Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day — May, 2020

My brother, Rob Seeley, lifted his trumpet to his lips and out poured a strong, resounding “Taps” – a tune so familiar to honor fallen soldiers!  The scene overwhelmed me as he stood on a grassy area next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.   Folks paying their respects at the Wall, turned toward the trumpet player, remained quiet and placed their hands on their hearts.


We walked to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where Rob, without any fanfare, again opened his trumpet case and lifted the horn.  As he began to play Taps, folks moved out of his way, almost to direct the musical tribute straight towards the 19 stainless steel, life-like, heavy-laden soldiers traipsing through the fields.


“On behalf of the United States Marines, I’d like to thank you,” a visitor told Rob.


It was an honor for our family to be present for such a solemn remembrance and tribute to our brave fallen warriors.


Rob, a former Navy Lieutenant JG, who has played trumpet for over 60 years, found two friends’ names engraved on the Vietnam Wall.


John Earle graduated from Vermont Academy, Class of ’60.  A patriot for his country, John became a Navy fighter pilot based on an aircraft carrier.  On one sortie, he overshot the landing deck and plunged into the water.


Rick Gates, a fraternity brother of  Rob’s at Vermont’s Middlebury College, joined ROTC, loved the Army and died in Vietnam, a patriot for his country!


I also looked up two friends on the Vietnam Wall.  We were all Staten Island, Curtis High School, Class of ’62 graduates.


Harry Helt, an honor roll student, marshal of several school posts including lunchroom, pool and gym, played on the Curtis football team.  Most of all, he was a gentleman.


Nicholas Lia, an honor roll student, Class Vice President, Register  Room President and Arista member, also played on the school’s football team.  He, too, was a gentleman.


We’ll always remember John, Rick, Harry and Nicholas and will honor all the other brave men and women who served and sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedoms.


It was our first camping experience.  I never expected something so spectacular would forever become etched n my memory, at that very time, that very day when all hell broke loose…Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m.!


My husband, Don, and I camped 18 miles north of Mt. St. Helens.  Instead of pitching a tent, we slept in the van with our tri-color collie, Gala.  Since I needed to make an early morning dash to the bathroom, I quietly opened the door, only disturbing our excessively agitated dog, who insisted on escorting me.


When I looked at the ground covered with ash, it seemed strange that everyone in the campground would be cooking bacon and eggs all at the same time.


“The mountain blew.  The mountain blew, ” screamed a woman, barging into the bathroom.


I raced back to the van where Gala arrived first, shaking and pawing desperately at the door.


“The mountain blew.  Get up!” I yelled to Don.


Eerily, we heard no boom, nor felt shaking of the ground…nothing that signaled an eruption!


As word spread, campers quickly packed their belongings and drove out of the campground.  We joined the parade of RVs and cars, allowing ample room between us and the vehicle in front which stirred up fine grey ash onto our windshield.  We stopped once to wipe the van of ash and looked around at others dusting at least two inches from their cars.  I thought what do we do now?  Where do we go?


Heading west, we found a clearing on a knoll along the Cowlitz River.  The knoll, located approximately 20 miles north-west of St. Helens, with an obstructed view of the mountain, felt like a protected area where we could catch our breath.  Several people coming from our campground spread blankets and unloaded drink- and food-filled coolers.  Under a sun-lit blue sky, an uncanny party-like atmosphere ensued.  Conversations centered around the erupting volcano earlier in the day, but we didn’t see any activity, ash or damage from this vantage point.  There was nothing to indicate a major volcanic eruption had occurred; however, I was curious to see a large number of helicopters fly overhead in the direction of the mountain.


At 4:30 p.m., I froze.  A plume of ash and smoke mushroomed 40,000 feet into the sky…an erupting volcano in front of my eyes, something I’d only read about in my New York City high school Earth Science class!  Everyone gasped and pointed towards the mountain, as bolts of lightning streaked through the cloud.  Cameras clicked.  It appeared no one on that hill feared this volcanic eruption and continued to pose for that historic photo op featuring a grey-white-and dusty-colored plume rising in the background.  Feeling no immediate threat to our lives, we stayed another two hours before deciding it was time to head home to Kirkland, WA. to beat weekend traffic.


