There’s this guy in our hay barn

After the last time, the Hubbit and I promised each other never again to invite someone to share our home. For years we had (irritably and messily) shared an office, while the spare bedroom just sat and looked pretty for months on end until I succumbed to guilt and suggested to Himself that some or other lost soul really needed it … and he never bloody said no! And, despite my best intentions, almost every attempt at sustained hospitality ended with all parties seething.

There was Sewerbreath, a close friend whose marriage broke down a few weeks before we were due to leave on a prolonged visit to South Africa. “Come stay at our house!” we warbled. “Bring your dog! You can look after our animals, and it’ll give you three months to get on your feet!” While we were gone she fell and broke some necessary bone or other and wasn’t able to work. We returned home jet-lagged and unfazed. “It’s Christmas! You can’t be homeless over Christmas!” we caroled. “You’ll soon be back at work, and meanwhile you’re welcome – it’s fine!” She got a job at a grocery store early in the new year. “Congratulations!” I trilled. “No need to pay rent – save up for a deposit on your own place! And don’t worry about the food – three is as easy to feed as two! – just check in before you leave work to see if we need anything – save me making a trip to the store in between my regular shopping days!” So then I learned that expecting a grown woman in her forties to “check in” was offensive, and things pretty much went downhill from there.

I kicked her out the following April, seven months after she’d moved in. I forget the specific reason, but I think it was either because she refused to clean her bathroom (removing the crunchy toothpaste from her sink after she left was an exercise in archeology!) or because I got fed up with her attempts to allure the (blissfully oblivious) Hubbit.

There were the teenage daughters of old friends of mine, who wanted to leave the Pacific island where their parents were missionaries and start life in America. They didn’t have work permits, but were going to find jobs under the radar as tutors, nannies, house cleaners – you know the sort of work – to cover their personal expenses while they studied at the local community college, or maybe online – they were going to figure that out. Only … they were so tired after years of missionary life, they felt they deserved a little vacation. So for eight or nine months they lolled around, not studying, not working, not volunteering. I tried to engage with their parents via email, only to learn that these delightful young ladies had access to the parental email account and were deleting our messages as fast as I sent them. When their parents quit the mission field and returned to South Africa the girls decided to go home, and we sang the hallelujah chorus and waved them away.

There was Peter Pan. I call him that because when I met him he seemed joyous and wild and a little bit magical … but in truth he was more of a Lost Boy. He arrived one day with Wonder Woman’s teenage protégé, to spend a few days helping out, camping in a grassy corner of our farmlet, and canoodling like bunnies. Less than 24 hours later the protégé roared away down our driveway, and I went outside to find Pan standing outside his tent and looking forlorn. Well, we needed help and so did he so we invited him to stay, and that year was pretty good. He was a hard worker, giggly and zany (he was high a lot of the time), the animals loved him, and I fell a little bit in love with him myself – nah, don’t be stupid; he was sort of like a beloved nephew. Since my actual nieces and nephews were all clear around the other side of the planet, and my grandchildren-by-Hubbit were by then not speaking to me, I felt the lack of a young person to love and mentor and indulge. And as someone who had been severely abused and neglected by his parents, he lapped it up. After a while he went off with a girl, but he kept in touch and it was all good.

Verruca arrived shortly after Pan left. She showed up with someone who’d advertised on Craigslist, looking for temporary accommodation for her pet chickens. I’d invited the chickens to rough it with the flock of not-pet-but-very-happy chickens hanging out in my veggie garden, so she came to take a look and brought Verruca with her. They arrived just in time to distract me from a full meltdown caused by several hours spent trying to sign up with WWOOF because the Hubbit and I desperately needed, but could not afford to pay for, help on the farmlet. Only the WWOOF website kept crashing, and I was brimful of angst, gloom and fury. Well, Verruca looked around, and gazed longingly from the river to me, and said, “I don’t suppose you need someone to help you out in return for a place to stay, do you?”

