Well, as Ann Landers used to say, I have the best readers in the whole world! Modesty prevents me from quoting from all the amazing responses I got to the Michigan homecoming ‘zine. One generous soul even sent me a check, which I have not asked for or expected for a long time. She must have missed the part where I am now made of money. (Literally. Hold me up to the light and you’ll see the watermarks.) But seriously, I love the feedback. And financial contributions, while not mandatory, are never turned away. As my old friend P is constantly reminding me, last year’s real estate deal is the last windfall (as opposed to snowfall) I will ever see in this lifetime.
I’m especially pleased by the reports of a few readers that they shared the ‘zine with others. One spouse (with midwestern roots) claimed he had “the best sleep in a long time…” after he and his wife read it in bed together. I often wonder if people have to know me to get half of what I write. So this kind of feedback is really encouraging and makes me want to keep writing. (Yes! Your responses are like applause for Tinker Bell!)
It was a relief to hear from Maria, who didn’t mind that I had published her initial misgivings about the ‘zine’s “midwestern preoccupation.” I want to quote part of her response, since her earlier e-mail played such a big part in the last issue….
… Well, Mary. You did it. I am so proud of you. You moved to the heartland… YOUR heart land. And I loved that you used my email. You can use any words of mine you like. They don’t really belong to me, as they pass right thru me. I don’t even know where they come from really.
But even MORE amazing then getting your wonderful, full of homey facts, cozy, heartwarming, tear jerking issue (with only one ‘cutely amusing’ comment from Barb!!!) yesterday…. this morning on the ‘Today Show’ the weather man; Al Roker, interviewed a group of ladies under umbrellas who were standing in the rain outside the ‘Today Show’ headquarters in New York holding a BIG sign that they had printed, in unprofessional big letters, MENOMINEE, MI. I was blown away it was so mystical! How often does THAT happen??
Wow. The Yoopers are starting to manifest in all sorts of strange ways. To me, there’s nothing stranger than my becoming one of them again, but I’ll grant you that local folks showing up on Maria’s TV is truly a sign. I’ve told you about “Yooper,” yes? It’s the folksy, self-deprecating version of “U.P.’er.” I’d like to see the term changed to “Uppers,” but then Schloegel’s gift shop wouldn’t be able to pander to the vacationers from down state (the Lowers) by selling homegrown hick paraphernalia (“Say yah to da U.P., eh?”) in an attempt to make an economically depressed area into a tourist destination. We’re not lucky enough to have alligators, Cuban exiles, and Mickey Mouse, so let’s play up the dumb lumberjack approach: “Yah, yah, we so stoopid up here.” (Actually, that sounds more like Arnold Schwarzenegger; now I’m confused.)
So to answer your first question, yes, I still like it here. The peeps (and everyone else I meet) keep asking me, “You still like the snow?” Yes! “How about the cold?” Yes! The ice, I’m not so crazy about, but we’ll get to that a little later. But first, here’s this….
I left my heart… and had to go back for it…
When I was finally starting to feel settled in my new home, I had to fly back to San Francisco for a 7-day painting intensive. The peeps were a bit perplexed… “She’s going back to California already?” Barb’s friend Shirley wondered if I would go for a visit and realize my mistake and want to move back. Even if I had, it would have been tant pis. (That either means “too bad” or “Aunt Piss.”)
The trip wasn’t all it could have been. I kept getting surprised, and not always in a good way. But I guess whether surprise is welcome or not is entirely a function of one’s expectations. I didn’t expect to get sick, for the first time in years, on the very first day of painting. I didn’t expect Terry and Jean to cancel because of various foot-and-eye disorders. I didn’t expect to have my crucifix pocket knife pulled off my bag at the airport in Green Bay. I guess that’s not as outrageous as having your nail clippers confiscated, but it was still a hassle. The security people huddled around this Weapon of Minimal Destruction and exchanged significant glances, as if they couldn’t bring themselves to speak. “Aha!” their glances conveyed. “Another terroristic plot foiled! Foiled, I tell you!” Also, I’d like to say to that ONE GUY who put explosives in his shoes before he tried to board a plane…. THANKS A LOT. I complained that I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no dynamite. I mean, this was Green Bay, not Tel Aviv… although, I suppose northeastern Wisconsin could be the perfect gateway for a rogue Canadian to sneak through on his way to bomb the Blatz beer plant.
