The Return of the Hometown Girl

Photomontage: Seattle Area IconsThis past summer’s middle expedition of the three trips took us Home. A visit to Seattle and environs to reconnect with family, since two of my three sisters, my parents, and my spouse’s parents all live within about 40 minutes’ drive of each other in the same lovely neck of the woods where both he and I spent most of our growing-up years. His one brother and my third sister were both coming out to the Pacific Northwest with their respective spouses this summer as well, so while we hardly felt we got to more than say Hello and Goodbye to everyone in the short stretch of two weeks, it was a rare thing to get to even see them all in the same year, let alone in the same part of the world. A gift, on a grand scale, that, and one we knew we must relish to the full.

A side-benefit of this little jaunt was returning to our roots. My husband had lived other places than the Seattle area for slightly more time than I had by the time we moved to our present north Texas digs, but that region was, remains, and ever shall be our rooted home in many ways. So it was a pleasurable plus for us that our family out there took to the idea of playing Tourist in our own familiar places so nicely. It’s struck me more than once that it’s a bit of a pity that so few of us take advantage of the most famous and characteristic places and activities, sights and signs of the places where we spend the majority of our time, at least unless we have visitors who request such things. So my sisters, his brother, and our parents all indulged this homesick wish on our part to revisit those things that had colored our youth and shaped our loves over so many years.
Photomontage: Hometown Girl

We took a boat tour with my parents and siblings that I’m sure had more out-of-state visitors than locals on it, just to see Seattle and its environs from the Puget Sound side and to cruise leisurely through the Ballard Locks, where the salmon were due, imminently, to make their own annual sojourn up the ladder to their ‘roots,’ to spawn and renew. We wandered the Alki neighborhood and beach, where my grandparents’ apartment was in years long gone a wonderful place to visit not only them but the sun, the sand, and the “ice cream cone lady,” a miniature of the Statue of Liberty that still stands on the beach right across the street from where they lived then. We ate fresh local fish and chips and/or Dungeness crab at every turn. We went up to the trails at Paradise on Mt. Rainier for a sunny afternoon with Mom and Dad Sparks. My sisters and brothers-in-law and I went on the Seattle Underground Tour, a trip through the history of Seattle’s original incarnation before the whole town was demolished by fire in the nineteenth century and rebuilt on top of its own ashes, phoenix-like.

Most of all, we breathed in that familiar blend of resinous tree exhalations, saltwater spray, rich volcanic soil, wildly prolific blooms, and strangely electric, ozonated quiet that makes my heart skip like a young kid in tall grass. And we did so in the company of those we have loved the longest, those who love us for no apparent reason other than that we are family. Home and family are what we make of them, yes; they’re also the things that make us who we are, when we remember to let them. It’s good to revisit that, once in a while.Photo: Space Needle in Sun

In a Perfect World

Photo: In a Perfect WorldIf the universe were flawless, life within it ideal, and I supernally fine, I would arrange so that my dear, darling spouse could have the most beautifully untroubled and magically rich existence in history. When he woke up every morning, angels would fan him with their wings while serving him pizza and ice cream to his heart’s content and he’d never get uncomfortably sugar high no matter how many slices or scoops he ate. He would be wafted from rehearsing one unnaturally skilled and committed choir to another, each accompanied by the finest instrumental resources available anywhere, all the while enjoying the acoustic majesty of whatever stupendous space he desired at the moment. He would flit effortlessly to every city, country, and continent next on his wish list to make music or just to wander and rejoice in the culture and landscape, the people and history and endless other gifts of each dreamy locale, until he longed to be whisked to the next. He’d have a glorious day hike on Mt. Rainier any day he wanted, no matter where he was for the rest of the day.

And all of this would find him accompanied by me—but the fabulous, unimaginably sweet and brilliant and supremely good-humored version of me. Probably nicer to everybody than I have ever been, but especially to my husband. I might even be a good enough singer to qualify for one of his incredible choirs. If we wished. In a perfect world.

Especially today, it’d be nice to think he could exist in this perfect world. It’s his birthday, and I wish him every good thing on every day, with a plus-plus-plus-sized wishing on his birthdays. Sadly, no luck on that front. He woke up to the gentle breeze of my snoring, no angel wings. No sugary treats—homemade chili for dinner. Well, okay, a bit of chocolate for dessert. The choirs and ethereal travel…all of the other infinitely sweet wonders I wish were mine to offer him in vast quantities for every day of his long and deliriously happy life…only a dream, in this imperfect world.

