LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WILLS FAMILY THROUGH MARALYS' MEMOIRS: A CIRCUS WITHOUT ELEPHANTS AND A CLOWN IN THE TRUNK

Thursday, June 22, 2017

AN ADVENTURE LIKE NO OTHER




AN ADVENTURE LIKE NO OTHER
                                               
Imagine yourself standing at the edge of a thousand foot cliff, with a ferocious wind whipping your hair and sand blowing in your eyes and nothing below but threatening, rocky space. Your oldest son has just persuaded you to launch into that space, a tandem passenger on his hang glider.  The only problem is, you are a forty-four year old mother, a devout coward, with plans to stick around and raise your six kids.  What on earth are you doing here!

Thus began one of the most terrifying events in my life, an experience I Iook back on now with utter disbelief, wondering still how I ever strapped myself into such an elemental contrivance as a hang glider and flew off a cliff so awesome I couldn't stand near its edge . . . how I soared to two thousand feet--with small planes flying below us--and managed not to faint . . . and how, though I shamelessly begged my son to bring me down, I eventually came to love it! 

None of it makes sense now.  Why did I momentarily stop being the person who has steadfastly refused to ride on Space Mountain and who, in the movie theater, subconsciously feels around for a seat belt? 

In fact, why did I do any of the things I did back in the early days of hang gliding?          

I’ve tried to explain all this in my book, HIGHER THAN EAGLES, which is an account mothers everywhere will understand.  It is the story of how life creeps up on you: how one can have five sons and a daughter and never imagine that three of the boys will become flying-mad kids and persuade you they must fly; how rational parents are talked into starting a hang glider manufacturing company and then persuaded to help run it; how sons drag their parents to championships, claiming they can win . . . and then WIN; how boys imagine they can set world records . . . and then SET them. 

HIGHER THAN EAGLES is about being a parent who follows her kids' dreams--and because of them lives richly for a time, more richly than she ever imagined.  But it is also about loss and coming to grips with tragedy.  About trying to understand the why of losing a child, and realizing in the end you will not only never fully understand, you could not, looking back, do anything differently.  That it was the children themselves who led you to make decisions you would make again in a minute. 

I wrote HIGHER THAN EAGLES because I had to.  Though it took fourteen years to find a publisher (and I sold six other books meanwhile), I knew I'd never give up.  Once it became the lead title for Longstreet Press, I was free to go on to other books--and to continue teaching novel-writing, which I love as much as writing itself.  For who else but a budding novelist really wants to know how to make a scene come alive . . . or finds daily discoveries about the craft of writing as exciting as I do. 

If writing were as lucrative as it is compelling, there would be few other professions, for how else can we preserve forever the things we've experienced.  The images.  The ideas.  The feelings.  The logic.  The lack of logic.  The sheer craziness. 

And so I live both in the "real" world and the world of the imagination, and I cannot see myself doing anything else.


(When a writer’s club asked for an essay in advance of my appearance, this is what I sent.)  








Saturday, June 10, 2017

WHAT'S REALLY LIKELY TO KILL YOU?



WHAT’S REALLY LIKELY TO KILL YOU?



It’s not what you think.

Putting aside Disease, Accidents, and Natural Disasters . . . where does imminent danger really lie?

The truth has been clear to this household for decades: In guns.

Some years ago, the Los Angeles Times compared our country to mostly gun-free Great Britain: (Admittedly, a large population difference means this isn’t an oranges-to-oranges comparison.)  But still: The same year that guns killed 350 British citizens, Americans lost 30,000+ people to gunshots.  Not all were homicides. But all were caused by bullets.   

For the deadliest of reasons—ignorance, greed, and a quest for power—blame lies partly  with the National Rifle Association.  Medical statisticians, among others, agree that their propaganda is built on lies.

Among the statistics the NRA would never admit . . . dying by gunshot is far likelier among households that own guns.   

So why is America laser-focused on terrorism?  How likely are we to die at the hands of a foreign terrorist? 

Irvine resident, Victoria Reiser, offers statistics by Business Insider:

“The lifetime odds of being killed in an assault using a gun are 1 in 358;  in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist, 1 in 45,808; in an attack by a refugee terrorist, 1 in 46,192,893; and in an attack by an illegal immigrant terrorist, 1 in 138,324,873.”

