Jeannie Hodson Graves

Jeannie Hodson - 1961Jeannie Hodson Graves - 2011

Jeannie Graves - Age Birth - 18

Mom was a public health nurse and Dad was a Sea Captain. When they married (on Pearl Harbor Day), Mom moved from Washington State to NYC. She practiced Public Health there until I was due, and then came back to Washington for the birth. She had all three of us girls at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, where she had trained. I was still an infant when she moved back to NYC since during the war, Dad's shipping route was primarily in the Atlantic and she had more chances of seeing him there. It was hard to find apartments and you could only stay a few months. During the 7 months we lived there, she anticipated my every need so I never cried. My earliest experience was that the world would treat me well. It's still my default position, though I'll tell you there have been many rude breeches of that expectation since then. Somehow I've survived.

In late 1944, when my sister Moira was due to be born, Mom came back to Seattle again and my earliest memories (about age 2) are in the little house we lived in. I remember lying in my crib and noticing that if I closed my eyes one at a time, the color of the world changed slightly. That's still true-one eye sees things a little more green, the other a little more yellow. I remember wondering if we all see things a little differently. We agree the leaf is green but do your eyes and brain register the same green as mine do I wondered? Later, I remember looking at an aquarium and noticing that if you look at the corner, you see two of each thing, one through each side of the angle. I wondered how we know there is one fish, not two. I actually knew there was only one fish but liked to play with the idea in my mind. So early on I questioned the nature of reality. That has stayed with me, too.

We moved a lot and traveled up and down the coast even more. Whenever Dad's ship was in a West Coast port city, we were on the dock in frilly dresses, waiting for it to tie up. Being the Captain's daughters, we were rather treated like royalty (pretty easy to get used to) by the sailors and even the longshoremen. In those days, cargo was loaded and unloaded with big booms on the ship and stored in huge warehouses on the piers. I loved to be on the docks and later when I worked for Bethlehem Steel, it felt like coming home to be with hard working men in an industrial setting.

We lived at various times in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles (San Diego is a navy town-no real commercial shipping, at least at that time). All those cities still feel like home to me. We drove for days at a time to visit Dad's ship-Mom would give us each a dollar at the beginning of the trip and Moira and I would carefully pick out 20 non-duplicate comic books. We would read our way up and down the coast. And every night, no matter whether we were at home or traveling, Mom would read to us. We loved it and would beg for 'one more chapter.' She'd read sometimes for a couple of hours, til she had no more spit left. Then she'd tuck us in for the night. I still read myself to sleep almost every night. I should say here that in addition to giving us a love of books, Mom taught each of us to write. Thank you, Mom.

The year Dad's Liberty Ship was being refitted as a commercial freighter, we lived in San Francisco. Dad would spend the day at the dry dock and come home every night. It was one of the happiest years of my early life. From there, we moved to Snohomish WA, where my mother's people had been pioneers in Washington Territory. We lived in the old family house with our beloved Aunt Mayme, my grandmother's sister.

We lived with Aunt Mayme for three sweet years and basked in her love and attention. During the polio epidemic (late 40's?) Mom felt called to nurse. Aunt Mayme had had polio as a child and one leg was several inches shorter than the other. She was furious at Mom outside. There was always a nice hot bath for Mom and the old wringer washer was filled with hot, hot water heavily laced with Clorox. Aunt Mayme would lift the contaminated clothing with the end of a broom handle and carry it into the laundry room. No lack of drama in our family. So I guess that aspect of my personality runs deep in the genes and culture, too.

In Snohomish, we lived on a gravel road so there were no ball games. I never learned to catch or throw a ball and have always been terrible at any ball games. My continuing apologies to all my classmates in gym. I understand completely why I was the last picked. If I could have avoided being picked at all, I would have been much happier. My response to hearing my team mates yell that a ball was coming my way was to duck and cover. Interestingly, as an adult I found my way back into the gym through weight training and aerobics. I'm terrible at aerobics but pretty good at weight lifting. When I take an aerobics class my eyes are glued to the teacher's feet. I can remember long stretches of poetry but can't remember even a short series of physical movements. My sister Helen was born in July 1951 and that November, we moved to Long Beach, California. We lived right on the peninsula beach. I thought it was the most glamorous place I could imagine: Palm trees, warmth, the ocean. That was before the Long Beach breakwater was built so there was wonderful surf. After winter storms, there would be flotsam and jetsam all along the beach and Moira and I would examine it all like treasure hunters. We spent so much time in the water, we cut off our long braids (past our waists). Only in the past couple of years have I grown out my hair again.