But the love we share makes my world a greater joy, and I’m here to say that I hope that I can get better with each passing year at returning the favor. If all the perfection I can offer my beloved is to love him as best I can for as long as I live, then that’s what I’ll wrap up in silken tissue and a bow for now. He’s pretty tolerant of imperfection, I find, and that’s perfect for me. Happy birthday, my love.

I’m an Excellent Driver

Yeah, No. I’m no more an excellent driver than I am a fabulous navigator (said Miss-lexia!), let alone than the character in the movie Rain Man who made the claim.

But for the moment, my spouse is stuck with me as his chauffeur. It’s a rather novel experience for us both, having me do all the driving, as in addition to my complete lack of any sense of direction, I am not especially fond of driving, and am generally delighted to be spoiled by his driving our one car 99% of the time. He rather likes driving, and is more skillful at it than I—and more tolerant of my passenger-seat critiques than I am of his—so our usual arrangement of him driving me everywhere generally works just fine.

But he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week and until the swelling is completely healed and his knee more flexible again, it’s my turn to do him the favor for a bit. He’s certainly earned the privilege of being shuttled around awhile. And it has occurred to me that as the perpetual passenger I get to enjoy much of the local scenery and sights in ways that he rarely has the chance to see, when he’s constantly focused on getting us safely from Point A to Point B. It made me glad there was a pretty sunset this evening while we were coming home from points south around dusk.

And I did get us here safely, so I suppose excellence in driving is something of a relative thing, after all.Photo: On the Road

Great Things are Meant to Last

It’s almost midnight here, but there are a couple of hours left of Mom and Dad’s 59th anniversary back in western Washington state, where they began, and still practice, the fine art of marriage. So before I tuck myself into bed, and because I couldn’t reach them in person to say so the first three times I called, I will take this opportunity to thank them for having had the excellent taste in partners that put them together in the first place, the temerity or mild insanity—or both—to have us kids and keep us, and the strength of will and love and hope to stick together for all of these amazing years. Blessings to you, Mom and Dad, and may whatever comes only strengthen your joy in each other.Photo: Mountaintop Experience

Splendid

Photo: Two LipsI am loved. Among my greatest sources of affection and sweetness, I treasure having been loved for the past nineteen and a half years by the wonderful partner who is my best friend, a truly marvelous everyday companion whose company continues to be a pleasure, and just plain a good human being. Today, I celebrate having been married to this splendid person for nineteen years. I don’t know why the universe has conferred such largess upon me. I am merely grateful beyond words, and don’t choose to look too closely into the whys and wherefores of my giftedness in this regard lest the bubble burst.Photo: Light-Hearted

Today, I am more contented, happy, and hopeful than I could have imagined possible two decades ago, and the more so because I know that as long as we’re both around to keep marking anniversaries of our marriage I will continue to be so loved, so blessed. Beloved, I wish you as much joy as your heart can hold. Being with you is, for me, the very definition of splendid.Photo: Splendid

My Word on It

Photo: Early MusicBEMF. Road trip. Wedding. Dad’s Day. Arguments. Home. Adventures. “I love you.”

What do they all have in common? One word.

Family.

I’ll bet you were going for: Love. And of course, you would also be correct, because that’s the very definition of family for me, as you well know. It’s not biology; it’s not pedigree and legal contracts and historical ties. It’s love. And love is not, for me, dependent on any of the aforementioned characteristics and descriptors, though it may—and I hope it does—have a close relationship with them more often than not. It’s respect and trust, support and kindness, even in the middle of stress and disagreement, illness, injury, confusion, and chaos. I am so very, very fortunate and blessed and grateful to find myself in the midst of an extraordinarily big, rich family network that comprises biological and legal relatives, yes, but also much more than that: a wide range of dear friends and comrades who are more than mere acquaintances or colleagues can ever be, each one tying me further to the next.

BEMF [the Boston Early Music Festival] was the beginning of the most recent two-week series of family events for me and, as in my previous times there, a joy from start to finish. As an arts event, it has very few peers in the world, being a week-long gathering of superb artists and dedicated audiences who converge for the love and celebration of Early Music and all of its many concomitant delights and beauties, all in a magnificent city. This biennial visit was a typically lovely one, starting with the gathering of our Early Music family from around the continent and overseas, especially the wonderful singers, players, producers, conductors, and other aficionados of the genre; they hailed from the university where my spouse works, well-loved Canadian spots, and many of the states and companies in which we have connected with such marvelous people. On arrival in Boston, we settled into our rented digs with a pair of our dear adopted kin and began the week with the rehearsal and performance of the university’s Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra friend-colleague crew whose concert was the impetus for the BEMF visit. And a wonderfully successful one, at that.

