Sunday, July 12, 2009

small anvil

"Anvil, by the way," said Mom one night, last week, as we're all sitting around the dinnertable.

We've been laughing.

"What?" I think I've misunderstood. When in fact I have, but earlier, and only now am hearing right.

"You wrote I had a 'small animal' in my heart. I said a 'small anvil.'"

Oh. Not the furtive, frantic scurryings of a trapped bird, then.

The clang and unremitting hammer clang, the heat and hiss of other metal being changed, under which you can only bear up, keep witness.


"But, it's okay," said Mom. "I like what you wrote. I figured you'd just improved the imagery."

"No. I didn't know."

"Either way," Mom said.

Dad's doctor had said how he'd feel so much better after the surgery. Usually, putting in a stent relieves angina - chest pains - completely. When Dad met me at the airport, his face was yellow, greenish. I didn't like to say anything, thinking it was just recovery.

"I need to sit down," he said after awhile, after hugs and news, after standing there with me waiting at the luggage carrel. "Just a little tightness," he said. As we walked out to the car ("I feel so dumb - not helping you carry anything") he asked if I'd mind driving the long drive home. He who always drives.

But the next day his color was good again. He looked like his old self - vigorous, definite, robust, loud. I couldn't find it in me to feel anything but glad to be there, to be with them, and then to welcome my brothers and sisters with their babies, my own husband and children when they came in turn. To be there together. At home. Taking turns cooking. Taking down a concrete-block wall Dad wanted moved. Taking a ride in Dad's new (used) car - a sleek silver bullet with minimal miles on it. Taking time in the evening to sing cowboy songs and sailor songs while Dad played guitar. "I couldn't do this just a couple weeks back, without losing breath, without - " Dad laughs and shrugs and asks what song we want to sing next.

At the end of our two weeks, the day after Fritz and the children and I take our leave, still driving back through the badlands of western Idaho, Fritz takes us off-road for a brief side-trip to see volcano craters. You wouldn't think volcanoes were there - all around is open and empty, all rolling golden swells to the far horizons, dry yellow grasses. But then, at the tires' edge, the earth opens up. A huge round scoop taken out of the ground. Crater, which is Greek for cauldron. Where ground should be.

Right then, the cell-phone rings.

Mom is sitting with Dad, waiting for him to wake after this next round of testing. She says thank you for the help, for coming, she says she misses us already, she regrets not doing this, doing that, "I'm glad you're coming back in August. It would be too much if I didn't know you were coming back in August." She says we will do, in August, what we didn't do this time.

I enjoyed this visit, though. I was at peace, at home, and happy.

The whole time, though, Mom couldn't sit still. Even after the others arrived the second week, she kept carting in more boxes - extra bakeware, esoteric kitchen utensils, her grandmother's glass goblets, pottery my grandma made - for us to choose from - boxes after boxes each day from the shop where they've been storing it until the remodeling was done. She'd forget to eat breakfast, pulling out weeds along the ditchbank, watering the baby aspens, planting pots of daisies. By the afternoon, my sister and I would lure her in, set a plate of fruit before her, but she'd bounce back up to hang pictures.

"Come sit down, Mom. Visit with us."

"I can't." So we'd weed outside beside her and she'd go start a new project inside.

Now that I'm back (I was going to say 'home') it's me who can't stick to anything. I shrug off commitments and appointments. Not so productive as my mother, I putter in the garden, putter in the house, write about anything else. It's comforting - the warm smell of drying grasses from the unmowed field. The familiar stacks of kitchen towels.

We've discovered Dad has heart spasms - has had for years, will continue to have. Any one of them could be enough to cause a heart attack.


He will learn relaxation. He will take his "nitro" (we say now, familiarly). He will choose food without fat. He will love more than ever his veggies and fresh fruit - and all of this could turn out to be a real opportunity, a blessing, really.

And we will think of it only in this way.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Would You Rather?

The week Son and I were alone with my parents, he and his Grandpa kept talking trucks. Son likes the Ford F150. Grandpa has a Dodge Ram ("yeah, it's a hemi," which my Dad explained and I gathered means it's neato.)

"Dodgy-ram," says Son who is loyal above all and calls to chat with his own Dad - just to reaffirm the excellence of the Fords ("F150" which also means something neato, I bet) that these two have been pedaling over on their bikes to admire at the local dealer for some time now.

"So, should we get a truck, do you think?" Fritz asked Son once we were reunited -- still at my parents' -- the following week.

"Oh, yeah!" says Son. "When?"

"Oh, I don't know." But he's got something up his sleeve, has Fritz.