The Olde Buzzard and the Hubbit, down at the river near where I met Angelo and Charlie (see below). The Fogies also spent a year with us. Memories built despite some stormy weather, and kept close to my heart.

So Verruca moved in, and for maybe a week or two it was great – we were like sister wives (only with certain duties allocated, not shared). And pretty soon she started educating me about how the world really works. Like how the government is using contrails to rain down poison upon us all, and how Nibiru is going to destroy us all, and … oh man, she believed so many things! I wrote a lot of them down to share with you, but now I can’t find the list … It was a while ago. Anyway, I was enthralled! I was fascinated! Sometimes I asked questions, but that just annoyed her. I learned it was better to shut my trap and listen.

And then … I don’t know, I guess she had a revelation. She realized that our water was contaminated. She stopped eating anything we raised, and would consume nothing but energy drinks and canned soup. (Of course I bought them for her – I’m a sucker!) But she just got sicker and sicker, and eventually I took her to the doctor, who diagnosed Hepatitis A. “Yikes! That’s contagious!” I said, hurling myself at Google, where I learned that it’s common in homeless shelters (she’d lived in several) and among addicts (she’d lived with her addict daughter and son-in-law prior to moving here). Then she announced that she was going to sue us for making her sick. Testing our well water (clean and sweet) and ourselves (ditto) had no effect. The situation got ugly and depressing and – as I read up on Washington State law pertaining to eviction (not good for property owners. Not at all) it got scary.

But one day she up and left, and suddenly peace was restored, and the Hubbit and I agreed “Never again”. Only then Pan came back and of course we figured he’d be okay. We knew him. He was practically family. It was a bit stressful that this time he had a bunch of friends who liked to hang out in our shop or my kitchen, and often some stayed over, but I loved Pan and kind of enjoyed having a houseful of youngsters, and the Hubbit tolerated the invasion. Only pretty soon it became clear that Pan had … changed. I’ve done some reading since then about mental illness that emerges in young adults and … well, I don’t want to write about that. I already told you how it ended.

So after that the Hubbit and I agreed never, ever again under any circumstances for any reason to invite anyone to live in our home, double pinky promise. To reinforce that promise, while he was in rehab for the months following his altercation with a tractor I transformed the spare bedroom into a Hubbit Hole just for him. It’s inconvenient not to have a spare room when the Girl Child or the Young Bull come to stay, but a lot easier to tell myself “We don’t have room” when, in fact, we don’t have a spare room.

And then, a few weeks ago I was down at the river with Argos, and there was this guy with a Chihuahua. Conversation ensued. The Chihuahua – a cutie who occasionally answers to Charlie – needed to be spayed and vaccinated, so I got that done, which led to more conversation. In the middle of all this conversing we had the mother of all windstorms. I pulled together some food and a tent and went down to the river – did I mention they were living there? Under a bush? Well, technically, under a piece of tarp, but shrubbery was involved … Ugh, sorry, I digress. My point is, I went down to check on them, and Charlie came hurtling out of the bushes and leaped into my car with a look of the most profound relief, which was followed by a look of bewilderment when her papa didn’t join her in this comfy place out of the wind, and then plummeting dismay when he took her in his arms and disappeared back under his bush as I drove away.

We really don’t have a room.

But we have a row of horse stalls, and the end one – where we keep hay in winter – is empty. Or was. It now has a tent in it, and a random assortment of other stuff, much of it rather smelly. When the heat gets unbearable (right now it’s 108F out, and the heat wave is only getting started) they come inside and cool off. (They’re watching Penguin Town on Netflix as I write this.) Lying in bed the night after they moved in, I started feeling guilty that I had a comfortable bed and a house, and they have so little. A better person, I thought, would invite them inside. But then I slapped myself upside the head and counted their blessings. They have shelter from the weather, a fridge and freezer, drawers for storage, a place to cook, and food any time they ask for it. They have electricity and wi-fi, and the use of our guest bathroom. They have walls and a door and privacy. Cops don’t hassle them to move on. Bikers don’t roar up and start a middle-of-the-night party a few feet from where they’re hiding under their bush. They can ask for a ride into town when they need one. And that’s as good as the Hubbit and I can make it and still be okay inside ourselves and with each other.

