Love and other things

“We ourselves shall be loved and then forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

I haven’t been blogging for a very, very long time. I have quite a few drafts, but never post them because they aren’t complete. I HAVE been writing the work-in-progress. And doing basic housekeeping.

But I can barely discuss life with my closest friends. I’m in a sort of waiting-hoping-fearing-waiting cycle. You see, my parents were both diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the summer.

I’ve been back and forth to see my parents. It’s all very normal, like a regular visit. We’ve talked over treatments and such, but it’s all a bit unreal to me. At odd moments, it strikes.

My mother commented that she’d given the “good” gold-rimmed dishes to my brother who hosts the holidays. It occurred to me that when I was a child, everyone gathered at my grandparents’ house. Then the holidays shifted to an uncle, my parents, an aunt… Now they shift again.

I very much want to tell them “I love you.” However, that would be maudlin, at best, and admitting defeat, at worst.

My parents are not demonstrative. I can count on one hand the times they’ve told me, “I love you.” (And a memorable time, when I thought I’d failed a final exam at college, when I called them in tears because they were paying my very-expensive tuition. My mother said, “You know that we love you; that won’t change. Just do your best.”)

Yet they’ve always demonstrated their love. When I had to rise early for a 90-minute drive to my job in the city, my father got up at an ungodly hour to scrape the frost (or snow) off my car and brew coffee. My mother works – paints baseboards, helps me move garden stones, and digs up their flowers to transplant to my garden.

And they give me things. Rhubarb. Zucchini. A hambone they set aside because it’s the starter for my favorite: split pea soup. This summer, my father put together a fishing tackle box and dug out my favorite fishing rod as a gift. Then, last week, my mother gave me a set of old dishes they had sitting in the outer hallway. I’d admired them. My younger brother told me later that they’d planned to have them as a “good” set to replace the old. It brought me to tears.

The weekend after their diagnosis, my best friend’s mother died suddenly. She was rather young – a teenaged bride – and beautiful. It was a shock. I couldn’t attend the funeral, but last week I visited my friend. We talked, walked, and laughed. A few times we cried. It seemed unreal. She catches herself ready to text or call the familiar number. Even I thought, early one morning, that it was a good day to pop over to her mother’s apartment.

The Old Man aka my father, joked, “My doctor told me that I won’t live another twenty years. What a relief!” I laughed because it’s not funny. It’s not funny because it’s true. He’s an octogenarian.

See? Here’s another post that has no proper ending. I’ll post it all the same.

Nostalgic

Every year, I buy myself a Christmas present that’s frivolous or nostalgic. This year, it was both.

I was in an office supply store, of all places, when I spotted a suitcase-style record player bearing the Victrola stamp. I hadn’t seen portable record players in years, not even in antique stores. This particular model (The Journey) boasted Bluetooth, headphone, and RCA options.

The manager said that the store was sold out – as were others whose inventory she checked. The floor model was a “dummy” with no working motor. Such a shame! I had Baby Brother’s hand-me-over record player, but it wasn’t working out for me. It had no built-in speakers, sounded tinny when I hooked it to the receiver, and was too wide to fit in the bookcase.

Long story short: I searched online for new-fangled Victrola players with the right features and good reviews. The best-priced was an American flag version, which made me even more nostalgic. One of my older cousins had a record player with a Spirit of ’76 sticker and other Bicentennial decorations.

As soon as it arrived, I sent it on a “shakedown cruise” with trumpets: a couple of albums by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, followed by The Jonah Jones Quartet’s Swingin’ ‘Round the World. My stars, it sounds good! Vinyl records may pop and crackle – especially the ones from the ’40s and ’50s! – but they have a full-bodied sound that I missed.**

** For readers wondering about my record collection, suffice to say that it’s mostly inherited from my paternal grandfather, plus garage-sale finds and “Do you want this?” from friends.

The Worst Tradition

I like the look of wrapped presents. I know there are people who eschew it for giftbags – lazybones, they are! My aunt Delphine, who is has a wonderful eye for flower arrangements, created some of the most beautiful wrappings I’ve ever seen. When I was seven or so, she taught me how to curl ribbon. (Like the skill of swirling a stack of cocktail napkins without using a highball glass, it’s been strangely useful.)