Driving home all together after the Fourth, we break our journey at Fritz's mom and dad's in Idaho. Who had, it turns out, already asked Fritz if he were interested in taking their truck since Fritz' mom can't climb into it anymore. Unfortunately(?) it's a Chevrolet.

"Is that better than a hemi?" asks Son.

"Well, a hemi is faster. If we were in a race, your grandpa would win. But this diesel can probably pull more. It's stronger."

"How much stronger?" Son wants to know.

"Say if we were to tie the two trucks together for a tug of war, very probably we'd drag your grandpa's truck all around the parking lot."

Son chortles.

The next morning I hear Son ask, "Dad, would you rather be fastest or strongest?"

"It's not -- " his Dad begins.

"Not a car, just yourself," Son clarifies. "Fast as Tyson Gay." Whom Son is convinced is a cousin somehow since Tyson and my parents share the same name.

"Or how about Usain Bolt?" asks his Dad.

They discuss this at length. "I'd hate it to break your leg and while you're in the hospital someone breaks your record!" says Son.

"I think I'd rather be strong," decides his Dad finally. "If you were fastest you would just run away from everyone. If you were strongest you could work together with everyone."

"Or you could fight against everyone," adds Son.

"Yeh -- I suppose if that's necessary."

"Would you rather -- Dad, here's two more questions for you. Would you rather be fast and strong? Or would you want to teleport?"

Well," says his Dad, "I've always wanted to teleport. Could you take someone with you?"

"Yeah," says Son. "Like Harry Potter. If you all hold onto this key then if one of you has the power you can teleport together."

"Could I teleport without the key?"

"Yeh," says Son.

"Then I'd want to teleport. Think -- I could teleport you BING here to Grandma's house and go back BING and teleport your mom BING go back BING teleport Eldest BING go back BING teleport Middlest BING - that fast we could come here for dinner!"

"Would you rather," asks Son, "be fast, strong, and teleport? Or be able to fly?"

"Oh, I'd rather teleport."

"Would you rather be fast, strong, teleport, and fly? Or go biking?"

"Well," says his Dad, "I'd probably bike anyway."

"But if we had the power to teleport, too, then you couldn't hold onto us and we'd just BING to Astoria and the bike ride would be over."

"That's true."

"Daddy, would you want to be fast, strong, teleport, and fly? Or live forever? - " And then answers himself in a rush -- "I don't think I'd want to live forever because then I wouldn't get to see Jesus and then you wouldn't have powers and besides you live a long time anyway -- which would you choose, Daddy?"

. . . you live a long time anyway . . .

". . . I think I'd teleport," says his Dad.

"Yeah," says Son.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Notes for a Wedding

The last of my young cousins married this past week, as did one of Fritz's favorite cousins' son (got that?) and three of my closest friends have children marrying or married. There is surely something appropriately Shakespearean to say about all this - the world must be peopled!? Or, Get thee to a nunnery!?

Of course the weddings were all lovely, the brides all beautiful, and their grooms all such promising young men. But attending all these weddings makes one pause - what should, what could a wedding celebration be?

How - for example - would I do it, if I ever had to plan a wedding fest someday or other? Not to rush things. I have years yet, five or ten or more at least. Let's not be precipitate just because in five years Eldest will be the age I was when I married, in seven Middlest will be. 23 is much younger now than it was then.

I know, of course, that all that's really required is what every wedding I've seen this summer showed: two happy young people, full of hopefulness and dewy love.

But I'm noticing for the first time, the busy eyes and tired smiles and quick scurryings of the mothers of these young people.

For my own wedding celebrations, I had next to nothing to do with the planning and preparation beyond choosing fabric for my dress and mowing my in-laws-to-be backyard - I was in my first year of graduate school, teaching a writing class, TA-ing two lit sections. Mother, grandmother, mother-in-law-to-be planned everything and carried it out and I just showed up in a white dress. The only thing I insisted on was (?)artificial flowers(?!)

Because I thought they would be more practical.

You know, rather than trying to save the bouquet in the fridge for the week between the two receptions - right? I didn't want to buy two bouquets - did I? And I did so want to be practical now that I was embarking on something so sensible as marriage. Mother and grandmother tried gently to suggest I might possibly prefer . . . but I was quite sure, thank you.

So that I regret. I should have let my three Fates have their way in everything. Because everything else was lovely and most importantly the deed was done - Fritz and I thoroughly wedded - which was all that really mattered to me at the time.

