Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carpool Lane?

I ask myself Why on a Saturday? and Why in the middle of the afternoon? as I pry myself away from The Kid On the Lawnmower and The Overworked Husband and The Babysitting Teenager and The Newborn Puppymania and climb into the car. I am late and I do not want to go and I get in the car anyway, all by myself, because it’s the right thing to do. 
I call my dad one more time. Are you sure they’re still going to hold this thing in the rain? I ask, secretly hoping it’s been rescheduled. What? he asks, just slightly annoyed. “It’s pouring rain,” I say. “Well it’s sunny up here,” he replies. “Where are you?” I ask. “In Bountiful.” Oh my gosh, he’s already there. I don’t want him to know I’m just getting in my car.  I balance an onion bagel on my knee as I back down the driveway.  Because 62 miles sounds like a long way to go on no lunch. 
As I enter the freeway and pray for no construction today I try to push the leftover laundry and nagging, unmopped floors out of my head, to no avail. Outside, the storm clouds follow me. It’s like a race. Sometimes I can stay just ahead of the rain. Sometimes it catches up to me. 
I push the iPhone connector into its jack and Pandora defaults to Earth Wind and Fire. I’m not sure 70s funk is exactly the mood I’m in, but I’m whizzing down the freeway at breakneck speed, and not quite reckless enough to look for another station.  In minutes, without even realizing it, I’m singing my heart out to “September” (one of our favorites) and suddenly I see our whole family standing at the Hollywood Bowl, swaying and cheering and smiling and having the time of our lives as fireworks literally fill the sky overhead. It was a spur-of-the moment roadtrip last summer that ended up being one of our family’s favorite memories. I think of how Josh still texts me out of the blue to say, “Thanks for taking me on that roadtrip to see Earth Wind and Fire!”  --Something we did that was NOT a mistake! (yay!

I remind myself, Family is EVERYTHING! 
I can see downtown Salt Lake creeping up on my right, in the distance. On the hill behind Temple Square is the Capitol Building, where my grandpa worked. I think of how he walked home every single day so he could have lunch with his sweetheart, my Mrs. Santa Claus grandma. (Who wouldn’t?) Suddenly I’m reminded that it’s BECAUSE OF HER that I’m doing this, that I’m driving to far-off Bountiful to see the plaque erected in honor of her parents. I think about how she taught us in a million different ways that family is EVERYTHING! How this event would be her absolute top priority if she were still here. How happy she’d be that I’m going. Suddenly I’m flooded with tears. She would LOVE this reunion. The sun pops up from behind the clouds as if to underscore my thoughts, buoying me with a stronger sense of purpose.
I focus on the yellow lines in the center of the highway as the signs whiz by...I-80, Ogden, Beck Street. As I approach the park where the reunion takes place, the rain returns, streaking the windshield as the tears streak my face all the way to Bountiful. 

Oh my gosh, THIS is the park? These beautiful acres of lawn and trees in the center of the city, with a rec center and a pavilion and...my great-grandparents' fields and orchards provided this sanctuary.

The clouds are still heavy, the sky wet, and I slosh across the lawn under my polka-dot umbrella toward the picnic area where people are gathering. I see my first piano teacher, still so elegant...Dad's first cousin. Another of Dad's cousins, Jim, is there with his wife Betty, who has unforgettable deep blue eyes. I remember riding their horses in Heber when I was a kid. My aunt is setting up bushels of fresh peaches for centerpieces, old people are shuffling around, trying to get the sound system to work. (It doesn't.)  My dad is the youngest, but he is becoming one of the Old People. I am so proud of him. One cousin circulates platters of all the fresh fruits and vegetables our great-grandparents grew. Pieces of our family history. A beautiful gesture. We gather and sing as rain patters on the roof. What is happening here is, to steal some words from my friend Heather, both ordinary and extraordinary.

This whole thing is bigger than I am. Bigger than football practice and yardwork and chores. Bigger than a hundred Saturdays. Bigger than any of us realize. I feel eternity stretched out like the handstitched quilt on her old hand-carved oak bed, wrapping me in its linked-together pieces, simultaneously adding to and wiping away my tears. I feel HER, and all those linked to her. I feel as though I picked up my grandmother way back at that point along the freeway and carried her all the way to this reunion, this honoring-place, to be with the people she loves most. I am grateful she did not want me to go there alone.

This is me with my grandma. This photo appeared on the cover of the Salt Lake Tribune on Thanksgiving Day a long, long time ago. :)

This post is inspired by  Just Write, an exercise in free writing{Please see the details here.} 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I didn't chop her head off after all!

