I have only recently come to understand the allure of gardening and the reward of its cumulative experiences, but I have always admired Verlyn Klinkenborg’s writing (see links at right) about gardens and the parade of the seasons. Today’s essay in the Times brightens further a Sunday morning in July.
“Thank you!” I said, not very politely. At which point another of my children said, “If I had called you a furious cow, you would have gotten really mad at me.” I agreed, adding, “But he got that from somewhere else, and on top of that he loves cows – the furious part is the insult, not the cow part.” Point taken.
Even though I shouldn’t be pleased that the autistic trait of drawing speech from movies and TV is so prevalent in our boy, I have to admit I get a kick out of it. When he was small, people at the local pool thought he was British because he drew so many of his phrases from the exceedingly polite Kipper cartoons: he would stand next to the diving board and pipe up, “You have a go!” Considering all the movie lines people throw around these days, it’s really not so undesirable – it’s a useful kind of shorthand. As he has grown and developed more of his own, original speech, his reliance on scripts appears most often when he is upset and words come less easily. Knowing that the phrases come from somewhere else takes some sting out of the confrontation and allows us all to laugh (most of the time). After the cow exchange we set about documenting the latest vocabulary of annoyance, and its sources:
- “Exactly WHEN did you go insane?” – Ice Age
- “I’m not interested in your excuses!” – Sir Topham Hatt, Thomas the Tank Engine
- “You’re a cowardly chicken, you really are.” – Porky Pig
- “You are shrewd, rude, mean and dangerous.” – Chicken Little
- “I hate you, rabbit.” – Yosemite Sam
- “Foom!!” – This is the noise made when Sylvester the Cat’s head ignites in frustration.
- “YOU get out! This is MY swamp.” – Shrek
- “Well? Where’s the REST of me?” – Daffy Duck
- “I’m going to go to the hospital for a NEW one.” – so old no one remembers, including him
- “You’re just. . .different.” Howard Bannister in What’s Up Doc?
- “Murderer” – Scar in the Lion King (complete with Jeremy Irons accent)
- “You’re a looney duck and a cowardly cat, you really are.” – Porky Pig.
- “Madam, you WON’T” – Merlin in The Sword and the Stone
and, my all time favorite from What’s Up Doc: “Who is that dangerously unbalanced woman?!”
That would be me.
Today is the 18th anniversary of my father’s death; my mourning has come of age. The hot days of summer bring back all kinds of memories of him and playing them back and filling in details is a process that seems to dominate every July. As much as I love him, most of the years we spent in the same house would never make a highlight film of his life. And as much as he loved me, I am haunted by the bittersweet feeling and misplaced sense of responsibility that there are people and tasks that merited his attention and did not get it.
Depending on how you look at it I was in both the right place at the right time and the wrong place at the wrong time. Appearing late enough in his life that I offered the joyous, no-strings-attached love of a little girl when such attention was in short supply, and in return I got the attention every small child craves from a parent. My late arrival also afforded me a front row seat to a mid-life bout with alcoholism whose confusion scattered our family in untold directions. I found myself adrift and distracted in the eye of the passive aggressive hurricane that characterized my parent’s marriage at that time, my allegiances shifting daily and instilling in me an unsettling certainty that there is no such thing as the whole truth.
His story ends well, with beloved grandchildren, an embrace of cooking, work and friends in the community, and a rekindled friendship with my mother. She liked to say that the first 15 and the last 10 years of their marriage were worth all that happened between. As it happens, what happened in between was my childhood. While I maintain that it was a happy one, I find myself sorting through it like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to make the brightly colored, oddly shaped pieces fit.
The inequalities of parental love – or any love at all – are tough to reconcile, and because I have witnessed in other families the carnage that can result when people attempt to settle old scores, I find myself overly focused on fairness and communication with my own children, knowing full well I have no control over how they might view their lives, and my role in them, fifty years on. But what I carry with me is the sense that my parents, my family, have loved me the best they can, and that I should lift my head from the puzzle and work each day to return the favor.