Likely, my eminently practical, already sensible (and also aesthetically astute and opinionated) daughters will want to have more say about their weddings than I did. But just in case you ever ask, my dears -

There was one of the receptions we've recently attended that I particularly enjoyed - or a dinner, rather than a reception - where the bride and groom stood at the door, just the two of them, and welcomed each person entering the hall, one by one. I had the sense of this generous welcoming as their first public act as a couple as they drew us all into the circle of their happiness. The room beyond was filled with round tables and milling with family and friends - many children, much laughing and everyone clean and in their best duds. At every table, set with unbreakable dinnerware, was a bouquet of star-gazer lilies, just beginning to open.

After everyone was seated, it was the bride and groom who each proposed the toasts, taking turns - to their parents, to a particularly helpful friend, to each other - explaining first how it was to be done to their mostly teetotaling audience, with bottles of sparkling cider at each table. The meal was straightforward - the groom's parents raise some cattle and so after the salad of fresh mixed greens, almond slices, dried cranberries, there was a substantial chunk of roast beef, baked potato, corn, fresh fruit and berries on a skewer, rolls. Nothing over-done. Young nieces, mostly, and some nephews served the tables. The comfort and ordinariness of the food put it pleasantly in the background to the conversations and family catch-up.

At the end of the meal, plates cleared again by the older children, the couple stood up at the front of the hall, thanked everyone, their young faces flushed with happiness. They shared 3 things they admired about each other, illustrated with a brief computer-generated slide show - and how they met and fell in love, what their plans were for the next few years together. They fed each other cake with kindness and care and invited everyone to come and partake. She tossed her bouquet. They danced.

As we left we signed our names and best wishes in a scrapbook full of photos from their courtship and quotes they'd chosen about love and friendship.

I liked it - the coziness, the general happiness, the ease of visiting. It was a party up there with the best two wedding celebrations of my girlhood - one a dinner of friends and family in the low-ceilinged basement of an old church with polka-playing accordions and general hilarity as everyone tried to dance along - the other an easily elegant picnic above the creek in my grandparents' green and shady backyard where the bride and groom visited merrily from table to table.

Every other wedding celebration I'd attended up until then had been more staid - only varying in degrees of elegance and money invested - the display of gifts, the signing-in with feathered pen, the shaking hands with a receiving line of mostly bored bridesmaids, the dainty canapes, tartlets and pillow mints, the awkward perching at tables to nibble and then depart.

So, my dears, when the time comes, I think we - or you - or however it works out - should do something that puts the emphasis more on celebration than on display, that welcomes and includes and dances with joy. Something fun and full of love.

And have real flowers.

I'm so helpful, aren't I? Beyond that - you could do far worse than to take the "best novel written by a 9-year-old" for your guide:

Little Daisy Ashford explains all that is necessary in Chapter 10 - "Preparing for the Fray"

The next few days were indeed bussy for Ethel and Bernard. First of all Ethel got some dainty pink note paper with silver crest on it and sent out invitations in the following terms to all their friends

Miss Ethel Monticue will be married to Mr Bernard Clarke at Westminster Abbey on June 10th. Your company is requested there at 2-30 sharp and afterwards for refreshment at the Gaiety Hotel. r.s.v.p.

Having posted heaps of these and got several replies Ethel began to order her wedding dress which cost a good bit. She chose a rich satin with a humped pattern of gold on the pure white and it had a long train edged with Airum lilies. Her veil was of pure lace with a crown of orange blossom. Her bouquett she ordered to be of white dog daisies St. Joseph lilies and orange blossoms tied up with pale blue satin ribbon.

You will indeed be a charming spectacle my darling gasped Bernard as they left the shop. Then they drove to the tailor where Bernard ordered an elligant black suit with coat tails lined with a crimson satin and a pale lavender tie and an opera hat of the same hue and he intended to wear violets in his button holes - also his best white spats diamond studs and a few extras of costly air. . . Then they ordered the most splendid refreshments they had tea and coffee and sparkling wines to drink also a lovly wedding cake of great height with a sugar angel at the top holding a sword made of almond paste. They had countless cakes besides also ices jelly merangs jam tarts with plenty of jam on each some cold tongue some ham with salid and a pigs head done up in a wondrous manner. Ethel could hardly contain herself as she gazed at the sumpshious repast and Bernard gave her a glass of rich wine while he imbibed some whisky before going to bed. Ethel got speedily into her bed for the last time at the dear old Gaiety and shed a few salt tears thinking of her past life but she quickly cheerd up and began to plan about how many children she would have. I hope I shall have a good lot she thought to herself and so saying fell into repose.
As for the other details, my dears, you will have to decide for yourselves. What for example do you think of including in your invitations those little cards stating that the bride and groom are registered at Target and Nordstrom and Bed, Bath & Beyond?

