Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I remembered the first day after leaving

The arresting laryngeal damage of the woman who calls Po-Ke-No at the Three Links Care Center.

The pull-apart cinnamon bread.

My mom trying bubble tea for the first time.

Purple phlox and tiger lilies.

That the pastor was so much younger than me.

Dairy Queen is never worth it.

When I asked her why and she said, "well, what alternative do you think I had?"

The conversation in the minivan.


The trunk they came over with.

It is always and never the last time.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Art and Thusnelda and Fritz and Alice

Well, Witte was the name for him, that's for sure. Smart. Smart like a, like that animal...
(sharp exhalation, gently irritated. Eyes close momentarily)
...that one. I didn't trust him. But they were "in love" (eyeroll, exaggerated hand dance), so what do you do? Thusnelda was my best friend.
(coffee taken, mouth delicately wiped. Blue knots under white paper.)
They thought she was going with Fritz, and that was fine with them. He was so good-looking, and smart, and he had a car. And he was sooo kind to take his little sister to the dances too! (sideways glance, sarcasm noted). Except I was his partner, of course. They didn't know... that we were picking up Art at the next farm!
(short laugh, slight wheezing, brush of my knee. Translucent teeth and angel hair.)
Her parents would have fired him On. The. Spot. They had big plans for Snelda because she was the only girl. They dressed for church like they were really something special.
(Laugh, wheeze, cough. Eyes close. Deep breath from a shrinking chest.)
And all that time Snelda was with a hired man! (pleasurable laugh, wheezing, this time a knee slap). It lasted until Fritz met Donna. She's in a home, you know. Anyway, he wouldn't drive Snelda after that, and one night they came home and her parents were waiting.
(dramatic pause, that young devil's smile up at me)
What were they thinking, locking her out of the house? They knew he had money since they were paying him to work, see? And so of course they left and got married. It was such a scandal! (gleeful grin, pause to sip coffee)
Can you tell me how to get on that Facebook?


Saturday, July 24, 2010


I first traveled to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the seventies, shortly after the government named the place in an attempt to preserve the landscape while still encouraging tourism. Mine was the experience of practically all Minnesota Lutheran children of the era: we piled into huge wooden canoes in July or August and paddled over the rainy lakes on the way to campfire singalongs (I still remember the entire descant to "Pass It On" - hey, world!), pancakes, fish cleaning, unsuccessful firestarting, and hideous swarms of insects. The sheer discomfort of the bug bites and the damp clothing and the hard labor did their work and broke down our complacent little souls, if only for that week. We were temporarily free of our schoolyard reputations. We helped. We complained less. We had moments, sometimes breathtakingly long moments, of living with a new understanding of our place on the planet. We were awed and terrified by the raw, ancient beauty of the place.

I came home and forgot all about it.

Truly, I didn't think of northern Minnesota for decades. The Mountain Man and I have been avid hikers together, but I always required a place with a shower, a bed, and someone else's cooking at the end of the day. Certainly nothing about any other majestic location brought the BWCWA experience back to the surface of my memory; I looked on a whole host of overwhelming peaks and valleys and never revisited that locked-away place. Then I turned forty, and the challenge of it all reasserted itself, as ridiculously typical as my pink cell phone.

MtMn prepared for our first sojourn with wary enthusiasm, and thanks be to God he had plenty of wilderness experience. I didn't know what I was in for, and that first trip was both harder and easier than anything I imagined. My body ached but was stronger and smarter than I had ever believed - my mind, too. The world was big and beautiful and I was just a small, joyful part of it, and I saw the mad perfection of giving myself over to its every move. Life could be all hard work, patient acceptance, no plans. I can still smell the air that rushed past us as we paddled back up the river at the end of the week.

I can also remember forgetting all about it. Same thing the next summer, learning and unlearning. Clearly one needs to keep returning.

It's too far away to be easily accessed, which keeps the place pristine but keeps the local economy hanging by a thread. We borrowed and rented all our equipment this time, our camping gear all in Houston storage, and promptly encountered all the glorious hardships and rewards of this remarkable place: mosquitoes like fighter pilots, thunderstorms that forced us off the lakes, muddy portages, stiff wind, bright sunshine, calm waters, blue skies, bright stars, big fish. We took naps on the granite cliffs and pumped lake water through filters, swam in the still-icy water and played cribbage in the tent with our headlamps on.

In three days, it's still possible to forget (or at least smile at) all the controls we (I) try to place upon this wild existence. As we walked the last portage out, we passed a group of high school campers, possibly Lutheran and definitely Minnesotan, all blond hair, misery in their blue eyes as they strained under their Duluth packs and swatted at the swarms.

Oh, children, you are saved by grace alone. Look around you, plan to come back, try to remember.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

time slice #2

When I pick him up there is only the cane at his side. The bike sails past us under his strong legs.He says he doesn't need the walker to go to breakfast. The amusement park is swallowed by his long strides.He won't take my arm as he shuffles into the pancake house. He sees her look and slowly presses the accelerator.