We moved across the lagoon to Naples and spent 2 happy years there. The public library was walking distance and I read their entire collection of fairy tales. So if I wasn't in the water, I had my nose in a book. I was diagnosed with myopia and started wearing glasses in 4th grade. I hated the look of them but loved being able to see. Wish I had been diagnosed for hearing loss, I think early hearing aids might have helped me socially. (If I ignored you in High School, I probably didn't hear you or maybe even see you.) And that's not even to mention a family trait of 'not noticing' which both my Dad and my son also shared. On the other hand, boy can we focus.

In 6th grade, we moved to Garden Grove, then billed as smog free Garden Grove, remember? I am sometimes amazed at our luck at living in that time and place. It was one of the bedroom cities for the emerging aerospace industry and so even those of us who had no family connection to that industry benefited from real smart classmates and inspired teachers. We really had a good education. But you know all that so I'll just jump to graduation.

Age 18-68

Tom Howard, Jim Wiczai and I went to UCB, though I saw very little of them there. It was the time of the free speech movement and I remember seeing Mario Salvio hanging on to Sather gate and addressing the crowd on my way to class. I am still one of the least political people I know and I just thought it was all more craziness, like the masses of hair so many people grew. I cannot say those were happy years. I was terribly homesick, not a good student (maybe I had burned myself out in High School), and was probably clinically depressed. I slept 14+ hours a day and couldn't stay awake in class. It was a golden opportunity for a grand education and I really muffed it. I dropped out as a Junior, very suicidal, and worked for a few months as a Mother's Helper (a job my mom organized for me).

I married Mac Milleur, the 'boy next door' in the apartment I lived in during my Junior year. We moved to Wisconsin where he was working on a doctorate in Quantum Mechanics. I wanted nothing to do with school at all, at all. I got a job with the Red Cross as a receptionist and they should have fired my sorry ass, I was such a poor worker. I did get past the suicidal stuff, though. I realized at some point that if you just keep breathing, things get better-even when there seems no reason why they should.

The marriage failed. I should probably say I failed the marriage, but Mac would get mad at me if I did. He was a loving husband and remains a dear and supportive friend. I moved back to Los Angeles and got a job in an employment agency. I had dated Bill Graves (from Mater Dei) in High School and we started seeing each other again. I also connected with Barb Hynes, Dan Fliegle, Tim Jones and other H.S. friends. When Dan committed suicide, it was Tim who called me. Dan's death was devastating. It was the first time I had experienced the death of someone I loved. Not that it gets any easier. I still think of Dan. He was gay at a time when the 'joke' was, show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse. He missed the whole gay liberation movement and I'm so sorry about that, for him and for the movement. I often wish he would have stuck around a little longer. It really does always get better if you just keep breathing.

Bill and I married and had our son, Charles. I was really gaga in love with Bill and when he left, I was desolate. When he later told me that he had been unfaithful from the first year of our marriage, sorrow turned to rage. I went back to school and finished my B.A. in English at CSU Northridge. I knew if I had to support myself and Charles, I needed that degree. But I was a bitter and angry woman. Even though this time around, I really enjoyed the course work and graduated with Honors in English, my anger cup was full with a meniscus. One drop of any irritation and the anger cup would spill over. And just in time for the Woman's Liberation movement!

I got a job as a workers' compensation claims adjustor and I was good at it. It combined a lot of things I excelled at: legal and medical terminology (Thank you, Mrs. Wiley for an excellent education in Latin); focus, ability to read complicated documents (that English major was a boon) and most of all, my natural capacity as a control freak. So I could really do a good job on the claims, but Heaven help any man who crossed me, or dismissed me. It took years of therapy and lots of Anger Workshops to work through that load of rage and hate.