Thanks to the inherent meanness in Trump, ICE daily terrorizes and exports people who haven’t yet, and never will harm us. At the same time, he “buddies-up” to the biggest source of incipient danger—the NRA.  And finally, he spews American vitriol among Islamic countries who once meant us no evil . . . as though he wants to stir up hatred and a new willingness to “get even.” 

Which brings me to a startling conclusion: Trump is our nation’s scariest threat. 



 


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

SMALL KIDS INFILTRATE A LUAU




SMALL KIDS INFILTRATE A LUAU


Meaning, you saw them everywhere, kind of like leaves carried in a gust of wind.

For Rob and me they made the luau. 

But it almost didn’t happen . . . 

Once more, our very large immediate family (4 generations—now grown to 39 members) were on vacation, thanks to our leader, who refers to himself as “Spongebob.”   Each year, wherever we’re headed, the members get themselves there, whereupon Spongebob takes over.  (Many a friend has asked, “Can I join your family? Nobody would ever notice.”  Which might be true.)  

This time 29 of us made it to Kiahuna, on the island of Kauai. 

There must have been a few unrelated guests at Kiahuna who wished they’d come at a different time.  With our family occupying  ten units, we had our joyous—make that noisy--moments.  Each night a different family cooked dinner for the mob, after which the athletes among us took over the vast resort lawn for spectacular demonstrations of whirling Frisbees.  With each throw, the orange disc whirled across the length of a football field, captured gracefully by some male between five-eleven and six-three . . . but occasionally landing in the hands of a child who hadn’t quite reached four feet. 

Like puppies, the kids kept leaping up to intercept those flying discs.  

On our last night, at a cost equal to the down payment on a car, we signed up for a luau. Having seen more than my share of such extravaganzas, I was ready to bypass this one. But thank heavens I didn’t.

First thing I knew, the MC was probing the crowd for birthdays.  Rob, days short of 90, didn’t volunteer.  Instead, the great grandkids—eight of them, ten and under—“volunteered” for him.  Like a swarm of insects, they gathered behind Rob’s head . . . giggling, pointing and shouting, “Here!  Him!” Of course the MC noticed and Rob was forced to trumpet out his age.

Only moments later, the man on stage asked for longest marriages, and this time Rob cooperated. “Sixty-nine years!” he shouted,  (my math genius was “off” by half a year), which brought us enthusiastic applause. 

As if this weren’t enough, soon seven of our eight youngsters were up on stage learning--or sort of learning--the Hula . . . even Annalise, who is only two.  Budding show-offs that they were, none were shy about wiggling their hips or spinning in circles. (Which excepts Annalise, who mostly stood and stared out at the crowd.)  

For the rest of the show, our young performers gathered on a berm of land at one end of the stage and perched there like birds on a wire. 

But the excitement didn’t end. After the show, numerous men came up to congratulate Rob on our extended marriage (as if it was all because of him), and even on the plane returning home, a passenger made a point of shaking Rob’s hand.

This may be the one occasion when neither of us minded that we’d already lived such a vast number of years.  



Thursday, May 4, 2017

"TRUMPCARE" . . . MEANS NO CARE



A SAD DAY FOR AMERICA

Make that another sad day for America.

The first came in November with our election of the least qualified man ever chosen as U.S. president. Today, even FBI leader, James Comey, says he is “slightly nauseous” that he may have influenced the outcome.  Whatever.  He certainly didn’t help.   

Early this week, just as I was celebrating the bipartisan House spending bill that incorporated compromises most of us can live with . . .  the issue of a major health care reversal loomed like a grizzly bear on the sidelines, ready to eviscerate its victim. 

Today—just minutes ago--it happened.  Our House of Representatives has taken the first step to make Obamacare disappear.  Claiming that in some states it has already vanished,  the “house,” by a narrow margin, voted down the rest. Instead of fixing what was already there, house members placated Freedom Caucus members (notoriously against spending money to help anyone), to get needed votes.

If the Senate agrees,  ailing Americans will suffer just as surely as though attacked by bears.  The hurried, careless way this bill has been thrown together—with zero input from health care professionals—means millions of sick Americans will find themselves with minimal care.  Or none.    