I wish I could say “It’s all good,” but really it isn’t. The thing about most homeless people in this country is, there are reasons they’re homeless. There are reasons Angelo has been kicked out of most of the places he’s lived in. A few days ago I got so mad at him I was ready to dump him back at the river and let the damn heat dome cook his skinny ass! I didn’t because of Charlie, and a little bit because that’s not who I am, and mostly because I heard my hectoring voice getting shriller and angrier and … I was ashamed.

The thing about not being homeless is, you hold all the cards. You have all the power. It doesn’t matter how broke you are, or old, or sore, or disappointed in yourself or your life … if you have a piece of this earth you can call your own, you have everything. And if you have the power, you can’t use it against someone who is powerless and still feel good about being you. So the next morning I sought Angelo out.

“Hey,” I said. He looked at me warily. “Can we agree to a truce?” I asked.

He sighed with relief. “Oh,” he said. “Yes please.”

Charlie – never so happy as when she’s with her papa.

He is a good man – Charlie told me so. He is also a profoundly annoying man, moody, often irrational, desperately needy, and not very clean. Keeping my temper in check is going to be hard. But we promised him a place through the summer, until we need the stall back for hay. In return, he helps out – sometimes with begrudging carelessness, and sometimes pouring his heart into making our lives so very much better. I’m hoping we can make it work.

I might have to come on here to vent occasionally. I hope that’s okay.

There’s a black hole in my pocket

I lost a friend today because I was late. Well, maybe not a friend … but someone I liked, who I’d thought liked me, blew up in my face to lasting effect because I kept her waiting fifteen minutes.

The incident hurt surprisingly much.

In the greater context of this year’s overall shittitude it was a small thing. This wasn’t a key relationship, and while it’s possible that she’s been pretending to like me while nursing a growing grudge, it’s more likely that she was just having a bad day and I made a convenient target.

white-rabbit late
The White Rabbit – more than just a fantasy animal.

It hurts that she had a valid complaint that I seem powerless to address. I am always late, and no matter how carefully I plan, how early I set my alarm, how fast I drive from here to there, after a lifetime of trying the best I can do is damage control. When I know punctuality is especially important to someone I can usually, with considerable effort and anxiety, keep my lateness within a ten minute margin, which most seem to accept provided I call when on my way to tell them how late I’m going to be, and am sufficiently apologetic when I arrive. Everyone else is best advised to bring a book – or, if waiting annoys you, start without me – I won’t care. I wouldn’t have cared today when my formerly-friendly acquaintance canceled our arrangement. What hurt wasn’t that she got on with her day; it was the ugly and unexpected intensity of her anger, and my powerlessness to answer it.

I won’t defend a bad habit. Instead, here’s some perspective for the benefit of the model clock-watchers out there, and in particular those whose sanity is challenged by us tardies. (I know I’m not alone.)

First, we know our perpetual lateness is annoying – but as annoying as it is to you, it’s embarrassing and frustrating uto us. You see it as rudeness and lack of consideration; we see it as weakness, a defect, a failure to do something everyone else finds easy. We read books and make lists and watch TED Talks, but it’s like dancing: some people have rhythm; others, no matter how religiously they chant the “one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three” of daily life, cannot keep in step with the minute hand. For you it’s easy – you plan your day, you look at your planner, you know how time and distance and traffic fit together, and everything glides so smoothly into place you simply can’t understand how we manage to trip and stumble every damn time.

Well, allow me to enlighten you. Basically, this happens.