But the good surprises outweighed the bad, and of course some things, such as the Eternal Present itself—embodied, enacted, and embraced by Barbara, Pi-Te, Polly, Jan, Kate, Diane L, Diane D, Kerry, Amy, and more—were not so much a surprise as a delightful reminder that Eternity is not “out there” at Time’s End—as if we’re going to sail over the horizon of life and fall off the edge (someday, people are going to talk about us the way we talk about the Flat Earthers. “They actually thought time was linear?????”)—but dwells in Stillness and Communion, Here, There, and Everywhere. I seem to be channeling Emily Dickinson with all the capital letters here. There is, of course, a special connection with friends with whom I have been doing this Painting Dance for up to 25 years, but the beauty of the Eternal Present is that there is no “old” and “new,” no “then” and “now,” no “being at the intensive” and “lying in a hotel room blowing your nose.” Pi-Te expressed this same idea one day when he said that he felt no time had passed since last year’s December intensive, when we sat in this same circle, with one more or one less participant but all part of the same stream.
It was torture to try to paint when I wasn’t feeling well—and to live in a hotel, for that matter, in a room with no refrigerator or microwave. I wanted to go home so bad. But I was able to return to the studio for the last two days of the intensive, and everything came together for me. I started painting my new house and yard and everything, and I came to the point where I knew I had to let go and let anything happen. You can’t paint truthfully if you’re holding back or trying to steer the imagery in any way. So I started painting pig demons at my windows, a Loch Ness-type monster rising out of Lake Michigan, snakes coming up my front porch. I don’t know if it’s possible to convey how deeply satisfying this sort of thing is to those who’ve never done it. Some part of me had been afraid that if I let the truth—what is, whatever it is—come out, I would discover that my idyllic coming-of-home story—my fairytale, as my Lower friend put it—would be exposed as mere fantasy. And yet the truth is always good news, contrary to popular belief; the trick is that you have to go toward it not knowing, with no reservations. Allowing yourself to follow wherever the brush wants to go takes courage—more than you can imagine, considering it’s “just a piece of paper.” Painting for process is a microcosm where you learn just how boogie-man-basic our grownup fears really are.
While I was in S.F. I got to see some friends who were not part of the intensive: had lunch with E/Van near Union Square… dinner with Jean at Ping’s in Marin (I have longed and lusted for Chinese food since moving away)… and lunch on Clement St. with J the day before I left. Remember J? I haven’t written about ending therapy, almost exactly a year ago. The process came to a natural end, and we both felt it. J was open to becoming friends after some time had passed, so I called her 6 months later and we met in Berkeley a couple times. Now we talk on the phone once a month or so. We shared such intimacy during our therapy hours, but of course the focus was always on me. Now we are building a new relationship out of that deep connection, and, to me, that is the best possible evidence of the good work we did together.
San Francisco is truly a fantasy city, exciting and stimulating. It was refreshing to see so many different kinds of people again: the young hip-somethings in Ella’s Restaurant, one of them a skinny black guy wearing outrageous jewelry. A rabbi telling his breakfast companion about being interviewed by The New York Times. The European woman who got on the hotel elevator with me and, when I asked her which floor, said something that sounded like “Ted.” “What?” “TED!” she exclaimed, pointing to the button for the third floor. (Sorry, I’m not up on my foreign numerals.) The woman in another elevator, this one in the Sutter-Stockton garage, wearing a big cowboy hat and spike heels, with a French poodle in her purse. The young guy with face piercings at Sony Metreon who helped me (shouting above the megadecibel sound system) pick out the right PlayStation components for my nephew. Stopping in at the Whole Foods on California St. after dropping off my rental car… having forgotten the color, the bustling energy, the endless food choices… and then walking slowly back to the hotel past dignified apartment buildings and a small jazz band playing on Fillmore St…. remembering the excitement of moving to this exotic place in 1973 and learning the neighborhoods, where we would live, where we would find work.
