Tuesday, October 26, 2010

80 and Climbing

Sense memory alerts us to the fact that we are in familiar surroundings. In Kentucky, the smell of the air is different from NYC. It's cleaner, crisper in the nostrils. I can almost smell the fall colors if that's possible. The smell of my parents’ house gives me an enormous sense of security. It's a feeling of safety, belonging. Maybe it comes from the sameness. The house where my parents live hasn't changed much over the years. They've painted, gotten new furniture, laid down some tile and new carpet, but essentially it's the same house. It's like putting on a comfortable old flannel shirt that shouldn't still be wearable, but is. It's got history and warmth.

For a week I was wrapped in that warm flannel of home. The length of time it's been since I've been able to spend a week there has been debated in my head, but a new jumping-off point has been set.

I arrived in Memphis on a Monday morning. It was slightly warmer than I was prepared for it to be. Not that I was wearing a winter coat mind you, but the jacket I needed upon departure from NYC was unnecessary and cumbersome in KY. My mom picked me up at the airport. Here's where the funny begins. She doesn't like to drive in traffic. At 8:45am, there honestly wasn't much traffic, but considering she was in a city as opposed to the small town where she lives; there was more traffic than she wanted. She was relying on her navigational system, "Matilda", to direct her home. Let's just say we heard the word "recalculating" three times more than Mom wanted to. I could tell she was nervous, so I did my best to keep an even tone to my voice. You might say I spoke smoothly to her like the child psychiatrist speaks to Sally on Mad Men. No sudden movements and no arch tones; nothing that would raise the blood pressure. It wasn't until we actually started heading North on US 51 that she relaxed, started to laugh and became the "Mom" that I had traveled home to see.

Honestly, after arriving in Arlington, there was a whole lotta relaxin' goin' on. I learned how to play Phase 10, a fantastic card game that I might need to own and incorporate into Family Dinner Sunday nights. I laughed so hard playing Phase 10. As the days progressed, and more people arrived, we added more players to each new game. The more players, the harder to win and funnier the experience.

Monday night I began reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to my niece at her request. We piled into her bed - she, her brother and I - and I did my best voice acting, building with intensity dictated by the action, as I read the first chapter. I'm not sure she finds it nearly as amusing as I when I try to give each character a distinct voice coated with a British accent. I just wanted to give her a unique experience that is distinctly me.

Tuesday night I discovered that AMC was running a marathon of Friday the 13th, which included parts 2, 3 and 4 (The Final Chapter). My sister and I knew we shouldn't watch them, but couldn't stop ourselves. We went downstairs to the basement at my parent’s house, a perfect place for safety in a tornado not for watching a slasher film. We had to go downstairs to protect the kids from the horrors of Jason and the possibility of turning out like the two of us. A jump, a scream, a laugh and a credit roll later, part 2 was over and part 3 was beginning. Less than 30 minutes into the film, we heard the door at the top of the stairs open. Our senses were on heightened alert. We were prepared for our dad and his former scare-tactic hijinks. There was nothing to fear though when the kids ran down the stairs. Thank goodness for DVR's and the ability to pause live television. The kids jumped on the bed. It was time for another chapter about Harry and his pals. I must say I enjoyed those moments immensely. Before we could jump under the covers though, my sister made us remove the bedspread and top sheet. It seems the dark, cool basement is the perfect hiding place for brown recluse spiders. Great! I could freak out watching a fictional killer on screen or freak out thinking about an eight-legged arachnid ready to bite my...whatever. There were no spiders. Whew! We climbed under the covers - sister, niece, nephew and I - and I began to read. Okay so here comes the part where I cracked my sister up and pissed my niece off. If you're not familiar with the British show Little Britain, I encourage you to check it out. If you do know Little Britain, then you know Marjorie Dawes and the Fat Fighters gang. While reading that night’s chapter, I innocently came upon the word crisps. I started saying it like Marjorie. It was like I had Tourette’s. I couldn't stop. I repeated it over and over. My sister and I were laughing so hard that I was crying. I tried to stop myself for my niece's sake. I controlled the laughter briefly and then I would just interject the word “crisps” into the current sentence. More laughter. Complete hee hawing. My niece by that point was telling me that there are no crisps in Harry Potter. That made me laugh even harder. I finally pulled myself together and finished the chapter. Then it was time for the two kids to go to bed. My sister returned to the basement after tucking them in and saying the nightly prayer. We pushed play on the paused television and sat back to enjoy a few thrills created by a mad man from Crystal Lake. We both realized how bad the acting is in those movies that scared us so as children. Even some of the falls were laughable. What I found interesting was how quickly the two of us burst into laughter after nearly jumping out of our skin at a forgotten "gotcha" moment and how easily we slept when once we would have had nightmares. Hey, I think we've grown up.