Soft Watch - Dali
Soft Watch, by Salvador Dali. This is any timepiece I use, at the precise moment of impact with having to be anywhere.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve concluded that I and people like me have hooked a heel on a loose thread in the fabric of the space-time continuum. We, too, plan our days and check our planners. We can figure out how long it will take to get from here to there, and what the time should be when we leave. We understand the different kinds of “leaving” – the kind that involves stopping what we’re doing, and the kind that involves actually driving through the gate. We know to add five or ten minutes for bumps in the road, and what we have to do before we go, and how long it will take to get our shit together. We figure all that out and then we start our day, and that old minute hand goes ambling around in its lazy circles, and some of the things on our to-do list get done and some don’t. And then our electronic planner twitters a warning … and at that exact moment a quantum cowboy blips into being, lassos our deadline, and vanishes with a resounding fart and a clatter of hooves through the black hole inside the clock on our smart phone – which at that moment typically shows five minutes to our scheduled time of arrival.

Arriving presents its own challenges. Quite often, this happens…

Escher stairs
Infinite Relativity, by M.C. Escher. How I get from here to there.

I’d like to say my new year’s resolution for 2019 is to be on time, but I already have a full tureen of bubbling resolutions to toil and trouble over before the Hubbit comes home. And while it turns out that I have two months longer than I thought I did – because he’ll likely be in rehab until well into March – that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of getting from where I am now to … anywhere at all. Time and space are tricksy devils, whether you count with a clock or a calendar.

Doesn’t mean I won’t try, mind you.

There is no try

Yeah, well … seriously, Yoda, you need to shut the fuck up. Go read a book or something. And if you don’t know by now that there’s more to me than one bad habit, and that I’m worth waiting for, then … yeah. Better you leave without me.

Let’s talk. How do you relate to time, schedules and to-do lists? Whether you are a Tardy or a Timekeeper, how do you feel about the other kind of human? Do you ever secretly think Yoda is a self-righteous pain in the ass?

 

The envelope

I don’t know why I wanted – no, didn’t want, absolutely did not want, but needed – to see my mother’s body. It’s not as though her death was a surprise. Although it happened sooner than expected, I was not in denial, I didn’t need proof … and I had a gut-deep dread at the thought of looking at her, facing the oozing reality of death doing its work inside her. I couldn’t shake the fear that she might be swollen, or discolored, or just fundamentally dead-looking. Forgive me for saying this … I imagined she might smell.

I knew these fears were irrational and silly – we of the first world are shielded from the obnoxious aspects of death. It has become sad but pretty. We have a supermarket-sized range of choices as to how we hide the evidence of our mortality, from worm-defying embalming, to composting (my preferred option. Marmeee would have chosen it too, but we’d already cremated her by the time I learned it was possible – and I still don’t know whether it’s done in South Africa).

HOYA (2).JPG
Things Marmeee loved: Gardens and gardening and South African native plants. She and her brothers sponsored a bench in Kirstenbosch Garden, in Cape Town, in memory of my grandmother, who used to work there. We – my siblings and I – will put one at Walter Sisulu Nature Reserve, outside Johannesburg, for sitting on while remembering her and the Olde Buzzard. This picture is of the Hoya vine that her mother started from a cutting, and that Marmeee cherished for 50 years.

And yet, despite all logic, the thought of looking at my mother’s dead body filled me with cringing dismay. My resistance was just a little less powerful than the compulsion I felt to see it. I remembered all the stories I’d read or heard of near-death or out-of-body experiences, and imagined her disincorporated self hanging around, waiting for me to come and … what? I don’t know. Pay my final respects?

As I write this I can almost hear the derisive hoot of laughter with which she’d have greeted such an idea. “Your respects?” she’d have exclaimed. “You’ve never been respectful in your life. You call me fubsy!” Which is only partly true. I may have been quite good at concealing my respect for her, but she knew very well it was there. As for fubsy … well, she was, and so am I. It’s a Tookish trait!

Well, I digress. I’d have preferred to get The Viewing over and done with right away, but thanks to a missed flight and then a 12-hour delay in Heathrow I didn’t reach Johannesburg until Sunday evening, when the undertaker was closed.

