Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ode to Ginny Diegel number 3.

It's now been a month since mother's day, but Paul and I haven't forgotten to do the final chapter of our ode to our venerable mom.  Summarizing an active and social 90+ year old's life is a daunting task!
Back to the tale.....

Life for Ginny as a 69 year old newlywed seemed to just keep getting better.
a smashing wedding couple
Husband TomB was overjoyed to have a new fishing partner and cool old camper van to tinker with and they quickly racked up miles gallivanting about looking for fish. Ginny had always more interested in traveling the rural West than going overseas, but gradually New Zealand, Belize, the British Virgin Islands were added to their carpet-bombing all the fishing spots they could find around the Western US and Canada.
Pretty sick tropical look!  

Readying for a BC fly-in.
The latter has a guiding company featuring a fish processing ship converted to a high end floating fishing  resort in the Queen Charlotte Islands called the Salmon Seeker, humbly described as The Last Frontier of Fishing, that they visited annually, and from our perspective it seemed to be indeed the salmon and halibut seeker and destroyer as they always returned with a copious supply of monstrous fish.  She was beside herself one Christmas, unable to figure out a good present for us and exasperated at our lack of interest in giving her ideas. She finally mentioned that all she had as the holiday shopping came to an end was a freezer that was just overflowing with salmon and halibut that they had caught and blueberries they had picked. That led to about the best Christmas present a mom can give her Utah sons.

Ginny had raised us to be trout snobs, but Tom B had grown up fishing in Oregon, done some commercial fishing, had a 19 ft jet boat that he and his son built themselves, and was passionate about anything involving water, a boat, underwater creatures, and a thermos of coffee. Sturgeon, bass, steelhead; if it had fins, he was up for a road trip to check it out. One classic trip involved driving away from Portland midwinter with a canoe and no real plan aside from seeking sunshine and fishing and eventually finding themselves on the Gulf Coast of Texas.  “Any fish here?”   
too much snow in Flagstaff for fishin; let's head for Texas!

They also developed an affinity for a beach alongside the Snake River called “Dug Bar” that may be among the remotest places you can drive to in the lower 48, but that didn’t stop Tom B from taking that old 2WD van down the rugged and precipitous track with his boat and trailer bouncing along behind, and more than once he had to stop to fix a flat on one or the other in the middle of that road in the bowels of Hell’s Canyon (We once asked him if they had a communication device for any major problems, and he replied “Hell yes!  Got one of them fancy cell phones!”  We didn’t bother to point out that they were hours from a signal….).  Once at Dug Bar with Tom’s son Sam they set up a compound that would make any car camper envious, and the morning coffee time stretched late and the cocktail hour started early, with copious bass-slaying happening in between.  Life was good. 

At this point, we (Tom D and Paul) were living out of state. Ginny and Tom B visited us when they could, but their busy travel schedule kept them on the run. Inevitably, their lives began slow bit by bit, with Tom B remarking over a strong gin and tonic at his 90th birthday party that he just wasn’t the man he was at 89. This after recently receiving a freeway speeding warning and explaining to the Oregon State Trooper that at his age momentum was all he had and that he couldn’t afford to slow down.

In the fall of 2008, TomB passed away, characteristically annoyed that he was about to miss the Eastern Oregon steelhead run. We were both settled into Utah and Ginny decided it was time to get away from the rain once and for all by moving to Utah.  On the drive out, she was lamenting that she had grown up being known as Ginny and that the somewhat-formal husband PC had always called her Virginia, which then stuck with their Portland friends. Upon being told that she could create a new identity in a new location where a few of us knew her, she brightened up and said that from now on there was no Virginia, only Ginny.  So it has been.
Ginny with her namesake niece Ginger.  both names so much more fun than "Virginia!"
When Ginny left Illinois in nineteen hundred and forty six she was bound and determined to live in the mountains, and was never quite sure how she ended up living at an elevation of 350 feet in western Oregon, so she was excited to have consistent views mountains and the ability to head up into them from time to time.  For her first 6 years or so here, her 3rd floor east-facing window provided a straight view of Gobbler’s Knob, and she was able to use her binoculars give us a report on tracks on the NW face and watch us ski.  When given one wish for her September birthday, she has picked a picnic with us and Janette and Ashley up in the canyons every year since she arrived.

