Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

The Deacon Seat

OK, so now I’ve started this new chapter in my life. I don’t like saying I’m “retired” because I’m not. I have closed down the lobbying practice, and I want to focus more on my creative endeavors – both writing and my photos. I had tentatively planned to wind the practice down in 2014, but circumstances and opportunity conspired and so I moved it up to this year.

One of those opportunities – indeed the main driver -- is a chance to work on a writing project that has been rattling around in my head for some time. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell, and some of us get to be story-tellers. Back in September of 2001 two very remarkable women came into my life, when at the suggestion of friends of theirs who had moved in next door to me a short while before, they bought the house two doors uphill from me. My ex-husband Tony and I welcomed them by building a fence for them soon after they arrived.  From that point on we became wonderful friends.  And for eight years they lived there in the summers, and wintered in the sunshine of Palm Springs. In those years they became two of my dearest friends. We spent a lot of time together, and I enjoyed helping them with chores around the house and going to dinners and concerts. In 2009 they moved full time to Palm Springs and sold their Seattle home, and have been trying to get me to move down there too. I’ve come to love and respect these two dear ladies who’s story needs to be told. And with their help and blessing, I’m about to start work on telling it.
Madelon George and Mildred Snyder – or as those of us who love and cherish them call them, “M&M” now live in a retirement/assisted living center in Palm Springs. I took this picture in 2011 from their old house in Palm Springs. They have been together now for 46 years, having met back in 1968 in San Francisco. They finally got married this last year once the California court decision upheld marriage equality. In between they have run businesses from antique stores to motels to a women’s only trailer park -- on top of having careers in state government. Together they built a wonderful life and have a great story. And that’s not to mention their lives before they got together, and the tales they have told me about that time. These are two amazing women who are remarkably strong and yet tender and caring with each other and those they love. They have a biting sense of humor, enough advice to fill a book or two alone, and they have loved and cared for each other for more than 40 years. Theirs is a hell of a story.

When I visited them shortly after they moved into their new place just after their wedding, we were walking past the dining room with some groceries -- Madelon had decided to cook that night – and the hostess commented “so you won’t be dining with us tonight Miss George?” As soon as we got in the elevator I turned to her and said “Miss George? Isn’t it Mrs. Snyder now?” to which she turned to me and stated firmly “No. I never wanted to be a ‘wife’”. “So then is Mildred ‘Mrs. George’ now?” I asked. “Oh no! And don’t ask her either or you’ll get a look!” Well of course I had to ask, and I didn’t get a “look”, but I did get an explanation. They are “Spouses”, and it suits them just fine after 46 years.

Later this week I’ll fly down to Palm Springs and stay for almost a month -- thanks to the generosity of friends who have loaned me their house and car while they are out of town. I’ve got a digital recorder, a pile of notebooks, and will be absorbing as much of the wit and wisdom and life stories of my ladies as I can. I’ve already spent some time with them getting started, and we’ll tackle it in earnest next week. With any luck I’ll be like Agnes Gooch (played by Peggy Cass) in the classic movie “Auntie Mame”, who as the stenographer hired to take dictation, absorbs Mame’s wit and wisdom like a “sponge”.

Mildred is in her 90s now, Madelon is close to it, and so there is a sense of urgency for me to start work on their story now while we still can.  That's one of the reasons for closing the practice this past year.  The ladies have given me permission to write it, and I think they are excited to tell their story to me. I was in Palm Springs over New Years and I took them a small bottle of a wonderful new Whiskey as an appropriate gesture to start this project. It’s the first release of a new “craft” distillery in Seattle that makes “Scotch”, i.e. whiskey made from malted barley and aged in oak barrels. It can’t be called “Scotch” since it isn’t made in Scotland, but it essentially is Scotch – or as they say “American Single Malt Whiskey”.

M&M are whiskey drinkers – generally Jim Beam or Jack Daniels. I miss our summer cocktails on their patio in Seattle very much. They used to yell down the hill or call me and say “Gary we are having cocktails on the patio, come up!” and I would, and we’d sit and nosh on cashews and cheese and sip whiskey and look at our amazing woods that our houses back onto and they would tell me wonderful stories. I knew they’d appreciate this little bottle.
It’s even more appropriate because they Whiskey I took them is called “Deacon Seat”. Quoting Westland Distillery’s notes on the box: “Any undertaking – great or small – must have a beginning. It is the intention of this beginning, the way by which you set out, that is important. During the opening of the West, the first task for axe men in a new logging camp was to fell a tree, halve it, then lay it flat side up. This became the Deacon Seat – a bench that ran the length of the eventual bunkhouse and became the center of camp life. The Deacon Seat was a place to rest, a place to band together over a dram of whiskey, a place of level ground upon which to build one’s place in the West.” I can’t help but think that this is the most appropriate start to writing their story. I’m blazing a new trail in my life and this is the start of it, and we started it with a toast of Deacon Seat.

This story will be my “Deacon Seat” in a way. The first tree I cut down, and the place I'll build my new life in the West.   And so with that toast, as the bottle says “we look towards the endeavor before us with reverence, steel intentions, and the blood of stubborn, persistent ancestors in our veins.” I hope I won’t disappoint them. With a story like M&M’s, I don’t think I will.

  • Latest Magazine Column

    For over ten years I've been writing a monthly column in Quick Throttle Magazine -- a regional biker publication. The confluence of the changes…

  • May/June QuickThrottle Column

    With the pandemic shutdown, the loss of revenue, and everyone staying at home, the publisher decided not to put out a May issue and put out a…

  • April QuickThrottle Column

    This whole pandemic thing, in addition to being very trying, has delayed a few things, including the publication of my column. I just got the April…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.