The next day, Monday, I met my father and my sisters, the Egg and the Kat, at the Kat-House, to go through Marmeee’s clothes and choose something pretty for her to wear. The Kat chose a white blouse with embroidered giraffes that she had given her. We added a pair of cotton capris and some underwear. I vetoed shoes – who wears shoes when you’re lying down? – but insisted on socks to keep her toes warm. The Old Buzzard chose her most beautiful shawl – a big, soft, fringed square in her signature shades of grey, blue and lilac.

On Tuesday the Egg, the Kat and I took the clothes to the undertaker. We asked for a simple pine box and a cremation, definitely no embalming, no fuss. No, we didn’t wish to attend the cremation. But … I took a deep breath. “I would like to see her,” I said. They said they would have her ready for me the following day.

On Wednesday morning my bestie, Twiglet, picked me up. I made her promise to come in with me. “I’m scared,” I told her.

“Don’t be. It’ll be okay – you’ll see,” she replied gently.

“I’ve never seen a human dead body before,” I explained. “And this is my mother!”

“My Mom was my first too,” she said.

At the mortuary, the receptionist called a man in a black suit to lead us to the viewing room. His expression was somber, and it bothered me that he seemed sadder than I was. I was too anxious to be sad. I had absolutely no idea what I would do, how I would react. Would I sob hysterically? Fling myself on her coffin? Laugh – as I so hideously did when I was 12 years old and told my classmates my little dog had died, run over by a car, and they all thought I was an awful person because the only expression my face remembered for days after it happened was a ghastly rictal grin? Our escort opened the door to the viewing room, then stepped back to wait in the hallway, head bowed and hands quietly folded.

The room was bright and spacious, with curved rows of empty seats and large windows. Near the front, resting on a dais, was the coffin – pale, unvarnished pine, with rope handles. Although plain it was nicely made – sturdy, with rounded edges and a few simple carved details. Viewed from the doorway you couldn’t see the coffin shape, and it looked like something my mother might have chosen to keep on her back stoep – an attractive box for storing gardening tools that was also a good height for sitting upon with a cup of tea.

I walked about halfway down the aisle between the chairs, then sat down. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked Twiglet. “I don’t even know how I’m supposed to feel.” She just hugged me and waited for me to figure it out. “Okay,” I said at last. “Let’s do this.”

Things she loved - OB
Things Marmeee loved: Book stores. Coffee shops. The Olde Buzzard. Earrings, like the ones he gave her just before we took this picture.

I marched up to the coffin and looked down into it.

The woman inside was lying with her head tilted back, so that her chin jutted sharply toward the ceiling. She didn’t look entirely comfortable. I wanted to lift her head, tuck a pillow under it … but I didn’t have a pillow. Also, I was worried that if I lifted her head her whole body might rise, rigid as a plank. I don’t know how long rigor mortis lasts, and it didn’t seem appropriate to google it just then.

Her eyes were closed, and her lips were thin and stern. I wondered whether the mortician had used glue to fix them shut.

I touched her cheek. She was icy. I realized that she had been packed in bags of ice, and yanked my mind away from the reason this was necessary. I stroked her hand. It was cold… cold.

Her beautiful shawl had been tucked around her shoulders, but was a little bunched up. I patted it smooth, snugged it around her. I wondered whether I should kiss her, but I really didn’t want to.

I went back to where Twiglet was sitting and plunked down into a seat. “I don’t feel anything,” I said. “She’s not here. That over there -” I gestured toward the coffin. “It’s just an empty envelope.” Twiglet nodded, and hugged me again.

“So … okay. Let’s go,” I said. I stood to leave, but found myself wandering back to the coffin. I felt restless, vaguely ashamed that I didn’t want to cry or wail, angry that something so momentous could happen and leave me bereft of words or feelings.The shawl still didn’t look quite right. I rearranged it again, positioning it so that one of the embroidered giraffes on her blouse was visible.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” I said. “She’d be royally pissed at us for burning this shawl.”

