Tag Archives: Family

Road Trip

rainbowWe left on a Saturday morning, the traffic light and the clouds dark. My 17-year old daughter rode shot-gun with the snack bag standing ready and a few CDs she recently uncovered like artifacts from my past, Billy Joel, The Stranger and David Gray, White Ladder. We were leaving Rhode Island up 146 North to cross a few state lines and visit my father and brothers in Syracuse. Barely 30 minutes into the trip the wind kicked up and shook the car like a dryer filled with sneakers, and a dense unforgiving rain began.

My daughter sat upright, ignoring the pillow and blanket in her lap she was hoping to use. Cars slowed and a siren screamed and we pulled over and back into the lane again while Billy Joel sang about Brenda and Eddie. We moved slowly and talked about possible colleges, ice cream, our dogs, and a little family dirt on my mother’s side. When we got to the firetrucks and police and the flashing lights, there was someone on a gurney getting wheeled into a rescue, and a vehicle, not unlike our own dark grey SUV, was upside down and rocking slightly, debris circling it like an ancient ruin.

In Syracuse we took my niece (5 years-old) and nephew (almost 10 years-old) to the Wild Kingdom, an odd zoo housing alligators and a white tiger and a giraffe and goats. In a glass room I watched my daughter and niece attract small parrots with peanut butter and seeds on popsicle sticks, their arms and shoulders covered with birds – powder blue, yellow, green and white – a feathery blur. Then this – a baby kangaroo wearing a child’s pull-up, left alone in a small caged area with a sign out front saying $10 for a photo with a baby kangaroo. I wanted to set it free, complain to the owner, write an op ed piece, tell the two college-age students in their Wild Kingdom shirts and badges to stop flirting and pay attention to that  poor kangaroo. But I didn’t. I walked past with my mouth slightly open and my heart jittery and caged.

On the way back to my brother’s house, I saw a dead deer on the side of the road, her head twisted, her eyes unforgiving. My daughter in the back seat was keeping her cousins entertained and I was relieved she didn’t see the doe. At least this one thing she didn’t have to see.

Then was my father, his thick fingers curled like a crustacean, his crystal blue eyes bloodshot without sleep, his gate slow and sloped. He won’t see a doctor, won’t have any blood work done, won’t take any medicine because he thinks all the medicine my mother took gave her the cancer that killed her. So he eats potato chips and cookies from Costco’s and waits to die.

On the drive home my daughter told me she had a boyfriend. Her first. It started raining again. Black clouds entwined with silvery sunshine threw shadows on trees and bridges and jagged rock that had been blasted open for the road. I knew the boyfriend, a kid among her gaggle of friends I had chauffeured around to parties, movies, Gregg’s Restaurant for chocolate cake, school stuff. Now she has her license so those day are waning. On to different days. Is she ready? Are any of us ready?

We are talking about the boyfriend and she sees a rainbow up ahead. It grows larger as we twist around the highway and move into a range of hills and spotty rain and then she says, It’s on the road, It’s right in front of us. We’re driving through a rainbow.

And we were. The colors came out of the sky, bounced on the road and up to the windshield and followed us along for a mile or two. Water splashed from under the tires catching iridescent colors. We were laughing and shouting and repeating madly, we’re driving in a rainbow. And for a moment we shared something pure and real and almost miraculous. On the road again.

Window
Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.
                               Carl Sandberg

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Put Your Tiny Hand in Mine

Father Knows BestNo fathers for a Father’s Day cookout today – mine is 300 miles away, my spouse’s dad died almost 10 years ago, and in my household, even the dogs are female. It’s a lazy Sunday as a result. Planted some parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (my yearly tribute to Simon & Garfunkel), watched War Horse on TV, ate random leftovers, read a little, didn’t even shower. In between which I thought about the following:

1) I wonder if my kids wish they had a dad? I’ve asked them about this at times. They always say no. But what are they going to say to me? Yes, you ruined our life. I have to explain the no-dad thing a lot, so I imagine they do too. Recently I brought them to get new glasses. My youngest daughter is incredibly near-sighted and the eye-glasses guy, thinking about nothing more than the thickness of her lenses as she gets older, asked about my eyesight and then asked, how about dad’s? I always try to answer casually, comfortably, like I talk about these things all the time and it’s no big deal. But it’s weird to tell strangers, I used a donor. It’s like telling people you had a boob job or you like to be on top or how much money you make. It feels personal. Most times I say, my partner’s a woman (and then sometime I have to explain further that she’s not a business partner), but in this case the question was in reference to biology, not family structure. Eye-glasses man was cool. He liked the kids. He had a lot of tattoos under that white jacket. He didn’t bat an eyelash.