In fact, most of the memories this trip awoke in me were from the early days, when P and I lived on 17th St. below Uranus (butt of many jokes) and went dancing in the many gay bars that flourished back then: Scott’s, Maud’s, Amelia’s, Peg’s, and many more whose names I’ve forgotten. Eating at the plentiful restaurants in North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission…. playing cards with Jean and Bruce for money and saving it up to blow on a dinner at Ernie’s ($100 for four of us!). Strolling down the hill to see old Katharine Hepburn movies at the Castro Theater. Standing in line for hot fudge sundaes at Bud’s. Reading the Chronicle for the daily dispatches of “Tales of the City” (before it was a book) and increasingly bizarre political developments: the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the Jonestown massacre, the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone… marching in a candlelight vigil to City Hall on that cold November night and listening to Joan Baez sing all our hearts out… marching again after Dan White was all but freed on the Twinkie defense, but leaving when the crowd began setting police cars on fire.
Yes, said the old codger (if women can be codgers), it was a great place and time to be young…. but when the intensive was over, I was more than ready to leave.
Dec. 14, 2 a.m.
The flight home was arduous. United had changed the aircraft from a 747 to a… I don’t know, a 666?… so my “E” aisle seat became a middle-of-the-row seat. I spent the whole 4 hours with my shoulders and knees pulled in, trying to avoid physical contact with my seatmates who sprawled unconcernedly on either side. Then in Chicago I waited 6 hours instead of the scheduled 45 minutes for a flight to Green Bay after mine was canceled. Landed in Green Bay at midnight. I had thought I wouldn’t be able to drive the 55 miles home after taking Dramamine downers all day, but I was wide awake and rarin’ to go. I reclaimed my Jeep, headed for the exit, and drove right into a chain that was roping off part of the lot. Oops! Got to the parking toll booth and oops! again, I had no idea where my ticket was. But I finally got out of there, stopped for coffee at the first gas station I saw, and called P on my cell phone to let her know I was almost home. I was ecstatic when I finally drove across the Menekaunee bridge into Michigan exactly 2 weeks to the day that I had driven myself and my hidden-in-plain-sight Weapon of Barely Any Destruction to do battle with the security forces in Packerland. As I drove quietly down First Street, which was lined with Christmas lights and old-fashioned streetlights, past the bandstand and the marina, the bay glowing darkly to my right and snow on the ground, it felt just like “It’s a Wonderful Life” but without James Stewart’s suicidal depression or his chubby angel (and without Donna Reed, unfortunately: oh my God, that scene where she’s on the phone and he has his face in her hair, inhaling her scent…).
I had been dreaming of the moment when I would finally get home, dump my bags inside the door, and tiptoe upstairs to surprise Pookie. At first he looks startled, and then recognition dawns and he emits a single “MEW?!” I spend the next 2 and a half hours holding him, combing and petting him, and burying my face in his furry neck. (If you can’t be with Donna Reed, bury your face in the one you’re with.) He endures my affections because he’s so grateful to have his longtime companion back again—and probably because he’s damn sick of listening to the radio, which I had left on an NPR station for the whole 2 weeks so he could imagine I was just in another room listening to the BBC News Hour. Barb and K had faithfully come by to do the necessary upkeep and keep him company for a while, but there’s just no substitute for… well, for me.
Dec. 14, after a few hours of sleep
It’s wonderful to be home again, to be covered in Pookie’s flying fur, to check my e-mail, to look out at the thin layer of snow in my back yard in wonder and disbelief. (Disbelief because it does look kind of fake, as if they had trucked in some artificial stuff for my benefit.) I treat myself to breakfast at Pat & Rayleen’s, where I savor a broccoli-and-cheese omelet and hot coffee. The sun is dazzling on the snow outside, the restaurant is warm and almost empty, and I watch in fond acknowledgment of the special intimacies of small-town living as the waitress tries to extract from an old man in a nearby booth what kind of pie he wants. It’s a scene of great intensity, and especially volume, as the entire list of available pies is SHOUTED distinctly and repeatedly at the old man while his daughter looks on in amusement….