Twiglet gave me the side-eye. “I’m sure they’d give it back if you asked them to.”

“No, I don’t want it – it’s not mine to take. But I hope someone steals it before they cremate her. She’d like that – knowing it was making another woman feel pretty.”

“Well,” Twiglet said. “Who knows? This is Africa. Maybe that’s one of the perks of the job.”

We were chuckling as we walked through the door, down the corridor, and out into the sunlit parking lot. Behind us, I knew, machinery had hummed to life and the dais, the coffin and its chilly, empty contents had sunk to the basement, out of sight. But the thought of it no longer scared me. I felt a sense of release. I was glad I had seen her body. It had served her well for many years, and so had earned our gratitude and respect, but she was no longer in it. She had written the letter of her life, signed it “With love”, and had quite clearly moved on.

valerie1
Things Marmeee loved: Me

Lights in the sky … they pass me by

The moon did a beautiful thing last night. It bulged hugely over the horizon, as immense and awe-inspiring as the Great Pumpkin Himself, and then slid majestically into the earth’s shadow, where it lingered and glowed with an unearthly radiance…

Supermoon (source)
Supermoon (source)

… which is pretty much what you’d expect, given that the moon is off in space and not, in fact, on earth. But I digress. The point of this post is that while this was what I expected, it wasn’t what actually happened. By the time the moon rose over our part of the world it was already pretty well eclipsed. And anyway, I didn’t actually get to see the moon rise, despite having spent the past several days in a fizz of anticipation, because I had to go help someone who had just rescued puppies, and then when I was headed home it suddenly occurred to me that I had to go to Costco because we were out of dog food, and so I hurtled into our house five minutes before moonrise … to find Himself immersed in some or other entirely non-cosmic activity and not ready.

By the time the shouting was done and we were tearing up the road to and into the hills in search of a good viewpoint it was 10 minutes later, but there was still no sign of the bloody moon because the Pacific Northwest is still smoldering and there’s a thick band of smoke along the horizon. (Yes, of course I know the sufferings of the fire victims is way more important than my disappointment at missing an event that won’t happen again until 2033.)

Suddenly I saw a thin slice of moon poised over the river, and Himself pulled off the road and drove a short way through the sagebrush. We got out, and he set up his camera while the dogs moseyed about and I watched the silver sliver slip into darkness. In the cool evening air the fragrance of crushed sagebrush was … well, out of this world.

Then we came home, because we were hungry and also there were critters to feed. I was throwing hay over the fence at the steers when I turned my head and realized that we had a marvelous view of the sullenly glowing eclipse right there. I leaned on the corral fence and watched it for a while, and it was lovely, but I have to tell you I’m getting just a tad bit fed up with the way events of an astronomical nature never quite match up to my expectations, no matter how eagerly I wait, or how carefully I plan.

This isn’t the first moon experience I’ve managed to ditz up. The first time I even heard of the harvest moon was while my parents were visiting in 2008. (I’m sure harvest moons must happen in South Africa, but I never heard of them, growing up in Johannesburg. Was that because no one notices the moon in a big city? Or because the African moon is always spectacular?) For the 2008 harvest moon with my parents I fixed up a picnic supper and we took it down to the river, where we sat on the beach and waited for the moon to rise. And waited. And waited. And I kept telling them it would be worth the wait, because harvest moons are huge. And then up it came, somewhat south of where we were looking, a very pretty but otherwise quite ordinary full moon that had used up all its special effects while it was still behind a nearby hill.

This kind of thing has been happening as long as I remember. Take Halley’s Comet, for instance. I was 14 when my grandmother told me about how its tail swept across the earth in 1910. She described a spangled sky, and light so bright you could read by it if you were soulless enough to look down, and her eyes sparkled at the memory. Later my mother told me my grandmother was only two years old in 1910, but I didn’t care. That conversation was the beginning of a 14 year countdown until it was my turn to witness the glory first hand.