A few months ago my daughter committed a capital offense. She was on my computer one evening and logged onto my facebook account at the exact same moment as a notice appeared announcing my upcoming (gasp!)  30-year high school reunion. Oh, but it gets better than that! She REPLIED, masquerading AS ME, saying something along the lines of “That sounds great! I’m excited to see everyone, and I’d love to help on the committee. Here is all my contact info.” (not exaggerating!)  

So out of the blue I get an email from our class president thanking me for my offer to help, (what the...?) and could I please create the invitation and a memory page for people to fill out. I was stuck. I felt like I had to follow through. But I wasn’t very excited about it. My daughter is a social networking machine! I, on the other hand, am a little bit of an introvert. I’m great in front of a class full of college students, and pretty good one-on-one, but I’m miserable at small talk, and an event like this foreboded LOTS of uncomfortable small-talk.

Me in full uniform (my first pair of Nikes!)
As the date approached, my dread increased. To the point that I had a mini-breakdown one night and spilled my guts to my dear, long-suffering husband: Most of my friends graduated early, like I did. I was invisible in high school. No one would miss me. I wasn’t up to reliving any of it...the cliques, the drama, the awkward insecurity. Worse, I felt stifled in high school. I tried too hard to follow the unwritten rules, to blend in, so I ultimately felt like I sold my soul for a stupid pep club uniform. As soon as I got to college I was liberated. Freed from the shackles of superficiality. Reborn with the courage to be myself. Why would I want to go back? And yet I felt obligated...since I’d helped with the invitation and stuff. 
I realized I was falling into that old high school mentality. I was having a minor identity crisis over things that are completely shallow! Like worrying about the fact that I don't weigh 97 pounds any more. Instead of celebrating the fact that I've finally gained enough weight to have cleavage! The question, To go, or not to go? was sending me spiraling into a vortex. 
Finally the class president sent me another email: “I’m trying to get a final head count. Are you coming to the reunion? A lot of your friends are coming...blah, blah, blah.”  It was all I could do not to write back, “What friends?” But I stopped just short of that, and at 11:45 p.m. on the last possible date to RSVP, I sent back a simple Yes. I needed to confront my trepidation. Besides, it was the right thing to do.
Luckily, a great guy from my graduating class married one of my favorite people ever, and we decided to carpool to the reunion. So in addition to my handsome, hilarious husband, at least I’d have two friends there, I consoled myself. 

Then right before the reunion, as I was getting in the shower, I got the worst stomach cramps of my life. I was doubled over, feeling a little dizzy, and breaking into a cold sweat. I had visions of fainting right there in the shower and bumping my head on the glass door. I still don’t know if it was psychosomatic or pure coincidence. But it took me long enough to recover that we were nearly an hour late. 
That turned out to be perfect timing. Plenty of people were still arriving, and they hadn't started dinner yet. At first, standing in line at the registration table, I felt a little shell-shocked and still wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. Then the guy in front of us in line suddenly turned around and threw his arms around me. It was Geoff Lee, a guy I’d known since junior high, who had also worked with me at a regional magazine during college. I have to admit, I love the guy, he’s hilarious, and I’d missed him. 
The rest of the evening went pretty much like that...I kept running into people I hadn’t seen...or even thought about...in decades, and was completely surprised that they remembered me, were excited to see me. And *shocking revelation* I was genuinely thrilled to see them too--all of them. It was like rereading a favorite book, a classic, and rediscovering all your favorite characters, but with the added perspective maturity brings.
Something about three decades separating us from our high school years seemed to make all the difference. Three decades is long enough to humble us, let life knock us around a bit, make us appreciate each other in a new light. By this age, nearly everyone has lost a parent, a child, a spouse, or a sibling. Many had suffered through a divorce. Still others never married, or never had children. Life had leveled the playing-field and made us all kinder, wiser, deeper, stronger.
I realized I cared very deeply about these people. I loved them. I wanted to become a gatherer...find the ones who were lost, or chose not to come, and tell them, “Things are different now. It’s safe to come back. You’ll be amazed.”  Sure, some still had designer clothes, foreign sports cars, and looked like supermodels. But none of that seemed to matter. Instead there was an abundance of caring and sharing, hugging and mugging (for the camera), and a rare sense of unity. 
When I got home my teenage daughter actually complimented me on my outfit *small miracle* -- and then asked the big question -- “Aren’t you glad I signed you up?” I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I went, even glad I got involved...and I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

Me -- straight from my junior year East High yearbook.