2) My dad believed my mother did all the parenting. He wasn’t around a lot. He never even changed a diaper. Occasionally he was called in for serious discipline or for a ride to Carvels for soft ice cream. He worked all the overtime he could get, and even worked on holidays. My father was the provider. He paid for everything with cash. He scoured the grocery flyers for sales and did the shopping. He turned off the lights and turned down the heat and made you eat everything on your plate and paid every bill on time and watched how much water you put in the tea kettle so you didn’t waste electricity heating what you wouldn’t use.  My friends in high school were afraid of him. He was a growler, a yeller, a where-are-you-going-who-are-you-going-wither. Yet under his cranky, grumpy, worry-wart ways, my father had a sense of humor. We’ve all inherited it to some degree, and found comfort in it during trying times. And in this way, he parented us more than he knows.

3) Sometimes when my father worked downtown he would bring us caramel corn from a specialty shop on Clinton Avenue. It came in a red and white striped box and was sweet, salty,  buttery, crunchy and usually still warm. It would stick to my teeth and be gone in 10 minutes but it was the best treat ever because it made me feel special and happy and remembered. To this day caramel corn is the way to my heart.

I feel ok that my kids don’t have a dad because I try and give them a lot of caramel corn moments. And they have a step-mom and plenty of adults who love them.  And there are some good men in my life and that’s what I want for my kids. So Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there or all you dad wannabes or folks with dads or memories of dads. Here’s to all your  dad or no-dad stories. Be sure to tell one today – even if it’s to yourself.

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In The Middle of our Street

It’s 10:00 at night. My kids are bathing the beagle because she smells like dead fish from an afternoon of rolling in worms, poop, and decaying leaves. My partner is screaming at the TV because some guy from the Mets pitched a no-hitter, the first in their history as a ball team. She finds this a deliriously monumental occasion and I find only a feeble, that’s nice to respond with. There are fruit flies circling this computer (which happens to be an Apple but I was resisting the strangeness of that), and our ceiling fans are squealing full tilt trying to choke a little cool air out of the windows and into the house. This is causing magnificent tumbleweeds of dog hair to dance across the floor.

Behind me sits a pile of papers fraught with bills, store advertisements, promises of lower insurance premiums, old notices from the kids’ schools, and clippings my father sends me about local writers, most of whom are in their twenties. My fridge is wrapped in a chain of bungee cords because the seal is unreliable and the door pops open making the milk sweat. There is a watermelon in the middle of the dining room table along with plastic silverware from last week’s Memorial Day cookout, my partner’s bright orange Timbuktu briefcase, 3 Spode tea bag holders shaped like little teacups that my mother loved, a hardcover copy of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, and a pink ladybug hat belonging to a friend’s 3 year-old.

This is my home. It’s where all the madness and beauty resides. It’s where I cook, sing, create, retreat, cry, imagine, forget, scheme, shovel out, hide, fume, and write. It’s where shame and joy and pain come to rest. It’s where the constellation of my family changes with the days. We move around and among each other through routine and crisis, in and out of focus. We are stars in the night sky, hardly noticed most days, breathlessly beautiful at times, unexplainable, far-reaching, the same and yet different.

There are days I hate my house. I want to move out, leave everything behind. I want floors that are free of dog hair and sinks that don’t drip and every shelf organized and a clear path to the washer and dryer. But other days I love my house. I love it fiercely and beyond reason. I feel like the luckiest person alive to have this house, this yard, this neighborhood. I feel its embrace and its safety. And I am grateful.

There are many houses I admire. There are houses I drive by and covet. There are homes, like my father’s, that were once mine in some way and still carry the smell of memory. But this house is mine. Flawed, impossible to keep up with, bursting with potential, overwhelming, aging, but mine.

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