state legislature changes the law. A classic example of industry lobbying gone astray—once again. Officials are pleading with TV viewers not to use fireworks anywhere, and attend large public displays instead. How can we know those are safe? How important are fireworks when the next thing that may be ablaze is your home? Come on, folks, look at the big picture.

I have my fire list ready, my plans for what to take with me when fire erupts. It is pretty small: credit cards, passports, phone and charger, a small container of important documents, and a pair of sneakers. We have our computers backed up off-site, and our recent photos are backed up as well. Folks say they'd grab their photos first thing, but they're not so important to me. If I have time, I'll grab my cameras, the German wall clock and my grandmother's clock, and my cache of funky earrings---because these things would make me feel at home if all else is lost. I've taken a photographic inventory of my home, which is backed up on my computer.  How else can I prepare?

But how can anyone prepare for a total loss of one's home, everything wiped clean, foundation cluttered with rubble or ashes? It would be a chance for a fresh start, but without the grounding of shared history, tangible evidence of memories. It might be a tornado in Kansas or a fire in New Mexico or a flood in Minot. 

I've reached an age where letting go of the tangibles might not be so traumatic, but you never know till you've been there. Please, God, not me!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Dad lived a simple, organized life. He worked, he tinkered, he golfed. He took Mom square dancing on Saturday night and on Sunday he went to church. His life moved along straight and even, with no remarkable ups or downs. Everyone counted on his cheerful outlook and level disposition. His favorite advice: “Never say can't.”

Mom’s unexpected death at age sixty-two shattered Dad’s world. They had been married forty-six years; how could he live without her? He had no chance to prepare. He kissed her goodnight before going to sleep and woke beside her cold remains. Family rallied around him immediately and friends in the church community offered their help. Hours in his workshop helped him think. He suffered his grief with silent nobility as he struggled to rebuild his life.

To assuage his loneliness, Dad reached out to others. He volunteered to mow the church grounds and then accepted requests to do yard work for single ladies from his church, in exchange for homemade brownies and casseroles. One of the ladies caught his eye and captured his heart. Dad tried to tell my husband and me that he wanted to marry Bea to take care of her. I believed him until we came upon them in a private moment; Gordy and Bea’s kiss sizzled with passion. Not wanting to intrude, Fred and I did a high-five and retreated unnoticed, sharing our excitement to see Dad at age 70 living with gusto.

A few months after Dad and Bea married, Dad fell ill. A series of tests confirmed the diagnosis -- cancer. With Bea’s support he found excellent medical treatment and fought chronic leukemia for the next fifteen years. He survived countless rounds of chemotherapy as well as radiation therapy for other cancers that appeared. He tolerated numerous hospitalizations and blood transfusions. I watched his physical strength dwindle and I saw him endure terrible pain. I marveled at his ability to keep intact his sense of humor and love of life.

After many trips to the hospital, Dad decided, and he made Bea promise to agree, not to call my brother Gary and me every time he was hospitalized. He said he wanted to spare us the worry and furthermore he did not like us to see him in the hospital bed. It seemed mean to think of denying him at least that much control over his life.

When I answered the phone one June morning I didn’t recognize the voice.

“Nancy, this is Bea’s friend Ruth. I’m calling to tell you that Gordy is in the hospital and his doctor advised us to let you know. I’m sorry. He might not make it this time.”

Fred and I drove the 200 miles, hurrying yet dreading, hope drowning in despair.

Dad woke as I came in the room. Afternoon sun slipped through the blinds, painting stripes across his face, camouflaging his expression. I took his hand and leaned over to press my lips against his cool, dry forehead. He squeezed my hand; I squeezed back. He looked into my eyes.

“It hurts so bad.” His wispy voice begged for help.

Fred pressed the call button and the nurse came. After adjusting the IV drip, she took me aside.

“Gordy’s doctor wants to speak to you. He’s waiting at the nurses’ station.”

I found Dr. Garcia at the counter where doctors scribbled notes on patients’ charts. We knew each other from visits to his office the few times Dad had let me come along.

