Yesterday I picked up my online-ordered groceries from City Market (Krogers) 18 miles away in Alamosa. It was a breeze. I got the better part of a shopping trip to Alamosa (the drive) without the shopping.
Before picking up my groceries, I took 20 medical quality masks — made by my friend Elizabeth — to an office of the hospital. A very sweet, sincere young woman took them and, as this is the San Luis Valley, we visited — from a distance. She told me that volunteers had made more than 1700 of these masks.
“I don’t see that happening in big cities,” I said, thinking of a call from Mayor Cuomo for help getting medical supplies.
“They don’t ask,” said the woman. “I bet if they asked all the women with sewing machines would step up.”
I think she’s right. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between rural America and urban America simply put. This is why people in places like this vote for the guy who says, “Small government.”
I got more mask kits for Elizabeth, picked up my groceries, stopped by the pharmacy in my town and picked up my prescription for an albuterol inhaler (just in case) and came home, exhausted.
Across the highway (which is my street) was the sign that usually says “Watch for Wildlife” or “Wolf Creek Pass closed to High Profile Vehicles.” It said, “Limit Travel. Stop the Spread of Covid-19.”
I hadn’t really done anything, but I was wiped out.
I have given up the painting of the tree, in fact, I don’t want it in my house. It’s an incredibly disturbing piece of art work. I don’t want to spent hours in my little “play room” painting something I don’t want to happen. A few weeks ago it would have been a painting of a woman, a tree and the sky. Now? And, the panel is a really weird shape — FAR larger in one dimension than I think it should be. My will to paint something after I begin is not infrangible. In fact, until today, nothing in my life has been infrangible. Indomitable, unbreakable, determined, resolute, sure, but never infrangible.
Otherwise? I just hope everyone is doing as well as they can under the bizarre circumstances. The broken plumbing seems to have made it easier for me to have some perspective. Hearing OFFAL speak yesterday — and seeing him appear authentically confused and far less self-centered than usual — gave me hope (hope is often illusion) that he’s finally heard what the smart people around him have been saying. Anyway, the doctors got equal time on his daily rally and that was a little something. Dr. Birx showed us charts that I’ve seen before (really?) but they’re still good. Concerned about what will happen — most people can’t stay at home forever — I looked around until I found a decent explanation “Social distancing can’t last forever. Here’s what should come next.”
I hate the way people write now that we’re not relying on print media in which space on the that page costs money. I think back in the day, the inverted triangle made it possible for people to find out what they needed to know and then, if they chose, to move on to details if they wanted them. Anyway, the inverted triangle leads to clear, information-centered writing. If I’d written this article it would have had the bottom line at the top, but I didn’t. It’s possible to OVER-explain something. Still (having said my piece there) the article spells it out and is well worth reading.
Some good stuff has come from this, for me, anyway. I haven’t shopped for groceries for three weeks, as of yesterday. I think that’s awesome. Even in the best of times I don’t like shopping. I’ve relied on Amazon, yes, more than usual, but not that much.
Older person shopping is from 7 to 8 am, and I’m 30 minutes away from the store and like to sleep until 8 so THAT’S not happening. Instead, I’ve also compiled a list of groceries that I will pay for here at home. Then I will drive to City Market (Krogers) in Alamosa to pick it all up at an appointed time. Someone will put it in Bella and I won’t even get out of my car. Putting the list together was not that difficult because I always shop there, I have an account (for extra gas points!) and when I started it came up with a checklist of stuff I regularly buy. All I had to do was click on boxes and tell them how many. I saw more clearly what stuff costs, too. It could happen they’re sold out of some stuff, but so what?
I haven’t submitted my list yet, but I’m aiming for Friday.
The San Luis Valley has 8 known cases of COVID-19, but there are probably more. The majority of people here live in the country and the only thing anyone can do now is stay home with their symptoms unless they are grave. This isn’t a place given to sensationalizing anything.
Monday, after the plumber and I had derived the maximum enjoyment from the compelling video of my sewage line, we were talking toilet paper (the subject of the hour) and he said he’d cleaned out some lady’s system and found she’d been using paper towels. “She was an older lady, but,” then he looked at me, “not that that matters.” TMI about TP but I’m a single ply person having lived with a sensitive septic tank for 11 years. And then I thought, “Do young people REALLY think we older people are so dumb? Sure there are plenty of examples around of dumb older people, but seriously? How did we GET here at all with the level of intelligence often imputed to us?” Then I thought, “He forgot he was speaking to ‘an older lady’.”
