Dang. Tagged. Can’t you people leave me alone?
All right, here are the rules.
- We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
- Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
- Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog
I suppose I could list what I had for dinner over the last 8 days, you guys don’t know that, but then I’d have to confess about those lazy days when I ate microwaved leftovers over the sink, and there’d go my suave image as a debonair man of culture. So instead you get eight random recollections.
Grandma Myers’ house was small and sagging and appointed in the classic 1940s style of working class poverty: tarpaper walls and cheap linoleum, a kitchen floor that slumped down towards the south (and proved to be an excellent testing ground for our pinewood derby racers), a west wall that was perforated by ivy and morning glories, creating soothing damp drafts of the Pacific Northwest winds that were combatted by a single small coal-burning iron stove in the dining room. That Christmas, and every Christmas, her family coalesced in that one cramped and creaking spot. There was Aunt Carilda Mae and Uncle Jim and our cousins, Kelly, Julie, and Matt, all wiry and tanned and fresh from the ranch; our bachelor Uncle Ed, who kept us supplied with comic books; Aunt Sally and Uncle Bud, and our cousins Don, Tim, and Debbie, who lived in town like us; my mom and dad, and me and my brother Jim and little sister Caryn; Aunt Florence and Uncle Louie, and their new baby; a friend of the family, Paul Melton, who was in the merchant marine and always had exotic gifts; and anyone who saw the house jumping and thought to stop on by. We boy children had all received the same presents that year, a box of 88 Games!!!, which contained lots of rules and cardboard playing boards and dice and checkers and chess pieces and marbles and most exciting of all, dart guns with rubber suction cups. Forget the rules; chess was more fun when played with dart guns, and then who needs chess pieces when you can run squealing around the house, between the legs of the adults, around the dining room table with its smoking ashtrays and big bottles of rich smokey brown whiskeys, and when you can make the whole house shiver and shake with our leaping and when the leaves of the ivy on the walls trembled with everyone’s laughter and Grandma smiled and stood up and shook her apron and she danced and she danced.
My father was a handsome rascal, a dashing ne’er-do-well from the wrong side of the tracks (literally; my mother’s home was on the west side, and my father’s just across the railroad tracks and up a few blocks), and Grandma Westad did not approve. Have no fear, Dad was also a responsible father and good husband who matured well, but the early years and stress made for some rocky days, and for a time, my parents separated, Dad and we two boys living with Grandma Myers and Mom and the two girls living with Grandma and Grandpa Westad. We children pined. Grandma Westad harrumphed. That no-good Myers boy wasn’t good enough for her daughter! My mother is pretty and quiet and shy, and she doesn’t say much, but when she does, it is softly, and through these harangues, she would wait quietly, and who knows what she was thinking.
Then one day I was over to eat some of Grandma Westad’s good cookies, when she came up to Mom in a lather of indignant Scandinavian-American fury, full of sing-song squawks, “Nehmen! I found this on the stairs!” She was waving around a pair of men’s underwear. “That man has been sneaking around, hasn’t he!”
Mom didn’t say a word. She just smiled a shy smile, a joyful smile, a smile full of mischief, and I knew then that she was in love with a charming rogue, and the whole world was going to be right again.
A replay, some time later. The family was back together, and Mom broke the news to Grandma that she was pregnant again. Grandma did not take the news well. “FIVE! When are you going to stop having all these babies!” Mom just smiled that happy smile again, that radiant, gladsome smile, and gently touched her stomach. And I knew again that she loved us all, and the world was going to be good forever and ever.
Steelhead fishing is waiting. My father and I climbed down the banks of the Green River, threw our lines out deep in the middle of the river, and sat down on rocks and waited. It was raining. We were quiet. The river was our entertainment. It was placid but not smooth; odd humps of water would rise and subside, eddies would skirl briefly and disperse, and the rain would pock quietly. Every once in a while it would rise in intensity, and we could watch it hiss up the river to where we sat, and we’d be briefly drenched … and then it would die down again from a sizzle to the plink and plop. We would spend a few hours watching the river gently writhe. And sometimes there were fish.
As a young nerd, I was bullied frequently enough in school, and usually I could shrug it off…except for this one gang that harrassed me for over a year. A girl gang. A gang of hot girls.
In junior high, I walked home from school, perhaps a half mile or so. Somewhere along my route, perhaps once or twice a week, I’d be intercepted by a group of about half a dozen girls several years older than me who would squeal and rush over and run their fingers through my hair and coo at me about how cute I was and how they wanted me to be their boyfriend. It was agonizing, not because I thought they were unattractive, but because it was all so insincere. I was their toy doll, their practice dummy, and they were competing with each other to see who could make the most amusingly gushy declarations of my adorability. I felt like the dog who’d been made to wear doll clothes and get pushed around in a stroller for the entertainment of children. My embarrassment was acute, and even now I can’t hear a compliment without feeling that it’s all part of a game of making fun of me.
The cure? There was a girl my age, who lived near me, and who walked home by the same route, and I found that if I loitered a bit or rushed a bit and arranged to be conveniently walking with her, I was left alone. We could even talk a bit about something other than how pretty my eyes were. She was my white knight. My protectoress. Later, my girlfriend and wife.