Halley's comet mug
(Source)

There was a tremendous amount of excitement in the lead-up to Halley’s arrival on February 9th, 1986 (just a few days before my birthday). Every supermarket had shelves full of comet-themed merchandise. My editor sent me on a balloon ride in the Magaliesberg, maybe hoping a close-up view of the comet would inspire Deathless Prose – or, at least, advertising.

The balloon ride was fun, and the champagne breakfast afterwards was even funner … but the comet? Let’s just say it’s good that I’d bought a mug, because the actual comet was a whole lot smaller than the one I had on my kitchen shelf.

I’ll be 102 years old when Halley comes by again. Perhaps Sam Clemens will let me hitch a ride … if I ever write anything more worthy than nonsensical blog posts.

Then there was the year I learned about the Perseid meteor shower in August. (We don’t see this in the southern hemisphere, so I’d never heard of it.) I invited a couple friends to go out for an evening picnic on our jetboat, and I promised “fireworks”. My friend Wonder Woman loves fireworks, so she was pretty excited. So there we were, floating in the middle of the Columbia River at about 10 o’clock at night, full of wine and assorted munchies. Wonder Woman – who is in her eighties – was starting to think about bedtime, and the friend she’d brought with her – who was jet lagged, having arrived from New Zealand just a few days previously – was dozing off, and Himself was muttering fretfully about having to find his way back to shore in the dark.

Wonder Woman turned to me and asked, “Well? When will the fireworks begin?”

“I don’t know!” I replied, scanning the skies with a feeling of impending social doom. “The newspaper said they’d be happening about now. And they’re supposed to be amazing!” I then explained that the promised fireworks, far from being made in China, were being sent direct from the heavenly realms.

“Oh, the Perseids!” she said … and that’s when I learned they came every year and that, when she was younger, she used to enjoy watching them quite often. So we sat and the boat rocked and about 15 meteors zipped across the sky(although not once across the piece of sky I happened to be watching at the time) and then Himself started up the boat and took us home.

I tried again last August while the Girl Child was visiting. We drove up into the hills and found a stretch of dirt road that ran through a cutting that blocked off all light from the town, and we plonked down a blanket and a couple of pillows and lay down on the side of the road. Immediately the breeze that had been bebopping about, playing with our hair, picked up its skirts and blew. So of course I got sand behind my contact lenses, where it commenced grinding my eyeballs. I just got up and got into the car and took the bloody lenses out and put them in my mouth to keep safe, and then I lay back down next to the Girl Child. Every now and then I saw a blurred streak, but in the half hour or so that we lay there until we could no longer ignore the wind, she saw 50. Or maybe it was 100. I forget. What I remember is being there with her in the blustery dark, with rocks pressing up through the blanket and into my spine, mumbling when I spoke because I was scared the wind would blow my contact lenses off my tongue.

It was beautiful.

Gone, going on

(I wrote about this previously here and here.)

I was so afraid it would be a disaster. I was afraid we’d be trapped in unresolved conflicts and mutual misunderstanding. I was desperately afraid that, after more than a decade apart (but for a few days here and there separated by years of absence) there would simply be nothing left of our relationship.

In the tearing pain of goodbye I’m trying to focus on how glad I am that I was wrong. It still hurts, though … and although I love my life with Himself on our farmlet in a crook of the Columbia River, getting back to normal seems a dreary affair. Smoke from the fires raging across the Pacific Northwest casts a pall that is entirely in keeping with my mood.

The Girl Child left on Thursday. I gave myself a couple days to catch up on sleep and get my mope done, and now I’m picking up my life … and if it seems a tad mundane, and if I miss the vibrant intensity of our conversations, and if I ache a little sometimes for hugs and back rubs and other touches that say “I See You” … well, for all that, this is a good life, and I chose it, and I continue to choose it daily.