We spent a number of long weekends with her at Utah Avalanche Center forecaster and former Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger Drew Hardesty’s National Park Service cabin on the edge of Lupine Meadow where she found she could spend full days on the Best Front Porch In The World with a book, sandwich, iced tea, watching Mt Teewinot go by.  Her ability and desire to fish has diminished a lot, although when we rented a canoe to fish along the shoreline of Jenny Lake, she found the fishing a lot more interesting than the grizzly turning over logs 40 yards away on the shore.

Her 94th birthday is approaching. Diminishing mobility and fading memory changes life a lot and her primary entertainment has become reading, time with the family, and going out for breakfast. Life in assisted living under the pandemic regime is rugged, with her travel limited to the inside perimeter of her tiny apartment and a no-visitation order. We bent the rules a couple of weeks ago and snuck her out for a long breakfast (take out at a local neighborhood park) where she was overjoyed at the simple pleasures of warm sun, cold breeze, slightly runny eggs, homemade apricot jam, and people and dogs of all sizes walking by and giving her a cheery hello.
Like a lot of people, she needs a haircut!
Like the earlier ode to our dad PC, much of these three posts about Ginny have focused on what she’s done, and it’s very much worth talking a bit about who she is.  Our mom has always been eternally positive and easy going, even as she has aged and more acutely over the last few months of what has effectively been solitary confinement.  She also has been just stubborn and fortunate enough to say, get, and do what she wants, and for better or worse has blissfully ignored much of the challenging aspects of American life/history; she doesn’t really remember the Korean or Vietnam wars, the civil unrest of the 60’s, or any other major social upheavals, but she sure remembers well the many hiking, fishing, dog training, and mushroom hunting adventures that she did with her family and friends. 
The entire Denecke-Diegel clan (and Martha!) celebrating Ginny's 90th.  
She claims to have had kids without any real intent or strategy for raising them but it somehow it (barely!) worked out okay. Her natural ability to chat anybody up is legendary, yet as she aged that chattiness didn’t devolve into droning on and on the way some old folks tend to do because she still has maintained a keen interest in other people and much prefers learning about what others are up to rather than talking about herself, a quality that made her a good newspaper reporter and writer.  In her 10th decade she is quite comfortable with her mortality, with the knowledge and satisfaction that – like her two husbands who went before her – she’s led exactly the life that she wanted to. 
"I want to go to Zion!"  

Mountain Mama in the Wallowas, mid-1970's.

"Sailing?  That'd be wonderful!"
Life in our new Covid-inspired reality is hard on someone her age.  She is in a nearby assisted living facility with a strict lockdown and no visitation policy, which raises the question of whether social isolation or the potential vulnerability to a likely fatal (at her age) disease is the greater risk.  There are no easy answers right now. Certainly we all miss our regular 2-hour breakfast outings and face-to-face time greatly.  But in true Ginny fashion she is still – in her words – “just fine!”

Ginny Diegel’s been a great mom; the best we ever had! 

Thanks again to brother Paul who wrote the majority of this post and dug up a lot of great pics for this series from some buried treasure chest! 

Monday, May 11, 2020

An Ode to Ginny - part 2

The Ode to Ginny Diegel as she and PC settle down (but only sort of!)

For the happy couple the latter half of the 50’s was filled with work, building a house, hunting and fishing, skiing, and backpacking. Weekends were spent chasing outdoor objectives. One memorable outing involved jumping in the car after work on Friday afternoon, driving to Sun Valley just in time to catch the first chair, skiing all day Saturday, partying Saturday night, skiing all day Sunday, back in the car, and rolling into Portland just in time to shower and head to work Monday morning.

