I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mickey and Karen

Smart Guy, Mickey, Karen (click to enlarge)
Yesterday my ex-boss Mickey and his wife Karen came to Bellingham for a vacation and to visit us. That's our front porch where we had a little repast before taking them to their hotel (we don't have much room for guests to stay). As you can see, it was a sunny day, with a strong breeze blowing from the south. We were only one degree shy of the record temperature for the date.

I worked with Mickey for thirty years. Karen was a secretary in our department way back in the late seventies and early eighties at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. When they began to date, she transferred out of the department, and I attended their wedding 29 years ago. Karen went back to school and got a degree in social work, which she will be retiring from this December. Mickey, although he is going on 71, is still not slowing down. I think Karen wanted him to see how happy some people can be in retirement, but he's not having any of it. He's just not ready.

Mickey is a true "citizen of the world," comfortable in every corner of the most remote areas, or in the middle of a big city. He's curious about everything and absolutely loves used bookstores. I can remember many times I followed him, waiting in some foreign land while he perused books in the local language. Yesterday we walked around in the sunshine, and I showed him a couple of used bookstores that he will go back and delve into more deeply. They will be here all day and leave in mid-morning tomorrow (Monday). I hope to take Karen to join me in my favorite exercise class before they head out of town, back to Seattle to fly home to Boulder.

Because of Mickey, I have been to many parts of the world. I've been his assistant at meetings in Paris, Moscow, Hanoi, Saigon, Havana, Geneva, Bangkok, Urumqi (western China), Beijing, Shanghai, Macao, and Budapest. I'm sure I've missed a few, but you get the idea. He still travels all over the world to climate meetings but no longer arranges conferences like we did for so long.

We sat at the restaurant in their upscale hotel yesterday, reminiscing about many of those trips, since Karen was along on many of them, as was Smart Guy. The four of us went together on a side trip while in China to Xian to see the terracotta soldiers. We all agreed that it was one of the most amazing things we have ever seen. If you know little or nothing about the Terracotta Army, that link will take you to the Wikipedia page, but here's a little of what I know.

In 1974, some local farmers near Xian were drilling a well for water when they discovered some of the terracotta figures in a pit. Dating from 210 BC, these figurines are all different from each other and some historians think they are modeled after actual soldiers. From the Wikipedia link:
The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
After we had gone into the large area where the majority of the unearthed soldiers are housed, we were able to buy a book telling what is known about them and giving us pictures of them all. We were able to get the farmer who found them to sign our books. I guess he's there most days and is paid by the Chinese government. I was not able to take a picture of him as it was forbidden. If you ever get a chance to see these soldiers, it is an experience not to be missed. What is known about their origin is that the ancient Chinese Emperor who founded the Qin Dynasty commissioned the Army to help rule another empire in the afterlife.

My memories of the years I worked with Mickey are filled with such amazing events. You would think that we might have stayed in fancy American-type hotels, but another thing Mickey insisted upon is that we accommodate our visitors and ourselves in local hotels. This was mostly a good thing, but I do remember in Moscow we stayed at a hotel that I could only describe as primitive. The room was only about 10-12 feet wide with a narrow wooden bed with a futon on top. The 14th-floor window opened, but there was no air conditioning (it was very hot) and no screens. I could have fallen out if I wasn't careful. The bathroom had no hot water and only one spigot that swiveled from the sink to the claw-footed tub. I just held the hose and wet myself down while standing in the tub, then dried with a towel about the size of a dishtowel. The hard brown soap didn't even make a lather. Since I was there for six nights, I did get a reasonable towel and soap for subsequent "baths."

Even though it sounds rough, Mickey was right: I didn't forget that trip, and there is no way it could fade into the mists of time. I can still remember those baths. Incredibly, I slept very well on the hard futon. That is just one of the amazing experiences I had while working for Mickey. We did a lot of good things during those years.

Seeing the two of them again has brought up many memories that I cherish. Today, hopefully, we will make more memories and have some new adventures together. They might not carry the same weight as those heady days of international travel, but we are all older now, more sedate, and happy with smaller pleasures. Except for Mickey, who is still going, and going, just like the Energizer Bunny.


Norma Jean said...

What incredible memories to cherish. Your life has been fuller and more adventurous than most, Jan. You have even found a way to make your retirement exciting and adventurous. You will probably live a long, long time. You will certainly never die of boredom!

PeterDeMan said...

What a sucky story. And so should I be impressed with all this world travel? Well, let me tell ya something lady, NJ and I have been to Rome (yes, Italy!) and even to Canada.....TWICE! Take that!!!

Now, I too am older, am too often in a state of sedation and all I have left are smaller pleasures.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wonderful memories! And how great that you had such a neat boss.

Gigi said...

What wonderful memories you have made (and are still making!). Enjoy the time with your company.

Anonymous said...

Some people are like Mickey - never finding a reason to retire from a job that they do so well. Good luck and best wishes to him and his wife!

Donna B. said...

Wow...what great experiences, great friends and incredible memories!

Jo said...

Oh, Djan, what a fabulously interesting life you have had. I had no idea. I learn something new about you every time I read your blog. You definitely are one of the most dynamic, interest people I have (n)ever met...!

You...? Sedate...? Pshaw...!

I would love to see the terracotta soldiers. Holy doodle. You are my hero...!

Stella Jones said...

I was surprised to read that the soldiers were found in 1974. It really doesn't seem that long ago, does it!!
Have a nice time with your visitors and then a relax when they've gone.
Blessings, Star