Oh, yes, the Republicans pretended that “The States”  would take over the “pre-existing conditions” issue, putting sick people into high-risk pools.  But California, the most liberal of states, has already proven such pools don’t work.  Today’s front page article in the Los Angeles Times (“A Case Study in State-run Health Failures”) describes what happens.  People are put on long waiting lists. And meanwhile they get sicker.

Richard Figueroa, a past enrollment director of such a pool, laments the outcome when desperately ill people are finally sent the all-important, life-saving letter. “They would say, “Thank you, but you can give our slot to someone else, because my brother or my wife or my daughter has died.”

A vital question:  who among you, reading this piece, does not already have a “pre-existing condition?”  If,  during your thirty, forty, or however-many years, you’ve been to the doctor for anything,  you can be presumed as having such a condition. My twenty-something grandson,  prone to strep-throats, has been seen by doctors several times . . . no doubt a disqualifying ailment for traditional insurance companies.

With today’s all-political, non-medical bill a victory for Trump and Ryan, ordinary citizens are about to reap what the voters sowed in November.  We hope it’s not a medical disaster.

But with health care now dictated in part by the Freedom Caucus . . . what else can it be?    

Thursday, April 6, 2017

TRUMP: HOW MANY LAWS WILL WE LET HIM BREAK?




TRUMP: HOW MANY LAWS WILL WE LET HIM BREAK?


I hardly need to blog about Trump any more; the Los Angeles Times is doing all the
work for me . . . and for everyone else who feels that our president is an unmitigated disaster.  The Times’ five editorials, so far, are so strongly-worded they tend to ring in your head.  For hours.   

Yet one question remains unanswered:  How about all those laws Trump is breaking—and when will the American public demand he be held accountable?

Among them: 

1.) The law against presidential despotism, enacted after Jack Kennedy made his brother, Robert, Attorney General.  So far, both daughter,  Ivanka, and son-in law Jared, are acting as semi-official Secretaries of State. They may not receive salaries, but both have been given top security clearances, and Ivanka, at least, has a White House office--plus other benefits of high office. If this isn’t nepotism, what is?    

 2.)  The Supreme Court provision about a president accepting “Foreign Emoluments." Heads of State from foreign countries seem prone to stay at various Trump Towers, thereby offering foreign monies to enrich our president.  

3.) Rules against Conflicts of Interest.  Since the president has never divested himself of his business interests (perhaps not required by law), his Trump Enterprises continues to grow during the president’s reign—with new “deals” constantly being arranged in various American and major foreign cities . . . a direct nod to the power of our highest office.  How can this continuing behavior not be seen as a Conflict of Interest?   

4.) Rules governing Charitable Foundations: It’s already been proven that the Trump Foundation gave $25,000 as a “gift” to a Florida Attorney General--which resulted in her dismissal of a Floridian suit against Trump University--plus the public has seen photos of the life-size portrait of himself, purchased by Trump with Foundation funds.  

These two acts suggest that here not one, but two rules have been broken--a rule against bribery, and another against self-enrichment with Foundation funds.

A few judges have declared, “Even the president is not above the law.”

Yet so far our various law enforcement agencies have noted these transgressions but taken no action.  Who is responsible, anyway, for getting him into court? When will the American public rise up and demand that even King Trump must follow the rules?

Once again, I can’t help pointing out: When we elected a man with no character to the country’s highest office, we can expect an administration with no morality . . . operating in flagrant disregard of accepted laws.    




Friday, March 31, 2017

SCAMMER DEFEATED--THANKS TO MY BLOG



THE NINE-THOUSAND DOLLAR BLOG


Over the phone I heard the excitement in my friend’s voice: “You saved someone’s life. I couldn’t wait to tell you.”

“Really?”  Now she had me excited, too. 

“Remember that blog you wrote about the scam you fell for?  Or nearly fell for? And how you barely escaped losing a ton of money?”

“Four thousand dollars,” I said. 

“Well, let me tell you about what happened to my daughter, Allison.  An older man came into her bank and wanted to withdraw nine-thousand dollars.  He seemed agitated and in a hurry. As bankers have been trained to do, Allison asked,  ‘May I ask what the money is for?’”

 Predictably, he said, “None of your business.’”

Suspecting he might be on the verge of trouble, Allison said, “Let me tell you a story. This happened to a friend of my mother’s.”  And she related the details from the blog I’d sent out--about the phone call from a grandson: “This is your favorite grandson,” how, with that phrase, I honestly thought it was him.