What followed was a week packed with beautiful music of all kinds set into the interstices between superb performances of the trilogy of Monteverdi operas and his 1610 Vespers, one of the most significant and exquisite foundational parts of the whole Early Music oeuvre and experience. The weather treated us all remarkably kindly, the food was as always inviting, varied, and delicious, and the historic and aesthetic pleasures of the city and immediate area renewed my love of being a happy observer and tourist there.

Next came renting a car and road-tripping to the Maine and Connecticut coasts, places I’d never been before and my partner, not in many years. Wandering gorgeous little towns and seaside regions like Brunswick and Bowdoinham, Maine, and Stonington and Mystic, Connecticut, and all sorts of big and little cities and towns around them with little specific agenda other than the rooting out of great seafood and scenery (more about both will surely follow here in many posts to come) was great post school year stress relief and entertainment in large measures. Spending time simply meandering in the wonders of the American northeast with my beloved, even better. A great time to reinforce why I love the guy so much and feel immeasurably blessed to live with him for the long run.Photo: Traffic Jam

Was there stormy weather and bad traffic in our two-week outing? Yes, both real and metaphorical. Nature dictates the occurrence of these things around us, and human nature, within us. We’re all designed to need rebooting from time to time, if not a good boot in the booty. Just before heading home after the whole two-week extravaganza of beauty, wonder, love, happiness, and unbelievably good things, I got into an argument with my most beloved spouse—really angrily, ridiculously angrily. Over absolutely nothing. We were both very tired, at the end of a whole school year of huge commitments and busyness plus two weeks of (great and glorious fun notwithstanding) travel and social events and the demands inherent in both, and knowing we’d come home to huge lists of chores and catch-up tasks for both of us.

I’m not lying when I say we are not a fighting couple. But we do disagree, and frequently. One friend cheerily calls us the Bickersons for our style of daily communication, and I’m sure is not entirely feigning his worry that we’re going to don boxing gloves and just duke it out any minute, being an equally balanced pair of supremely stubborn and finicky people. Most of the time we equably agree-to-disagree, because what we do argue about is virtually always, as in the above case, nothing. Often, it’s mere semantics, each of us saying pretty much exactly what the other is saying but in such different personal language that it sounds like we’re worlds apart, and when we really are on different pages, it’s not about anything crucial to the foundations of our marriage. We share our core values, no matter how the day is going.

So by the end of the hour yesterday, tempers cooled down, and by today, I was firmly reminded that I would do well to keep my trap shut long enough to realize how petty and pointless the disagreement is before wasting any energy on arguing a non-point. I never feared that we didn’t still love each other or that a grave emergency was going to occur if he didn’t see the light and agree with me forthwith, but you’d not have guessed that from the way I was talking. How silly of me, and how pointlessly rude. How sorry I am.

I’ll at least give myself the concession that this is how things go sometimes with those we love the most, our family. We put on the proverbial boxing gloves because we love and care too much to just stomp off into the sunset and never get back to I’m Sorry and I Love You. It hurts, yes it does, to argue, and perhaps the more so pointedly when I know in my heart it’s over something idiotic and meaningless, but I suppose it’s far preferable to not having enough passion to vent and relent.

This misadventure was followed by not only reconciliation but remembering that it was, of all things, Father’s Day. We weren’t in one place (with cell reception, anyhow) long enough to call our two fabulous dads right on the day and give them the fervently felt thanks and love they deserved on the occasion—though, arguably (no pun intended), we could have made a pretty quick call to at least one in the time we wasted arguing. Being longtime family members of the truest sort, Dad W and Dad S will undoubtedly forgive our tardiness and just be glad we get around to calling tonight with belated greetings for the occasion. They are both past-masters at the whole Real Love thing, anyway.

Which brings me back into the middle of the story. I haven’t forgotten that way back in the first line of this post I mentioned a wedding. It was the excuse for our road trip after leaving Boston…why fly home to Texas and then back north within a week if a week’s holiday in between beckons? It was also, and no surprise, one of the clear and dazzling highlights of the whole fortnight’s expedition. Two other dear members of our extended family (both former students of my spouse’s) now uniting in the contract of marriage, in a fairytale sort of wedding held in the bride’s parents’ garden where the long threatening rain consented to abeyance, not because to do otherwise would have been a crime against the sweetness of the day but because it was probably more appropriate that the tears being shed were all joyful ones by various members of the wedding party and fond attendees.