This lifestyle came to an abrupt change in direction in the traditional way. In 1959, they became parents. I know what you are thinking – why didn’t they just get a Sprinter and a carload of infant-sized Patagonia fleece and continue raging? Well, they weren’t quite that progressive. They also really want to live a rural lifestyle, which led them to buying a 70 year-old hobby farm on the outskirts of Portland, close enough for PC to commute downtown and far enough away to be quiet, dark, and acceptable to hunt on your own and surrounding property. Getting water from a meager well, growing, harvesting, and preserving the results of a large garden, filling the freezer with local game meat, and barely staying a half-step ahead of an about-to-collapse old farmhouse and barn pretty much filled their busy days.
Kid (PIA) #1 - Paul, Circa 1960.  
In keeping with their eagerness for obscure activities, their bird hunting grew to include raising Springer Spaniels for hunting and field trials, a sort of contrived judged competition consisting of simulated hunting with highly trained and skilled dogs. Women in that sport at that time focused their efforts on preparing picnic lunches, watching the kids, and matching their lipstick to the season. However, Ginny and a friend, not surprisingly, shook things up a bit. They decided that if their husbands could train and compete at hunting with dogs, they could too.  So they both got puppies, trained them together, and in their first competition, they finished one-two, with Ginny becoming the first woman in the Pacific Northwest to win a field trial.

Back on the family front, Ginny and PC tried easing back into skiing after some years off.  They took Paul out for his first tour at about age 5, climbing up and skiing down a snow-covered nearby neighbor’s field (which was no doubt his first first descent, as backyard skiing in Portland is pretty rare).    They skied a handful of days on Mt. Hood but Paul didn’t embrace it they way they’d hoped he would and skiing got set aside again for a while.  Tom was born in 1965 and skiing with 2 kids probably didn’t seem any easier.  But something clicked when Paul was about 11 and Tom was 5 and skiing once again became a big thing in the family with regular weekend and night ski trips to Mt Hood. Good life skills came out of that – along with introducing us to a sport that has mostly kept us in and  out of trouble  for the last 50 years, Ginny joined a Wednesday ski group when Paul was about 14 and Tom was 8, riding the bus to Mt. Hood Meadows with a bunch of ladies.  She enabled that by showing us boys a few cooking tips and making it clear she expected dinner on the table when she came rolling in at the end of the long ski day.
On the rare day that she deigned to ski with the family; I think Paul was in college by now. 
Ginny didn’t really do a lot of research into what constituted “good” parenting and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with a coupla small kids, but she sure liked fishing, backpacking, skiing, field trials, so she just dragged us around to do these things with her, much as our friends drag their kids around with them mountain biking, rafting, and backcountry skiing today. PC became more focused on field trialing and sports cars, so we became her regular outdoor partners, mainly skiing, backpacking, and fishing.  
Their last hike together, apparently in the early days of "spousal distancing!"
In particular, the Wallowa Mountains  -the "American Alps" as they are sometimes called due to their high, granite-strewn terrain  - had became her favorite zone, and she worked at getting us to be her partners there:
with cousin Annie, above Ice Lake in the Wallowas. 
Our hiking connection continued as we got older

As she spent more and more time outdoors she got intrigued with the flora and fauna around her, and joined the local groups The Audubon Society and The Native Plant Society of Oregon and ultimately became the latter’s Portland chapter president.  It was also the catalyst for her to get interested in mushroom hunting (Oregon is good for that) and for years she would go tromp around in the woods looking for chanterelle and morels and sell pounds of them to some of Portland’s fanciest restaurants to help pay for gas money!

