Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My good friend, Alice Zyetz, is gone.  It's been just over two weeks and I am still absorbing the news that her heart gave out.  It was unexpected. She was doing better physically when I saw her in March than she had for some time.   She was upbeat about her recent musical\theatrical performance and getting her new business up and running.   
Alice was one of the people who encouraged me to write and so writing about her and what she meant to me is how I am adjusting to this news.   

Alice, during a potluck at her 5th wheel, Jojoba Hills Escapee Park, April 2011

The piece below was one I wrote for the Boomer Newsletter.   It was written, a day after I got the news,  in a  stream of conscious style as we often did when writing together.
  Boomers are a sub-group of the Escapees RV Club, a loose knit group of people from the baby boomer generation.  Many of the members came aboard after Alice became less active in their events, but I wanted them to know how she was instrumental in the activities that are still important to the group.


    Alice Zyetz was one of my closest RV friends, a woman I met while we were preparing to hit the road as full-timers in 1993. She is inexorably linked in my mind with full-timing, with Boomers, with my life on the road.

     She started important Boomer traditions. It was Alice who gathered several of us together at a Boomerang at Pena Blanca (near Nogales, AZ) in 1994 to try some writing exercises based on Natalie Goldberg' book Writing Down the Bones.   In later years we added ideas from Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird.   Those sessions still happen at Boomer gatherings and SKP parks. It was during that same boomerang, we realized the importance of women sitting down together to talk. That too, has become part of the Boomer tradition. The experience of hosting, (my husband, Lin Strout and I hosted that gathering), the women making latkes together which was the catalyst for women's sessions, the writing group, and the closeness of the attendees (17 rigs) remains central to my identity as a Boomer\Escapee\ full-timer.
    Alice and her husband, Chuck, led sing-alongs at Boomer gatherings. No matter how poor your voice, you were encouraged sing, drum, clap along to folk songs that helped define our generation. They got us all signing that crazy song that got faster with each repeat about “tea and smetana with the czarina around the samovar.”  Another favorite was “Rattlesnakes for breakfast.”
   Alice and another Boomer, Myrna Courtney, are the people responsible for getting me to submit my work to publications. They encouraged, cajoled, and finally used a little bit of gentle guilt to get me going. Alice praised characteristics of my writing in our writing sessions and figured out how to motivate me as I am a terrible procrastinator.
     Alice and Jaimie Hall Bruzenak asked me to contribute to RV TRAVELING TALES; Women's Journeys on the Open Road. They specifically wanted the perspective of someone who found herself widowed but chose to remain on the road. But I could not get started, until one day, at Quartzsite I was relating an recent episode. Alice lit up, “That's it,  Betty, there is your story.” But I didn't think that was enough and said so.   She said, “It's a perfect opening paragraph.” And it was. The article, "Going It Single" is in their book.
     Then they had the audacity to ask for a second piece. I procrastinated. She set a deadline for me, the most effective way to get me going. That did it. I wrote about the first writing group. In many ways, that story is my best tribute to Alice.
    We met up on the road in dozens of places from Hondo, to Puget Sound, Moab to Tecopa Hot Springs, Oregon coast to Bosque del Apache and Bodie, and many locations in Arizona. She and Chuck often rode in the back seat of our Suzuki on 4 wheel roads, praising the scenery and adventure even when the rough roads were hard on her back.
     She was there for me when my husband was dying, visiting, calling, writing.   She sang, under the oak trees, at the celebration picnic which was Lin's memorial gathering. Her beautiful voice moved everyone.
    Alice was one of the warmest, most loving women I have ever known. Natural teacher, caring mother (to all), singer and guitar player, writer, friend; she was someone who involved herself in the people around her, spreading warmth.
The poppy seems appropriate here, symbol of Alices' adopted state.  A native of New York City she came to southern California as a young woman to teach.   We often went out exploring together, delighting in the flora  and fauna  and landscapes.

In the tribute I wrote for the Boomers, there wasn't room to include the piece I wrote, years ago, which told of one of my early (though not the first) encounters with Alice.  It is from the book RV Traveling Tales:Women's Journeys on the Open Road.  It is a compilation, by Jaimie Hall and Alice, of stories by 52 RVing women.  Published by Pine Press, winner of the Benjamin Franklin award of the Independent Book Publishers Assoc, copyright 2002-07, the ISBN  is 0-9716777-2-7/978-0-9716777-2-2  Reprinted with permission of the editor.