Waitress: “BANANA CREAM…? APPLE…?” (she hesitates encouragingly after every flavor)… “STRAWBERRY RHUBARB…?”
Old man: “WHAT WAS THAT LAST ONE?”
Waitress: “STRAWBERRY RHUBARB…?”
Old man: “NO I DON’T WANT THAT ONE.”
Man’s daughter: “YOU LIKE PUMPKIN WITH COOL WHIP, DON’T YOU, DAD?”
Old man: “WHAT?”
Daughter: “YOU LIKE PUMPKIN WITH COOL WHIP, DON’T YOU?
Old man: “SAY THOSE PIES AGAIN?”
And so on. You’d think this would have been a highly irritating experience for everyone concerned, but the daughter’s wry smile never falters, and the waitress shows perfect patience, like she’s willing to stand there and shout at him all day until he chooses his pie. She’s one of my favorite waitresses anyway…. Mary Kay…. and she’s come to welcome me as a regular, since I always sit in her section and am making a pretty good reputation for myself as a generous tipper. (I imagine waitresses gathering in back rooms all over town, whispering, “I hear she’s from California. Obviously she has no idea what passes for a tip around here.”)
mary’s first christmas with snow… and peeps… in a quarter of a century
Barb, K, MP, and I have dinner at Schussler’s, ostensibly for K and MP’s 32nd wedding anniversary, but they insist on paying. The food and drink are excellent as usual, and it’s fun to be out in the happy holiday atmosphere. Christmas is definitely better in snow country. (Do you suppose Lebanese or Syrian Christians ever mutter, on December 25, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow”?) On the way home we drive around to see the elaborate Christmas lights and decorations. We go across the bridge to our old neighborhood, which is still basically rural. Mr. Krygoski (he of the “Jesus Is Lord Over Menominee County” sign) has bought up most of the land around there and puts on an outdoor extravaganza every year. We pull into a small parking area and are met by a man dressed like a shepherd who hands us a religious tract and wishes us a Merry Christmas.
It’s an awesome sight—or spectacle, rather. There’s a manger scene. Angels in a pagoda. A live donkey walking round and round in a pen. Lights in all the trees and bushes, all around the house, and even “on high”: the property is bordered on two sides by tall trees, and in the dark you can’t see the trees, just the lights, so it looks like Mr. K’s message is written across the sky: GOD IS THE GREATEST. On the roof of the house, outlined in bright lights, is the single word JESUS. (I think I would have at least made a sentence out of it: JESUS WEPT?) It’s bizarre, as if my old, modest neighborhood of woods, pastures, and sand hills has been transformed into a religious carnival. All that’s missing is cotton candy and a Pharaoh’s wheel. (Sorry about that.)
Other light displays around town are more tasteful and truly awe-inspiring. The best of them make you feel like the people in the house are bursting with the joy of the season and just have to share. I haven’t done any Christmas decorating myself in years, and I really didn’t this year, except to hang some light strings in my loft windows—and they’re definitely an eclectic lot: red chili peppers, white skulls, and two strings of beautiful “paper lantern” lights that Kate made. I also lit up the green neon question mark Barb gave me for my birthday, and changed the bulbs in the ceiling fixtures to green and blue. When everyone else in the neighborhood retired their seasonal light displays, I kept mine up, because now when I’m puttering around in the middle of the night I feel like I’m at the bottom of a peaceful sea, softly dappled with color.
I wake up and am pleasantly surprised to see that it’s snowing, for the first time since I’ve been back. (I’ve seen the result but not the process.) Little puffy flakes drift lazily down, and the thin drifts on the roads look like granulated sugar being blown this way and that. I get busy with breakfast, coffee, and e-mail, and the next time I look out the window, everything’s white! HOLY MOLEY, I’d better get going! I have to go shopping for groceries and mail a package—a neon question mark like mine for Barbara to use as a visual aid in the painting studio.