Southwest Oregon is apparently a great place for mushrooms (lots of old burns) and we remember vividly when she came home from one trip where she described how she and her other cute little old lady friends were bouncing up a gravel road in the middle of nowhere in the Siskiyou mountains when they came across a pickup full of guys with….big guns, and not during hunting season.  The guys stopped the cute ladies and asked them what they were doing, to which they cheerily responded:  “Mushroom hunting!”.  Well ladies, there aren’t any mushrooms up here, and you should probably just turn around and head back down the mountain.  The ladies were indignant, but who she later realized were industrial pot growers were polite, insistent and much better armed, so the ladies wisely turned about, albeit in a bit of a huff! 

Like most moms, Ginny was quite keen to expose us kids to all sorts of activities, so she dragged us to guitar lessons, pottery lessons, baseball/soccer/basketball/cross country practices, summer pond biology classes, etc. Her iconic blue Buick Special station wagon that had about 2.3 gazillion miles on it since we lived a ways out in the country from our suburban schools and friends.  Ginny didn’t mind the chauffeuring too much (when she was around and not mushroom hunting, on Ladies Ski days, fishing high mountain lakes, etc).  One day we were heading into town and were running a little late, things were a bit harried, and I was a few seconds behind.  She got in the car, buckled her seat belt, started the car, put it in reverse, and backed out of the garage…..with her driver’s door still open.  Of course, it caught on the edge of the garage opening and made an awful crunching noise.  I raced around to the driver’s side and saw the door smashed against the garage, and yowled;  “Argh!  Pull forward!”  She put it in drive, pulled forward, and as she did so the door simply fell off the car and tumbled onto the floor with a huge CLUNK!” 

The next day I was out running with my cross-country teammates waiting to cross a road near school, and someone exclaimed “There’s Tom’s Mom!”  Sure enough, she was driving our equally-classic Ford Gran Torino wagon and gave a little wave, and then someone said “and there’s Tom’s Dad!” and not far behind, wearing a puffy down jacket, gloves, and hat, and safely buckled in, was my dad, driving the Buick, doorless.   His wave was somewhat half-hearted, as my teammates melted down in laughter. I can't believe I don't have a picture of the doorless Buick Special!  

The micro farm we grew up in had an orchard and big garden space and a big part of our summers and falls was spent planting, weeding, pruning, picking, canning, hunting, and freezing.  I’m not sure she really enjoyed it, but she was diligent and dedicated and we subsisted on our own produce and game meat, occasionally complaining that we never got to have the processed convenience foods our peers lived on (who remembers Rice-a-roni and Hamburger Helper?)

As we got older, she found herself with more free time and began writing; going back to a talent that she had developed as a girl.  She specialized in short stories for magazines, unsuccessful young adult novels, and regular special interest articles and photos in our local weekly paper.  Her biggest commercial success was a published guide book to retiring in the Northwest, drawing on her love for doing research and chatting with people, and introducing us to the concept of getting paid to travel around doing fun things. She dabbled in entrepreneurship, concluding that an auto alarm decal was probably 90% as effective as actually having an alarm system and a lot cheaper and easier to install. She recruited the family to develop branding, supply chain, packaging, a marketing plan, and distribution channels around the dining room table and went on to sell maybe a dozen decals, ultimately losing about $10 on the venture but introducing us kids to product development and commerce.

Fishing became her over-riding passion and she joined a fishing club, bought pretty much every fly known to (wo)man in multiple sizes, tried to fish every spot of open water in Oregon, and was a source of great confusion to all the other fisherman she met who had never seen a woman fishing alone before.
A nice coastal steelhead, displayed with the sprawling grassland behind the farm.  

high mountain trout were the favorite
Smoking-related cancer morbidity statistics caught up with PC in 1993 and Ginny found herself a widow with a camper van (predating #vanlife by about 20 years) filled with an impressive array of fishing paraphernalia, a springer spaniel, sons living in different states, and a lonely 100 year old farmhouse still trying to fall down daily. Not long after declaring that she didn’t intend to marry again, she started hanging out with the brother of her best friend who himself was a long time but distant friend of the Diegels, which led to her remarrying (“he’s really cute, he makes me feel like a teenager, and he has a fishing boat!”). Conveniently named Tom, he too had recently lost his spouse and was looking for that unicorn: a beautiful single woman his age with a camper van, a spaniel, and a lust for road trips and fishing. There wasn’t much debate about getting together and embarking on a new life of mostly fishing trips! 