And so I flopped between feeling insulted by his expectations of older people to feeling complimented that he’d forgotten I was one and back again. Then I thought, “What exactly is wrong with being older? I earned it. It wasn’t easy to get here and now there’s a new challenge.”
The human mind is a strange labyrinth…
In honor of this April Fools Day I give you Ambrose Bierce:
“FOOL: n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught the nations war — founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine and Chicago. He established monarchical and republican government. …in the twilight he prepares Man’s evening meal of milk-and-morality and turns down the covers of the universal grave. And after the rest of us shall have retired for the night of eternal oblivion he will sit up to write a history of human civilization.” Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
The featured photo is the dog’s yard. You can see my bizarre old garage which is frame/wood covered by steel panels ala the style of the San Luis Valley. Anyway, it has a new roof and protects my car. We love steel panels down here. In truth, my entire yard is the dog’s yard at this point… Sigh.
I was raised by people who didn’t show their feelings. They also had contempt for (and fear of?) people who did. My mom said, “You’re not a cowboy. You’re a Mexican” speaking not of my nationality but of my personality, my nature. She meant that I was emotional, showed my feelings. Since I love Mexican culture and Mexicans in general, and had to acknowledge how at home I felt in the more Latin world than the cowboy world, I didn’t argue. I got her meaning. Learning as a kid to hide my feelings made it difficult for me as a grown-up to fully understand myself and what was going on around me.
The Montana cowboys in my family had the idea that feeling (and showing) emotions was losing control. The most stark example I have of this was when my mom was in the hospital heading toward death. They did a scan of her brain and discovered that she had been an alcoholic for many, many years. The doctor called me to tell me this and that my mom couldn’t live alone. I was shocked. I didn’t know she was a drunk. She was very skillful at hiding it. When I hung up the phone, my aunts wanted to know what the doctor had said, but I was crying. I was going to tell them, but for that moment, I couldn’t.
“Quit yer’ cryin’,” said my truly loving Aunt Jo. “You have work to do.”
Crying at that moment wouldn’t prevent me from the work I had to do, finding my mom a place to live and the rest of it. The way I’m constituted, going THROUGH the emotions would make it easier. I needed to physically feel my feelings, the shock and the sorrow in the message I’d just heard.
Do I think it’s better to feel emotions than not? Yes, I do. I learned in therapy — and from subsequent life experience — that emotions have information for us. Knowing what they have to tell us helps us make choices.
I feel a lot of that cowboy stuff around me now. We’re cowboys out here; it’s all “chin up” and “put a good face on it” and “What can I do to help?” — great in its way but… I know people feel things. I do. Not fear, particularly. I’m not really afraid of dying except for what will happen to Teddy and Bear, but I realized on my walk with Teddy this afternoon that I’m very angry as well as sad. I have a dear friend in Italy where this nightmare has been raging.
My mind and heart a storm of feeling, I decided to head out to The Big Empty, the best “shrink” I know. When Bear wouldn’t let me catch her (I don’t know what’s going on with her lately) I took Teddy and my bad mood to the refuge. It was Teddy’s first trip out there.
On the way, Mohammed’s Radio, clearly realizing my desperate condition, played “Rocky Mountain High” as a way to say, “Hey, Sweet Cheeks, you’ve lost the big picture here. I’m here.”
There were a LOT of Crane Tourists today. Most of them stay in their cars and drive right past the cranes but OH WELL. There was one car that was NOT Crane Tourists, but a couple who was there for exercise. Not both of them. One of them was clearly an elite runner in her late fifties. The driver of the car drove beside the runner reminding me of some people I saw at the lake last year who drove beside their leashed dog while he exercised by running beside the car. The runner drove Teddy nuts. As a herding dog he felt the necessity to go get her and bring her back to the fold. He’s the kind of dog who would chase cars.
There were many cranes. I heard frogs for the first time this spring. Geese and redwing blackbirds. No meadowlarks or bluebirds today; no Killdeer. It was a glorious clear day out there. New snow on the mountains. A couple of hunting (and disappointed) bald eagles.