Tightly zipped, tucked, and laced into my squall parka, scarf, gloves, and boots, I waddle out to the garage. (A year ago, when no one had any idea that I might move to a land of snow and ice, Barbara knitted me two beautiful wool scarves, which have now become part of my basic wardrobe.) I have never driven in snow before, so I’m a little anxious. I’m thankful for the 4-wheel drive (4WD) as I cautiously back the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (Cheyenne Apache Running Bear Marlboro Man) out of the garage and start driving down the unplowed road. My top speed is 20 mph, and I note gratefully that everyone out there is driving as carefully as I am. I stop at the Pack’n’Ship, where I struggle through mid-calf-high snow in the parking lot to get inside. I’ve been moving freely through air and on land for many years now, so it does smush my brain a little to be faced with the basic challenge of getting from point A to point B through dense snowgrowth. I’m enjoying it, even though everyone seems to want to bum my high:
Me to shipping person: “I just moved here from California, and I’m loving it!”
Shipping person: “Yeah, the first snow is nice, but you’ll hate it after a while.”
Me [silently]: Gee thanks, are you from the Michigan tourist board?
I’m serious about the brain-smush thing. Depositing a check in the bank, I put the wrong numbers in the wrong places. I can’t keep track of all my winter accoutrements—there are way too many pockets on my person. The Kleenex in one of my flap pockets is wet from being snowed on. (Always keep the flap on the outside!) I can’t find my money. I also can’t find a mailbox for the sweaty sheaf of bills in my hand (the grocery store is like a sauna). When I get back out to the Jeep with my groceries, I’m slipping and sliding in the snow, and while I have too many pockets, I don’t seem to have enough hands. My scarf is trying to blow off, and the hood on the squall parka doesn’t move when I turn my head. (Did mama pin my mittens to my sleeve? I sure hope so!) Finally, I’m ready to leave, but now I can’t find my keys. Did I drop them? I traipse all around the Jeep, head down, feeling like an idiot. Finally, I find my keys in the passenger seat, where I had dumped them with my bag. Whew.
It’s been snowing all night. At 2:00 in the morning I remember that my new furnace is going to be arriving at “eight, eight-thirty,” so I set the alarm for 7:30 and get out there and start shoveling the driveway. I’m self-conscious, because I haven’t done this for a long time (ever?), and some of my neighbors know K or Barb so know who I am. (“She never goes anywhere!” proclaimed one of K’s coworkers who lives a block away.) I make pretty good progress, actually, flinging snow to the side and making a path out to the road. But it’s going to be a big job to clear the whole driveway, and even if the furnace guys park in the road, they’ll have to bring the furnace in through one of the big garage doors. So I get the brilliant idea to drive the Jeep out and kind of mash the snow down with it, thus using horse power instead of my own.
Thankfully, the garage door on the Jeep side opens easily, despite the snow that has drifted in under it. I power backwards and….. oops…. the mighty Jeep strikes out! I’m stuck in my own driveway, with front and back tires spinning uselessly! I thought 4WD was like magic—you mean it can get you over hill and dale and ditch and gully but can’t handle a foot of snow? This is really embarrassing. I get to work shoveling snow from around the tires, but it doesn’t help. I bring out some old carpet remnants from the garage and put them under the rear tires. No help.
Then the man across the street comes out of his garage, snowblowin’ in the wind. He’s obviously out there to clear his own driveway, but there I am, damsel in distress, and he can hardly ignore me. He blows his way across the road, and I explain that the 4WD isn’t working. He asks if I’m sure I have it in 4WD. I’d be offended, but I so clearly don’t know what I’m doing that I’m grateful when he asks to get in the Jeep and check. He plays with all the gears, including 4WD-Part Time, 4WD-Full Time, 4WD-Lo, etc. He rocks the Jeep back and forth and finally it whooshes backwards out of the driveway through the big snowplow-generated drift to the road. He gets out and tells me that 4WD-Full Time isn’t working, but Part Time is OK. (I guess you can get some of your Jeep in 4WD some of the time, but you can’t get all of your Jeep in 4WD all of the time. I later read the owner’s manual and discovered there was nothing wrong, it was supposed to be in Part Time mode.)