I worked my way up the corporate ladder and became a Claims Supervisor, then Manager (the Bethlehem Steel job), then Director of Claims setting up a new claims department. I was 'laid off' that job in 1983 and many people told me I had good grounds for a law suit around that. But I felt that would be fighting fires behind me. I needed to put all my energy forward. I started my own company sending claims people out as temporaries. No one was doing that. The only temps were accountants and engineers at that time. One other company and my company were the pioneers, and we sold the concept to the very conservative insurance industry. We were vigorous competitors and he actually did better on the national scale. My company, Claim Net, was in business for 25 years, though. Its demise was basically from my naiveté in thinking that we could get a Federal Contract. Well, actually, we did get the contract but the loser filed an appeal, got a whole new committee appointed and we lost on the appeal. In the meantime we had spent about $250k gearing up for the work. I had to sell my house and my little rental houses, too.

About this time, my son had left the Army (Blackhawk pilot) because he and his wife Lisa felt that he was missing his children's growing up. He came back to Irvine to finish his B.A. and got a job part time with a computer software company. When he got his degree, Lisa wanted to go back to the South to live. Charles gave notice but the company refused it. So they moved to Roanoke VA and he does his computer programming in his home office and emails it to CA. From my standpoint, when they left, California was empty for me. Even though I had deep roots and lots of friends, I was sad. I'd drive down the street and think, "That's where Jenna went to school," or "That's where Lauren took dancing lessons," or "That's Lisa's favorite restaurant." My friend and business partner, Jary, encouraged me to move closer to my sisters. They were both in Oregon by then. I moved back to Seattle in 2001, 50 years to the month from when we moved to California.

Shortly after I arrived I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and I came to realize that Seattle is a good place to heal. Friends can visit you easily and they did. When I lived in Laguna Beach, it was a 20 minute drive just to get to the freeway. When I was recovering from Pneumonia there, it was hard for friends to come visit. But Seattle is a small city and I was well supported in my healing.

Not to mention that I sent out a request for prayer, and the prayers of all my friends around the world were a significant help. Prayer works. I can't explain it, it just does. When I was starting to feel better, I told friends that they could take me off the prayer list and I experienced an immediate change. I realized then that I had been carried in a palanquin of prayer. I sent out another call for prayer and things got better.

Around that time, I met Larry. It wasn't love at first sight, but I came to realize over time that when I wanted to do something, I wanted to do it with him. Apparently he felt the same way. He says, "I don't know why I love you, I just do."

When I was up and around again, I tried to use what was left of my savings to start another business but friends, I broke all my own rules of business. That company failed and I ended up bankrupt at the end of 2007.

I lost my nerve. To be the boss, you have to be willing to say, "This is what we'll do" and be pretty sure you're right or close to it. I couldn't do that anymore. So I did what I could do. I got a job as an Administrative Assistant in a construction company (remember my comfort level with hard working people in an industrial environment). The economy tanked and they cut back my hours. So I filled in with temporary work and I am still doing that, though my son is leaning on me to get back into management. That might actually happen.

Now Larry and I live together in Seattle in a little crooked house with a huge yard. Larry gardens and has made a wonderful chicken coop so we get fresh produce and fresh eggs. Miss Kitty, Larry's cat and guardian angel, has decided the chicken ranch is hers. I love Larry's humor. He patiently explained to Miss Kitty that if she has a chicken flock, she can't eat the flock. She looks at him as if she cares. But Larry is wonderful with animals. When he plays his guitar, the neighborhood birds come down on the low branches to listen. When he's in the garden, the birds are there scratching behind him for worms. We have very little money but life is good. I enjoy my days at work and my nights at home. I wish I were skinnier but I really like eating and we're both good cooks.

So that's how my life looks to me at this point. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but today is just fine.

photo album
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Jeannie and Larry - 2009  Jeannie Hodson Graves - 2011