Then, in a pond near the road which is a favorite spot of Canadian Geese and cranes, I noticed a gander taking a gander (ha ha) at me, apparently. He started swimming toward me calling and calling and calling. A bunch of his buddies were following along. What? Teddy was captivated and would’ve gone for him, I think (I’d have bet on the goose).
We watched and I wondered WHAT that goose (who kept swimming toward me) was actually after and THEN when he got near the bank, I heart a crazy goose commotion from a patch of high reeds. It looked — and sounded — like he’d intentionally swum into enemy territory!
Back at Bella, Teddy securely fastened in (he’s so small he has to ride in front with a doggy seat-belt), I turned on the car. This time *Mohammed’s radio blasted me with a song I don’t think I’ve heard since high school, a song I didn’t like, even. But, today, it seemed to be the Valley reminding me where I am and how I feel about it (and it about me? I believe so…). I just sat in the car, looked out at the Big Empty (which I love so much) and cried.
And felt better, with clearer thoughts and gratitude for where I am, for the people in this valley who have stepped up in a hundred different ways to help their neighbors, for the landscape that makes my heart soar all the time. “You live here,” the Big Empty said, “This Heaven is your home. The right emotion is gratitude.” I cried some more.
I’m just not a cowboy.
*An explanation of “Mohammed’s Radio,” When I was a teenager I (and many others, I’m sure) looked for relationship help in pop songs. I know, I know, pitiful but really, at 14? 15? (“Cherish is the word I use to descriiiibe, all the feeling that I have hiding here for you insiiiiide” right?)
From there evolved the semi-serious theory that the car radio is kind of an oracle. It isn’t but still it’s surprising how often the car radio is on the money.
P.S. The pretty mountain which stands somewhat alone in the center of the featured photo is Mt. Herard. The strip of gray/tan below it is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. ❤
Bear and I went to check out the crowds at the Wildlife Refuge. The Crane Tourists are still flocking to the Big Empty in their SUVs, one from out of state, but not by much. New Mexico. I noticed an elderly man walking on the little path through the small wetlands designed as a hiking trail to observe small birds. He shuffled slowly along and my heart went out to him. “Good on you,” I thought. “It’s going to take you a while to get around that, but you’re going to love it.” Later he drove by, a huge smile on his face, waving at me. Waves mean a lot right now.
It’s a good time to look for small birds. The Redwing Blackbirds are back with their squeaking screen door calls. Lots of Mountain Bluebirds. Bear and I stopped to watch the bluebirds hunt many times. They hovered over the grass like tiny hawks, then dove.
It seemed to me that there were more cranes than there have been or maybe it was only that the air was mostly calm which really helps them find food. They were in several new spots, not that far from the road — though far from my phone camera.
The changing light over the Sangre de Cristos stopped me in my tracks more than once. Bear was cool with that because she thinks I caught a scent and she begins scanning the ground with her nose. When she finds nothing there, she just leans against me and waits until I’ve savored to my heart’s content. Stopping to watch the light over the mountains also revealed the beautiful sounds of a wind-free day in the Big Empty. For a long while no Crane Tourists passed and I listened to the symphony of cranes, geese, red-winged blackbirds, an occasional blue bird call, the meadow-larks and, in the distance, the braying of a donkey.
On the way to the Refuge I passed a small farm. In the yard was a livestock guardian dog sleeping, one eye open. He was working. There was also a couple of very tiny calves. I love that so much. I respect and honor those dogs so much. From living with one, I understand something about their patient, optimistic dedication to their job and their true wish to do well. I wanted to take a photo on my way back, but when I reached the house, there was a kid on a four-wheel, a kid about 8 years old, wanting to cross the street. I waved and he waved back. I drove slowly by, and looked over at the dog. In the hour since I’d passed, there had been another calf, black and white, shaky legs. I thought about life (since I do that a LOT) and how some of the most wondrous things are like that, a momentary flicker of unself-conscious, unadorned beauty.
Mohammed’s radio had no messages for me on my way home today, so I’ll give you this beautiful song that makes my heart sing.
The mountains in the featured photo are the Sangre de Cristos. The whole time we were out, storms moved over and away from them. Wow.
Englewood, Colorado. I’m at the hugging-the-parents-around-the-legs stage of life. Dad and I are Christmas shopping. I can only hold two of his fingers, my hands are so tiny.