We’d never met before, so we shake hands and exchange names. And guess what his name is. Go ahead, guess. Jim Anderson. Ring any bells? First, I think, what a perfect Midwestern name. Then I think, perfect name for an insurance agent. Then I think… “Father Knows Best”! Robert Young was Jim Anderson, insurance agent and all-around good guy. Mother (who “Knew Best” before Daddy had a clue but also knew her place) was Margaret. I reckon that makes me Princess or Kitten. Princess was older and kind of snotty, but I feel more like Kitten at that moment… young, naive, and beholden to a nice man with a big blower.
I use my by-now-pretty-tired line, “I just moved here from California,” and he says, “So I heard.” (See? I told you they’re all talking about me.)
He goes back to his own driveway, and I go around to the front of my house and shovel the porch, steps, and a path out to the road for the mailman. I see Jim blowing other neighbors’ driveways, so I go inside for hot cocoa and fresh-baked cookies (not really—Mother Anderson is nowhere to be seen). A while later, I hear Jim out there blowing my driveway, and I wonder about the etiquette of playing Kitten-in-distress to Robert Young. Do I have to bring him a hotdish, or a Jello mold? Invite him and his wife over to play pinochle? Or can I just wave my thanks out the window?
As so often happens, the social conundrum solves itself, and the furnace guys show up just as Jim has finished clearing the driveway. I go out there to greet them and wave/shout thanks at Jim, as he puts one finger on the side of his nose and vanishes up the chimney. The furnace guys look like they’re 16 years old. They need the second garage door open, so I push the button to operate it and then decide to shovel out the shelf of snow that has built up against the door. I have my boots on but no gloves or jacket. I discover to my dismay that there’s ICE under that thare snow, and I slip and fall to my hands and knees. From that humiliating position I look up to see one of the furnace boys looking down at me. It’s a perfect sit-com moment, but there’s no laugh track and no witty repartee. Just a long pause.
“Slippery,” he finally says.
(P suggests that his terseness might be Hemingway’s influence. A rare U.P. literary joke.)
Furnace boys spend the whole day in the basement, banging around for an hour or so at a time and then driving away in their van for unexplained reasons. It’s starting to get a mite chilly around 5:00 p.m., when they tell me they’ll have to come back the next day to finish.
I’m sitting here in my loft on a beautiful sunny day. Radio says it’s 7 degrees, high of 13 today, wind-chill factor minus 15-20. But I am not impressed by these numbers. I’m actually too warm in my long-sleeve t-shirt and corduroy overshirt. The heat’s not on, because the furnace boys are still down in the basement, making a racket and hopefully getting my furnace installed and putting all their ducts in a row. P and I had our weekly phone chat yesterday, and it was odd that she was trying to convince me how cold it is here (she’d seen the Packers on Monday Night Football), and I was claiming that if you’ve got the right winter clothes, you actually feel warmer here than you do in the Sunset district of San Francisco on a foggy summer’s day. Supposedly, the coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. The coldest winter I ever spent was a winter in Northfield, Minnesota. Man, was that cold. But I digress.
It’s 0 today. No degrees whatsoever. I’m sure there’s a wind-chill factor of massive minus proportions, but I’m starting to think that “wind chill” was invented so Midwesterners could brag about, not how cold they are, but how cold they feel. But I’m toasty in my loft. K and Barb and I do some last-minute Christmas shopping in the afternoon. As we leave Shopko and head for the mall, I ask, “Which mall?” and Barb assures me, in her best deadpan voice, “There’s only one mall, Mare.”
Christmas Eve and Day (one at Barb’s and one at K and MP’s) are a satisfying whirlwind of kids and wrapping paper and ham sandwiches and dueling harmonicas. Everyone makes out like a bandit. K gets a down coat, MP gets lace-up boots, and Barb gets DVDs of “Six Feet Under.” I get a big red frying pan and lots of other goodies. The kids get everything they ever wanted and are soon bored.
Jan. 1, par-tay!
