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Mary Gentry Writes


My road trip to Nanaimo

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November 12th promised to be a sparkling day as I shoved my suitcase into the trunk of my car and embarked on the drive to Port Angeles, the first leg of my trip to Nanaimo.

The scenery along highway 101 makes the drive worthwhile, but for me the trip is richly embroidered by nearly 50 years of memories, many of which came back to me as I drove, not in a flood, but little by little.

This time of year, the little town of Hoodsport is particularly nostalgic as Fred and I had our first Thanksgiving dinner at the old Hoodsport Café in 1966 – by default not design.

We moved to Olympia in November of 1966 when Fred was hired as the deputy prosecuting attorney and he was paid on the 30th of each month.  Like this year, Thanksgiving fell close to the last day of the month but given our finances, the 30th seemed a long way off.

We had planned to join Fred’s family at his aunt’s in Seattle and had been salivating over the prospect all week. The invitation was suddenly retracted when the Seattle crew came down with the flu. What a blow – not only had we anticipated eating our youthful fill at the table but also on leftovers packed up and sent home to see us through the weekend.

Credit cards were not the easy and ubiquitous solution to a lack of money that they are today. We had a Texaco card but its purchasing power was limited to petroleum products.

With five dollars between us and limited options ahead, we decided to take a drive. In  1966 the Hoodsport Café was on the ground floor of a two story building on the east side of the highway. Despite the size of the building, the café itself was small and unpretentious and, most importantly, open.  We ordered oyster stew that was delicious and stopped just short of licking our bowls. Nearly 50 years of subsequent Thanksgivings and more turkey and cranberries than we care to recall, the Thanksgiving of 1966 stands out.

In the ensuing years, we have passed through Hoodsport many times locating the road that would take us to the trailhead to access one of the many peaks in the Olympic range. As I drove along last week, snippets of those fun adventures with family and friends came to me.

My first trip to Vancouver Island was over Labor Day, 1967 when Frank and Jane Gregory invited us to join them at their parents’ homes in Nanaimo. Though Frank and Jane would ultimately call Nanaimo home, at the time they lived in Vancouver where Jane was teaching and Frank was completing his forestry course at UBC. We left our car in Port Angeles, walked on the ferry and met Frank and Jane in Victoria.

Highway 1 was and still is the only land route between Victoria and Nanaimo. Since 1967 widening and straightening have improved the road but on our inaugural drive, it was narrow and twisty, characteristics graphically etched in my memory by Frank’s unique performance behind the wheel.

With his left hand resting lightly on the steering wheel, he pointed out landmarks and otherwise gesticulated with his right arm, which, when it wasn’t in motion, rested the back of the front seat.  Fred and I were in the back. Frank maintained eye contact with us the entire time – a real gift for the salesman he would later become but disconcerting for the backseat passengers. In time, “getting the full Frankie,” would become code for experiencing Frank’s singular skill behind the wheel.

Jane’s invitation to host a book party for me in her home in Nanaimo prompted my recent trip. Of course I said yes and she set about cajoling her friends into dropping by between 4:00 – 6:00 on Thursday.  Jane served up wine and “appies” as she referred to the vast array of goodies she set out with the ease and aplomb that I would be hard pressed to bring to tea and toast! Her culinary skills are matched only by her gift for hospitality.

It was a wonderful afternoon  – seeing old friends, meeting many of Jane’s friends I knew of but had never met. Jane and I relayed the story of how we all met on our honeymoon and despite a runny nose and scratchy throat, I read from “Quite Contrary,” and I talked about the importance of story telling.

I sold a number of books as well.  Naturally, seeing the books leave the box or fly off the shelf is exhilarating but the most gratifying part of this book business is the realization that my stories resonate with others, that is the marker of success that means the most.  To date, its name not withstanding, “Quite Contrary” is clearly behaving herself and performing very well.

November Update

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Yesterday I wrote out a check for $550 to the Childcare Action Council for the Raising a Reader program, that benefits kids and families in Thurston and Mason Counties. This contribution represents 20% of the net proceeds from the three book events in October – Arts Walk, Friday book signing at the Boston Harbor Marina, and the linoleum block demonstration and book reading at Orca Bookstore.  Thanks to everyone who came to see me, smiled, and bought a book! This contribution will help several families become readers.

Last week I made a quick trip to Boise, Idaho home to a number of my friends from my under graduate days at the University of Idaho.  Janie Modie opened her charming home in Eagle, Idaho to about 20 people.  I suspect that there was a litmus test to garner an invitation – everyone was either a reader or a dog person or in many cases, both.  Whatever the criteria was, the audience was receptive and generous and I sold 55 books.

Story telling is all about making connections and to date, this fun project I have set myself off on has been thoroughly gratifying.  The feedback indicates that the vignettes in “Quite Contrary” do resonate with others – what else might a writer ask for.

Tomorrow I will drive to Nanaimo, BC via Port Angeles and Victoria for another house party, this one hosted by Jane Gregory.  I am looking forward to the beautiful drive almost as much as I am looking forward to seeing Jane and a number of her friends I have gotten to know through nearly 50 years of friendship.