How from then on, I was hooked.  That I believed the young man’s tale about having done some light drinking (never mind that my grandson doesn’t drink), about his being in an auto accident with a car full of diplomats (meaning “diplomatic immunity”),  then, my talk with his “lawyer” about averting a DUI—if I came up with $4000 bail money. 

The rest involved gift cards at Target . . . and quickly thereafter, an appointment  with my hairdresser, who said immediately, “I know how this is going to end.” With that I leaped out of the chair, called my husband, (who called the grandson), then made another fast call to Target—just in time to cancel the cards.

Allison’s customer, a retired attorney, listened avidly, then at last swallowed his pride and related his own story: a grandson calling from the wrong state (“I’m here for a friend’s funeral,”)  a voice that didn’t sound quite deep enough, the talk with the grandson’s  “attorney”,  something about an accident in a Uber car, about marijuana in the car, and the need for an attorney to put up bail . . . which meant nine-thousand dollars—in cash. 

At that, Allison said, “Let’s call your grandson,” and so they did, right there in the bank. “May I speak to him?” Allison asked, and the customer nodded. Of course none of the details given to the gentleman were true.  With that, Allison turned the now-grateful customer over to her supervisor.

“Without your story,” my friend told me over the phone, “That man would have lost his nine-thousand dollars.”  As it was, the customer, still shocked, left the bank.

But the tale isn’t over:  An hour later, the gentleman returned—with three boxes of chocolates . . . for Allison, for the bank manager, and for another teller. 

For me, the lovely result is that I’m now getting all the credit. But hey, I’ll take it. Whatever time I spent on that blog, it has suddenly become a nine-thousand-dollar effort . . . clearly, more than worth it.



Friday, March 17, 2017

CLAW MARKS ON AMERICA




CLAW MARKS ON AMERICA



Trump is dismantling our country: look around, his small, ugly hands are leaving scratch marks everywhere.

His plans for America are right there, in his budget---huge, monetary cuts from everything most of us care about.  A)  Medical Research  (NIH)  B)  Clean Air and Clean Water (EPA),  C) Innovation in Research and Development (NOAA)  D) Good Public Schools  (Funds Diverted to Charters)  E) Safe Airline Travel  (wants to Privatize FAA & ATC)   F) Music and Public Broadcasting (NEA, CPB, NEH )   G) Assistance to the Old and the Poor (Meals on Wheels . . . Free School Lunches.)  H) Affordable Health Care (“access” to such care is like “access” to a Lamborghini . . .  you can have it if you can afford it.)   I) Women’s Reproductive Health Care. (Planned Parenthood.) 

Equally terrible is the budget’s other direction:  A) An extra 54 Billion for Defense (with a promise of more atomic bombs)  B) Huge increase in border patrol agents  (now with more immigrants leaving than coming)  C) 2.6 billion for The Wall  D) Tax Cuts for the Wealthiest Americans.

America’s CEOs are happy. Very happy.  Soon they will be the only Americans who are.

If Trump’s wish list is filled, Big Corporations won’t have to worry about:  a) Creating Pollution  b) Offering Less Than Minimum Wages  c) Merging until they Eliminate all Competition d) Big Taxes on Big CEO Salaries  e) Safety Rules that Protect the Public.

To no one’s surprise, Trump himself leads a regulation-free life: No divesting of business interests . . . no apologies for tweets and lies . . .  no revelation of personal tax returns . . . no reimbursement to Secret Service for extra Personal Security . . . no apologies to  innocent Immigrants for Lives Ripped Apart . . .  no apologies for putting trouble-maker Steve Bannon on the Security Council . . .  no explanations for costly rallies in advance of his next term.

For those few Americans who despise regulation, here’s a trial solution: In your city, for one month, eliminate all stop lights and stop signs.  See how it works.

Editorials now beg us to “Normalize” President Trump.  But this man isn’t, hasn’t been, and will never be “Normal.” 

The Donald is, in fact, so abnormal we can only hope his presidency won’t last for a full four years. By then our country will consist of a few exultant CEOs . . . and the rest of us coping with a new and distinctly abusive Dark Ages.    



Friday, February 24, 2017

CALIFORNIA'S KINDEST PEOPLE




CALIFORNIA’S KINDEST PEOPLE


At least the kindest to me . . .

