Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How did your life turn out?

What an archaeological mine our minds and genes ; what a stew of possibilities,experiences, readings and encounters provide. We live in a connected and distorted world.  If we were to take any snapshot at any moment in time to "capture" our "status", nothing clear or "readable" will appear. Who we are changes as we speak; yet, we leave enduring images.

I could blame my mother for telling me, time and time again that truth lies not in what can be seen, but deep in people's hearts, in roots of century- old olive trees, in the clear night sky still too far at that time for any cosmonaut to travel to. Truth, like God, she said, is experienced in little chunks, in a child's kiss, a lover's first poem, a rainbow on a miserable cold day, on a letter from a long lost relative. Truth is too big to understand in our lifetime. Riches and crooks  exist in the same space and time, hardly distinguishable one from the other.

Mother had lived trough two world wars, famines and losses, death and destruction. She didn't fear these. She feared the hearts of men, the promises of false prophets, the betrayal at the hands of loved ones. These days we'd call her paranoid.

No wonder then that if we think about how our lives turned out, we'd have a different answer depending on the day, the hour, the food we just ate, the argument we just lost, and even the comment we read on a friend's blog. Come to think of it,  what a good question that would make for a communal conversation across the globe....

Are you up for it?
Here I go with my answer:

My life turned out so much better than I ever envisioned; and so much harder and sadder too. I've been healthier and luckier at love and work and family life. I've worked harder and longer than I ever thought I'd work. I have had a loving and thoughtful family without my working very much at it. I never anticipated loosing a son, and still four years later, I can't ease that pain at all. 

I'd say, my mother was a tad wrong on so many things; but oh, so right on the important things.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"To survive, you must tell stories." Umberto Eco

Hubby talks about the time he fished on Sophie's Island with his step-dad. I must have heard that story a few times early in our marriage, just before I met Wes, just after Wes died, and lately, quite often, and at odd times.  He knows I met Wes. He knows I know the relationship; yet, he keeps telling that story re-establishing the relationship his step-dad had with his mother; and the relationship Hubby himself had with his mother. He has Wes down pat; his mannerisms, catch phrases; short cuts; short temper. He talks about him at length, with occasional snippets of this and that involving his mother as well. Yet, she never becomes the subject of a full story.

I have met Mary, a stunningly tall and slender woman with green eyes and blond hair on our way to Washington to meet my husband's family with our new baby, and since  his mother still lived in Portland, on the way to our final destination, we stopped there for one night. In pictures taken when Hubby was a small boy, the two of them look so much alike that I had no trouble recognizing her. I kept wanting to ask her questions about so many things, but especially about the time she had left the family, when her two sons were six and four, respectively. How could she leave her babies, I kept thinking, noticing how soft and gentle she was around us; how generous she was with her time and resources.

Even years later, under more leisurely circumstances, I never did find out her story from her point of view, her experiences as a young mother left alone for weeks at a time as her husband followed jobs here and there. The last time I saw her she came to visit with a dog and a cat who were fussy and messy, if I remember correctly. We hardly spoke. She spent days by herself in an empty house while we were all at school or work,  and when we all gathered in the evening for supper, she left the table in a hurry, gathering her pets and retiring to the guest room. Children noticed nothing, of course.

I did coax a couple of recipes out of her, a chicken and dumplings and a beef stroganoff. And yes, there was a lot of chopping and talking during those cooking sessions.

Later, after she had left, and I made chicken and dumplings on my own, Hubby told me for the first time that he had always missed his mother's cooking. Chicken and dumplings is the requested dish on his birthday. And Beef stroganoff became my youngest son's favorite dish.

Today, my husband has begun to write his memoirs.
Mary's story may show up as a full length portrait really soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

As the world turns...

Meet Lizzie and Jennie,  friends from Kent, England, and Vancouver, Washington, vacationing together on the Southern Oregon Coast, on the path to the Coquille River Lighthouse in Bandon, Oregon. They came up a walking path as my husband and I were walking toward them, having a loud argument, as our eyes kept a look on the pavement, trying to avoid the ups and down of a foot path that was not too safe for older folks like us. I was complaining that the red paint indicating the uneven pavement did nothing to prevent falls. "I'd have to keep my eyes glued to the floor!" I was arguing, frustrated that nobody had thought about smoothing the path and throwing wood chips over it to soften the blow of a fall.

The ladies said hi, and "peace today", as they passed us. We apologized for our loudness. Their smiles never left their face; they bubbled a few remarks about going south after that walk, and we recommended they stop in Port Orford and eat at Redfish. We took each others' pictures. We teased them about their last election in Great Britain.

A world apart, they in matching red coats and bright smiles; we, still trying to find a path of mutual understanding after their arrival had stopped the arguing.

They were on their way to California.
We had left California to retire in Oregon.

We could have told them of all the treacherous road conditions they might encounter on their way down. But then, we would have spoiled their enthusiasm. We actually did spoil their enthusiasm when we mentioned they should stop at Cape Blanco where they might meet migrating whales . One of them was holding that thought as a surprise for the other.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Before and After

I was cleaning up my files this weekend, making room for stuff my granddaughter needs stored for college during the summer months. I came across these two pictures, the first one is our present location, Port Orford, Oregon. The second one was a visit to Portland the year we retired.

Our plans had been to travel as much as possible during winter months when the winter weather would be too demanding for us.

Well, even that visit came at a time when things were different:
~before a couple of operations slowed us down
~before we discovered the possibilities in our neighborhood
~before we spent a ton remodeling this place
~before the market crash reduced savings

Yet, those days were actually difficult in other ways:

~our children lived far and visits were expensive
~our weather was harsh for newly arrived Californians
~we had not yet made friends and forged alliances
~we possessed only one computer and one mobile phone
~digital cameras were very imperfect and expensive

We tend to be either pessimistic or optimistic, counting our pains or our blessings. The facts are much more nuanced, all the time, now and then. For one thing, had we not slowed down, neither one of us would appreciate all the writing and media contacts we have made.

Progress tends to leave us nostalgic for certain things, while taking for granted those things we never dreamed we could actually accomplish or possess.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A fishing adventure

Life, like fishing, has no immediate evaluation, no immediate currency. We can be aware of minutes only if those minutes contrast with other minutes, or are too cold, too hot, too uncomfortable, or immensely surprising by how much joy or pain they represent. We revel in contrasts, in disappointments, in unexpected events. We revel in moments that turn out to be "memorable".

At our house, we still talk about the day our youngest caught his first fish in this lake. He had spent days with a pole in hand, waiting, casting and waiting, unraveling the line and casting again, and waiting. Re-setting the bait, casting and recasting, and pulling in weeds and debris. Fishing is addictive if at certain intervals, by some kind of unknown pattern, the fish bites and you can pull it up, and show it off to the audience around. It happened for Brian when he had no audience. We heard his yell of victory from the house and our response to his victory was not what he had anticipated.

We told him the fish was too small to keep.

He unhooked the fish, and dropped it back in the water. Later, when he returned home, he showed us the fish's real size. We had mis-interpreted. That was the last time Brian fished in this lake.

I have seen people attempt to fish all day long catching nothing. I have seen people spend two minutes and catch all the fish that they are allowed to catch.  "Fish" stories about the big one that got away abound all over, at every waterhole. We tell the story of the fish that everyone thought was too little to become lunch.