Over the years, I developed a good eye for judging how much paper to use. I can create a “box” with heavy paper and sharp folds. Crafting tags and flowers out of scraps of paper and ribbon is my specialty.

Please don’t think I’m bragging.

I HATE wrapping gifts. Although the results are lovely, it’s tedious work. When our family’s Christmas gatherings were bigger, it took HOURS.

Somehow during my college years, my father created a tradition of me being his personal wrapping helper. And by “helper,” I mean that I do it myself. At first he used to quietly lead me to the gift-hiding place for the gifts he bought my mother. He would hold the ribbon down with one finger as I tied it and filled out the tags. Somehow it morphed into him lying in wait until I bring in my bags and take off my coat – at which point he directs me to the basement hidey-hole.

One year, he surprised me with presents already wrapped. A group of teenagers were raising money by gift-wrapping at a popular mall. But malls have gone the way of the dodo and Covid-19 has destroyed any group fund-raisers.

Back to the Old Ways it is!

Gloomy… sunny… snow!

Michigan’s official motto is Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you). The state, composed of two peninsulas that jut into Great Lakes, has truly beautiful areas around every corner.*

However, the unofficial motto is “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, wait five minutes.” The photos reflect the hazy coolness,  sunshine… and wind and snow that occurred over just 14 hours in my hometown, where I checked on my aged parents.**


* Its smallest state park is the 22-acre “pocket” around Wagner Falls.

**My official excuse in case I was pulled over while driving to see them last week, when Governor Whitmer tightened her shelter-in-place order.  I wasn’t. Nor were the many out-of-state drivers pulling boats to their cabins.

Memories like an Action Film

I tend to dislike social media because of their time-wasting, click-baiting aspects. However, they make it a lot easier to share information among widespread family (eight countries!). And sometimes they bring back good memories, like that of January 2014.

I recorded it thus:

I wish there was enough room to tell the Epic Story of My Dad. Here’s the highlight version. Last night I decided to finish grading papers and re-doing lesson plans, but my backpack was missing! Could I have left it at M&D’s? I called Dad; he arranged a drop-off point. Despite weather, Operation Students-Need-Exams was ON. A blizzard descended, my route was blocked, a new drop-off was arranged closer to where I was stuck in traffic (over an hour), a tanker exploded, a bladder nearly exploded, there was a pregnant woman… a rendevous… and coffee… and when I tried to thank him, all he said was “That’s what Dads are for.” Cut. Roll credits. (Dad was played by shaved-head Chuck Norris AND Jason Statham, sometimes simultaneously because Awesome.)

And yes, there really was an explosion following the rollover of a tanker carrying dangerous chemicals!

O, padre mío!

My father aka The Old Man has to have surgery next this month. On March 15, the Ides of March, to be precise.  I told my mother that since his name isn’t César, he shouldn’t worry too much – unless the surgeon is Dr. Brutus.

I went home for a day visit. He was in the road, digging trenches to drain the meltwater. (February was unseasonably warm, so the roads were turning to mud.)  He directed me to park on sort-of solid ground and followed me inside not long after, where he promptly put on a blood pressure cuff.

“Did your mom tell you what’s wrong with me?” he asked.

“Well, she has been hinting for years,” I said.

They laughed, although it turned out I ruined the timing of his own joke. Turns out he’d gone to the doctor a few days earlier with intestinal pain, and he declared, “The doctor told me, ‘You’re full of shit.'” (It seems in addition to his heart, his digestive system was acting up. It never rains but it pours.)

I learned young that when you have troubles outside your control, the best thing is to joke about them. But I forget.

When my mother suddenly leaned on the kitchen counter and said, “I feel dizzy”, I was concerned. Then my father said, “I did the same thing yesterday, in the same spot. There must be something wrong with this counter!”

My mother cheerfully agreed.

So I’ve been trying to view my own troubles through the same humorous lens.