I first noticed this group while standing in line outside a jail—an unwelcome interval in an active life. I was there to visit someone I cared about.

I arrived full of irritation and snobbery.  I hate this!  I hate being here . . . standing among this crowd. Can’t relate to any of them  . . . why am I even here?  My internal hostility went on.  

And then to my surprise, a Hispanic lady leaned my way. “Why don’t you go sit down over there?” she said. “I’ll hold your place in line.”  She was so utterly selfless, I accepted her offer—instead of standing, I perched on a nearby cement block.

You can’t generalize from a single incident.  But I’m here to say that in that same jail setting, I’ve been offered solace in line so many times it’s no longer an accident or an oddity.  It’s cultural. Kindness that emanates from within certain people. 

In fact, the last time I was in a line elsewhere, it was raining, and it was a Hispanic lady who offered to share her umbrella.

My guess is, no such scenario would result from a line at Nordstrom’s.

Yesterday, in a wholly different setting, it happened again.  Because I teach on Wednesday nights, my routine starts with an early supper at Soup Plantation. I get there first, and twenty minutes later Rob joins me.

But this week I was faced with an impossible situation: I couldn’t walk.

Well, I could, but the pain in my leg was awful.  Took me five minutes and a cane just to get from my car—parked right outside—to the door.  How will I ever make it to class? I wondered. Down an impossibly long hall?  When I can’t even reach the inside of Soup Plantation?  I’ll have to call the school and cancel.

Still, I had to eat something.

Just outside the door, a Mexican woman and her grown son saw me coming. “Can we help?” she asked. When I hesitated, she said, “Here, I’ll carry your purse. Put your arm around my shoulders. We’ll make it to the counter.”  To her son, she said, “Get a tray and a dish. You handle that part.”

So between the two of them, with me leaning first on the mother, then on the counter, and the son scooping onto a plate whatever I wanted, the two became a kind of three-legged team . . . until we all reached the check-out station. Without those two wonderful strangers, I couldn’t have managed any of it.

From the cash register, our favorite waiter, Baldo, carried my tray to a table--while I painfully limped along behind him. To help out, Baldo went back for soup, drink, and muffins.

By coincidence, as I hobbled out of the restaurant, another Mexican lady expressed concern and an offer of help. Before she backed away, I had to reassure her that I’d be okay . . . meaning that someone else would come to my rescue.   

About then my close friend and student arrived. She drove us to the school and left me just inside the office while she hurried to my class . . . down that long hall to bring back two, strong-shouldered men. Instead, they brought a wheelchair—a light bulb idea from the woman who habitually arrives on wheels. My students are terrific, always have been—so no surprise there.

But it’s the kindness of strangers I’ve found so remarkable. And so did my grandson, two days ago, when it was a Mexican who worked for hours to pull his truck out of the mud. No matter what the setting, it’s invariably someone of Latin heritage who reaches out, fanfare-free, to offer help. 

Clearly, kindness is everywhere. But why do Latinos offer so much of it?  Why, in general, are they so willing to assist strangers?  And why do they make so little distinction between themselves and everyone else?   

It’s with such thoughts that I grieve over today’s headlines—that ICE plans to “uncover” millions of these mostly-kindhearted people and mercilessly rip up their lives. Never mind that their crime rate is statistically lower than that of the native-born. Thanks to our vindictive president, a number of Americans express delight that we’re “hunting them down” . . . that we’re inflicting cruelty on some of the hardest-working, most unselfish people within our borders.


Monday, February 6, 2017

TRUMP'S FACE SAYS IT ALL



TRUMP’S FACE SAYS IT ALL


There it is for the world to see:  Petulance. Discontent. Anger. Meanness.  An unbroken movie-reel of negative, ugly emotions passing nonstop across his rounded visage . . . all overlaid by a shock of wrong-way hair, like a finger wagging at the world in disapproval.  

Watch his expression as he talks. Trump never smiles, he frowns. He grimaces. Whatever the topic, his attitude his plain: he hasn’t shown up to do good, he’s there to get even.  And heaven help the person or group who crosses him, or worse, gets in his way. Consider his pathway to fame . . .  “The Apprentice.”  There we see his darkest inner impulses, the tyrant who growls at hapless performers, “You’re fired!”

