Going Up the Country, Hopefully

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July 5, 2018

Theoretically, Larry is replacing the electrical line with the short even as I write this, and then we will pick up the bus, pack, and head off to Lake Selmac, but as I have realized over the last few days, things do not always go as planned. I still can’t seem to imagine us actually on the road, and I am starting to think I’ve made up the bus in my head, except I saw it yesterday…was that only yesterday?

Before we leave, and that is assuming we do leave, I wanted to write a little about my family here. My father is an already introduced character, and while part of the point of this entire trip and blog is to pay homage to him, he seems to take a rather dim view this trip, blogs, and whatever it is I am trying to do here. I know my father well, and I suspect that some of it is his anxiety for us. Yes, he drove the bus all over, up and down I-5, and we had many adventures in the bus, but I was a child then, sitting in the passenger’s seat, someone to care for and protect. Now that I am an adult embarking on this adventure, he worries.

Dad worrying is nothing new. I also recognize that some of his anxiety comes from love. Whenever I get sick or hurt myself, my father’s reaction is to get mad. I can clearly remember having a high fever from Strep throat and my father yelling at me, but even then I knew it came from love. I also think there is something about realizing the bus is leaving (again, I hope so), that pulls at him. If I am an adult, and the bus is leaving, then time continues to pass, and when you are my father’s age, all the math is bad in terms of the future.

I used to teach “Once More to the Lake,” by E.B. White, a lovely essay that works well for teaching students to write rich descriptions, but what I keep thinking of now is the part about the bathing suit. For those who don’t know the essay, it is a reminiscence of summers at a lake, and at one point the narrator watches his son pulling on a wet bathing suit and has a visceral memory of how that feels and of his father watching him struggle with the clammy fabric. At this moment in the essay the true purpose shines through: this is an essay about the passage of time, and thus it is an essay about death. Just as his father watched him and he now watches his son, so too will he follow his father’s path, and as we all know, those paths always eventually lead to mortality. I know my father is not interested in going gentle into any dark night, and I see how age annoys him. Last night he struggled to get up off a deep couch, and he said, “I put on the wrong knees.” I knew what he meant, and I know that the father of my memory is right there beside me. All those aphorisms about old age being hell are true, and even at my age I recognize what it is like to still feel like a fifteen-year-old girl, only one with gray hair and wrinkles and arthritis in my knees. So, I’m not sure exactly what it is that bother my father about this project, but I suspect it is some combination of love and fear.

Or perhaps I have it wrong, and my father is simply suspicious of online activities like blogging and tweeting and posting. My father is one of the few people I know who does not have a smart phone; genetics may be stronger than we think. But I am also aware that there is a delicate balance in writing about family and real events, and my family like all families can be fraught with tension. I feel bad about having brought so much stress here—we have all been waiting for Larry to call—but I am so grateful to have these people in my life. With that in mind, I wanted to spend this morning writing a little about them.

My father’s wife Paula is technically my stepmother, but I never think of her that way. Stepmother has an ugly connotation for me, but then I have taught a unit on Cinderella for many years. I have known Paula since I was 14, and more than anything, she is family to me. She is in every way the opposite of the stepmothers in fairy tales. I can’t think of a warmer and more loving person, someone who has counseled me in troubled times, helped me when I needed help, and always opened her home and life to me with acceptance and love. Paula is also an inspiration to me. In the 1970’s she joined a women’s group in Colorado, and she still meets with those women every year for group. There are so many pictures of them over the years, all of their beautiful faces and bodies in various locals, and last summer she showed me a video about their group that made me cry. It also made me very jealous; I would love to have such a strong connection and ritual meeting with the women I know. Even typing this now I can feel tears trying to escape, but they are not tears of sadness, just emotion welling up when I think of Paula and her friends and their commitment to being the people they want to be.

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Paula’s daughter Bree is here, too, and I never see Bree without thinking of Bree as a child. It is often that way with people I have known since they were children, that I see the shadow of the kid they were under their adult exterior, and maybe it is that way for dad, too. I might see myself as a capable adult, but for him I am the shy girl riding beside him in the bus. Anyway, the child Bree lives on in her laugh and her energy. Who else but Bree could spend July 3rd baking three cherry pies with homemade crust and beautiful tops? Bree is also so much fun to be around that having her here on this trip has been a gift. I wish we had all summer like we did in the past to make crafty things and jam, but we will take a jar of her strawberry jam with us on this trip and eat it by the ocean, tasting the sunshine she captured in the jar, thinking of her smile.

My sister Ariana is also here, and that makes me happier than I can say. In the midst of all this stress and strife, Ariana has been a calming force, acting with grace and humor. Even when we went for a 4th of July drive and picnic in the Applegate and Dad kept yelling “Turn left!” while Robert was saying “Right! Right!” and I piped up in the back “I think…” well, Ariana did not flip out and stop the car, kick us all out, and head for Mexico, as I might have. She just calmly responded: “Which way?” My father keeps telling her he wants a tape of her laughing to cheer him up when he feels down, and I second that. I would play the bells of her laughter every day to ward off evil. Ariana is my younger sister, and we didn’t spend much time together when she was growing up, so it is always strange to see how similar we are. We don’t look exactly alike, but we are clearly related. However, there is something linked in us, something almost ineffable, but present in our mannerisms, speech patterns, and gestures. When Ariana stayed with us in LA, my husband Robert found it disarming at first. “It’s weird,” he said, “You just say different things in the same sort of way.” We have pondered this—why would we be so alike when we grew up apart and so differently—and I think once again genetics may be stronger than we think.

Finally, there is Tucker the Labradoodle, the answer to the question “What would Dad and Paula’s child have been like?” Answer: a little spoiled, but surrounded in love. And Tucker is not a spoiled child, although he is. He is so pleased to have so many people to play ball with, or to take the ball and run off then return and bark at us. Even though he tried to drag me into the river yesterday, I know he only wanted me to have fun with him. Steinbeck’s Charley was a Standard Poodle, and I like to imagine Tucker and Dad rolling along on an adventure, but Paula would have to be there, too. I thought of kidnapping Tucker so we could have a dog on this trip, but that would never be OK—my parents need Tucker, and Tucker needs them. He cares for my father as no one else can, and if he sometimes gets a little hyper or engages in strange activities like (for those who know: sofa cushions), he is such a lovely child, the only one left at home.

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