"Useful," says your father.

"Hmm," says your mother.

Trusty Daisy Ashford says,

The earl of Clincham sent a charming gift of some hem stitched sheets edged with real lace and a photo of himself in a striking attitude. Mr Salteena sent Ethel a bible with a few pious words of advice and regret and he sent Bernard a very handy little camp stool. Ethels parents were too poor to come so far but her mother sent her a gold watch which did not go but had been some years in the family and her father provided a cheque for L2 and promised to send her a darling little baby calf when ready.

And wouldn't it be a pity to risk losing out on such delights and offerings of love as these?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Looking for Home

For years I have been looking at this Eve & Adam – a picture, I understood, of a carving no longer in existence. Blasted to rubble by Azerbaijani artillery in 1991, along with the rest of the once-Armenian monastery. A carving that could no longer be photographed. From a monastery which no longer stood. In a country which no longer existed.

But I was wrong: this bas-relief of First Woman and First Man in Paradise (and the Gandzasar monastery on whose walls it is carved) has been restored. In Armenia – or rather a scattered but stubbornly re-emergent fragment of Armenia currently called the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

Armenia intrigues me. It was once part of the Kingdom of Ararat. As in Mount Ararat where Noah reportedly re-emerged from his ark. And Mt. Ararat is, in fact, an Armenian national icon, blazoned on flags and seals, though now out of bounds to Armenians. Enemy territory. Lost, though visible still, just over the border.

To find that this Adam & Eve is not after all destroyed, is like discovering that the Narrows – one of the reverberate sites of my childhood – is also not gone. I had thought the Narrows – down along Clear Creek where my dad and grandpa used to take us fishing, in the tender darkness before early summer sunrises – had been blasted by my uncle’s crew from the Department of Transportation when they put the 4-lane highway through.

But three years back, Fritz and I biked one morning through that intimate canyon, a birth-canal of low-rising red-rose cliffs along the snow-melt creek. A source-place for me.

Though it is not my place.

Petroglyphs nearby mark Clear Creek Canyon as a place of irrecoverable meaning to the people called Paiute, or the earlier people we call Fremont. And both peoples there before any of my closer relations built houses. Which is, wearily, another story of conquest and erasure.

I cannot help but think of homeland and exile when I come back to this valley. Especially at this time of year – Independence Day, anniversary of the birth of my nation.

road from Annabell' to Richfield, Utah
Except that birth is too organic a term. We have made a Nation, rather than inheriting a Homeland – more a system of laws than a sacred geography. A system we made and keep making – by choice and by chance. Nation of ideas and ideals, rather than homeplace of one biologically victorious family line.
Elsinore, Utah

We are a nation of exiles – and should behave with the circumspection and delicacy of good guests. Which none of us can sustainedly do. But which is after all what our First Parents' story tells us: that we are cast out from the ground we were made from, obliged to make a life in foreign territory - with discretion, amidst choice and danger.

town of Joseph, Utah

For me, coming here to this particular valley, this little town cupped in the mountain's palm – multiplies exile by exile.

Growing up away from cousins and grandparents, I always thought of this string of mountain valleys as my real home. Here were gravestones inscribed with the names repeated in family stories and scribbled on the back of black & white photographs. Here the peaks and buttes that have formed the background to those stories and photos, landmarks that have been my family's points of reference for five generations.
cabin my great-grandfather grew up in, now moved to the park in the center of town
But when for a while I found myself living again in the valley where I was born, I realized these valleys were not any more my real home than any other place I'd lived. I am only a familiar stranger here, a returning pilgrim who can never stay. 

I don't know anymore where my roots really lie - not there in that familiar valley, not here in these beautiful woods where (for now) I hold the deed to a house, not somewhere back over the sea. For years I wanted to find that place, that place I belonged, where I would be wholly welcomed in, where I would know I was at home. But now I don't think I can nor want to find a homeland anywhere. All the wars I hear seem battles over yet another homeland too narrow to hold all her latest children.

town party in the background
So, home - for me, becomes a tent, temporary – like this week here in the welcome my parents make with the work of their own hand in the space they keep safe between them.

A movable tabernacle marking out an earthly haven only for the space of time it stands.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Before she has her floor swept

“Gardening in the Rain,” by Brian Kershisnik

"Portrait by a Neighbour"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you'll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It's long after midnight,
Her key's in the lock,
And you'll never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o'clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon,

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne's Lace!
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