Lincoln, Nebraska, eighth grade science field trip, sitting in a planetarium watching the show with Rex Bennett whom I’ve known since fifth grade. My first romantic hand-holding. “I think he likes me!”
At the Roxy Theater in Bellevue, Nebraska, my brother and I are there for A Hard Day’s Night. The small-town theater is packed with teenagers. I’m 14. The kid next to me reaches for my hand during the movie and we hold hands all the way through. I don’t even know him. A little voice tells me it’s wrong to hold a strange boy’s hand, but I don’t let go.
My dad’s in a coma. I am doing homework (reading, English major, you know). I feel a movement, a slight squeeze on my hand. I look up at him to see he’s come out of the coma and is looking at me with all the love in the universe. We stay like that for a while, savoring the moment and the envelope of love. I notice his IV needle has come out. I call the nurse. ❤ ❤
My niece, two years old, a little girl I barely know. We’re playing in a park near my brother’s house. She tells me there is a bear in the pine trees at the end of the park. I ask “Where?” and while she points, I get on all fours and roar. She puts her hand on my back. I walk on four “legs” on the grass for a while, Andrea’s hand on my back much the way I place my hand on Bear’s when we walk. Ultimately I have to stand up. Andrea reaches for my hand and we walk home. I love her so much. ❤
Arches National Monument. Francesco and I run across the slick rock to a look out from which we can see the Delicate Arch. The road below is closed and this is the only way. It’s almost dark. We can’t stop. We have a mile to go. We hold hands to keep each other near, safe, and on the trail. ❤
I am walking to my car after a day teaching at San Diego State. As I cross the bridge that goes over the highway to the parking lot, I am approached by a dad and his tiny, red-haired girl. She looks up at me. I look down at her. She lets go of her dad and puts her hand in mine. Dad laughs. “I guess she wants to go home with you!” My hair is also red.
I hold my mom’s hand in the hospital about a month before she dies. It’s sweet even though she thinks I am someone else.
My Aunt Martha is in the nursing home. She’s telling me the story of her adult life, how she’d made her decisions and why. “I love you, Martha Ann.” “I love you too, Aunt Martha.” ❤
Sometimes the weird little eventualities of growing older are painful — not physically but psychologically. On our recent exploration of the town of Del Norte, my friend has one of those moments of embarrassment, confusion and regret. In her usual gentle way, she confides her feelings. I take her hand. She squeezes mine. I say, “It doesn’t matter.”
I’m watching a movie on my lap top, sitting on my sofa. My big white dog comes in from outside, jumps up onto the sofa, and puts her big paw on my leg. I put my hand on her paw. ❤
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
In my thirties — when I went through my Dostoevsky period — that quotation would have taken my breath. I would have questioned what I was doing, spun into a life-examining journal writing frenzy about it. I think, in fact, I did that, over that very quotation.
But now, my children (ha ha) I’m not the same person. I KNOW what I lived for and it’s the same thing I’m living for now.
Long ago, back in Denver, during another presidential election, I worked hard for an independent candidate. I wrote speeches, TV ads, organized events. It was fun and I believed in him. He didn’t win, but his campaign garnered 10% of the vote in Colorado. One of the events I planned was an expensive fund-raising dinner at an elegant Indian restaurant called, appropriately, The Bombay. Entertainment for that evening was a popular Denver jazz band featuring a fantastic saxophone player named Tom. It was an elegant and successful evening.
Back then I was well on my way to being a ‘mover and a shaker’ in Denver, and I knew Tom pretty well.
Time passed — two and a half years. I went to China, and I came back. Four months after the return, I was emotionally evacuated. I was homesick for China. I had also realized that my husband didn’t like me. I’d come back to the states because he was sick and I shouldn’t have. My beautiful dream was over and I was left with a bad marriage.
I walked down to the King Soopers nearest our Capitol Hill Apartment to buy stuff for supper. It had begun to snow. Outside the store a man in a wheelchair was playing the saxophone for tips. I got closer and saw it was Tom. I sat down on a bench to talk to him.
“Where you been, lady?” he asked.
“China. I went to China to teach.”
“Yeah.” How did I ask the question without hurting Tom? Finally, “What happened?”
“Oh, babe, you won’t believe it. I got the flu.”
Tom chuckled at the amazement in my voice. “I know. It don’t make sense. It attacked my spine. I was flat on my back, for six months, paralyzed. They said I’d never walk or play the saxophone again, but, a man gotta’ eat and a man’s gotta’ play, right?”
