The Sky is Falling

The air clears, something about the lightening of the horizon as the year changes, the skies shift under the tilt of the planet to the colder darker expanses of space. I feel a sense of anticipation, for cold kisses on my cheeks on long winter nights, for the shiver of the wind around the eaves. Here, I have to travel for the snow but I seek it out regardless.

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Roads on her Face #38: Grandpa

I did go visit him partly for self-serving purposes, partly because I might could write him onto a page and feel as if I understand him better, give him a more real place in my life and in my story. One visit won’t do that, of course, and so I will go visit him again. He’s 90, living now in a tiny town near the Arizona/Mexico border, a town with one restaurant and a fast-food joint and a whole hour from his VA hospital. I can easily imagine myself in his shoes, all alone and waiting to see which year of the next 10 will be his last. Which of these breaths will suddenly stop? I know how quickly I will be there looking back. I hope someone will visit me then, and I partly go to build up stock in my karma bank for when I’m old too.

But visiting him was a wealth of surprises and feelings, stories I’d never heard and someone else’s explanations for things that were wrong. The more explanations I hear the more I feel as if I could draw a thread out of all of them that would be closest to the true beginning of the cloth, the one true explanation woven of pieces of all explanations.

I remembered him as a smiling presence, a husky soft laugh like my dad’s, vague memories of him taking out his false teeth and clacking them at me, liquor on his breath and that ha, ha, ha; Grandma with her louder cackling laugh and smell of cigarettes, all of them laughing at these teeth and me looking at him with no expression the way I often did. I always liked him well enough.

I decided to visit Grandpa since I’m living close to him again, for a few years signed on to the ebb and flow of the desert, the way it brings me closer to the younger me, to the family we had that passed for nuclear, to the traveling and the moving of my dreams each night. To the empty howl of a train, the night sounds of crickets and whippoorwhils and the dark silhouettes of saguaros against brilliant jewel-toned Arizona sunsets. To what passes for home.

I called him once and got the answering machine, leaving him a message that I’d call him after work. “This is- this is your granddaughter. James’s daughter,” I said, picturing him knitting his brows on the other end and trying to pick out which of his 50 grandchildren this could be. When I called later that afternoon, he picked it up right away as if he’d been sitting beside it staring at it, willing his hearing aide to work.

Ahhh…2014, you snuck up on me. Plus, the real Safari Photo

So, ahem, yeah- what happened to this little blog of mine? I guess I have to get my ass in gear, kinda.

For your viewing pleasure is the actual photo from Roads on Her Face: The Safari Photo. Her very nice note on the back indicates that any of suspicions I had about her were most likely wrong. I mean, I AM usually the one making things up about other people.

Mom let me take it and scan it, barely- I think it’s one of her favorites. Note: Me, perpetually with a book in hand- and Soph with a fistful of dollars from somewhere.

SafariShot SafariNoteTo the Mountzes, if you’re out there- I hope you don’t mind me putting your name on the interwebs.

Love, Alanna

 

 

Roads on Her Face #37: A State of Being

Does it make any sense to speak of the road as a place, as a state of being? Long-haul truckers will recognize the feeling. Bus drivers recognize their office. The vagrants and vagabonds of the world know. It is a constant state of flux, of change passing outside the windows of your sealed-off little universe. It is the thrum of tires underneath you, the ticking of miles rolling through the odometer. The smell of gasoline, French fries, dirty clothes. A stiff, sore butt. It is the feeling that any second you can get back in the car and drive, to anywhere, for as long as you want. It is unmoored, exciting, and frightening. I feel complete ease only when driving somewhere, anywhere, my thoughts at their clearest and my emotions at their most known.

As a kid all you want is to be like everybody else, desperate to fit in and be accepted. I would imagine other families, my face pressed close to the glass of a car window as we passed some evening, the red sun sinking behind skylines of cities that we wouldn’t remember.

The people in those families, pulling up chairs around a dinner table, everyone’s rooms waiting for them after they ate. These unknown people with their normal lives, with friends and phones and parents with a plan. My parents’ planning involved maybe knowing where we would stop for the night, and a rough sketch for the next couple of days. The man with the plan, had a plan to have no plan. Planning was for dipshits, for all these sheep. He wanted to be the wolf among them. Momma’s plan was to take care of her children, to keep them fed and hope they might have some kind of life when all of this was done. Because she knew, somewhere down the line, it would be done.