Last night I dreamt that my husband and I lived in a white clapboard house on an urban industrial street. Its pale painted interior held many of our current belongings but we had no children and had spent much of the summer away from it. We returned home one dusk to find a circular hole in the glass of a the outer metal door, and then the wooden inner door’s top window had a similar hole in its glass. There had been a break in and I mused that we should have used light timers while we were away. We found the place cleaned out of all electronics and art and clothes and books and stuff. I was annoyed but mostly dispassionate, while my beloved set about the task of getting our stuff back. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. We drove a truck down the street to a gray corrugated tin warehouse. I don’t know how we got in but when we did there was everything that was missing, piled along the warehouse walls. We began to load everything in the truck, and as we did I noticed a small cherry wood jewelry box shaped like a tiny chest of drawers. It was just like one I had given him for our fifth anniversary many years ago, and I became convinced that, though empty, it was the same box. The box was stolen from our real house during a break-in in 1997, and here it was now, among the things taken in the dream. We hurried to finish loading before the thieves came back, and I climbed into the passenger seat with the box in my lap, so relieved to have it back and wondering if we would return to the white clapboard house or move on to another place.
As I woke up to the radio this morning I heard the first news item about the British Petroleum oil spill that I did not need to hear again to understand. The cap on the oil well is secure but something – they aren’t sure what - is coming up through the ocean floor nearby. It might be pressure building up as a result of the cap, but then again it might not; such seepages can occur naturally. Thus, BP is reluctant top loosen the cap because that will result in more fines for them, but apparently they can’t be held legally responsible for the rupture in the ocean floor.
Despite the 24/7 spill cam documenting the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the valiant efforts of Anderson Cooper, it’s still difficult for me to get a handle on both the science and magnitude of the spill and how it came to this. As I type at my computer in my air-conditioned home atop a two car garage I know that I am complicit in the energy dependence that drives companies like BP to do something that is inherently dangerous to the global ecosystem. I’ve pored over the graphics illustrating how deep water drilling works, how relief wells will help, how natural gas and oil are mined but not necessarily collected at the same time and how bacteria that feast on the oil are depriving the rest of the ocean of the oxygen they need to survive. The only news item I won’t read is Kevin Coster’s solution to some or all of this - you won’t be getting a hyper link to that one from me.
At some point someone suggested that the President or Secretary of Energy provide the public with strategies for responding to the crisis – and in ways more practical than planning a vacation to the Gulf. If people can start carrying reusable bags to the grocery store like more people are doing nowadays the possibilities really are endless, days and in these days of PowerPoint I am really shicked that no one has issued a bulleted list of things people can do to cut energy dependence – of if they have why they haven’t shown up on milk cartons and paper bags.
Speaking of which, my own personal ray of hope has been the flourishing of the farmer’s markets near our house. When we moved here 17 years ago there were three tiny, tired farm stands that we counted on for corn, strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes and potatoes each year. Now, we have a Friday farmer’s market near the center of town and those three old farm stands – all within sight of one another – have each constructed new buildings and are offering local milk, eggs, meat, bread and cheese. This year, for the first time, it’s possible to skip the supermarket entirely for weeks at a time. We are saving gas on trips to Costco and we are helping the local economy as we develop a taste for grilled vegetables. It is the Michael Pollanization of America, and it’s great.
Still, my thoughts keep drifting to the basket under my kitchen sink. For years I have been slowly replacing the Dow chemicals under it with more environmentally friendly cleaners – more white vinegar and less unpronounceable stuff. But my favorite bottle in the basket is Goo Gone. It’s a miraculous citrus-based grease and adhesive remover and it makes all of my worst petroleum-based household problems go away and smell lovely. I have to admit that I don’t know that all of it products are all natural. But I harbor fantasies of giant tankers of Goo Gone dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico where the waters and sands will be restored to an orange-scented bliss. And if that was Kevin Costner’s idea, I don’t want to know about it.
Photos: Vineyard Sound, July 2009; Spring Brook Farm, July 2009; Summer Produce, July 2009.
Three times this week I have found myself regaling people with stories of 25+ years ago and having them draw a total blank on me. Do I have a great memory (selective, for sure) or am I making things up? No, no, I know the stories are there even if people who were present do not remember anything, and I’ve told these stories because I am looking to shed some light on the details only to have the subjects taken aback that I remember such things at all. We both come away a little unnerved, I think, but I am alternately blessed and tormented by the need to recall these stories and make them whole somehow. Most of them are sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the final nod which may or may not come.
This mining of the past is in fact a family trait – there are others whose memories are even more vivid and detailed than my own, which may explain the countless hours we spend around the dining table, swapping new stories and comparing versions of the ones we tell over and over and over. Favorite topics: funerals, weddings, movies, food and church, not necessarily in that order. It is the legacy of a big family.
Will this get me to write more – or less? At this moment, I think more. To butcher a famous phrase: better get busy remembering or get busy forgetting.