    The weak late November sun shone into Pena Blanca canyon, a narrow sliver of desert landscape two miles from the Mexico-Arizona border.   The few hours of direct sun were no match for the nighttime temperatures in the teens.  But inside the Pace Arrow it didn't matter.   Five of us sat circled, or as close to a proximity to that shape as permitted by the oblong box in which we gathered.  Each of us held a pad of paper and a pen.
    At Alice's suggestion we had gathered for a writing exercise, based on Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones. "Just keep your hand moving.  Don't edit, let your thoughts go," Alice said.   "When you finish, we will read them aloud, but will not critique them."
    The lead weight in my stomach sunk lower.  On command I was to write on a topic, not yet assigned, and then read it to four mere acquaintances.   I could say I had to use the toilet and not return.  But Alice, born teacher, moved quickly and enthusiastically.
   "We will write for five minutes, starting with the words,  'I remember.'"
     I do not have the foggiest recollection what I scribbled, but eight years later I remember what the others wrote and my reaction.   Jaimie shared the recent final days of her mother's life.  Tears flowed, a tissue box was passed.   There was silence when she finished.   How, I wondered, could we read anything after that, and how could this woman be so open?
   I remember the rhythem of dialog in Alice's story.  How did she capture utterances so clearly?  How, in so few words, could she manifest the personalities of her family?
   Judy's gentle voice evoked a description of her childhood bedroom.  She didn't tell us its meaning; she let us feel it through her words.
    DeAnna stretched her legs and read what she had written.  It unfolded like her long, graceful limbs, enveloping us in her history just as I have learned her personality embraces and welcomes people into her world.
   Who were these people and where did they learn to express themselves so beautifully?   We ignored Alice's stricture about critiquing.  We shared our awe and appreciation for what each had written.
     In that beautiful, cold canyon, on that short November day, five women bonded.  Close female friendships were lacking in my life before then.   Those women gave trust and openess.  They will always be special to me.  But it does not stop there.  We reach out, expanding our circles, sharing with others.  It does not matter if we never return to Pena Blanca Canyon.  The experience travels well.

Thank you, Alice, for the friendship which flowered in that canyon back in 1994 and followed us through all our experiences from then on.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

644 and counting

UPDATES:   The title says 644 and counting.  That was what it was when I wrote the original post.  Updating it on May 29 had the count at  671 and they are still trickling in.  If you forgot to send yours, go ahead and send a late one.    To date 19 countries and almost all the states are represented.   For countries, Theron only counted ones with postage from the country.   Many folks sent cards purchased in foreign travels, but sent from home with US Postage.
June 7: the count is now 678.

Local paper did a nice, front page write-up.   See it by clicking on

The postcards\card campaign for Chris' dad's 90th birthday was a huge success.  Cards are still trickling in 12 days after his birthday.  The local newspaper picked up on it.
    To date he has received 644 cards, representing 16 countries.   When I say representing countries, I am talking about the stamps alone.  There were a lot of postcards from other continents which arrived with US postage as the sender was back home.   Cards ranged from toddlers finger paintings, drawings  and scribbles to a greeting from the President and First Lady.  It included old friends and relatives. There were cards from friends of friends and total strangers  There was a proclamation from the City of Concord where he worked for 24 years, letters from his Alma Mater, the Dept of Veterans' Affairs, his elected state and federal representatives, servers in his favorite restaurants, his dentist, folks in his exercize group, and photo cards and paintings created by the senders.    An amazing number came with less than adequate postage or no postage at all, yet he received no "postage due" notices. Many were adorned with the photo stamps Chris had made for the occasion.

Theron looks at one of the 601 cards which had arrived by the day of his party.   Great grandson, Conrad, looks on.
There were funny cards, cards written in Finnish and Spanish.   With 644 cards you might expect a lot of duplication.  There was almost none.  As Theron said, "how can there be so much variety of birthday cards for 90-year-olds?"   There is.

The postcards, from St. Johns, Newfoundland, to Antarctica, from  Spain, to Cleveland,  from Bahrain to Hollywood, from the woods of Maine to the open spaces of Wyoming didn't duplicate except for the handful photo cards Chris made of  his dad, matching some of the stamps he had made, and the postcards of  RV TRAVELING TALES sent by the writers group at Jojoba Hills   The cards were published to advertise the great book of women's stories from the open road.   
Here are some of the personalized stamps as well as a couple of postcards Chris printed using the same photos.
This all started because Theron said, "no gifts."    After living in the same house for well over fifty years, he is trying to clear things out and wanted nothing new.   Not sure what he will do with all these cards, but it is still less of an issue than new clothes or objects.  Only one person gave him a gift and that, a bottle of wine, should not be an issue.  The contents will be consumed and the glass recycled.  

Many of my blog readers took part in this card avalanche\blitz\campaign.  I thought you would enjoy viewing the results.

We thought we were through photographing the array of cards until Conrad was plunked down in the middle by his great uncle.   We thought he would sit; instead he stretched out, carefully to avoid messing up the fanned array.   Here he is "reading" one of the cards.