My heart was in my throat.
“I could live without walking, but, honey, I wasn’t living without my sax.” He gently pressed the keys and levers on the shining instrument. I knew how he felt about it. It was both his livelihood and his life.
Just then a young woman I’d worked with some years before approached the door. “Martha? My god! It’s been forever!!! What are you doing these days?”
Tom looked at me and saw I was about to cry. I was but at this moment I don’t know exactly why. There were plenty of reasons in that cold early-winter Denver moment.
Tom answered. “She’s livin’. She’s jus’ livin’. That’s all any of us do and if you think otherwise, you’re wrong.”
After that, I knew the goal of my life was to live. To live for life itself. It’s not so easy, either.
I didn’t know my maternal grandfather, but I knew something about him. He ran for public office in Iowa at some point (as a Democrat), knew many poems by heart, had an interesting sense of humor and liked to give speeches. He used to declaim the alphabet imitating a Baptist preacher consigning everyone to eternal hellfire. In the photo above, my grandfather is the one in back, the obviously iconoclastic one. He was born in 1870.
My dad found my grandpa so funny that when he bought a record making machine in the 40s, he took it to my grandparent’s living room so he could record my grandpa’s stentorian tones. That’s how I heard my grandfather declaim the alphabet long after his death.
There were ten kids in my mom’s family, though one died at age 12. I imagine they were a noisy bunch around the dining table because they were when they grew up. Arguing was recreation for them. Montana winters are dark and long…
But…it takes a thick skin, a dispassionate world view, and the willingness to laugh to survive in THAT milieu. Some of the sisters had it, some didn’t. Some had the sense to stay out, some stayed until they were red with rage.
And what did they argue about? Important stuff sometimes, and sometimes just what they would do if they had a million dollars. There was always something. My Aunt Martha, who never married and succeeded in achieving incredible things in her life, never let go of an argument. She would get seriously invested in any argument and was capable (and willing) to take it up the next morning. The most inflammatory topics for her were women in the military (“A woman can do anything a man can!”) and defense of her lifestyle (which needed no defense but in those days, not marrying was considered strange). Sadly, she was also funny when she got on her soapbox and/or high horse (depending), index finger raised in the air, proclaiming, “I get up every morning at 5:30!” or “I can do anything a man can do!”
Watching these women embroiled in these “debates” I could see their entire childhood. Seven daughters jockeying for position in the family? Each with a distinct personality. My mom was the “walk out of the room” type. My Aunt Jo was fierce but, it seemed to me, not all that serious. Still, she was easily hurt. My Aunt Kelly must have been the kid who would cry. I don’t have any memories of my Aunt Dickie embroiled in these heated debates, but she was a woman with a soft heart and strong opinions. Maybe she just didn’t play. As the youngest, maybe she didn’t have to. I also don’t remember the oldest, my Aunt Florence, getting into these either. She frequently averred that she had changed most of their diapers at one time or another, indicating to me that she viewed them as children.
I’d get upset by these things, and my mom or one of my aunts would say, “We fight but we love each other.”
Arguments aren’t entertaining to me. I’m not a polemical person. The only fight I had with my Aunt Martha was about smoking in the car — which I hated. For a minute I thought she was going to leave me there on I-25 outside of Denver, but finally she capitulated. I don’t think she would have if any of her sisters had been there. I fought with my mom a lot when I was a teenager always when I felt my rights were being trod upon — like I felt I had a right to close my bedroom door. She didn’t. I learned as a little kid that my temperament makes such “entertainment” dangerous. 🙂
I hadn’t planned to write about disease today. I’d planned to write about sewing. You see I recently bought a Singer Start from the classifieds in my town. It was $50 (good deal). It came with a bin filled with sewing supplies and tools. I bought it from a really nice woman on a cold, snowy day (back in the good times before early spring hit, boo-hoo).
I started sewing when I was four and my mom had mending to do. She sat me on the love seat in the spare room and showed me how to thread a needle and stitch things. She lectured me on why long stitches don’t hold well. I sat beside her and sewed lines on strips of cloth while she mended.
It’s one of the sweetest memories I have of my mom.