Our first child was a colicky beast in his first year. Night after night, he’d wake up in the early evening and start to wail; he wasn’t hungry, he didn’t need his diaper changed, we would burp him to no avail, He’d just howl like a soul tormented with dispair. The only thing that would console him was to hold him tight and rock or walk, and even then he’d be curled up in tears looking consumed by grief. And oh, we were so tired. One night I stood on our balcony, pacing back and forth, and with the ligaments of my back frayed and strained with this unending weight, I thought briefly and morbidly of casting this burden away.
And at that thought all I could do was hold that poor boy a little more fiercely, and feel his pain a little more deeply. That’s the paradox of parenting: we’re often absolutely useless, and at the same time absolutely necessary. We spend years feeling every bit of their pain, and there is nothing we can ever do, except to be there.
I was driving in to the university, and the dog came bounding across lawns, charging at my car, his tongue lolling—there was no hesitation, he was running all out. He was moving so fast, I was afraid he’d run snout-first into my car, or dive under the wheels, so I slowed down…a mistake. He ran past my car and darted in front of it. I heard the bumper smack into his chest, like hitting a sandbag with a baseball bat. He tumbled a few times, then leapt up, continuing his run, now barking with startled pain. I pulled over and parked, while he ran to the flowerbeds at the fairgrounds, stopped, and then collapsed on to his side.
I ran to him. He was lying there in the flowers, his jaws working, his eyes darting about frantically, bloody foam coming out of his mouth. I reached out to him—he tried to snap at me. I knelt back and waited as the blood pooled, as he quieted, as his breath came in short gasps, as it stopped.
On hot summer days we would drive out into the desert and on to the causeway to Stansbury Island, and we’d head up to the northern end where there was nothing at all, at least as most people thought of it: gray rocks in heaps, boulders and oddly scoured rock formations to clamber on, and a beach of acrid, salty water reeking of decay, populated only by brine shrimp and dense clouds of flies. The kids loved it. They’d climb the spires of rock and see the Great Salt Lake all around them. They’d turn over rocks and find the surprising wealth of life in this barren patch. There were scorpions everywhere. Spiders. Black beetles with shells so thick they were like ambulatory rocks themselves. Lizards that would drop off their tails to writhe in the dirt for you. Basilisk-eyed horned toads that would stare scornfully at you. Skins of snakes and dry bones of antelope.
They never had anything in the city parks or malls quite so dangerous or unplanned or thrilling. We went out to that desolate and exciting spot often enough, and we were always surprised that no one else would ever be there.
Finally, one last little story that is somewhat more recent, and I’ll just repost an account of a recent roadtrip.
Unfortunately, I seem to be cursed when it comes to long road trips this summer. We took off on our three hour drive home, and all went smoothly until we were maybe ten minutes from Morris…then boom, I had a tire blow out on me. I pulled over to change it, and realized I had another problem.
Morris really is way out in the middle of nowhere; we were 5 miles in either direction from the nearest house. There are no street lights out there in the country, and it was an utterly moonless night, at 12:30 AM. We’re talking dark. Far rural, not even a hint of urban haze, pitch blackness, and even the stars were obscured by clouds. And, I’m afraid, we didn’t have a flashlight in the car, and Mary had left her cell phone with our daughter.
As a brave and manly man, I struggled valiantly to change the tire blindly. It was hung up on something, though, and as I grappled with it, I slashed my hand on whatever it was that popped the tire. I was bleeding badly, and my hands were slick with road grime and blood. This was not going well.
We were not going to be able to change that tire in the dark.
So, we decided we’d just walk home. Five or six miles is a manageable hike, right? Off we went, even though we could barely see the edge of the road.
On country highways in the middle of the night you can hear all kinds of things. There are swarms of insects in the brush creaking strange tunes, and once I heard something make a squeaky wet cough in a ditch—I had visions of having to fend off swarms of rabid vermin by stomping on them with my tennis shoes, and wished I’d brought the tire iron along. And then there was the infrequent aroma of rich, ripe roadkill. Yikes. This was not looking like a pleasant end to the evening.
We were trudging along, though, when we noticed something else. There was a light breeze, and the clouds were blown away, and the stars came out. When you’re miles away from any house lights, you really see the stars, dense and bright. We could barely pick out the few constellations we knew, simply because they were mottled with too many stars.
Next we saw the shooting stars. It wasn’t a major swarm of them, maybe one every five minutes or so, but it passed the time trying to spot them.
And then we looked straight up, and there was the Milky Way. Wow. Ever stood in the middle of a road in the wee hours of the morning, in a place where the brightest light is coming from that glowing band in the sky? It was spectacular.
The heavens weren’t done with us yet. We looked to the right towards the northern horizon, and what do we see but shifting, glowing curtains of light—the aurora borealis! This was getting ridiculous. We were just a few comets shy of omens and portents. I expected a fiery chariot with wheels of luminescent diamonds to descend any moment and it’s brilliant occupant to decree the beginning of my imperial reign, or something. It would have been fitting, I think.
After two hours of dazzling late night trekking, though, we finally arrived at Morris, and the town lights washed out all sky signs. Oh, well. Now I’m home and just waiting for the buzz to wear off (and my lacerated hand to stop throbbing) so I can get some sleep.
I don’t know whether I need to stay home from now on, or whether I should aspire to take advantage of more automotive failures.
OK, now who on my blogroll should I inflict this curse upon?