We didn’t fully understand what had happened at 8:32 a.m. until we turned on the van radio.  My casual attitude abruptly changed to horror, as news reported the side of Mt. St. Helens blew out, following a 5.1 earthquake underneath.  The top of the mountain disappeared.  We drove in silence, glued to ongoing reports, hearing about the destruction and deaths the eruption caused, lakes, glaciers, trees destroyed and wildlife mowed down by the blast.  That wasn’t all.


Clouds of volcanic ash drifted into Eastern Washington transforming a sunny day into instant night.  People couldn’t breath.  Ash smothered fields of crops.  St. Helen’s ash continued its journey into Montana and, via high clouds, spread clear to the East Coast.


What was initially a perfect weekend for our first camping trip and a history-making photo op for us on the knoll that day, became a nightmare for those closest and to the east of Mt. St. Helens.  The guilt from enjoying the spectacular scene at 4:30 p.m. , later learning of lives lost and seeing photographs of monumental devastation, brought an overwhelming sadness.


Forty years later, I still think of hikers, campers, geologists, photographers and resident Harry Truman who lost their lives May 18, 1980.  I will be forever humbled by nature’s power.

Bathrooms of Belgium, The Netherlands and France

If you’re a man and need to relieve yourself quickly, Bruges, Belgium is your place.  Simply walk into the town square and look behind a low wall.  There they are.  Four urinals!  Just try not to notice, from the side of the urinal structure, everyone can see you!


My first encounter with a public toilette was in an Amsterdam restaurant.  I saw the toilette sign and headed that way.  I encountered a turn-style and noticed a coin machine on my right.  I needed to insert some change.


Inside, to my surprise, a man exited one of the stalls and politely held the door open.  I shyly said, “Merci, Monsieur.” (I don’t speak Dutch, but trusted my college French.)


I had just learned my initial toilette lesson – Be prepared with change and expect the unexpected!


In Maastricht, The Netherlands, my family and I attended an outdoor concert of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.  I had to find a bathroom before the two- and a half-hour concert began.  I was directed down two flights of stairs to a parking garage.  A bathroom attendant wanted one euro to enter the toilette.  At that price, this would be my final toilette trip during the concert.


It’s common at hotel rooms in Europe to have the toilet in a small room – a water closet (WC) – separate from the sink and shower.  I saw two circular buttons on the back of the toilet to flush – one big, the other, small.  You press the circle which correlates with your business at the present time.


At a train station in Caen, France, nature called.


I inserted my coin and proceeded to accomplish what I was there for.


Jus then, the door opened.


I yelled, “MOMENT!  MOMENT!”


I hadn’t properly locked the door.


Saying “Au Revoir” to our time in Europe, we didn’t get to experience toilets in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Three hours of waiting on lines consumed our time.  This was followed by the fastest dash ever, to make our flight.


The tight squeeze of the small potty on the plane never looked so good.

A Teaching-Learning Moment

In recent news I read about an 11-year-old girl who “takes a knee” during the classroom’s Pledge of Allegiance.  I look at this gesture as the perfect teaching-learning opportunity for both teacher and students.


The teacher should assign to the students a “Letter to Persuade.”  She can teach them what’s involved in such a letter, which is a well thought-out opening statement, i.e. the premise; three examples/paragraphs of why the student believes one should stand/kneel for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem; followed by a conclusion.  The final product (the letter) can be sent to the Principal of the school, or to the Superintendent of the appropriate school district.


This assignment covers many layers of learning — writing, researching, thinking! and yes, passion!  The student must research via encyclopedias, Wikipedia, history books both American and World, and even interview people to get differing perspectives.


This teaching-learning moment rarely comes along.  Jump on it!



Easter Sunday — a long time ago!

Dad only came to church on Easter Sunday.  Mom didn’t give him a choice.  He never liked the Episcopal services where he constantly had to get up…down…up…down!  As a Connecticut Yankee, he was used to the Congregational Church where he could comfortably settle into the pew for the entire hour of hymns, prayers and sermon.


But this particular Easter Sunday morning, it was my mother’s day to show off her entire family.  And that meant full participation at the oldest church on Staten Island, St. Andrews Episcopal.