Roads on Her Face #36: The Safari Photo

There is a photo that sits, dusty and generally unnoticed , over my mom’s bed next to mementos of her travels and souvenirs brought back from mine and others, family photos, and “art” pieces made by her children out of clay or popsicle sticks over the years. It’s the cover of a pre-made greeting card, and there’s a note inside from the photographer saying she had enjoyed meeting us. We had few visitors at Jim’s Place in the desert outside of Parker, Arizona, and when I try to imagine what they thought when they arrived I smile. Did Jim and Bobbi Jo bring friends out there to show us off, like a circus attraction? Did they prove their generosity by parading the family of vagrants they had living on their desert land, marvel at our hard life and self-sufficiency? I don’t know. I know this woman who took the photo was moved by us, these hardscrabble little desert rat children in the middle of the punishing heat of the Mojave. We are in a posed group, the four of us, on white plastic chairs or standing. We look scruffy, and so very young. My sister, the youngest, must have been 2 or 3. We wear torn and dirty thrift store clothes, and at least one of the boys wears a once-white baseball cap with the velcroed-on shade flap for the back of his neck, patented by my mother’s brother as one of his frequent get-rich-quick schemes that never quite panned out. Our smiles are shy but proud, as if we never considered that others would look at us as people to pity.
I don’t even remember if the woman and her husband were friends of the landowners or people who happened to be driving by. We could hear vehicles coming almost as soon as they pulled off the highway onto the dirt road, 40 miles away. It was a hum in the air, a faint change in the atmosphere before we could hear the sound clearly. The county road was about ¾ of a mile from our trailer. We could be at the turnoff to Jim’s Place to meet visitors long before a vehicle traversed the miles from pavement. Did Dad sit out there with a chair and a beer, creating a figure that the curious would have to stop to inspect? Or did he meet them in Parker at a bar or the convenience store? I’ll ask my mother, and see how her memory as an adult differs from my perspective as a child. I will ask her if she was embarrassed for people to see her this way, if she worried that others might think she wasn’t caring for her children properly. She kept us as clean as you can keep active kids in the dirt of the desert, kept us clothed and fed and healthy. But she’d lived in “normal” society, in a house with two working parents in a neighborhood in a town where others watched how you behaved, judged you by how you dressed. She must have felt a kind of shame knowing how others might think of her. If not how other perceived how she cared for her children, did she consider what they thought about why she put up with the domineering treatment of the man she’d chosen to share her life with? It was apparent even to strangers that my mother was a second-class citizen and not a partner, blatant in Dad’s gruff commands to fetch him a beer, in the way he talked down to her and told rather than discussed.
I imagine this stranger with her clean clothes and fancy camera asking to take our picture, and us gathering around as if it were a fun occasion instead of a wildlife safari opportunity. I’m sure she was a mother, and tenderly gathering this trophy as a vacation highlight instead of as a hunter of photos of the disadvantaged. I myself, now, from the comfort of my middle-class life, would have taken the same photo of us or of children in Africa with flies at the corners of their eyes.

Mom Speaks: About Her Boyfriends

Where were we? Talking about your boyfriends.

Gene Benton from first grade.

Go ahead, talk about Gene.

Oh..it. It was first grade boyfriend. Laughs. What is there to say?

I don’t know what that is. I never had a first grade boyfriend.

Well, it’s just, you know…it was just a title. First grade boyfriend. Wasn’t anything to it. Let’s see- I think I got my first halfway serious boyfriend in sixth grade. His name was Mark Faulkner, and his best friend Buddy Aldridge, was my next boyfriend and I ended up marrying him right out of my second year of college. I stayed married for about a year and a half, and of course I was 18 when I got married, so we just grew apart. We were just kids.

Were you guys married from sixth grade, or?

Umm…no, I had a black boyfriend in between that time. Laughs again..

What was his name?

Joseph Hipp.

How did that happen?

It, just I was being rebellious. We had just integrated school in about the eighth grade, and some of the girls were interested in some of the black guys. So I just got involved with some of those girls, and they got me involved with a black boy, and that didn’t go over very well cuz then the whole town found out about it. The principal said I was “struck down in the prime of my life.” Laughter.

Wow. Who was the principal?

Old…white-haired man. I can see him. Uh…Mr Baloo. Yeah! His name was Mr Baloo.

Did he tell you that, that you were struck down?

Yeah. Yeah. It was the day that everyone (interrupted) that the whole school found out, because the, the black boy that I was going out with, his sister was pissed off at one of the other white girls cuz she was going out with her boyfriend. So she told the whole school and it was a huge deal so the principal took a couple of us girls home, during school that day, to get us out of there I guess.