A future event that just fell into place yesterday is “First Friday” in Shelton, Washington on December 5th.  Evidently, the organizers of this annual event block off Railroad Avenue for nine blocks build fires in large urns and supply the marshmallows and other fixings for ‘smores.’  I will be at Sage Bookstore, a genuine gem, with an eclectic collection of books including a nice section devoted to local authors, along with a coffee shop and gift store.  Carolyn Olsen is the owner and I am in her debt for the invitation.

It turns out that “Quite Contrary” is the perfect ‘stocking stuffer’ for the holiday season so be sure to visit one of the many places listed on the home page or contact me directly to make sure the“stockings’ you are in charge of will be stuffed with humor instead of coal.

On Launching “Quite Contrary”

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For the past month, I have been immersed in my book project and launching “Quite Contrary.” It has been a lot of fun and a lot of work.  Becoming “Mary the Marketing Maven” was not on my ‘to do’ list, but then, who knew?

The three book events in October were wildly successful in every way.  Friends and family showed up, as well as former clients, students, and babysitters. Eleanor, our granddaughter, made it to two events and surely bolstered sales. The final event was at Olympia’s Orca Books, where Mimi demonstrated how she creates her linoleum block prints and I read a few selections from “Quite Contrary,” answered questions, and talked about the magic of storytelling.

Most folks have purchased multiple copies, some presenting me with a list of friends they intend to give the book to. Others have come back for more after reading the book. For many folks, it is the perfect little “stocking stuffer.”

The single most gratifying aspect has been the heartfelt and humorous comments. Readers have accused me of following them around and eavesdropping on their conversations. I heard comments like “I laughed, I cried, I sighed, I nodded.”  All of which made me smile.

Still, all said, it was wonderful to meet Fred in Las Vegas last week for a few days of poking around in the desert, first Death Valley, then the Saline Valley, Black Rock Desert and High Rock Desert.  I have never been on rougher road in my life – a little like riding for hours in a rock tumbler.

That vast nothingness – which, upon closer inspection, adds up to an impressive display of somethingness – was the perfect antidote to the weeks of self-absorption preceding it. I wasn’t really fed up with the book project, but I was definitely sick of ‘me.

There is something powerfully curative about the desert, its seemingly infinite expanse and stillness.  In the Saline Valley, I saw more stars in the night sky than I knew existed.  The quiet was profound. In the last 10 years, Fred and I have been to southern Africa four times. When asked about the attraction, my answer always includes the vast landscape and the palpable silence.  Of course, in Africa, the animals are amazing and iconic but the real draw for me is the hugeness and the quiet – lots of animal noises, but nothing really ‘civilized.’

In a week’s time, I am off to Boise, Idaho, for a wonderful time with college friends and a private book party hosted by three of my sorority sisters, friends who have been loyal and enthusiastic well beyond what I deserve. The following week my dear friend Jane Gregory, or Lady Jane, as I have always called her, is throwing a party for me in Nanaimo, BC. We’re calling it my “international book launch. ”

I will be sure to report on upcoming events.  In the meantime, keep reading and buying books!


It Runs in the Family

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I started my blog,  “It Runs in the Family,” in 2010 and it motivated me to write more often and become a more careful writer. And it was a lot of fun.  I cajoled all of my friends into reading it, becoming my “followers” and then shamed them into saying nice things about it. Still, many people commented that access was clunky and awkward so they gave following it.

It has been two years since I have posted anything.  One reason for this prolonged hiatus was my growing conviction that I wanted to “publish” in a form more permanent that a blog.  That I really wanted to see these essays and stories housed in a book.

In truth the primary reason I haven’t posted anything is that as a result of significant bone spurs that penetrated my cervical spine and damaged the nerves south of my neck,  all fine motor skills and coordination in my hands were lost.  Actually, the nerve damage has affected my whole body, but the loss of the use of my hands was the most frustrating. Not only could I no longer type, I couldn’t button my blouse, hold onto a pen, put in earrings, or feel much difference between hot and cold.

As the condition progressed, I am not sure that I would have been able to write much even if I had the coordinated use of my hands.   What ailed me was such a mystery for so long that it was hard to think about much of anything else. I spent several months here and at the University of Washington Medical School haunting the offices and labs of neurologists and neuro-surgeons, getting up close and personal with the folks who draw blood and those who take and interpret x-rays and MRIs.  Along the way, there was cause for celebration as many dire conditions were eliminated.

There were also some detours that slowed down the ultimate resolution which finally came in January of this year when I had a laminectomy that removed the lamina with the bone spurs from C 3,4, &5 which in turn released the pressure on my spinal cord so that it could heal.  Nerves do mend themselves – about an inch a month.  A bit of a slow slog for someone as impatient as I am.

Nonetheless, I am getting better. Normal feeling and function is returning to my legs and I can use more fingers for typing than before.  For a long time, I could only rely on two fingers in my left hand and three in my right. So, with the creation of the website and fingers that are relearning to type, I am back in the blog business. As time goes by and I acquire some distance from this medical malaise, I trust I will find the humor in the whole thing which I can share that with you.