I keep planning on getting back to more thought-provoking or inspirational narratives. (A good working title grabbed my attention yesterday. Since I like how titles pop up and grab hold, I may use it later; an idea is already making a comfy spot inside my mind.) But…early summer is upon us which means more time outdoors, sights to see, people to visit with–more basic and ofttimes long-awaited (while it rained for seven months) fun to enjoy. Even–maybe especially– amid the heart-trouncing times when we are apt to feel too often helpless. So I do feel compelled to go out and find a variety of joys to add to my store, as well as share them.
That was easy to achieve with a visit from the younger of my two older brothers and my sister-in-law, Wayne and Judy. They are near-constant world travelers and zealous photographers (and exhibit their photographs). This time they only drove from back East across the United States, up the West coast and then paused in Oregon for about a week. So we got to hang out. I last was in Wayne’s company at my oldest sister’s funeral service in Texas two years ago. Our other sister and brother, Allanya and Gary, joined in during the visit, as well. We four are in our sixties through late seventies and are generally up to discovering whatever is curious, entertaining or educational–or otherwise are ready to something happen.
We share a few characteristics as family members do: mostly large blue or blue-grey eyes and generally early grey hair (mine came late in early sixties); musical talent; a lifelong love of learning added to a deep passion for all the arts; resilience and industriousness; heart disease and related issues; enjoyment of facile to ponderous conversation, often peppered with puns, light sarcasm or teasing; and an abiding sense of God’s Presence in one way or another. Of course, we sport many differences but you can tell we’re blood family when you see and hear us together. We’re all creative so are a bit nutty, some of us more than others. (We also have some quirks, etc., of course–but that is not for this post!)
No one wants to think while telling tales, guffawing while scarfing down a tasty meal, strolling among refined gardens or indulging in nostalgia that this visit may be the last time we are all together…Those of us yet here, that is. If our oldest sibling, Marinell, could pass on sooner than expected–a sister so kind and capable, lively and eager to enjoy another day until she became rapidly, critically ill– we have to realistically accept that any of our troupe can also surprise us, one day stepping out the back door. We are trying to win this battle with a genetic tendency to falter and quit life due to heart ailments. But you cannot pull it off forever, likely–certainly not that exit from one world to another.
So I revel in our fewer times together–I, the last to be born, who felt a bit left behind at thirteen. They had all left for college in rapid succession. So I am yet the last one in line, still the one feeling: Hold on, stay longer,let’s make this gathering last and last. I am not ready to lose any other but then, we seldom if ever are. I am terribly grateful for all the family I was given.
Over the last three days our simple, satisfying pleasures were such that I decided to post a sampling here. There are a few pictures of my siblings but not one of us all together due to our varying schedules, with meetings shared as best we could manage.
Have you seen your siblings in a while? I entirely recommend it. Think you have some differences of opinion that may create a wedge? Overlook or ignore them. Nursing an ancient grudge from childhood or a new one that has not been managed well? I hope you find a way to rectify the situation or just determine to improve that ill will. There is nothing like a brother or sister with whom to share a meandering story, a delicious meal, a belly laugh and an encompassing, deeply familiar and loving hug.
So to begin. You can see I was happy and excited waiting by my dining table with with a favorite yellow tablecloth and slightly wild flowers. I always have flowers about if possible. I’m thinking: ten minutes til the first hugs!
We dined well on Thai take out as no, I do not cook much, anymore, and Marc declined due to being tired from business travel. He is not in this story as he flew out early the next day. (You might note that the left hand photo on the wall is brother Wayne’s; I believe it was taken on Santorini.) We caught up quite a lot, ate and later parted ways until the next day when we went to Washington Park for photographic explorations with more yakking.
Below is Mt. Hood rising regally beyond Portland from a viewpoint within our close-to-city-center Washington Park. It is a lush 410 acres of steeply wooded land and connects to our 5000 acre Forest Park in the urban area. It holds within it an array of delights including Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, a small train to ride and a forestry center and more.
We focused on the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden. Near the bottom is brother Wayne and me.
Following becoming half-drunk on 550 varieties of about 7000 rose plants’ wiles, their beauty and perfumes, we headed to the Japanese Garden, considered entirely authentic. I have posted many seasonal pictures of this garden. One of my favorite places in the city, I spent many hours there seeking refuge and solace (as did so many others) after 9/11. I very much value how it brings people together from around the world who visit our state. I continue to find it a healing place. High up above the city, the murmuring air and sweet green light imbues all. Enjoy a slideshow of some sights.
Below are pictures of my brother focusing on a shot as well as Wayne and Judy trying to capture the leisurely yet oddly elusive koi with their cameras. They were so exacting as they looked for shots while I am snapping away at everything that caught my continually sweeping vision. Sister Allanya was caught off guard but good-natured when I snapped her in the last frame. (Note the hat on Wayne.)
