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Day 16 (July 25)
These three objects dangle from the review mirror of my grey Camry. They’re wound tightly around the mirror, rigged up with spare pieces of twine. In most areas of my life, including car decor, my priority is not finesse or refinement. Usually I forget about them but sometimes the twine gets extra twisted and they clang together when I take a turn a little too hard. And I see them again.
These three items have hung in my car for years. Facebook photos show them present in my move from Portland to Waco four years ago, but no sign of them in the my darling crumpled red station wagon Hugo (RIP 1997-2012). So, I must have hung them when I got the Camry.
I keep them because I think they look cool, but they also reflect things about me that I like, that I deem important or even critical to who I am or who I wish I were or who I hope to be.
On top is a silver coin stamped with two alligators. A one kina coin, leftover from my brief time in Papua New Guinea. It reminds me of a time when I was brave, bold, and strong, telling stories in the tropics with strangers while surrounded by friends and artists.
Beneath that is a shell, broken beautifully. I found it in Siesta Key, the beach of my childhood, where I learned how to love the ocean and how to just be. The shell reminds me of softness, warmth, and rest, and the importance of all three as modeled by my family. (I’m headed again to that beach soon, actually.)
The final object is a medal of St. John, the patron saint of loyalty, friendship, and authors, and the guy who articulated the mystery of the Word so wonderfully. I picked up the medal at the oldest church in Albuquerque after presenting at my first academic conference. It reminds me of so many things: the calling I was created for and also chose, my hodgepodge way of faith, and the importance of asking for help.
I have a strong tendency to make so much out of so little. And yet, surrounding myself with reminders of who I am (and long to be) reminds me to keep cultivating those aspects of myself that I hope will become ever brighter with each passing year. Bravery, stories, friendship, warmth, rest, calling, faith, words.
Day 17 (July 26)
This is the view from my Omi’s new home. She has the prime location: lake view, corner apartment, exterior door, small sitting area surrounded by potted flowers. Every morning she walks twice around the lake, except recently, when the humidity and heat get the better of her.
When she shuffles down the hallway, she greets everyone she passes with a bright “Good morning!” She goes with friends to dinner and exercise and bingo. She won last week, five whole dollars, and my cousin says she gave it all away.
My Omi tells me how proud she is of me, getting my doctorate. She doesn’t really understand what that means. She asked if it meant I’d get a higher salary; I said I really hope so. When I told her I had three years left, she exclaimed, “Can’t you finish it sooner?” She couldn’t help but ask three separate times if I had a special man in my life. Omi means well; she wants me to be happy and secure, which means a stable family. There’s no way to tell her that my career is that happiness and security for me right now.
I hadn’t seen my grandmother since my brother’s wedding three years ago. I live so far from her, and I live the life of a perpetual student, constantly counting pennies. I wish I could go to bingo with her every once in a while. I wish she knew me better. I wish I knew her better.
She’s getting older, my Omi is, and I’m so glad she has this view every morning. It’s the view I would want. I’m glad she has friends, activities, a community. I’m glad my cousins visit her and take her to concerts. I’m glad she’s living life well in her eighth decade, after a life of difficulty and loss: losing her parents as a child, living in Germany during the war, moving to America, learning English, raising her boys, watching the memory of her husband (my Opi) disappear, burying her husband, the ailments of growing old.
After the life she’s lived and what she’s lost and how she’s survived, my Omi deserves to look out every morning on such beauty.
Day 18 (July 27)
This photo is hanging in my Omi’s apartment. I just love everything about it. The suits, the hair, the glasses. Even the tint of the photo. We all have our pasts, and this photographic evidence of my uncles and father is just too wonderful to bypass.
I also love that when I look at my teenaged dad in this photo, resplendent in his khaki suit, I can see my brother. For years, people have said that my father and brother look alike, and I didn’t disagree. But in this photo, I can really see my brother in the face of my father.
Tonight I sat in my parents’ room under a huge pastel painting of palm trees as they recounted extended family lore, stories I had heard and forgotten. The uncles who served in Vietnam. Uncle Adolf’s long hair and motorcycle. Dad and Ralf’s pranks on their cousin Walt. Omi’s relationship with her sister-in-law Frieda, who eventually married my mom’s grandfather (I know, it’s weird, my parents are technically related. They don’t remember meeting at the wedding as teens, which my mother says is a blessing.) We are a family of entrepreneurs and teachers, with a few preachers and mechanics thrown in there.