I wore a new, straw hat with a wide brim which held an array of pastel, silk flowers complementing my pale blue spring coat.  Mom wore a yellow linen suit with a matching pill-box hat draping a small veil onto her forehead.  With a quick adjusting of the seams of her stockings, she looked like she had stepped out of a magazine. Dad pinned a lavender-colored orchid onto her lapel.  Dad and my brother looked tall and handsome in their grey suits and starched white shirts  We would make Mom proud.


Our family always sat in the middle of the large church where I had a good view of everyone’s Easter outfit.  For me, a 12-year-old, it was like one gigantic fashion show.  Who wore the prettiest hat?  The most beautiful dress?  Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of a mink drape…you know, the ones with beady eyes and mouth used to fasten each side together.


We stood for the procession and the traditional singing of “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today,” which was my favorite part of the service.  The music was loud and our family enjoyed harmonizing at the top of our lungs.  We sat for announcements and scripture reading and kneeled for prayers. And then it happened!


In the midst of the service, the organist played a loud chord, shooting the lady in front of us out of her seat!  She stood tall, hymnal in hand.  She was the ONLY one standing and ready to sing.


Unfortunately for Mom, Dad and I shared the same sense of humor.  At that point, tears welled, my hands began to sweat and my body trembled, trying valiantly to hold in the laughter that was erupting inside.  Dad and I passed Kleenex back and forth, knowing we’d have to wipe back any sign of tears and swallow the belly laughs that were creeping up.  Dad’s face turned red and he looked like he’d explode.


The chord had signaled the start of the sermon and not a hymn.  Dad and I were in for a long haul.


I don’t remember how we survived the next 25 minutes but knew we didn’t hear one word of the sermon as all efforts were used to suppress our laughter.  We’d gulp, swallow, look at our feet and squirm in place.  What relief when the sermon ended and it came time to sing the loud closing hymn!


I often wondered how Mom felt after that Easter Sunday service and if we, her family, still made her proud.


Happy Easter!


(published in Reminisce Magazine 2005)

Road Rage, Lane Rage and Outrage

I always heed the 20 mph school zone speed limit when driving past our two neighborhood schools, down a winding hill.

The speed sign then turns to 25 mph.  The winding road is now torn up and bumpy due to construction of 50 new houses where trees once stood.  To avoid the worst bumps and potholes, I slow down.

This day, I glanced in my rear-view mirror to see a big black SUV a couple inches from my back bumper.  He was obviously angry with my braking to accommodate the road’s varied topography.  Just then, he floored it and raced around me on the narrow road.  Thankfully, no cars or school busses were driving up the hill at that time.  He beat me to the bottom of the hill by a minute.

I was happy to be headed to the local pool where I could work on my morning, “Attitude adjustment.”

The pool has five narrow lanes designated for lap swimming from 5:00 to 9:00 a.m.  I always look for a lane without anyone swimming, as I find it safer.  To share a lane, it’s protocol and civilized for swimmers to agree on either a circular swim pattern or, “I’ll swim on this side and you can swim on that side.”

This day I encountered a Tank.  This description of the swimmer in no way describes his or her size or body shape, but the “I own this lane” attitude.

A Tank always takes his or her side of the shared lane out of the middle.  A Tank either does not bother to look up to see another siwmmer has entered the lane, or is aware of the other swimmer, and just doesn’t give a rip.

I see the Tank coming and am in full view of her.  I stop mid pool and squish myself against the rope on one side of the lane, look desperately at the lifeguard and in a loud voice say, “She’s gonna kill me.”

When I finally get the swimmer to stop, I politely suggest she take that side and I’ll take this side.

With the agreement in place, the Tank swims to the other end, kick-turns and swims back taking her half out of the middle of the lane.  I quickly exit, concerned with my safety, but more so, with my ability to control my anger.

So much for the morning, “Attitude adjustment!”

The daily news that day on my car radio speeds as fast as the road and lane ragers, with Trump at the wheel of the big black SUV.  I understand that a new President wants to prove himself within the first 100 days.  But, the first 100 minutes?

Abolishing funding for Planned Parenthood?  That takes my mind on a lightning-fast trip backward to the 1950s and 60s.