I forgot to tell you about hosting (or at least housing) Thanksgiving. My house is the only one with enough space to fit both Barb’s and K’s branches of the family tree. (I’m out on a limb by myself, as usual.) K comes by a few days earlier to help me make Swedish meatballs. We divide up the rest of the cooking, and on T’Day we stuff ourselves with the usual—turkey, potatoes and gravy, meatballs, green beans, deviled eggs, fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie. I discover to my surprise that I love having people over! Everyone seems comfortable here—I’m glad that even the younger ones who never knew me before seem to accept me as part of the scene—and there’s a natural flow between rooms as people group and regroup according to whether they want to watch football or talk quietly or play noisily or eat some more. I love that I’m actually giving something back to my family after all my years away. I feel like I’ve gone out into the world and made my fortune, and now I’ve brought it back to share, in all sorts of ways. Assuming I don’t live into my aught-aughts or piss it all away, I will be leaving a material legacy that will change the lives of my sisters’ children and grandchildren. Finally I feel part of the human chain that came from Denmark and Ireland and struggled so that each generation that followed would have greater opportunities. That is the American Dream, and not even George Bush and his cronies can destroy that.
So anyway, I decided to have another family gathering on New Year’s Day, with finger foods so people could drop by whenever they wanted. I fretted over the event as if I were going to be hosting the Junior League. For one thing, I wanted to provide food that was outside the usual realm of veggie tray, fruit tray, and mass-produced brownies from Sam’s Club, but I also wanted them to like it. For another thing, I wanted to make the presentation colorful and artful—such as a pretty design of contrasting colors and types of Mackinac Island fudge. I was trying to figure out how to serve the little BBQ sausages on toothpicks but still keep them warm, and while I was explaining the dilemma to K she fished a couple of the sausages out of the crockpot with her fingers and proclaimed, “You’re in redneck country now.” Geez, you try to be a little refined. The day was quieter than Thanksgiving because not everyone was there at the same time. Again, the party shifted from room to room in a natural way (I am just so absurdly proud of that! I have brought the gift of space to the peeps!), and the kids played hide-and-seek, always hiding in the room where the adults were, always surprised when they were easily found.
Jan. 6, the weather report continues
I’ve been disappointed by the recent “warm” temperatures—20 and above—and the melting snow. So I’m happy to see little flakes swirling down when I get up. Snow looks so insubstantial when it’s falling, but it covers all the yards and roads in no time. I hear a snowblower nearby and peek out my bathroom window. Yes! Father Blows Best has cleared my driveway again! I just have to shovel off the front porch and a path to the road. It’s easy because the snow is light and fluffy. I strew ice-melting particles on the porch and steps.
Even though I have work to do—I’ve gotten two big papers to edit on the same day… one on the proteins in saliva (more spit research for Barb to tell her students about) and one on how viruses are transmitted from mother to fetus—I decide to take advantage of the beautiful virgin snow to walk over to Henes (pronounced Hennis) Park. It’s only a block away, but so far I have just not found the time to get out there… you know, so many naps to take, so little time….
The snowplows have come through so the road is mostly packed snow, but there’s treacherous ice underneath. I daintily pick my way over to the park and enter through an unplowed entrance and trudge across what in summer is called a “lawn.” I soon realize I should have brought my new digital camera. I am surrounded by white-flocked evergreens and the stark intricate patterns of branches against the sky. The sun has come out, so the contrast of black-and-white winter—the so-called “dead season”—and the blue sky is stunning. When I get to the huge expanse of snow and ice that in summer is called “the bay,” I start thinking about beauty, the capture of: Take a picture (it’ll last longer). But there seems to be no separate picture here, no obvious frame where “this” is more beautiful than “that.” There’s just a sense of wholeness, a sense that I’m part of the picture, not an outside observer. To paraphrase Krishnamurti, the “picture taker” is the “picture taken.”
