For my son, who turned 12 yesterday and who is one of the greatest joys of my life.
I am wimp. I can admit it. I don’t like it, but as we drove westward into a ferocious storm that we knew had spawned tornados to the west of us, I was clutching my weather map and scanning the Indiana horizon for any of the tell-tale signs of a funnel cloud forming. For thirty minutes lightening-filled minutes, my husband pressed on, both of us keeping a look out for an emergency place to pull over.
I should be used to this; for almost 20 years I lived in a tornado-prone area. I had even chased a tornado once, turning back only when I almost caught up to it and realized how stupid I was. But for some reason, my ability to see this storm philosophically – as most adults seem to see these types of trials – eluded me. I kept calm for the sake of the kids, but as we watched finger-like funnels trying to form behind us and lightening hitting the ground a few hundred feet from the highway, I was panicking inside.
What perplexes me each time these things happen is how I don’t get used to them. After the storm or a family-member’s week-long stint in the ICU, I feel the adrenalin and say to myself, “This, too, has passed.” But when it’s happening, I am a jelly fish.
And so, now we come through another storm, safe and sound – and I am left to wonder if I will ever face these a hurdle while it’s happening and be able to say, “This, too, SHALL pass,” even if I don’t know that it will.
It was lunchtime, and we left the interstate looking for a place to sit and walk the dog. We didn’t mean to take a tour of the Erie region, but our search for a little local color in our food took us farther from the main road than we had been in some time.
We first took a few meandering detours through middle class suburban neighborhoods still populated with small, quaint brick homes that had somehow survived demolition by McMansion developers. The homes turned into businesses as we drove, and when we got to East 26th Street in Erie, PA, we took a left, hoping the congested traffic hinted at nearby restaurants.
Our search was just beginning, however. I continued to look for food, but I had navigated us to this road because I knew it was really US 20, which would meet up with the interstate again. My motives were pure – food and efficiency, but as we crawled down the congested old
road – The Post Road as we called in Boston – I felt as if my vacation had truly begun.
I love the Post Road. We’ve traveled bits and pieces of it in Massachusetts, New York, PA, and Ohio, and the recovering vagabond in me loves how each piece is an imperfect postcard memory of that spot. It’s still main street for a lot of towns, even though the nearby monolithic, monotonous interstate seems to have steered traffic and dollars away of them. We continued as far as Girard, and I couldn’t help but notice how many areas seemed to be forgotten. From the interstate, the people and places along Route 20 are invisible, and it’s too bad.
We finally found a quiet diner with friendly waitresses and homemade barbecue sauce for sale by the quart (we bought some). For me, it was worth the drive. It was only lunch, but I liked the local color. It sated my stomach, but it fed my soul a little and whetted my appetite for more. It’s an appetite I like to indulge.
“I’d love to drive this road from end to end,” I said to my husband as we inched back to the interstate.
“I think I’d go crazy if I had to drive this speed all the way to Oregon,” he replied without looking at me.
“But maybe someday,” I began as my marketing plan began to form. “Maybe if we had a long vacation and rented a convertible and made the drive the vacation.”
“Ugh, maybe,” he responded. I may need to convene a focus group to get this plan by the board, but something tells me it would be worth it for all of us.
Last Wednesday I traveled back in time.
It was another over-scheduled week, but in spite of my reluctance, my husband had insisted that we go to an anniversary party of a couple he had met in his community theatre travels. The party was to celebrate a 25th anniversary – not too common anymore, and I knew we should go. This couple, an unconventional directing and coreography team, decided to make their party even more uncommon by staging an outdoor production of Checkov’s “The Seagull” in different parts of their yard and home.
I love Checkov, not because of his sometimes morose take on life, but because his plays and stories provide a window into the lives of ordinary Russians at the end of the nineteenth century. We sat down in the makeshift theatre facing a stage consisting of a curtained canopy. Horse fields and the mountain beyond provided the backdrop. It was easy to imagine that we had been transported back a century or so, and my mood quickly brightened.
The play engrossed both of us. Each of the first two acts occurred in a different part of the yard, enhancing the story and the experience. However, it was when we migrated inside for the last half of the play that I felt our time travel experience morph into something more than merely visual.