My grandmother Beall had taught her to sew. Over the years I learned that my mom adored HER mother and followed her around all the time. My mom’s sisters let me know that my mom really wanted to be grandma’s favorite but the odds weren’t good in a family of 7 girls, a family living by subsistence farming. But with my mom hanging around all the time, my grandma had to teach her to sew and I learned that sewing with mom was, in my mom’s mind and heart, a mother/daughter bonding thing. I inherited my grandma’s sewing machine. The most lovely thing about it is the drawer my grandfather repaired. ❤
Time passed and various home-ec classes starting in sixth grade. By then, I’d I’d long graduated from making pot-holders (our class activity) and had sewn a dress for myself. By the time I was in high school home-ec, I was making most of my own clothes.
My mom took sewing classes at some point in my childhood and learned all kinds of cool short-cuts for marking fabric that my home-ec teachers took issue with until they realized that the result was as good as their methods.
Sometime in the 1980s I quit sewing. Discount department stores like Loehmann’s made buying nice clothing easier than sewing it, and the ever rising cost of fabric made the stores cheaper. But the last two shirts I made, well, I wish I had the patterns.
Lately I have thought that I don’t want to forget things that I know. I also don’t think I have any more books in me, and I’ve learned that, as a retired person, I’m happier when I have a creative project. Sewing doesn’t require a lot of inspiration, but writing and painting do (for me). I began to see sewing as a project that could yield some good stuff without requiring the same mental energy as writing and painting. Besides, my friends here sew. It’s something to talk about and share. That matters to me now as it never did back when I had no real time for social friendships. I’m also a little disgusted by the buy and throw out trend in our culture. I’d like to mend towels and sweatshirts I love rather than tossing them. I’m not made of money, right?
My Aussie friend Elizabeth inherited bins of fabric from her mother-in-law. Once I got my machine she and I spent a great afternoon going through this stuff. I brought home a bunch of free material and imagined what I could make. Among the fabrics are flowered patterns, with pansies. These are my step-daughter-in-law’s favorite flowers. I thought of making her a table runner, but then I decided to make my step-granddaughter a skirt. I got a pattern, cut it out, experiencing all kinds of weird memory things like I automatically, without a ruler, marked the seams with straight pins at 5/8s inch. The whole experience has been full of stuff like that, like my hands and unconscious mind have this under control.
But I hate my sewing machine. I’m sure it’s an “improvement” over older models of Singer Sewing machines, but I find it annoying. It’s hard plastic, things are “simplified,” so much I have less control over the machine than I’m used to. The pedal is so lightweight that it almost flies around there on the floor instead of staying put. Yesterday I actually went on eBay and bid on a machine just like that on which I learned. This would be a 65 year old machine. There was a real bidding war over that and others of that model sell for more than new machines on eBay. I found that informative.
Ultimately, I succeeded in doing what I had to do, but I’m still (kind of) hoping to find an old machine. And the skirt’s coming along well. It’s just waiting for the waistband and hem.
As a kid, I missed a lot of school because I got strep throat every year. I am allergic to penicillin, AND I had also had rheumatic fever (resulting from scarlet fever resulting from strep) when I was little that damaged my heart. There was a danger that my heart would be further damaged. There were beginning to be alternative antibiotics (sulfa drugs and early ‘myocin’ drugs), but the main thing was to stay in bed until the bacteria had had all of me it wanted. It was a drag and also not. Untreated strep is draining, and I really DID want to sleep. The first symptoms were me being cranky, barking at everyone for nothing and crying easily. That all indicates the person I was normally.
Sooner or later I got well and did that thing the grownups called, “bouncing back.”
I had no idea at the time how important that is in life and what good practice I was getting. We’re hit by all kinds of flying flak, knocked down, flattened, laid up, side-lined. Then, like a storm or strep-throat, whatever it is passes, is over, finishes and we’re left bewildered but then we start cleaning up the aftermath. The most stark of these experiences in my life was probably the Cedar Fire in California in 2003, until two years ago, the largest fire California had ever known.
I lived in the mountains east of the city. My whole WORLD was fuel. The first came within 1/4 mile of my house several times, but, luckily and through the hard work of firefighters, my house was saved. For me it was ten days of fear, uncertainty, evacuation and then? Home again. Throwing rotten food out of a fridge that had been turned off for ten days (power outages still scare me). Sweeping ash from the patio. We all had some degree of PTSD and we naturally — as humans always have, I guess — expelled that by telling each other stories.