It’s no accident that he chose as his closest advisors two men named Steve, each with a personality reflective of the boss. Steve Miller and Steve Bannon.  Bannon is well known for his predilection for control, for conflict, for destruction—possibly translated as a desire to go to war. Bannon is now seen as Trump’s Svengali.  In fact, a recent New York Times editorial referred to him as  “The de facto president.”  

Lately, Trump is re-thinking his decision to give Bannon such a large role on our country’s vital Security Council.

Less well known is Steve Miller . . . though it happens our family is privy to some inside information. One of our good friends, a renowned teacher, had occasion recently to discuss Steve Miller with the teacher who taught him in high school. “Steve Miller is brilliant,” that teacher reports. “But he’s also scary.” 

Here’s a prediction: more and more people will come to regret voting for America’s face to the world . . . that ongoing expression of dyspepsia, irritation, even fury.  All reflecting his dawning realization that most of his pre-election promises will never be realized. (Only his idol, Putin, has such power.)      

It must now be clear, even to Trump: he’s got the whole world to contend with. This isn’t a business he’s leading, it’s a government—with three independent branches, two of which are mostly beyond his control.  What a shock it must be, the final realization he will never be King.    

Here’s one book you can judge by its cover: THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

ANOTHER CATASTROPHE FOR SAMSUNG



ANOTHER CATASTROPHE FOR SAMSUNG



It’s not enough that their cell phones are apt to catch fire—anywhere, at any time. Which of course the company takes seriously. “Store your phone in a fire-proof container,” they advise. With an add-on from the FAA: “Never, ever, carry a Samsung phone on air planes.” 

But now the company is once again in the news. They’ve developed top-loading washing machines with what you must admit is a distinctive feature. They explode.

“I was sitting in my living room, when there was this awful boom,” said one customer. “I thought the roof had fallen in.”

But it wasn’t the man’s roof--the problem was out on the service porch . . . with what is normally considered a docile, non-aggressive appliance. No lithium batteries. No toxic ingredients. No bad behavior in its DNA--expect for possible overflowing.  

Still, a lack of lithium and carcinogens must not be enough. Thanks to Samsung’s creative engineers, suddenly you see their washing machines on television—their tops blown off, the insides exposed and destroyed, bits and pieces of everything spreading across the floor. You can’t help thinking, A washing machine with a suicide vest?    

Luckily, injuries so far have been minor, except for one woman who suffered a broken jaw.

But here’s the real hooker. Samsung has a message for its customers: you, the forgiving customer, can get a coupon for a new washer. (Explosive? Or non-explosive?)  Or alternatively, you can buy a new, “reinforced” lid.    

A new, “reinforced” lid?  Seriously?  To keep the eruption confined to one place? So the socks and underwear and assorted pieces of machinery won’t fly round the room?   

As Rob said, “Well, at least the new lid won’t go anywhere. But the machine won’t wash, either.”

Which you’d know the second you looked inside . . .    

Right then you’d realize, of course, you could no longer finish your laundry—what was  left of it.  But maybe you could save the reinforced lid for the next exploding machine. Hey, it might be reusable.

Poor Samsung. You really have to feel sorry for . . . well, for starters, whoever put out those suggested remedies. 




Tuesday, January 3, 2017

TRAGEDY ON HIGHWAY 50



TRAGEDY ON HIGHWAY 50


I first learned of the event when my daughter-in-law, Betty-Jo, said, “Have you heard what happened to Lauren on the way home?”  

“What?  What?”  My heart started racing.  Just the day before--the Tuesday after Christmas--my granddaughter, Lauren, and her two small children had flown to Sacramento, then driven up the mountain to their home in South Lake Tahoe.

Betty-Jo added quickly, “Lauren’s okay. She and the kids are fine.”

And then she told most of the story . . . and the rest came from Lauren.  

Near midnight,  as they headed into the Sierras, Lauren noticed strange lights in the distance, but off Highway 50, and down near the American River. She thought, That house down there has awfully bright lights. 


Only seconds later, figures standing on the shoulder were flagging her down. Lauren pulled off and stopped.  They were on a winding, two-lane mountain road, miles from anywhere.  She noticed the car thermometer read 30 degrees.

 As she got out, her children started protesting.  Annalise, two, and Corbin, three, were strapped into their seats . . . and didn’t like her leaving.  

