Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fugue: Hot, Mild, Hot Again

I. I remarked to someone that you can take the folks out of Arkansas, but you can't take the Arkansas out of the folks. My parents, brother, and sister-in-law arrived last Wednesday, and I picked them up at the airport. They were here for four days and I learned that a) they could charm a dog off a meat truck; b) my mother had never seen a bluetooth ("What is that thing going off in that man's ear??? There's blue lights buzzing in there!!!!"); c) I am too impatient with them as they grow older; d) the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I made them go sailing. My mother, once seated, refused to move a muscle and my father hunkered down in the floor, terrified we would keel over and they would be dashed into the Puget Sound to be gobbled up by errant killer whales.

I took them to La Carta de Oaxaca and made them do a tasting flight of salsas, from mild to hot. My mom said "I'll tell you what, that's so hot, it'll melt your earwax!" but proceeded to do everything but clean the little bowls out with her finger.

We went to the locks to watch the salmon leap and flop up the salmon ladder and my dad said he wished he'd brought his pole.

My brother and I tried to act like we weren't as alike as we are and my sister-in-law assured us that, oh, yes, we were.

II. On Sunday morning, we got up at dark:thirty in order to get to the airport plenty early for their 7:30 AM flight. Since they had booked their travel, I had learned that I would need to go to a memorial service back in Minnesota, so I got a flight at 9. I got them to their gate and went on to mine. I left without incident and they sat and sat and sat, while their bum plane was repaired. They missed their connection in Atlanta and had to spend the night, but not before they called me at a diner in Edina, MN--interrupting my dinner with a friend--to frantically ask me to "get on my iPhone" and look for another flight. No luck.

III. Speaking of dinners with friends, I tried my best to soak in time with a beloved one instead of squandering it by regretting all the time I didn't spend with him when I lived in MN and had the chance. But now I'm here to say that I regret that water under the bridge. B, come visit. Door's always open for you. I live within walking distance of 40 movie screens.

IV. I drove to my old town, and past my house. The kids who bought it (BLESS THEIR HEARTS) have repaired one of the sagging retaining walls and have domesticated it entirely. Lots of hearts and geese and "welcome to our home!" signs and it is so not me and so appropriate for that town. Which may explain why I'm no longer in it. But I'm glad they're happy and I hope that I left good juju there for them.

I think about the stray hairs from my now-dead feline companion that must get sucked up into their vacuum cleaner now and again, silky black ghosts of a sweet soul who loved that house more than I did.

V. The memorial service. Let us be silent and reverent about that. A life well-lived was celebrated and a passing mourned. My shoulder was soaked with tears by someone who feels lost and alone right now. Krumkake was baked in preparation, a box of ashes was picked up at the mortuary and some flowers arranged, a Norwegian flag draped around the vase. Songs were sung and a certain woman from Seattle remembered that music resonating through her vocal chords and face is like a sacred drug, even when the way out is through passages swollen from crying. A throng of old friends was greeted. Family and friends were gathered around a table afterwards to laugh and tell stories and eat and sigh and wonder how the empty space will ever be less gaping, knowing, though, that it will.

I realized that my decision to leave them all and move to Seattle was absolutely the right one.

And yet I still stopped at a Scandinavian import store on the way out of town and bought a Krumkake iron to be sent to me.

My life is like a fugue. The one line ends, the other line picks up, but the first line weaves back in, again and again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don, Rest in Peace

When Don and I were in high school a few miles from each other, we both spent many summer weekends at the Buffalo River in the Arkansas Ozarks. It was an ongoing party, and everyone belonged. There was indiscretion and wild abandon and merriment, floating the river during the day and talking by multiple campfires at night.

We joked over the last few years that we had probably encountered each other back then, just by the law of averages and geography.

When we met the first time in person, we were convinced of it, though. Either that or we had been separated at birth, one of us snatched from the nursery in a hospital in Van Buren County, to be separated from the other for 45 years--never mind the couple of years in difference in age. So clear was our recognition of each other. So intense was the feeling of seeing kin in each other.

We used to end phone calls with "you're my people." I told this to his sister yesterday and she started crying and said "me and him, we're just alike. I tell that to everybody I love."

He used to comment on my blogs with "it's time for you to come home."

He knew I was a restless soul and loved crashing around in the world. But he knew, and mirrored back to me in every conversation, that I was a girl from the Ozarks before I was ever anything else, and that red dirt and sorghum molasses and sweet tea were running through my veins as surely as blood.

He delighted in pointing out the soft contours of my accent, where the South remained and couldn't be hidden.

He made me promise never to dumb myself down. God, D, no one can get away with finding my vulnerability and saying it out loud. How did you pull that off?

I've been thinking a lot about the various handwringings about how to honor him.

And I think he wouldn't want it.

He was not a fan of the grand gesture.

I think he would want us to love each other, not suffer fools, say the hard word when it needed to be said, and extend the shoulder to cry on when that was called for.

He would want us to own our own issues and work on them with no need for attention.

He would want us to laugh at ridiculous youtube videos and poke fun at excess and putting on of airs.

He would want us to live our lives with integrity and call people and text them and IM them and remind them that someone far away thought they were worth the bandwidth and time.

He would want us to drink ordinary coffee and eat lots of Petit Jean bacon and say "pfffffft" when someone turned up their nose at it.

And shop at Wal-Mart.

And get on with our lives, and give away our love and commitments wantonly.

I am proud that he thought I deserved his friendship. I will miss him terribly.