There was visual gorgeousness throughout, just as with last year’s wedding of another such pair of adopted-kin sweethearts that took us to Puerto Rico, and as in that instance, also perfectly thought out and enacted to fit and represent the couple in question. The settings were spectacularly prepared, music exquisitely performed by musicians near and dear to the marrying couples, the wedding parties looking like some kind of ethereal Hollywood-designer versions of how wedding parties usually look, and the after-parties a couple of ones guaranteed to be recounted for ages by everyone who attended. And the friend who performed the marriage ceremony for this week’s bride and groom, for whom I am told this was her first such duty, spoke simply and eloquently in the most appropriate of ways for the occasion.

The centerpiece of her brief address of the bride and groom was recognizing their deep and remarkable commitment to family. To the community of care and comfort and love found in people who have chosen each other and stand together willingly, if not willfully, through thick and thin. Those present on the day were a clear part and example of this way of life. And it was impossible not to respond in kind, to acknowledge the connection and delight in it, and promise together to continue to seek it out.

I promise. You have my word on it. That word, you know—Family.Photo: The Family Dance

What has been and will always be…

Photo: In the DistanceYou have forgotten my name.

My face is familiar, but you’re not sure in what context it belongs. Am I from a magazine cover, or someone from your healthcare team, or am I your firstborn child?

What was it we were discussing there a moment ago? It floated away in mid-sentence, along with the coffeepots and suitcases that just now floated by the window. Never mind, we’ll talk about it again sometime soon. And again, and again. We may not ever reach the end of the sentence anyway, since so many things, unmoored, float by the second-story casement while we’re sitting here.

We sit here a great deal now, indeed, because you’ve forgotten that you can walk. Once in a while you stand up, out of the blue, and stroll to the hall and stand there, pondering, until someone at the nurses’ station twenty steps away sees you, strides down to your room, and swings your wheelchair over to where you sit back down in it without noticing and ask, Are we on the way to My House?

The answer is always Yes.

When I come to see you, yesterday is millennia ago and you’ve missed me in the long years since I saw you then. If you speak, it’s of the more recent yesterday when you were newly out of school and first in love, and you speak in the present tense of how you expect a visit at any moment from those you knew—now dead. If you speak at all.

Often, in silence you look out that second-story window to see the world projected from behind your eyes. Whenever you turn to the room it’s as though I’ve just arrived. And you still can’t remember quite how you know me or why you can’t put a finger on my name.

You tell me a garbled but elaborate tale about someone with my other parent’s name, your late spouse’s, who according to you has just run off with your (also dead) best friend from school and they’re now shacked up in Tahoe, a place you’ve never been. Then you’re silent again, perhaps thinking further on these events so vividly real in the new world of your mind, never finding it improbable though that school-friend moved to the East Coast years before you’d ever met your One True Love.

Later in the week, their names have been bestowed on two tiny stuffed koalas that arrived clipped to the stems of a small bouquet that was sent last winter when you had had your sixth, or was it your seventh, minor stroke. See? I can’t remember now, either.

But over these last few years, it’s come to matter less. I stopped correcting you, only after much futile and agitated foolishness on my part. It took me too long to learn that. It took me too long to learn that Denial was a river that would only drown me, while you might float along with much less sorrow if I let you go wherever it is you need to go. I learned to agree with you no matter how odd the claims, and to remember at last that my reality is hardly the only one; perhaps it’s not even the truest one, at that. After all, wasn’t it you who allowed these possibilities in me when I was very young?

Yes, I recognize it now, though you cannot. When I was small—in days that even I can’t recollect—you agreed with my outlandish claims and played along when I imagined things. It wasn’t purely to amuse me and encourage my imagination, but you knew, as parents do, that it was real enough to me. When it mattered, you’d agree, and they you’d carry on with the action of Real Life, sheltering me from its harsher blows and steering me around the dangers calmly as we’d go. I talked my nonsense and you were there to set me back on my feet when I forgot I’d started learning how to walk.

I couldn’t always remember right from wrong, let alone the difference between pretending and what was real. You remembered it for me so I could live comfortably in those spaces in between where most of us exist a lot of the time when we are small and the boundaries are still so permeable. I’m just learning, now, to find my way back in and visit with you there. And you, forgetting that I’ve lost my way, lead me, without the need to try, because we’re headed Home. Yes, we are. The answer to that is always Yes.Photo: Other Planes

For Grandma, who dwelt in the alternate universe of Alzheimer’s for a few colorful years before wandering out of this plane forever.