I want to tell you about the last few days of her visit, because they were too good not to be recorded.

The first blessing: Woo and Her Boy

Woo is the Girl Child’s oldest friend. Her father and uncle and I were playmates as young children, and she and the Girl Child became instant friends when they were toddlers. Over the years she visited often and even lived with us a few times, and then we lost contact. She lives in Florida now, and has a 13-year-old son, and when she heard about the Girl Child’s visit she announced that she was coming to visit too, and bringing her son to meet us.

They were here for only two days, bracketed by two full days of travel. On the second day we ran away from the smoke and drove to Mt Rainier to see the flowers in the sub-alpine meadows. I don’t know whether the flowers came early this year, or whether the person who told me August was the best month to see them was mistaken, but most of them were gone. It was okay, though – we had blue sky and forests and ancient trees, and a picnic, and conversation. At the end there was a cheap airport hotel that wasn’t too bad, and by the time Woo and her boy left they were talking seriously of moving to Washington. I want that to happen so much I don’t dare speak about it here!

After a long day of driving, talking, oohing and ahhing, we pulled into the Red Roof Inn, where I'd booked accommodation. The receptionist was so obnoxious that I declared,
After a long day of driving, talking, oohing and ahhing, we pulled into the Red Roof Inn, where I’d booked accommodation. But the receptionist was obnoxious, so I declared, “Life’s too short!” and we headed for Denny’s to regroup. Sitting there, slurping milkshake and googling from my phone, I found us a couple of cheap beds with okay reviews at the Seatac Motel. (Have I mentioned that I LOVE technology?) Google Maps told me it was just a one minute walk away. Walking with all our luggage wasn’t an option … so I poked Google Maps some more, and in consequence we spent about 20 minutes meandering through the airport before ending up right next door to where we’d started. (Technology is great, but I can be a nimnil.)

The second blessing: A whole extra day

The Girl Child and I both misread her travel itinerary and thought she would have to check in for her flight quite early on Thursday morning. At the last minute – after we’d already made all our plans around her early departure – we realized that she wasn’t flying out until late afternoon. The joy of a whole extra day for just us!

We spent it at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. How in the world do I tell you what that was like? We walked through a series of rooms dedicated to different exhibits. The first was one of his early works – interesting and nice to look at. Then there was one inspired by Native American blankets and baskets – also worth seeing. And then … oh my word. A dark room with a blaze of color and shapes. Another room, still more intense. A ceiling – I couldn’t help myself; I had to lie down and stare at it. (I don’t understand why everyone wasn’t lying down!) There followed a gradual descent in intensity until we thought it was over – but no, after that came the garden – a lavish mix of greenery, flowers and glass.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, go see this. By the time we'd walked through it, we were both so stuffed full of the joyous beauty of it we were close to tears.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, go see this. By the time we’d walked through it we were both so stuffed full of the joyous beauty of it we were close to tears.

The third blessing: Priorities

I’ve always been the one to waft along not worrying about the clock, Living In The Moment. The Girl Child, by contrast, is entirely Type A. So after Chihuly, when it dawned on me that I was still short one of the gifts I wanted to send back to South Africa with her, it was entirely in character for me to suggest just “popping over” to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where we were guaranteed to find something that would appeal to a teenage boy. And, of course, it was equally in character for her to hyperventilate a little because this was SeattleYou don’t “pop over” Seattle. There is traffic!

But then we switched. We drove there. We puttered. We had lunch – clam chowder with the seagulls at Ivar’s. And every time I fidgeted about the time, she told me to relax. Eventually she said, “Chill, Mom. I won’t miss my plane. And if I’m too late to get a seat in the emergency aisle it doesn’t matter – I’d rather have lunch with you.”

Such a small thing to say … but after all those years, and all that worry and preparation and “what if we just don’t like each other” … well, it meant the world to me.

She’s back home now and so am I, but we’ve built a bridge this summer.