I’m so sorry.” Dr. Garcia’s eyes looked into the distance for a second before turning back to me. “Gordy is a brave fighter, but I’m afraid the cancer has won. We’ve done everything in our power to help him. At this stage all we can do is try to keep him comfortable. It’s time…" Dr. Garcia patted my shoulder. "It's time to let your father go.”

“I understand.” Accepting his words like a sacred commandment, I thanked the doctor, and returned to Dad’s bedside.

My fingers traced the swollen blue veins crisscrossing his hands, those once capable hands, now fragile, idle, still.

“Dad, I have something I need to tell you.”

He turned his head to look into my eyes.

“I want you to know that I have always been proud to be your daughter. You are a good man and I love you very much.”

Dad’s eyes opened wider. His lips formed an “O” but no sound came out.

“Dad, I want you in my life forever, but if you need to go, I’m telling you it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about me. You don’t have to worry about anything. Gary says so too; he’s flying in tonight.”

Dad’s eyes glistened. He blinked once and squeezed my hand again. His whisper trailed off, “He’ll be too late….”

Later that evening, Dad died. In the end he said yes to death with the same simple dignity as he had said yes to life. I hope his legacy passes through us to future generations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Terrorism and Traffic

It's only a matter of months before I release my memoir of family life in the Foreign Service. Here's an excerpt that I hope will tease your interest:

Danger was real and present in Tehran when we arrived there in 1975, and we heard all about it from Fred's embassy colleagues. They described the Revolutionaries' plot to depose the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Although the Shah was credited with the modernization of Iranian infrastructure, he was also guilty of using his ruthless intelligence agency SAVAK to crush all forms of political opposition. Religious leaders denounced his methods and criticized his doctrines as well as his alliance with the United States. Revolution was not a new idea -- the Shah's army had quelled an uprising in 1963 and forced the Ayatollah Khomeini into exile. Now, in 1975 terrorists again pursued the overthrow of the government by attacking high-level military and political figures, both Iranian and American. The terrorists included diplomats on their hit list, and during our two-year stay, they assassinated seven Americans in Tehran.

Fred and I asked each other why the State Department career counselor had described Tehran in such glowing terms, making it seem like a grand resort serving caviar sandwiches, rather than a city fraught with unrest and terrorist activity. We concluded later, after years of experience in the Foreign Service, that most of the folks who chose to serve at Main State in Washington, DC, rarely left the United States. They might excel at their jobs; they might know all about foreign policy; but they had little or no idea of what was actually going on in everyday life in these far away corners of the world.

Embassy security experts told us that women and children were not terrorist targets, so I felt safe, safer than in Washington, DC to be honest. But the risk for Fred worried me sick, even though the embassy provided armored cars with armed guards to transport staff members to work. Fred told me he felt uncomfortably like the bulls-eye in a large target while riding in the official car. He decided to drive by himself in our VW. He grew his hair long again and completed his disguise with a full beard. Even with blue eyes, he passed for an Iranian.

Of course driving alone also presented dangers. Drivers in Tehran defied every traffic rule known to mankind. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes darted from lane to lane, treating stop lights as nothing more than pretty decorations. If there were a gap on the opposite side of the street a vehicle soon filled it, dodging the oncoming traffic. Gridlock was common and led to shouting and fistfights. When we asked an Embassy driver what all the yelling was about, we learned how colorful Iranian insults could be. "You son of a barren camel!" Or, "Try to paint my fart!" On several other occasions we had to maneuver around a car coming backwards on a one-way street. Did the drivers really believe that the arrow on the street sign referred to the direction of the car's position rather than the direction of its motion?

Because Fred took our car every day, when I wanted to go out I called a taxi. That is, until I discovered the buses. The city owned a fleet of faded green double-decker buses retired from service on the streets of London. Dakota, Tina, and I enjoyed the view from the upper deck where we could see over the high walls into all the landscaped rose gardens. No matter how crowded the bus was down below, we usually had the upper deck to ourselves. I commented on that fact to an Iranian friend and he laughed.

"Everyone knows it's not safe to ride up there," he said.

"Why is that?" I couldn't imagine what could be dangerous about the upper level that wouldn't also be true of the lower level of the bus.

My friend chuckled again. "Well, you see, it is very dangerous to ride on the upper deck because there is no driver up there, no driver, you see?"