To be continued! 

Friday, May 8, 2020

An Ode to Ginny Diegel

Recently we shared a fun snapshot of Virginia (Ginny) Denecke-Diegel during her first summer away from home in Yellowstone, and it prompted the Diegel Brothers to do a bit more of a full bio of her, because – like our dad – she led a fascinating life very much on her own terms, but unlike our dear old dad, Ginny is still around to fact-check our stuff to ensure its accuracy!  This is the first of likely several posts, cleverly designed to be posted around Mother’s Day!. 

Ginny was born in the humble town of Rock Island, Illinois on the banks of the mighty Mississippi into a family of pretty conservative parents and as the 10-year-younger sister of an overachiever brother (Arno, who later became an artillery officer in WW II, a lawyer, a judge, and the Chief Justice of the Oregon State Supreme Court before “retiring” into mediation for General Motors, among others).  Ginny was a bit of a wild child, emulating Huck Finn in gallivanting on the river, and the trips that she took with her family out west to the national parks and her rebellious nature made her determined to leave the flatlands and head for the mountains as soon as she could. 

As she was growing up, her family did a lot of road trips, a very different deal then with rough roads, flat tires, and slow cars. A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park when she was about 10 made a big impression on her. Coming from Illinois, she was taken by the 3 dimensional landscape of Colorado and all the outdoor recreation opportunities. Her mother didn’t share her excitement, adding to the tension between them. 
Ginny keen to rage around the park; Gertie not so much!
Going back to the flatlands limited her outdoor activities, although she did become a lifeguard and, with some high school friends, drove upstream a ways with canoes and spent several days floating back down the Mississippi to Rock Island. Visits to iconic American destinations like Washington DC and the Grand Canyon further whet her appetite for adventure.

During her freshman year in college, her father connected her with a friend who was recruiting summer workers for National Parks and, as soon as classes ended in the spring, she found herself on a train to Yellowstone.  Being on her own, waiting tables, exploring the park, hitchhiking to Jackson for excitement on days off, dating cowboys, and learning to toss rocks and bang pots at bears to clear a path home through the Old Faithful Village after the restaurants shut down at night rocked her world.

The waitressing job that she had at Yellowstone had an inauspicious end; some time after the lost cork incident she described in the recent blog post she was racing around the dining room trying to effectively service her customers, but one guy was determined to get her to address his needs by waving and snapping his fingers in her direction and incessantly hollering “Girlie!  Over here!  Girlie!”  She finally raged over to him, said “yes, sir, how can I help you?”  as she simultaneously poured hot coffee down the back of his neck!  Needless to say, this fiery young woman was transferred to a different job with reduced access to dangerous items shortly thereafter.

When her older brother got a faculty job at the University of Oregon, she wasted no time in packing her bags, transferring her Augustana College credits to the University of Oregon, and trading the Midwest for Eugene and the Cascade range. 
Heading for Oregon!
Taking a PE skiing class seemed like a good idea, and she quickly fell in love with skiing in the low elevation Cascades, truly an acquired taste. She was tall and athletic and pretty quickly fell in love with ski racing, not enough to make the big time but enough to still proudly introduce herself as a downhill racer. School inevitably came to an end and she found herself with an English Lit degree, sharing an apartment in Portland with several girlfriends from school, working a series of sales, teaching, and secretarial jobs, and spending her free time climbing (“I wasn’t all that keen on climbing but I made a lot of good friends and the guys were really cute”) and skiing (“I was a good skier; better than your dad, I think”).
That's a lot of ski underfoot! 