Our hosts’ home is an old New England farmhouse, and they maintained the traditional ambience with care. Unadorned wood-paneling and wide-plank flooring that creaked enhanced the atmosphere, and the living room-turned-theatre was lit with candles completing the mood. And, when the first actors entered the room, I recalled that once, before television and radio, before texting and telephone, was how most people experienced theatre, music and each other.
It was low-tech. By today’s standards, It was low-budget. and this play performed with and in the company of friends offered an intimacy – with the actors and the work itself – that no blockbuster-3D-special-effects display could ever match.
We got home and I brushed by the dust-covered piano in the living room to find one child passed out on the babysitter’s lap in front of the glowing TV in the den. Our other child was hypnotizing himself with the latest video game obsession. And, as I popped and ushered children into bed, I found myself wishing for just one brief black-out.
We both sat down, too tired and not in the mood for TV. The night was cool, and we threw open the windows. We sat on the couch for a while listening to the trees and the windchimes. We said nothing, and didn’t need to because, for that brief hour, we quietly, mutually decided to stay disconnected from the world -and connected to each other.
I don’t know why I named her Grendel. She was a goose, not a gander, and she was certainly no monster, but the name suited her.
We acquired her and her mate, Gustav, from a couple who had bought my husband’s family’s house in New Hampshire. The decision to adopt the geese was made almost on a whim, but the house was located next to a rushing river, and Grendel had almost been lost twice trying to swim on it. Our own house, while it lacked a pond, was in the middle of nowhere, and was a perfect place for the geese to live.
Grendel and Gustav were over 20 and, somehow, had never produced a flock of their own, and we scratched our heads for a while trying to figure out why anyone would keep a goose for more than one Christmas dinner season. But they were cute, and so we borrowed a pair of burlap sacks to carry them home in the family wagon.
Gustav loudly registered his displeasure at the indignities we were inflicting on him, but Grendel was busy working her head through a hole in her sack. About 20 minutes into a 2 hour drive, we suddenly noticed a goose head in the rear-view mirror. Most of her was still stuck in the bag, but a goose neck looks incredibly long when it’s snaking down over a car seat to examine your two-year-old.
Our then-two-year-old was enchanted. He ignored our pleas to keep his hands down and away from her mouth – we had heard of goose bites breaking fingers – and he reached his arm up to try to pet her. Before I could get out of my seatbelt and intervene, she had evaded his hand and settled her head on the other end of the seat back. We rode the rest of the way with me watching her and her watching the boy – sometimes glancing toward me.
We got them settled, and once they found their swimming area, they quickly established themselves as the rulers of our yard. They honked at us, but it was usually harmless, and Grendel seemed to understand that I, as the mother of the odd-shaped gosling, would not tolerate any honks at my flock.
Much to our surprise, geese can serve useful purposes besides decorating a dinner table. We had installed their little house in the middle of our garden, and Grendel quickly took it upon herself to attack the weeds – don’t ask me how she distinguished them, but she earned her keep very well. Gustav, as the man of the hut, ventured beyond the garden and did an admirable job keeping huge patches of the lawn short. But it was not until Grendel became more adventurous that I found I had adopted an ally.
Our house sat next to a dirt road, and we hardly got any traffic. When we did, however, it was often in the form of a speeding ATV. As my toddler became more adventurous himself, I started trying to block off any access from the yard to our short driveway. My protectiveness was always trumped by his curiosity, however, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he found a way out of my homemade gates.
He chose his moment well. He had joined me in the garden at first one day, but the moment my head was bowed over a group of weeds, he wandered out of that fence and made his way across the lawn to the gate that had most recently piqued his interest. He crawled and toddled, and when I heard a soft laugh, I realized I’d been deserted. I looked up and saw that he had breached the perimeter and was making his way down the gentle slope to the driveway.
Out of nowhere, Grendel appeared in front of him, honking with all her might. She had launched herself over the other gate and circled around to meet him. My son plopped down on his diapered butt, his mouth wide as a silent scream formed. Then came the real cry of fear, and Grendel-the-momentary-monster backed off. I had lept over the gate by now, and was at his side comforting and scolding him. Grendel gave one more soft honk and went back to the yard the way she had come.
On that day, the timid truce that had existed evolved into something more, and so did my understanding that not every useful purpose can be measured in bushels or greenbacks.