Wednesday night I did something I haven't done in more than 20 years; I hung out with friends from high school. It's been a long time since I've wanted to see anyone with whom I graduated. My high school experience wasn't the greatest and when I went away to college, I made more of an effort to not see people than to see them. Things are different now. I am more comfortable with myself. Through facebook, I have made an effort to reconnect with former classmates. I sat around the kitchen table at my friend Tracy's house with our friend Gina and had a ball. We talked about our lives as they are now. We talked about high school and people we went to school with. We inevitably got out our senior yearbook. It was amazing to revisit that life with the people who originally shared it with me. More laughter and lots of hugs and pictures ensued. I ended up spending 4 hours with these two old friends that are no longer just friends from my past, but friends in my present and future. It's amazing, as adults, what we can learn from, and give to, each other.

Thursday the family began to arrive for the main event, the raison d'etre. My only living grandparent, my mother's father, turned 80. That's a lot of life. The man has given us all more love and support over the years than we can possibly remember. We all descended upon Arlington, KY to celebrate his life. Aunts arrived cousins arrived. At one point there were four generations of people gathered - the oldest 80, the youngest 1. The branches of the family tree were filled, heavy and sagging with love; the roots solidly planted. That tree is my history, my family, my beginning. It’s incredibly satisfying to step back and gaze at the tree and see it’s beauty and it’s strength.

Thursday and Friday consisted of hanging out, eating, talking, laughing and more game playing. Friday night in particular, the cousins went to my sister's house and played a hot-potato-like game called Catch Phrase. It was so nice for my generation of cousins to steal away a moment and hang out together. The conversation was open, honest dialogue that can sometimes be hindered in the presence of our parents.

While Thursday was the actual birthday, Saturday was the celebration. My Granddaddy wanted Thanksgiving dinner. It seemed a fitting dinner as most of the family was present and his 80th was something to be thankful for. We had turkey, dressing, potato salad, Crowder peas with okra, macaroni & cheese, turnips, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, homemade bread and fruit salad. You would have sworn it was Thanksgiving Day had you not known it was October 23rd. After dinner, my niece and two cousins (all age 9) put on a magic show for my Granddaddy. My nephew (age 5) helped them out as "prop boy". As extremely funny as the magic show was, the show turned sentimental when the three little girls sang "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus. I fought back the tears. I felt them pool in my eyes but wouldn't let them roll down my cheeks. My Granddaddy's "climb" has been filled with all sorts of experiences; things that I may never know. Those three little 9-year-old girls didn't realize how perfect and poignant their song choice was. They had no idea how touching that moment was for all of us.

When the sound Happy Birthday had faded and the taste of the birthday cake was a memory, my cousins and I moved outside to sit around a bonfire. It was a beautiful night boasting a full moon. The clouds that blew across the moon gave the impression that the moon was moving. There was music playing and a sense of peace as we watched the fire burn, existing in a moment that ended all too quickly.

Sunday morning as I descended the stairs to the basement at my parent’s house, the familiar smell of home struck me. It made me smile. There is such a comfort being at Mom's house. The trip brought old friends back into my life and family members together again. New relationships were forged and confidences spoken. I made another step along my journey. I guess it is all about the climb.