As always, he chats up the waitress and brags on the grandchildren.

He orders bacon (steak, alfredo sauce, ice cream) and a large cranberry juice (beer, vodka, scotch) and waits for the argument. 

"Well, I had two outta three good eggs, but the one nurse (board member, councilman, manager) treated me like I was one of those Alzenheimers (college idiots, tokens, women), like I don't know how to manage my own illness (account, business, conflict). I told 'em I wouldn't participate in their bullshit."

As always, he brings the crisp grocery list, pushes the cart, folds the bags just so.

We drive to the dialysis center (concert, restaurant, coast) and he tells me about the harebrained scheme of the new town library (sidewalks, senior center, hospital). 

As always, he jokes with the techs and accepts their needles with bravado.

 Shooting from the hip. Whistling past the graveyard.

He sleeps, his blood flowing out of him and back in.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Beginner's mind

I'm up early in St. Paul on the day we all leave the house, sister and family bound for the Black Hills as we head south to my mom. Everything is still quiet. I'm watching the British Open with the sound off. Golf isn't my favorite thing, but St. Andrew's is such a sight, a stark and unforgiving beauty. The whole world lines up to take the test, and everyone tastes frustration and triumph on that earth.

I'm nursing an aching shoulder this morning, the result of overexertion last Wii Tennis. What was I saying? - frustration and triumph. Nephew and I played one set too many last night, and I was rarely able to answer his blistering serve. In all such games, I (along with most of my generation, I imagine) am used to being bested by tweens, confronted with a whole set of skills I can't seem to learn. The turbocharged hand-eye coordination is the least of it. How small children come to understand the rules of Super Mario is beyond me (paragate, parasamgate).

He was working out his own frustration during the game, having been reassigned Bach and Chopin preludes for another week at his piano lesson. It's the hard transition from little-kid piano books to real repertoire, and his teacher is upping the ante as well. He is trying to understand the new things being asked of him, and feels the loss of a habit of easy achievement.

I watch master after master humbled by the wind and rough. St. Andrew's, Bach, Wii Sports, name your Everest: we gain expertise only to be turned back into beginners, again and again.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nick's tips for enjoying the Tigers game

8:00 AM is not too early to begin dressing for the game. Nothing says "Tiger fan" like wearing your cap while eating your cereal.

If your aunt says she is a Twins fan, do not take her seriously. She has not so much as a towel with a "T" on it. However, when you sit behind an entire row of people from Minnesota, you are allowed to die a little inside. Boredom is the best choice when choosing your outer attitude. Close second: get very involved with eating your ice.

 Your team is winning, and the game is a little boring, so point out your dad's office building to the visitors. Don't act too interested when they ask questions about what you want to do in high school next year. Enthusiasm is for the lame. Save it up for when you kick their butts at both hearts and Rock Band later in the evening.

You can allow yourself a smile or two during the day, as long as you're not like totally obvious about it.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Maggie Rose's Guide to Beginning Photography

You have to ask first. You say, "Oh please may I use the camera please? Thank you!" Don't say it loud because you should ask like a lady. I promise to be very very careful. If you drop the camera it's bad because it can break and then all the pictures will fall out.

I'm gonna take picture!
(careful aiming, pressing of button)
Gooooood picture!


Tell everybody, "Say tscheeeee I'm gonna take a picture!" If they don't listen you can say it again real loud.

                                                  Charlie is too little to take pictures.

The lake is really really good! I drived the boat all! Bahmah! Seff! (spreads hands wide)

Can you take my picture?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

things in my in-law's basement

fabulous typewriter
anonymous computer cables
original packaging for many of the plastics we used over the weekend
more tablecloths
very old washer and dryer
dressers with drawers that get forced open with random tools
sheet music from 1914
light of my life


Sunday, July 4, 2010

train of thought

The trail goes for twenty or thirty miles along the old rail line, and it's hard to imagine that train cars ever fit through the canopy of elm and maple that shades the path now. These days I like to run a mile, walk a mile, do that all again, and then walk two miles back to the house. That's just the latest pattern, and I had a chance to remember others on this quieter than usual Sunday. The story of my life that this trail knows is wildly inconsistant, a patchwork of ambitious half-marathon training, daily post-surgery recovery walks, the distressingly difficult jogs of early sobriety, and long strolls with or without company, a continuous alteration of care and neglect.

Today's route is easy, feels good. Everyone at home is still asleep, worn out from the people, food, noise, lights, conversation, and poker of the night before. There's another yearly story in the 4th of July gatherings, a shifting kaleidoscope of family alliances and altercations, and this year's version is also easy, feels good.

Step after step after step. Can it remain? Can I keep on, slow and steady but for the occasional muscular twinge, the inevitable mental chatter, the changing of the weather?