by Bruce A. Smith
Three beloved writers of the Mountain News – Judy Spiers, Tari Parker, and Milt Gordon – have passed away in recent years. Although long overdue, I would like to commemorate their lives, their writings, and their contributions to this magazine.
Judy wrote many articles for the Mountain News, mostly in the early days of our existence and focused primarily on the local art scene. Judy also taught me how to be a better editor, as I often wanted her to sound more like my “voice,” and I either ignored or failed to appreciate her peppy cadence. Our arguments made us both better people and writers.
I first met Judy and her husband while covering a story for the Pierce County Dispatch. In 2008, Judy was the president of the Country Estates Homeowners Association, and she fought fiercely against a corporation who wanted their land. Although Judy and her neighbors owned their homes – all double-wides – they didn’t hold title to the property. As a result, the land was owned by the family of the founder of Country Estates, and wanting to cash-out their inheritance the descendants accepted a hefty offer by a land development firm seeking to build the shopping center that now sits along Meridian at 165th Street.
This dilemma is common to semi-rural areas of Washington, as old-time mobile home parks are engulfed by development pressures. After numerous court and political battles, the members of Country Estates surrendered and moved. It was a modern-day tragedy, as many seniors and disabled folks had to find a new place to live, watching their ancient mobile homes either crumble in the move or get trashed and sent to a land fill.
In addition, not only did old-growth trees get cut and a bucolic neighborhood destroyed, two people died in the re-location – one, a family member from a heart attack, and the other – an 86-year old resident – from medical complications suffered in a fall during the packing.
From these events a bond was formed with Judy and Mark. We became friends and socialized. As they started their new life further south in Graham at another mobile home site, Judy began to write. First, for the newly created Mountain News, focusing on stories about Graham artists and gardeners. Then later, she penned poignant vignettes of her life growing up on a farm in Buckley.
She also began to paint in earnest, revealing that a creative renaissance was unfolding in her life. In fact, during this time Judy and I traveled to a series of literary salons on Mercer Island with Mark as our driver.
Sadly, the last time I saw Judy was the day she and Mark drove me home from Good Sam Hospital after I had my heart attack. I suppose I was absorbed in my own treatment and struggle to recover, so I was unaware when Judy began to fall ill herself.
Judy Spiers died in 2013 of complications from her cancer treatments. She is survived by her husband, Mark Schooley.
To see her stories:
As for Tari, pronounced “Terry,” I had known her for years before she actually wrote anything. Simply, I had a huge crush on her daughter, Becki, so I frequently crossed paths with the mother of my flame.
One day, out-of-the-blue, Tari ran up to me and asked to speak privately. In hushed, almost conspiratorial tones, she asked me for my assistance in helping her become a writer.
“Sure, Tari,” I replied. “What do you want to write about?”
“The people I meet and how I help them,” Tari said.
Tari was the most charming “butt-inski” I have ever met, and she unabashedly engaged anyone who caught her attention – a single mom putting gas in her car, a distracted teenager eating a hot dog at Costco, a cop who pulled her over for speeding. She’d walk up to them, introduce herself, and then offer some kind of social pat-on-the-back or a more insightful—and intrusive—psychological assessment of what Tari was observing.
Besides the daughter, I had an unusual connection to Tari—her fondness for Cabot’s Hunter’s Exceptionally Sharp Cheddar Cheese, which is only available in New England. Tari told me about her fixation one day, and asked for my help in getting her some since she knew I visited family Back East with regularly.
As a result, Tari got put on my mother’s Cabot’s cheese list, and two-pound blocks began to find their way to the Parker residence in Onalaska. Occasionally, I would meet with Tari in a Yelm restaurant to make the cheese exchange, and we would catch up on each other’s lives.
When I spent time with Tari, she would tell me of these unique encounters in the world. So, when she said she was going to write about the people she met in life, I knew exactly what she was going to share.
Unfortunately, Tari only put a few words to paper before she succumbed to pulmonary complication in 2013.
As for the cop, Tari asked him to recommend a good Mexican restaurant in Chehalis, and he complied. As I remember the story, he escorted her to dinner – and she didn’t get the speeding ticket.
Milt Gordon was my buddy. Some of the finest moments I have spent at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment were in the company of Milt, where we manned the Fry Shack at Charlie’s restaurant at RSE. Most lunches and dinners we would sling French fries, fried chicken, and other deep-fried delectables to the hungry masses during the ninety-minute meal break.
But our greatest fun was breakfast. I handled the counter and Milt ran the grill, flipping “Flappen-Jacken” pancakes, French toast, and other morning grill treats to our fellow students. Generally, we would have dozens of starving students waiting in the cold and rain, so I maintained crowd control and got orders organized while Milt did the cooking. During the whole process we joked with each other, jivin’ and dancin’ to the throng’s delight. It was sweet. In extremis.
After my heart attack, Milt started sending me personal tomes that he asked to be posted on the Mountain News. In our mutual enlightenment, we argued over his submissions. Milt drove me crazy because everything he wrote was CAPITALIZED. He hurt my eyeballs and I told him. In fact, I threatened not to read or publish his stories until he utilized lower case.
“BUT I CAN’T SEE THE TEXT,” he’d reply.
“Then use bigger fonts, Milt!” I answered.
Eventually, he did. As a result, Milt’s memories of chocolate chip cookies in a fire house made it to the page.
I last saw Milt at a party at Charlie and Linda’s house, drinking red wine, just before Milt died of his own heart attack in 2014. He is survived by his wife, Molly.
Judy Spiers, shown with Fred Oldfield at the Puyallup Fair, when she was doing an article on the famous Western artist. Photo by Gary McCutcheon, another local artist that Judy profiled for the Mountain News.
Judy and Mark, in their garden, Graham, Washington. Photo was first shown in Judy’s piece on Gentleman Gardening.
Judy, a headshot taken by her son, Ian, a professional photographer.
Photos of Milt Gordon are pending.