The stories shifted, to my delight, to lore of my babyhood and childhood illness, and I listened to the tales of me, before I was me, but more so the tales of my parents as young adults, younger than I am now. I was a wily little kid who did not suffer fools, like the doctor who teasingly stole my pacifier. I come by these forehead frown crevasses honestly.
While they talked, I thought of dinner the night before where I sat at the “kids table” and talked to my cousins. I remember them as children, babies really, back when we all lived in the Midwest, an 8 hour drive from each other. And now they’re basically grown, delightful, funny, smart, kind. I envy those who get to see their cousins on a regular basis, but the fact I see mine so rarely means I snapshot these moments and hide them away. I try to remember.
We’re making our own lore, the next generation of tales, of who did and is doing what and with whom and where. The family stories continue.
Day 19 (July 28)
Today, my mom handed me a flash drive and said, “happy birthday.” On it was a hundred or so photos of me throughout the years: with siblings, at the beach, in a hospital bed. No year was left undocumented, including those awkward chubby years of which I seemed to have extra. Spoiler: I have always been this adorable.
Of course, stories abounded. My favorite ones, though, were my parents’ recounting of their “courtship” over 35 years ago. My dad was paid to drive a bunch of girls to church. One Sunday, he suavely announced to the car that one of them could be his future wife. In response, my mother started to make retching noises in the backseat.
Ah, the beginnings of love.
My mom was weird and hesitant; my dad was persuasive and charismatic. She knew she was going to marry him long before he told her she was going to. (My dad’s come a long way in the humility department…).
Look how cute they are in this picture, wearing pastel tanks and overalls, sporting 80s glasses, both younger than I am now. New parents, with an infant a few months into cancer treatment. I imagine a lot of time in hospitals makes you humble and mature pretty quick.
I’m reading a YA novel about two Indian-American kids who have two very different ideas about love and marriage, and I’m reminded how much of our ideas of partnership are shaped by our parents and the type of relationship they have and show to others. We formulate what we want for our lives in response.
I’ve been raised by the best. They love each other in the most ridiculous, most persistent way. They love their kids that way too. As such, my bar for a potential life partner is quite high, and so I haven’t been much interested in any fellas that didn’t seem up to that standard.
It was good to be told, then, of what an idiot my dad was, and how opposed my mom was, and how they fell in love despite college boy bravado and college girl eye-rolling. And be reminded how tragedy and terror can make you both softer and stronger, individually and together.
They are, as the kids say, relationship goals.
Day 20 (July 29)
This is not an original photo, if you were wondering. I did not stumble across Martin Sheen and John Spencer laughing on the lawn of the White House circa 1999 in the midst of my family vacation in Florida. I have no such magic, though I love this photo and have used it to represent key friendships of my own.
My parents and I started rewatching the West Wing. They haven’t seen it since it was on the air nearly 20 years ago, which I can’t fathom since I’ve basically been rewatching it repeatedly for the last 5 years straight.
Watching the show now is like reconnecting with old friends who always make the same jokes and go on the same tirades, but you just chuckle anyway. So, basically, like my real friends, but with more definite story arcs.
The show is dated in many ways: the computers are massive, as are the suits; the news cycle is still based in newspapers and press releases; diversity is addressed at points but not enacted; and the view of the presidency is vastly different than it is at present. The show is also not perfect. Its idealism can be saccharine, especially if the music swells too noticeably. The men on the show are often cads. The show’s political leanings are clear, even as it frequently tries to show both sides.
But the show is clever and loving. The patter is rapid, smart, and funny. The relationships depicted on the show are loyal and steadfast, and I am drawn to the idea of a strong and moral leader who enjoys and respects words and has a sense of humor. I like seeing people bound together by and working for what they believe in, but willing to listen to the other side. Perhaps it’s idealism, at least in contemporary politics, but that’s why I watch the West Wing.
My best friend has a signed photo and a rosary from Martin Sheen himself, which is a whole other story. When I saw them for the first time, I truly almost cried. I did hug them both. I know it’s silly, he’s just an actor, but damn if that note he sent wasn’t one of the most beautiful, kind, presidential things I’ve seen.
Bartlet for America ’til I die.
(P.S. If you’re a WW fan, you’ve got to listen to the podcast The West Wing Weekly. It is top-notch. 🛫)