 She was active in the venerable Cascade Ski Club and in 1952 was named the Ski Princess of Oregon, entitling her to a hosted trip to Aspen to compete in the famous Winterskol competition: a week of wining, dining, skijoring, ski racing, and general partying in one of the ultimate winter party towns.  Not so fast, said her boss: you have important dictation to take and letters to type.  Sorry, no time off for you.
This cute young thing wasn't going to be told she couldn't got to Aspen!
 So the next week, freshly unemployed, she found herself in Aspen. The week-long festivities are still burned into her brain. She is still a little grumpy about not winning the Queen competition (“There was another girl who wasn’t a very good skier but was better looking and more popular.  It didn’t seem very fair”). 

At the end of the week, she realized she needed a plan for what to do next.  With no job waiting for her, she did what came naturally – she headed to Alta for a while, staying at the Peruvian Lodge (“Huh!  It hasn’t changed much since I was last here 56 years ago.”). She drifted West to Sun Valley, hung out and skied there until one day she bumped into a ski friend from Portland that was heading home in a few days and had an empty car seat. She created a bit of a stir among her friends and family when she got home - that was an era in which quitting your job to go on the road ski bumming was just not done, and certainly not by a woman.

Back in Portland, she found another job and continued hanging out with an enthusiastic outdoor-oriented group, staying busy backpacking, fishing, climbing, and skiing. This was shortly after the end of WW II, there weren’t a lot of people recreating in the mountains, and the equipment was pretty crude:” mostly WW II surplus. Trails were not well established, guidebooks didn’t exist, and access roads were rough. Subarus and Toyota Tacomas weren’t available and every weekend outing included some combination of putting chains on the Chevy sedan, getting stuck anyway, several flat tires, and the random failed fuel pump or ignition that needed impromptu fixing.  

Her outdoor tribe was a blissful and innocent group of men (war vets) and women who were not yet paired up, with rumored hot fishing lakes, new climbing routes, and rare windows of weather suitable for skiing the high NW volcanoes all prioritized higher than romance. Ginny mortified her friends and infuriated her family when she did a several week road trip back to the Midwest for some family business with Paul C  Diegel, one of the many handsome young guys she skied and climbed with. Two young single people of opposing genders just didn’t do that sort of thing back then. Introducing her dashing single older friend with his whiskey flask, cigarettes, Naval-office and Harvard-educated attitude, and flashy souped-up Lincoln convertible to her conservative Methodist parents after 2 weeks on the road together didn’t go well at all. Even her progressive big brother challenged her judgment.  She somehow assured everyone that this was not a big deal; that they were just friends who liked travelling together.

But of course, that didn’t last long.  One day, two other members of their tribe stunned the rest by announcing their engagement. A few quick rounds of musical chairs ensued and soon enough there were a lot of showers, weddings, and receptions to attend. Ginny had several promising candidates on her radar. When PC hesitated, she told him in no uncertain terms that she was now on a mission and he needed to decide whether he wanted to get married or not and do it quickly. His momma didn’t raise no fool and he quickly found himself a suit and boutonniere, she got her photo and announcement in the Rock Island Argus, and they were hitched, much to her parent’s lifelong dismay.  

With that stress behind them, the group of friends quickly went back into the mountains when they weren’t building careers.

Over the next 5 years, they stayed busy. Their climbing petered out after PC and a friend summited Mt Owen in an epic 24 hour push that featured being pinned down by ferocious lighting and rain. While the guys were on the peak, Ginny and her friend Jean hiked and fished near their base camp looking nervously at the peaks shrouded in clouds and were convinced that the climbers had been struck by lighting.  Not sure what to do, they fixed dinner as planned at 6 pm and kept PC and John’s dinner warm on the fire till the duo finally staggered back into camp at midnight. It isn’t clear if it was the summer hypothermia, the zinging of static electricity on ice axes, the lack of sleep, or coming back to a dinner that had been simmering for 6 hours, but the joy of climbing was gone for PC, and Ginny didn’t seem to miss it much, since there were plenty of other fun things to do in The West, and they continued to try to do them all.  

Of course, to be continued!