We had a delicious salmon dinner at Allanya’s and her partner’s house and enjoyed lots of talk of books we were reading, and odd or fabulous foods we’d eaten. Snake wine, anyone? (Per brother and his wife, they were not able to drink that one.) That night we also went to hear oldest brother Gary play with his band Kung Pao Chickens at Laurelthirst Public House. They play Gypsy jazz/swing/bossa nova and have recorded several albums. Couples were enthusiastically dancing to the swing music. We met a niece and her guy there. At 79, my brother remains a hard-working, very respected jazz musician around these parts. He plays multiple instruments and also sings the old jazz standards, the same ones I used to love to sing. We didn’t tell him in advance we were coming; he was very pleased and surprised to see us. (Note the hat on Gary.)
The next day we visited Matthews Memory Lane Motors, Inc. Why? All of us love classic cars! We had a blast oggling, oohing and aahing, then taking a few pictures. It was hard to get full body shots as they were packed in rather tightly. But here are a few; feast your eyes. I’ll take the black Thunderbird, please. Or maybe the Packard.
We later stopped by Gary’s place. I like the outdoor spaces as you step through french doors, onto a curving back deck and beyond where my brother has a music clubhouse and his lady, Annie, a wonderful painter and print maker, has a light-filled art studio. There was a busy, bobbing chicken scratching around out there, too, but I failed to nab her portrait before she hid.
We ate a last shared meal dinner at Cafe Mingo, a fine Italian restaurant, and then it was finally farewell. My brother and sister-in-law were off to a photography workshop for five days in the State of Washington. Following that they are making their way through at least two more national parks before heading home. Altogether, I think it will be a 6-8 week road trip. Stout stuff they are made of, for certain but then, they’ve been to dozens of unfamiliar places, the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia and such.And have the photography files to prove it, which I love to peruse.
It was a happy visit, a good time had by each in our own ways. I am gratified that another year did not go by without my seeing all of us together again. I admire my siblings for all their accomplishments but mostly, I just love them (plus their spouses) simply because we are family. We are connected, no matter what.
Night was falling over the rooftops and a chill brushed her neck and spread a web of cold under her thin cotton shirt. It had been a long walk to the park but it was a longer way back. She had to skirt the edge of the neighborhood either way but now she had to keep any eye out for Dell, her boyfriend. Or that’s what he called himself. He’d be looking for her; he wanted money. He was like a bloodhound; he always found her. But she needed to give the money to Granny Ella for the telephone. Grandpa Les needed orthotics. She could only work so many hours at the nail salon. It had been tough for a year since her grandfather had lost his job. But Jenna’s other work–the men, the dark, the sudden fear–that wasn’t so new. It had been like that one way or another a long time, and she had just turned twenty-three at 8:07 this morning.
Granny reminded her with a steaming mug of coffee and a giant cinnamon roll brought right to her bedroom on a wooden inlaid tray. Jenna was getting dressed for work, but she stopped to take a few bites, some sips.
“What do you think, Jenna? Getting your mother up in the middle of the night?And you coming so fast we barely had time to get dressed and say a prayer for smooth passage.” Granny laughed deep and long; it sounded like it came from all the way back to Jenna’s first day. “And then we waited and waited. You looked a little like a mewing kitten, all squinty eyes and little paws, so much hair on your pretty–well, we knew it would be!–head. Yes, and the rainstorm made everything look so good as we drove you home a couple days later, and the flowers started blossoming just for you. Decorated the whole neighborhood!”
Granny put her arms around Jenna. The soft bulk of her grandmother made her think of warm pillows. Jenna wanted to stay there and breathe her dusky rose scent. She didn’t know where it came from. Granny rarely wore perfume. But she smelled sweet, as though she wore a cape of warm red roses. Grandpa Les said it was because she had diabetes, that the sugar in her blood made her exhale sweetness. Jenna thought it was her heart breathing out into the world. She was that kind of person: sturdy and sweet.
Jenna would do anything for them. They had kept her with them since she was twelve. So she worked thirty-two hours at the salon and added to her income any way she could. She had worked two, three jobs at a time since sixteen until work got scarce.
Another way to make cash was to sell a few drugs, something she knew how to do by the time her mother disappeared. That ended when a detective came to her grandparents’ door. He took Jenna to the jail downtown where she was kept for seven hours despite the fact that she had nothing on her and he had not really seen anything. But they both knew what was going on and the whole ordeal cured her–she’d wondered if that had been the point. He had known her mother once, before she had taken a wrong turn, he’d said with a sneer.
