And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, really, the last two weeks have been a moment of happiness. Being in Waldport, Oregon, in a place I love to distraction, has been wonderful. A student emailed me and spoke of the “joyful photographs” I was posting on Facebook and elsewhere. If my joy at being here can come across in photos, then that joy is pretty darn powerful.

I’ve been coming here since 2006. In that time, there were a few years that I didn’t show. 2017, when I was in treatment for breast cancer. 2020, Covid. For two years, I went to different places in Maine, on the exact opposite coast. One year, I won a week-long retreat in Valton (where I fell down the steps in the beginning of September this year, when I won the contest again) and so I combined it with a week in La Crosse, WI, another favorite place.

But I’ve always returned to Waldport, and when I haven’t been here, my thoughts still make the trek. A wall next to my desk in my office at home is devoted to photos from this place. The wall behind me has art pieces incorporating sand dollars given to me by the ocean. Joyful photos. Joyful answers.

Wonderful things have happened here, both this year and in all the years previous. Magical things. Things that can’t be explained. Things that have never happened anywhere else.

There were not so great moments this year too, as there are every year. One happened with a nameless, faceless woman, just a voice on the phone, who wasn’t even here, but who helped connect me, in Oregon, to my daughter Olivia, in Wisconsin.

When I originally planned this trip, back in January, I decided to come in October, instead of my usual June, July or August. My summer was packed this year, and so I thought a trip in October would expand my view of this place, allow me to see it in the fall, a different season than I’d ever been here before. I planned on having Olivia come with me, for at least part of the trip, to celebrate her 22nd birthday here. Olivia has traveled with me here three times, twice for the entire trip, and her first time, when she was seven, when she joined me here partway through my trip with her father. She loves it here. Since she usually has Fridays off in her school schedule, I thought she could fly in for an extended weekend.

I forgot that this year, her senior year, had an extra to it. She had school and she had work, but she also had her internship. There was no time for her to come. This meant that for the first time in her young life, I would not be there for her birthday.

She was turning twenty-two years old. She’s an adult. This shouldn’t be a big deal. But to me, it was.

The night before her birthday, I was rattled and trying to figure out what I could still do to make her birthday special. I went to a well-known flower site. Olivia never had flowers delivered to her before. Her favorite holiday, maybe because of its proximity to her birthday, is Halloween. I found a lovely flower arrangement of pink roses, her favorite color, that would be delivered in a white ceramic pumpkin. They guaranteed delivery on her birthday. Bam. Perfect. I made the order, but still went to bed in tears.

The next day, Olivia messaged a family chat we have on Facebook. “Did someone send a surprise present?” she asked. “There’s supposed to be a package waiting for me downstairs, at the front desk.”

“I did!” I said.

And then all hell broke loose.

She couldn’t find the package. She was told deliveries weren’t allowed at the front desk (then why have a front desk?), but that packages were brought to the mail room. She checked; it wasn’t there. She checked with public safety; not there. She was told it went to the Welcome Desk, and there, she was told that the delivery person said that it had to be paid for (it didn’t), and when the person at the desk said no, he took the arrangement away.

No flowers. No white ceramic pumpkin. No heartfelt card.

I got on the phone to the flower site. It took a bit, but I managed to get through to a person. By then, I was both in tears and mad as hell. Not a good combination. I explained the whole thing. “Hang on,” the woman said, “hang on. I’ll find out what this is about.”

A few holds later, she came back. “The flower shop we arranged the delivery through isn’t answering its phone,” she said. “My feeling is that someone thought they could get a few extra bucks into their pocket. Don’t worry. I’m sending the arrangement out again, with a different shop, and it will get there, just not today.”

Not on her birthday.

“It’s the first time I’m not there for this,” I said. “I’m not there for her.”

She was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Kathie, I’ll make sure she gets them tomorrow. I’ll follow up myself. And as soon as we hang up, I’m going to call your daughter. I’m going to wish her a happy birthday, and I’m going to make sure she knows this is our fault, not yours. And that she has one fantastic mom.”

It was the second time I was called this during this week. Both times by people who weren’t my kids.

The woman on the phone did exactly what she said. The day after her birthday, my daughter had her flowers. “They’re so beautiful!” she said, sending me photos via Facebook.

And they were. So is she.

And so is that nameless, faceless woman on the phone. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Upon first arrival in Oregon, young Olivia faces off with Ms. Pacific. This was the summer she was seven years old. She would turn 8 in October.
Olivia on her 22nd birthday.
The flowers.
One of the joyful photos.

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