I think — from my life — some things are easier to bounce back from than others. I don’t think I ever fully bounced back from my first hip going south, the years between the onset of that and the surgery that fixed it. I don’t think I ever fully bounced back from the disappointments of romantic love. I don’t think I ever fully bounced back from the loss of my brother and what I learned from that. Some stories, some of the things that happen to us, are life-changing and we won’t “bounce back” to being the same person. If we’re lucky — and strong — we move forward to the next gut punch. 😉
“No! Don’t open that Michelle!” I leap quickly to the curb and push Bella’s back passenger door closed.
“I want to see Bear.”
“I know, but that’s not a good way for her to come out. She’s fastened in there.”
“Never do that, ‘chelle. Don’t mess with other people’s animals,” says Michelle’s and Connor’s mom. Michelle puts her head down, ashamed.
“It’s OK. I’ll get Bear.” I go to the back of Bella, open the door. Michelle is right beside me. “Remember when she ran away that day?” The little girl wearing the rainbow tutu, tights and boots nods. “I fasten her in now.” I loop Bear’s leash around my wrist. “OK, open that carabiner.” Michelle does. 8 year olds like to show their competence at stuff. Bear jumps down. “Can I walk her?”
“Uh, OK.” Mom is standing by and knows how this works. Michelle takes the middle of Bear’s leash and I have it by the loop. I’m walking Bear. Michelle is holding on. Bear lunges toward a patch of untouched snow (talk about evanescence!) “Whoa!” says Michelle, laughing. “Bear’s STRONG!”
“She weighs more than you and more than half of what I do. She’s a powerful beastie. Let go, Michelle. Bear wants to roll around. She LOVES snow more than anything.”
Their mom takes out her phone and photographs all of us, Connor, Michelle, Bear rolling in the snow, and me holding Bear’s leash. I imagine that photo in some dim someday.
Christmas. Elizabeth invites me for dinner with her and her husband. She prepares lamb. We have a lot of fun talking and then Bob tells me he has the seat from Eddie Rickenbacker’s plane. He tells me the back story. I’m amazed. I love those early flyers. He goes down to the basement and brings it up for me to see. I sit in it. I sit in Eddie Rickenbacker’s seat. Here, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Bob tells me how the Smithsonian didn’t want it and shows me the letter. “They have another seat.” Bob shrugs.
Then Bob brings up a couple of photo albums from the early 20th century. There are pictures of Europe. I correctly identify the locations as Italy. Milan. There’s General Pershing. In another couple of photos is the Alamo.
“I have no idea who these people are,” says Bob. “My brother got them from the dump in Durango.”
I carry some dishes out to the kitchen. There’s Elizabeth in the winter sunlight washing dishes. I take a photo with my phone. In the foreground is the mince pie I made. The steam vents in the top are cut exactly the way my grandmother taught me.
At the Rio Grande County Museum I spy an old gas stove from the 30s. I had one just like it in a house I rented in Denver. It was great. I comment on it to Louise who runs the museum. She tells me the story of the stove. Then I notice what she’s done. She’s set up a 1930’s kitchen, table with embroidered tablecloth and china, ice-box, cupboard, kids’ play table with a kids tea set beside the grown up table. It’s so pretty. Next to it, behind a temporary partition, a screen, she’s set up a teacher’s desk, slate, old text books. “Oh, a school house!” Louise beams.
“You want my grandfather’s history book? He was born in 1870. I have his math book, too.” She says yes.
The boots in the featured photo were my favorite shoes for nearly a decade. We covered miles and miles together in Montana, Colorado, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Switzerland. They were with me on a journey that turned out — decades later — to have been one of the most important in my life, a journey to Zion, Lake Powell (ick), Kayenta, Monument Valley, Arches. My friend (plaid shirt) and I had no idea at the time that we were on a journey of a lifetime that would define and seal an emotional bond that has lasted for more than 20 years.
After being resoled three or four times, there wasn’t enough leather left on my boots for another resoling job. I left them behind in Zürich and got new boots for my birthday, splendid boots. I was sad, though, and my friend Pietro handed me “la macchina” (camera) so I could take a picture. Pietro died of lymphoma the next year.
My daily reminder of the evanescence of things is my morning coffee. I’ve finished, Teddy is cleaning my cup.