Tag Archives: outdoors

Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)

8 Aug

My house and yard

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” That’s what my mom would say when we pulled into the 208 Pennsylvania Avenue driveway–returning from Chicago, or camping in the Indiana Dunes or, more exotically, Mexico and Europe. It was Mom’s way of saying that was so much fun and NOW: back to real life. Landing in the Champaign-Urbana airport, I said the phrase under my breath with a question: Been away from home a long time, what will this be?  Last time I’d been to Central Illinois was five years ago– to attend a high school reunion, which I was doing again. Back in 1999,  I’d driven down from Chicago with Suz, a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. This time I was flying from LAX alone, and–needless to say–landing in the airport alone.

The last time I was in the Central Illinois airport alone was fifteen years ago. I was flying in to visit my mom, who’d not been feeling well. She said she’d be there to pick me up, but she wasn’t. And that was because, it turned out, she’d died. At home, in the kitchen. I found that out right here, when my mom’s friend Sherry called the airport information desk, trying to reach me:

reunion willard information deskI’m guessing the information desk staff  doesn’t too often have to deliver the kind of information that Sherry had for me, so they didn’t know what to do with me–sobbing and wailing and so forth. I didn’t know what to do with me. A nice woman put me in a back office, watched me shake,  gave me a glass of water. Then Sherry picked me up and explained that that afternoon she’d stopped by 208 Pennsylvania to say hello to my mother Audrey, and found her body; Audrey had had a heart attack. If Sherry hadn’t happened to stop by, I’d have been the one to find my mom. Sherry saved me from that. Fifteen years later I still grieve and feel some disbelief. Without  Goodbye, it’s hard to be convinced someone is really gone.

After landing, I made my way through the tiny deserted airport, trying to not remember. Friends were picking me up; they’d be there soon. But I got a text saying they were delayed. I didn’t want to wait even the half an hour that would bring their arrival. This is not an airport with cabs waiting outside. This is an airport with soybean fields waiting outside, the air sweet with manure and prairie grass, buzzing with locusts.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportI found the number of a cab company and called it; they said they’d  be there in twenty. I didn’t even want to wait that long. My eyes were already hot and brimming. Then another text: HOWIE AND SUE ARE ON THEIR WAY! These were other dear friends  driving down to reunion from Chicago. My original ride friends must have called Howie and Sue to see if they were close to the airport. Next text: KIR, HOLD ON, IT’S HOWIE AND SUE. WE’RE FIVE MINUTES AWAY. And then these dear people pulled up and we sped away. “You saved me!” I exclaimed. To Howie and Sue that might have seemed like overstatement,  but  I’m not known for understatement (Like mother, like daughter).

First stop was Timpone’s, a restaurant that’s been around for two decades at least. Here are some people I’ve known for a long time:

reunion dinner at Timpone'sYep, that’s Natasha, my Beverly Hills neighbor. . .what’s she doing there?! Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Natasha of my blog is Nicolle of my actual life. There’s a shocker.

Next stop, Bunny’s–a Dive bar, where Howie held court with the ladies.

reunion Howard, Laura, Sue, EdithAnd Sue and I held our own court. reunion me pointing finger at SueSue tolerates my dictatorial approach by laughing in my face. Works for both of us. We once spent a weekend at a Restore Yourself kind of spa where we smuggled in Fritos and vodka. But that’s another story.

I spent the night with Nicolle at her brother-in-law’s house. Rusty’s home is beautiful, his backyard is beautiful, and he’s starting a new life, bravely and beautifully. He and Howie and Sue and Nicolle and I had breakfast on his back porch. What’s with the hat, Howie?reunion Sue, Howard, Rusty on porchI felt incredibly peaceful. Later, I walked around town to remind myself where I came from. It didn’t take long. Here’s my photo poem, entitled, “Home Again, Home Again, Ode to Central Illinois”:

reunion silosreunion round barnreunion seaboat mac n cheeseAnd then, the final stanza of the poem, “208 Pennsylvania” where I lived for 18 years:reunion my house porchI walked up the driveway and snapped this shot of the porch. The bannisters were new,  but it looked like the same porch swing that my mom and I had sat on many a night, swinging slowly back and forth, our feet sliding on the planks of wood as we listened to the locusts whirring and considered the good, bad, and ugly in our lives.  A man came out the side door. I had sold him the house; he seemed to remember me. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Audrey’s daughter. Is that her swing?” “Yeah. It’s funny you are here tonight because we are replacing it tomorrow.”