I haven’t seen anyone else around except for a park employee driving a snowplow up ahead. The park is closed to cars in the winter, and though many people walk here regularly, it’s the middle of a weekday. As I’m crunching past the snow-covered beach on one side and the playground on the other, I realize a couple of things: Though this park feels deeply personal to me, and has almost mystical significance in my life, it isn’t the same place it was when I was a kid. The big slide is gone, the concession stand where I worked one summer with my father has been boarded up, and the swimming area is marked off by buoys that make it difficult for an adult to get wet past her knees. And of course I’m not the same person, for all sorts of reasons. But there’s enough of an intersect that the point where the place and the person meet—like a cross, or an X if you prefer—is also the intersect of heart and memory. It’s a feeling of… and here in my ruminations, BAM! The ice slyly rises up and slides beneath my feet, and I fall hard on my ass and my left elbow. After uttering the obligatory “Oh shit,” I assess my possible injuries. My elbow hurts like a son-of-a-gun, but I seem to be intact. Before attempting to rise from my hard landing, I lie there for a moment and think about what would be even more important than a camera to bring on these walks (should there ever be another one)—my cell phone. Snowplow Man has long gone, there are no other walkers, and it has started snowing again. Worst-case scenario, I could have lain there all night and become a Maresicle before anyone ever found me.
Also, I think about how, if I’d brought my camera, and if there had been another person to take my picture at this moment, it would have been worth more to my friends and family than 100 photos of the snowy trees. There’s Mare, hunched over on hands and knees, slowly rising like a pachyderm from the ashes, her bomber’s hat askew, sunglasses down on her nose, weaving and wavering like a toddler taking her first step, and then BOOM… No, I won’t give you the satisfaction of picturing a second tumble, I make it the first time, thank you very much. I clomp my way carefully out of the park, and there are no more incidents. The 15-minute walk has taken about an hour, and when I get home I swallow a couple of Aleve and count my lucky stars.
Obviously, I could go on like this all day, but I’ll restrict myself to just one more snowstory. MP and K both have the day off, so we drive back up to Escanaba to the furniture store with the unpronounceable name—Heynssens-Selin’s—where I buy a beautiful Mission-style rocking chair and a leather hassock. MP is driving, K’s in the back seat, and I’m riding shotgun. It’s hot in the truck so I’ve taken my squall parka off. That will prove to be mistake #1. When we get back to my place and I start to get out of the truck, I make two more mistakes: (2) I forget how high up the truck is, and (3) I forget that there’s ice on my driveway. Actually (4), I forget completely that just because the sun is shining doesn’t make it California. As soon as my right foot touches terra-not-so-firma, it goes slip-sliding away and I fall the rest of the way out of the truck, landing hard on my ass and bare elbow (at least it’s the other side of the ass and the other elbow from my fall in the park). K sees what happens and shouts to MP, “SHE’S DOWN!” He looks across the front seat and can’t see me because I’m on my ass. He comes around and helps me up and I shuffle carefully into the house. Good guy that he is, he finds the ice-melting particles in the garage and sprinkles the driveway. The next day, I check out my bruises in the big bathroom mirror and I’m amazed. There are two huge black and purple hematomas, one on each cheek (“I regret that I have but two ass cheeks to lose for my country”), and the surface is smooth and strangely beautiful, like fine Italian marble. I really should have taken a picture. I have never paid so much attention to my ass (or had to) in my life.
Reading this over, I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve spent way more time talking about winter than about my peeps. Well, last time I was all consumerist, and this time I’m the weather channel. And I still haven’t told you about my frozen sump pump hose, frozen furnace vent, or frozen dryer vent. I’ll just say Thank God for a brother (in-law and in-spirit) who’s willing to get sprayed by dirty water from a sump hole, a sister who happily paints my walls, and another sister who makes me yummy cookies and deviled eggs. (I tried to convince K and Barb to have a “deviled egg-off”” so I could “decide whose were better,” but they declined. Being the oldest sister isn’t as easy as it used to be; gone are the days when I could trick them into competing for my approval, or at least bribe them with a dime.)
I love that everything here is part now, part then, all touching into deep places within. I have the essential element of solitude and the ritual family gatherings to eat fish fry, watch a movie, or celebrate a birthday. I have both happy and sad memories to share, and new happy and sad moments to learn and grow from. I love that my peeps are still crazy about me after all these years, their quirky “sister from California” with the lefty politics, $50 words, and oddly decorated house who is different in so many ways but who can laugh and sing with them and share a life that is no longer just theirs but ours.
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;
The Lord make his face shine upon thee,
and be gracious unto thee;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee,
and give thee peace.