And, is there a reason for moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?  Will it upset any prospect for Mid-East peace?  Do our President’s Middle East advisors agree with this move and why?

As for the environment, President Trump, please listen to the scientists! They don’t get paid millions like Wall Streeters, but they’ve put in years of schooling and are “in the know” and “in the field” seeing first-hand what changes are happening to our land and seas.

Road rage, Lane rage and Outrage have become the norm.  Welcome to polite, civil 2017!

Fasten your seatbelts!

Why we were surprised Trump won!

“I’m a winner.  I don’t lose.”


This quote of Donald Trump should have been our first clue that he’d win this presidential election.  But, we blew it off as typical Trump loud-mouth bragging.


The polls say their calculations were way off in letting the public know who voted for whom.  Who would want to tell a pollster, or admit to a friend or acquaintance that you voted for Trump – seen by many as the most narcissistic, misogynistic man in America!


Friends have lost friends throughout this election.  Trump voters didn’t want to reveal their vote to friends for fear of ridicule, harassment or backlash in some fashion. Even though we are to respect each other’s opinion, if their opinion greatly differs from ours, not only is the opinion not respected, but neither is the person who holds the differing view.  And, there goes the friendship.  Poof!


Pollsters got it wrong because Trump voters didn’t want eggs thrown at them, their tires slashed or house burned down.  But, in the end, they came out and voted.


If you were a Trump supporter, especially in Western Washington, would you have heralded your voting intentions across the land?





Lift Off !

The ferocious wind roared.  A parka-clad crowd gathered on the grassy mound at Boeing’s Paine Field in Everett, anticipating the final lift-off of the original, 55-year old Boeing 727 airplane.


The diminutive 727, parked next to a giant Dream Lifter, sat quietly while two small private planes, carrying dignitaries, entered the space.  Workers with heavy equipment dashed around preparing the 727 for its big day.


Two fire trucks took their places, one on either side of the paved area where the plane would taxi.  Two helicopters hovered overhead.


“Look! It’s moving,” shouted someone.


Trucks guided the 727 while two streams of water shot out of the fire engines, forming a bridge, heralding the momentous occasion.


Excitement built.  Cameras clicked, from tiny cell phones to big telephoto lens cameras perched on tripods.


The 727 approached the runway, with its noisy engines blasting.


With screams of “Go Baby!” and “Fly Away!” the plane rushed down the runway for the last time, accompanied by exuberant claps, cheers and some tears.


Up it went, veered right and headed south for its 12-minute trip to Seattle’s Museum of Flight.


Rest in Peace 727!










One More Thing To Do!

So, you thought Washington was a progressive state.  After all, we now have legalized pot and I-405 HOV, you-pay lanes.  But recent articles in The Seattle Times tell a story that Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require folks to have an Enhanced Drivers’ License to board an airplane.  Not only that, but the Federal Government will require this of our two states in 2016, maybe as soon as April.  The timeline, as of now, is fuzzy.  The Enhanced Drivers’ License requirement shows proof of legal presence in the United States.

The good news is if you have a regular drivers’ license and a current, up-to-date passport, you’ll still be able to get through airport security to make your flight.  I like to prepare for events well in advance.  But, also feel, acquiring this new Enhanced Drivers’ License is just one more thing to do!

I stood on line at Lynnwood’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) waiting for the doors to open Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.  There were 20 folks ahead of me.  We then formed another line inside to tell the receptionist what we needed.  I brought my passport and my birth certificate, knowing that either one of them would suffice to get this new drivers’ license.  The receptionist handed me a sheet of questions to answer.

Shortly, my name was called, I took an eye test, handed over my passport and birth certificate and said, “I want to upgrade my drivers’ license to an enhanced license.”

Upon examining my well used original birth certificate, he said, “This is not a certified birth certificate.  You must get a certified one through the Department of Vital Statistics in the state you were born.  It costs around $15.00.”

This came as a surprise as I always thought this ragged-looking birth certificate was my original, my one and only!  So, I handed him my passport which is valid through 2019.  That did the trick.

“Now, sit down over there and wait for your name to be called for the interview.”

Interview?  I thought.  Why?  I’ve been a resident of the United States my entire life, lived in the State of Washington over 40 years and at my present address for 29 years.