Then I went back to Rusty’s house, and Nicolle and I prepped for the reunion dinner/ dance as if we were 14 again. Oh God, really?!  I’d like to think that the stakes weren’t like they were when we were 14 when we were desperately in need of confirmation that we were desirable and dateable. We’ve learned by now that neither of those categories matter as much  as we had thought. . .nevertheless, we primped. So much so, that we walked in late. We conformed to what one might say about Midwestern girls who move to L.A. and love glamour a little too much. (Oh well!)

The night was filled with nostalgia, hilarity, dancing, warm re-connections.  Best of all, it included my mom’s friend Sherry, who was being honored by our class, as she was also a teacher at Urbana High School for many years. This is me, Sherry, Suz:

reunion me, Sherry, Suz

And then the night got wild and crazy in the way that middle-aged Midwesterners  get crazy. Here’s my photo collage (REO Speedwagon as background):

reunion suz and Jeff at table, Mark and Matt behindreunion Jim, Tyke, Andyreunion Annette and Andysuz and Andy at Houlihan'sYeah, that guy with the lavender tie gets around, but he’s allowed to because he makes the whole reunion happen. Without Andy, there’d be about twenty of us wearing overalls sitting in a cornfield drinking moonshine and singing Kansas songs. Kudos, Andy!!! And Suz–well there’s a woman who has it all because she does it all: a doctor who is internationally known in her field, a great mother, wife, friend. (And she rocks the key lime dress like nobody’s business.) She and I share a birthday…once upon a time we had our 18th together and it went from a 35-person guest list to a turn out of well o ver a hundred. At 208 Pennsylvania. This didn’t go over well with my mom. But that’s another story.

I finally got back to Rusty’s house  at 4 am, feeling like a teenager except that I am SO not. The next day I spent with Sherry, driving around and seeing the sights, including a garden in Busey Woods, where my mom used to birdwatch. There is a bench commemorating her–Audrey Wasson Curley (middle column, about six names down.)

reunion mom's bench placard

Sherry told me that my mom would be proud of me. I don’t  know if that’s right, but it doesn’t matter because I loved hearing it from Sherry, whom I’ve known since I was ten. And back when I was a student in her Senior English class, Sherry said that my journal entries were fun to read. This is a woman I love and respect, and who sits on a couch with the elegance of Dorothy Parker.

reunion Sherry in hotel

Around noon, Sherry dropped me off at the airport, just as she’d once picked me up there. What goes around, comes around. This is a new phase, I thought.

So that, Dear Reader, is my recount of the recent return home. Framed by  a fifteen-year cycle of loss, reunion, and being alone in the airport of my prairie heart.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportJiggity jig.

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West, West, Wanting, Waiting, West

4 Feb

Arizona HighwaySeveral years ago I was told by a psychic that in a previous life I was a Navaho  woman living in the South West. Then the psychic identified Noah’s birthday, said that I would soon move someplace warm, and that a person named Casey, who worked with silver,  would be very important to me. Driving across New Mexico and into Arizona, Previous Life was Writ Large in the pre-historic structures around me.  Mile after mile of unearthly earth, the  rusty red shapes formed over two billion years ago seemed both fluid and ur-matter.  PlayDough of a divine force.

Truth be told, I wasn’t just thinking about geology on the drive between Amarillo and Albuquerque. I was also thinking about the flashing “E” on my dashboard.  E for “Eventually She Dies In the Desert.” Returning to my Navaho roots. Just as I was praying to God to show me the gas, Natasha called from Beverly Hills.   I described where I was, told her I felt like a horse with no name, but couldn’t remember the lyrics to that America song. “…Like a horse with no name/ It felt good to be out of the rain/In the desert you can remember your name/’cause there ain’t no one to give you no pain,” Natasha warbled.  “Ok, now sing “Running on Empty,” I demanded. “NO. Wait. Don’t. Sing that song about the oasis in the desert.” But she didn’t; she’d lost interest in singing me through New Mexico.

I did find gas shortly thereafter and just about peed my pants with joy; fortunately they had a bathroom at the “Flying J.” AND the bathroom had a scale that, for a quarter, would tell you your weight and fortune.  I hadn’t gained or lost weight, and the fortune read, “You will leave your past behind.” This was a fortune?  I was disappointed it didn’t say, ” you will leave your behind in the past,” but decided that what the fortune scale meant to say was “Great Things Ahead.” (“But won’t happen without gas, Moron.”)

Back out in the desert in  the Prius with no name, hurtling along at 80 miles an hour, I started to think again about history, and past lives.  This volcanic landscape was a palimpsest–centuries of American history and  millions of years of topographical goings-on, layers upon layer of drama and weather. And then, of course, I was back to me, my drama, and weather, the layers of regional history that were mine.