A man—someone from one of the first cars on the scene--said urgently, “That’s a car down there. Upside down on the edge of the river—partly in the water. With a family inside. We went down, but couldn’t get them out. A girl was ejected.” His lower pant legs were wet. “Not sure what to do.” He seemed frozen, both literally and figuratively. 

Lauren is a nurse.  In this situation, someone had to take charge. “We have to get them out of that water and up here,” she said.  She was thinking, Hypothermia. Her children were now screaming. But down near the river, someone else was screaming.

“Go down and bring that person up,” she ordered. 

“How?” the man asked. 

“Use this blanket. Put the girl on it, and haul her up. Like a sled.”  She tossed him a blanket.

By now other cars had been flagged down. People milled around—most of them baffled.  “Call 911,” she ordered.  People tried, but their phones didn’t work.  

Odd as it seemed, her phone did.  She reached an emergency station, and at midnight, with GPS, gave the dispatcher an approximate location.      

“You . . . Go down the hill and help,” she ordered a man who was standing by.

To others she shouted, “Help him pull the blanket.”  And to still others, “Bring us more blankets. And spare jackets. We’ll need them.”  And to still others, “We need more hands. We’ve got four accident victims down there.” 

She shouted herself hoarse, demanding action, putting more men to work pulling the “sleds.” 

The first to come up was the screamer, a thirteen-year-old girl with a probable broken shoulder. She’d been lying on the hillside and now couldn’t move her arm.  “What’s your name?” Lauren asked.

“Topaz.”    

“Here, Topaz, get in my car. The heater’s on.”  Lauren began tugging off the girl’s damp clothes, then wrapping her in blankets and jackets.  Meanwhile, both Annalise and Corbin were crying.    

Next came a woman, twenty-three, with a bloody hand. To escape the car, the woman had punched out the window.  In a halting voice she explained she’d found a pocket of breathable air.  Lauren could see she was drifting in and out of consciousness.  “Climb into my car, in back.  What is your name?”   

“Bailey.”  But the victim was dazed, couldn’t remember where she was, or what day it was. Unlike the girl, she was wet and icy, clear through. Even her hair.    

With strength she didn’t know she had, Lauren ripped the woman’s shirt in half, right where she sat, pulled down wet pants and underwear, and threw them in back. With donated jackets and blankets, she wrapped the woman up.  But the patient seemed to be passing out.  Determined to keep her awake, Lauren shouted her name over and over.  “Bailey! Bailey!”  A step that was vital to keeping her alive.  Meanwhile, her own kids were screaming.   

As her two victims slowly warmed in the car, others arrived, five men from CalTrans. Immediately grasping the emergency, one directed traffic and four went down to the half-submerged car. With the help of an off duty Sac P.D. officer, the five entered the freezing water, pushed as a group and managed to right the car. At last the men were able to free the driver, who was still alive.

From her position up on the road, Lauren saw a rescuer leaning over a small boy.  She learned he was eleven. But the way the rescuer was acting, Lauren guessed the truth. The boy was already dead. A child, she thought, just a child.  For her,  the worst of those traumatic moments. The accident had just become a tragedy.   

Now with fire department stretchers, the group of men skidded the boy and injured driver up to the road. 

Finally, nearly two hours after she stopped,  EMTs arrived, plus two ambulances. One ambulance took the injured man  away, with intent to connect with a medical helicopter. By calling the hospital later, Lauren learned he’d suffered a broken back.

“Is he dead?” Corbin asked in his small voice. 

“They don’t send a helicopter for dead people,” Lauren said.

Medics from the other ambulance scooped up the young girl and the woman who’d been sitting in Lauren’s car . . . the latter also wearing Lauren’s shoes.  At the last moment, as an afterthought, Lauren retrieved her shoes from the ambulance.

At last, by now nearly two a.m., Lauren and her children continued up the road toward home.  The next morning, at nine-thirty, Lauren was on the job in her own hospital. In a quiet, private ceremony, one of the hospital staffers gave her an award.

A day later, after Lauren told Rob and me the entire story over the phone, I said, “I’m so proud of you, Lauren—the way you took charge. And probably saved lives.”  And I thought how, within the family, she was never the one who ordered other family members around.

In her unassuming way, Lauren answered, “That’s just what we do.”