I waited and waited.  Several people before me came for their interview.  Only one attendant conducted these interviews.  Then another window opened.  I heard my name, “Suzanne.”

She asked me about the answers I’d written on the sheet and told me to verify what I saw on the screen.

“Five feet 9 inches should read 5 feet 8 inches,” I said.

“And, 140 pounds should read 146 pounds, ” I also noted.

I signed the document.  The charge to upgrade my drivers’ license was $18.  However, I understand to get a new Enhanced Drivers’ License, after mine expires, it will cost in the neighborhood of $100.

“Stand over there and have your picture taken,” said the interviewer.

The DMV visit took 1 1/2 hours.

Since I fly two to three times a year, I want to avoid any hassles in the airport security line.  I now qualify for the preferred line where I don’t have to remove my shoes.  Guess that’s the old lady line!  With the Enhanced Drivers’ License, hopefully I won’t have to put my make-up liquids in a little plastic baggie anymore.

When the Federal Government announces a drop-dead date for this new requirement for flying, there will be a rush at the DMV that will resemble I-405, any time of the day.

Nice to live in a progressive state like Washington!

A Football Coach’s Prayer

After each football game, a Bremerton, WA high school coach prays on the 50-yard line.  Any player, including players on the opposing team, parent or community member may join him as he kneels center field.  To me, this is a peaceful sign, giving thanks, and reuniting two teams who were minutes before, in combat to nail that big win.

The coach doesn’t care if anyone joins him or not and players certainly won’t be penalized in any way if they wish to opt out of the after-game prayer.  Those who wish to stay, pray to God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha or a golden fall leaf fluttering to earth.  They can also give thanks to their parents for driving them to practices, give thanks to the front line who protected their quarterback from being sacked, or give thanks to the team’s water boy for making sure the team is well hydrated.

So what’s all the hoopla about?  I really don’t see it.  Any gesture which will have a calming effect on a diverse group will also have lasting influence in their lives, now and beyond.

I look back on my Staten Island school years of the 50s and 60s.  In grade school, we always said the Pledge of Allegiance (including the words “under God”) to begin the day.  Every Wednesday, we attended a school assembly where we were taught songs or were serenaded by a student pianist or a group of fourth-grade violinists.  At  Christmas, we sang carols and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  I don’t know of one student who didn’t look forward to Wednesday afternoon assemblies.  I also remember the Protestant and Catholic kids being jealous of their Jewish classmates, as the Jewish students got both the Christian and Jewish holidays off from school.

In high school, I recall assemblies during senior year, where all 500 of us students rehearsed just what graduation would look like.  One hymn we learned was “God of our Fathers.”  I loved it.  Loved the harmonies that joined together, in this simple, melodic 1876 piece composed by Reverend Daniel C. Roberts.  This composition commemorated the 100th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence.

The other hymn we sang was “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Melodies don’t get any prettier than that of “The Lord’s Prayer”, put to music in 1935 by American composer Albert Malotte.  Andrea Bocelli and Barbara Streisand have both sung this classical version.  With students breaking into their assigned harmonies, the assembly hall filled with heavenly music, leaving me with a contented sense of well-being.

On graduation night, we girls, dressed in white dresses and the guys in suits and ties, marched down the hall of the old Staten Island St. George Theater with its ornate, baroque-style interior with golden touches and its exceptional acoustics.  We sang “God of our Fathers” as we walked slowly towards our seats.  Parents, relatives and friends sat in amazement listening to the professional harmonies coming from us kids.  But, when it came time for “The Lord’s Prayer,” I could hardly sing my soprano part.  Tears filled my eyes and chills ran through my body as the beauty of this biblical prayer reached a crescendo of angelically blended student voices.

I never heard anyone complain about the religious music sung at our graduation.  No one protested.  No one sued the school or the District.  Looking around that night, all I saw was awe in an audience of family members and a combination of emotional sadness and joy among the graduating seniors.  It was a night to remember.

Let the football coach lead a group who want to give thanks.  It’s a gesture of serenity, a positive addition to the participants who will never forget this small but significant act of unity.  Much needed during these tumultuous times!