I fell in love with the South West almost twenty-five years ago. My mother treated me to a trip to Santa Fe right before I got married the first time.  It was March and pretty cold, but we swam in the heated pool, drank margaritas, and went to the amazing museum of Mexican art. (She liked Day of the Dead art before it was in available in every Target from Philadelphia to Seattle.) A last single-mom/single- daughter trip, or so we thought.  One night she drank a little too much gin and we had a nasty conversation that had to do with her loneliness, my immaturity, and both of our anxieties about my up-coming marriage. We were in a beautiful patio at an expensive restaurant, and just when our spat seemed likely to get ugly, Brian Dennehy showed up.  “Oh. My. God. Girl, look it’s Brian Dennehy. No. Wait. Don’t look now. NOW.” That ended our spat.  I wanted to matchmake; he would be perfect for her!  But instead we watched him chew steak, appreciating our detente.

The next time I was in the Southwest was with husband number two, in Sedona.  We hiked, swam in the pool, drank margaritas, and one night we had a fight that had to with my loneliness, his immaturity, and both of our anxieties about our marriage. Brian didn’t show up. The fight continued.

The next time, I came to Arizona alone. “In the desert you can remember your name ’cause there ain’t no one to give you no pain.” I treated myself to an appallingly expensive spa where I practiced yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, drank kale juice, and went to a workshop where a (different) psychic told me why my second husband and I couldn’t make it work, and then she spread out a fan of cards for me to choose. I picked, turned it over: SEEKER, it said. I remembered my name, yes indeed; then I went back to Ithaca where weather and drama ensued and I  forgot my name.

The fourth and most recent time I found myself in this rusty and redolent region was last summer. I spent my birthday in Santa Fe– with the genius.  My favorite weather:  hot, cloudless, arid. We spent the day looking for a cowboy hat for him.  He had a performance that night. He was brilliant. The next day, we drove to Albuquerque  where we fought about my loneliness and immaturity. We didn’t discuss anxieties about our relationship. But was probably the spooky subtext.

Present time: just as I was getting close to Albuquerque, it started to pour. A hard, dark rain. I was worn out from driving and thinking about my rocky (get it?) past. Noah called.

“Mom! Howareya? Whereareya?”

“Hey Honey, I shouldn’t be on the phone, it’s raining here and there’s traffic.”

Then, I kid you not, Dear Reader, there was a rainbow. Big fat mesmerizing arch right out of a children’s book. It stopped raining.  I stayed on the phone, listening  to Noah chew on some ups and downs transpiring  in his life in Sunnyside, Queens.  My boy, a world away, talked me into Albuquerque.  Both lonely, we.  Both a little immature.  He spoke in one of his goofy voices, a character we call “King,” who is ancient and wise and acts on pure Id. “Be Good, Kirsten,” said King, “Last time I was in Albuquerque I got arrested. It involved some bad men on horses.  And strippers, of COURSE strippers.”  We hung up and I made my way into a Hilton Garden Inn I’d spotted from the road. Hauling suitcase, gym bag, and two computers across the parking lot, I stopped when the late afternoon sun emerged from behind curtain of  clouds that were surging from one notion to another. My upturned face smiled back.

I had a salad delivered to my room, watched decorating shows, fell asleep by nine.  In the morning I heard the message  bing on my phone. It was 7. The message was from the genius. I hadn’t heard from him since October. It had a formal and apologetic tone, wishing me well on my journey west and wondering if we might sometime be in touch.  Albuquerque palimpsest, I thought, lying back in bed. What’s the writing on the wall, in the rocks, phone, airwaves? He was about to get on a cruise that last January we took together–he performing, me taken along for the ride. One night  he invented a story about ocean ghosts haunting our cabin: “Beware the sea spooks, my dear” he’d said. I loved that.

I drove out of Albuquerque feeling the dusty fingers of a few desert spooks. I’d responded to the message, saying it was not unwelcome. On the way to Flagstaff I drove through more miles of gorgeous western space: humps and lumps and arches and naves of a world built by heavy-handed giants. BELIEVE IN AMERICA pronounced a billboard. “I do! I do! ” I sang out. A commentator on the radio was saying “Just stop reading the New York Times!” “I will, I will, ” I shouted.

“You will leave your past behind.” We’ll see about that: Loneliness and immaturity behind, ahead. Layers of forward, backward–heading West, a palimpsest. A person named Casey, works with silver?