But a third way was just selling herself, which was something one of the girls at the salon told her about, eyes averted. Then Dell showed up and Jenna thought, well, he had money and he had a good car and he knew what he wanted. What did she have? Would she ever have? A lousy story and barely enough to get by. But then it was too late to think about again. Every time Dell shoved her out the car door she turned her mind into a blank, a wall, a place where nothing happened and no one lived. Just like when she was a kid and the parties shook the house and her mother’s boyfriends smelled like whiskey and danger. It had all disappeared if she closed her eyes and thought about the starry sky outside her window. When she got a little older, she learned about the planets and thought of them, how beautiful they were and how far away. How she might live on one someday.
By now she had learned to make time stop. Nothing that mattered dared come near the corners of her mind. She had no name. She had no past or future until she took the money. And gave it to her grandparents when they needed it. They knew only that she worked too much, too many hours and Jenna agreed, but didn’t complain. They needed to know nothing. They had lived through enough.
The moon was shining. It’s light sliced across her path as she darted between cars, disappeared behind Carmen’s Coffee and the A and P, ran across the darker side streets. Jenna checked her watch: eight fifty-nine. Her grandparents would be looking out the window, worrying a little. They liked to know how she was at the end of a day when they didn’t see her, a quick check in. Tonight there would be no presents to open but they’d be waiting to share German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. And rainbow- colored candles. It was odd, how they still thought of her as a kid when she hadn’t felt one for longer than she could remember.
Jenna turned down the alley where all the garages were lined up behind the small, shabby houses. She could see Grandpa Les’ Chevy half-in, the red paint looking purple in the night. Her feet slowed down; she was almost there.
Dell’s hand grabbed her shoulder and it shook a scream out of her. The weight of his body dragged her down. She kicked until all the kick was gone and her back hit gravel. She saw the sky turn itself inside out and fall down around her. There was Dell’s grinning face right above her as he lifted his hand again. He smelled like good wine gone rotten. Jenna tried to push herself up from the ground but fell back. There were people barely visible behind Dell and he turned away from Jenna and stood up. They all got loud and the words split her head open, made her think of echoing canyons and each syllable felt like rocks falling on her head with alarming speed.
“Jenna, lay still!” Grandpa Les ordered. “I’m talking to Dell!”
Grandma Ella shuffled over and reached down to smooth her forehead. “There’s a girl, lie still, the police are coming, be good for grandma now, that’s my girl,” and her voice was water over wounds, strong but soft, clean and clear yet blurring the edges of everything. Jenna started to speak but the taste of roses stopped her. She put her hand to her mouth and pulled away a satiny petal.
“I’m so sorry, girl, the roses were for you, I had them in my hand when we heard you cry out. I hit him with the roses…stupid…they’re not much good now.”
Grandpa Les’ voice was the loudest Jenna had ever heard it. “If you put one foot on this property again you’re gonna make me use this rifle, boy!”
Dell let out a low cackle. “We’re in a public alley. You don’t know who you’re trying to save, anyway. You don’t know her at all! Have you ever wondered where she gets her extra money, old man? Do you think she can pay for your bills with nothing? She’s lucky to have me!”
Grandpa Les took a step forward and slowly raised his ancient hunting rifle level with Dell’s eyes. He spoke so quietly Jenna had to listen hard and it hurt.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll save your breath for the cops and judge. The whole neighborhood knows what you are and you took her where she never should’ve gone. You’re the sort that people cross the street to avoid, you know that? You think being poor is the worst thing? You need some powerful help. But your time with Jenna is done, you hear me? Finished.”
The neighbors had gathered one by one to see what Ella, Les and Jenna had going on and saw that they had their hands full, so they circled around Dell, arms looped and locked. Ella wiped a smear of blood off Jenna’s face and put the girl’s head on her wide lap. The police arrived, then the ambulance, flashing lights slipping over rapt faces. They put her on a gurney and Ella and Les gazed down at her. A dozen red, white, and yellow roses were laid on her chest and one unopened bud was placed in a pale curl at her ear. The EMT frowned.
“It’s her birthday,” Grandma Ella grumbled, and he shrugged.
Grandpa Les put his arm around his wife and pulled her close. “Girls who wear roses are the best ones, you know. We thought you were something wonderful long before you liked them.” He half-smiled sadly. “We’ll make up for things somehow. I was waiting to tell you I got a part-time job at the A and P. Yeah, your ole granddad’s not out of commission yet. That was the birthday present.” He pulled out his handkerchief and turned away.
Jenna tried to say that they’d had bad times before and gotten by. That she had made mistakes that would take a long time to get over. But before she could get it all out, Grandma Ella kissed her cheek. Jenna felt the roses warm up. Their scent filled the ambulance and made her dizzy but calm. She knew tomorrow would be terrible, a day of reckoning, with likely many more tough ones to come, but for now all the fear and regret flew away to the perfect beauty of the moon.