Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Formal Feeling

We got home yesterday from a trip to Colorado, where we spent nearly every moment surrounded by family, wonderful and exhausting. Noah's siblings (he has five of them) flew in from Huntington Beach and Portland, the first time in years we were all in one place. Energy was high and a bit wild, even though we were there to mourn a death. Maybe because we were there to mourn a death. Noah and his older brother, Zach, cooked wonderful spicy Mexican food, carnitas and pickled onions, beans with chile sauce and tomatillo sauce, the younger sisters and Zach's wife Susie helped clean up, and Ayla and Indy, the only grandchildren, ran among us nearly feral yet looked after by all. We spent a lot of time sitting at restaurants and breweries, gathered around tables with Noah's grandfather who goes by the Czech word  Dédé (short vowels, not long), and Sonja's brothers and sister-in-law. We ate a lot, drank a lot, and laughed a lot, which seemed fine at the time but in retrospect, I worry if it was jarring to Sonja. I don't know. It's hard to know how to be.

In the few quiet moments, I wondered about what I would write here when I got back. The chaos and cajoling love of this family left me filled up and wrung out, both at once. A sort of primal state that saved little room for thought or reflection. It seems there is more that I should say, but I can't tell Scott and Sonja's story. I can only tell mine.

The day after the memorial service, I woke up in Sonja's guest bedroom and saw the morning light on the western mountains. The light was pink like a newborn and I felt very alive, and very happy to be here. I got my coffee and went back up to the window, where I sat on the floor and said a prayer for all the many people this death has left behind. Light a candle, bake a dish, there is so little we can do for the mourning. It was good to see those mountains again, even from Fort Collins where you can't see Mt. Evans or Pikes Peak or the eagle face of Long's. The words of Emily Dickinson dropped into my brain--after great pain, a formal feeling comes--. The sky was the same pink I'd see a few days later, from the airplane, traveling west to east, which, to quote Pam Houston poorly, any old star will tell you is the wrong way to go.  A gorgeous color, even though it was only a faded scarlet, which I'd watch dim to white flying over the curve of the earth with my head back, crying and missing everything, missing home.

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21st, 2013

Dear friends, my mother-in-law's husband, Scott, passed on Saturday night. He had been fighting cancer in his colon, liver, and spine for the last eleven months. We are very sad, especially for Scott's family and Noah's mother, Sonja, who had been married to Scott only about a year and a half and who was nothing less than head-over-heels in love.

We are flying out to Colorado tomorrow and will be gone for about a week.



Ayla and Indy at Scott and Sonja's wedding, July 2011

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bless My Heart

It has rained for six days, or five, or a hundred, and the earth is shipwrecked. I don't understand why the whole town doesn't just wash away, mudslide down the hill into South Carolina. The backyard is softer than the bottom of the sea. I am from Colorado, where if it rains for more than six minutes we call the police. Everyone is battening down their hatches for two inches of snow, and though it is predicted to clear overnight and be sunny tomorrow, there are rumors that school will be cancelled. What the hell tom-foolery is this? Truly I am a stranger in a strange land.

Bless my heart.

It doesn't happen often, but on more than one occasion since moving here to a state which seems happy to refer to itself as "North Cackalacky" (?), I have had moments where the universe goes quiet, all of it just backdrop, and, like a character in a movie, my own voice-over drops into my head and wonders: What the hell am I doing here? The thought arrives not in anger or despair, but pure wonder. I make choices every day that shape my life into what it is, and then I sit back and stare at it in awe. As if my life was not, in fact, created by my own hand. And perhaps it isn't.

Bless my heart.

Yesterday the rain cleared for a moment, and I put on my pink rainboots and went to tromp the great bayou that was once my backyard. Or the neighbor's property that abuts (ABUTS!) my backyard. We've rescued this dog who is part beagle and part racehorse. She rocketed around me, doing laps along the edges of the field. She used her doggy-snout to toss water into the air. Watching her play eased some of the low grade stress that wears constantly when living in a land so far from your own. It was something I didn't know to expect, the frustrations of all the little things: the inferior and thus infuriating grocery store, site of all my breakdowns, one mass symbol for every little strain about being a western woman in the south. There is a thing people do here that confounds me. They are polite to my face, helping me find the canola oil or refunding me the dollar-fifty that was supposed to come off my ice cream at the register, but didn't. But beneath that pleasant exterior, I get the distinct sense that no one has ever hated anyone as much as this smiling grocery store clerk hates me. They seethe quietly while speaking in pleasant tones. I was not prepared for this. In the west, people are usually either genuinely friendly or genuinely hateful. There are few pretenses at either. This is what I will call the "bless your heart" mentality. Upon moving here, our friends asked those native to Dixie about the rumors we had heard--that people might say one thing but not actually mean it. That the famous phrase is a insult, sort of. Every southerner I heard being asked about it swore up and down it wasn't true. They shook their heads and widened their eyes, promised it was sincere, and I believed them.

Bless my heart.

During that brief break from the rain, I watched Georgia (we're changing her name to Georgia) and thought: six months. That is how long I can live in a place before wishing to move on to someplace else. Even though I love it here, I know here now. I'm sorry to say it, really. I exhaust even myself. Then Georgia (née Ginger) leaped into the bushes and smoked out an entire flock of eastern blue birds, who flew like scattered precious stones up toward the low gray sky. I've never seen so many rainbow-hued things in one single place. For a moment I believed maybe it wasn't going to rain forever. You don't know this because I haven't told you, but blue birds are my own personal emblem of hope.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


 photo courtesy of Oskar Blues Brevard on instagram

Last night was the culmination of the labor of more than half a year.

I dropped the girls off with some of our heroic friends, put on a black dress, and joined my husband at the brewery just as he was getting off work and the place was beginning to fill with the first of over 1,200 revelers who had scored tickets to the sold-out event. The first time we saw the building, it was a truss manufacturing plant. Since July we'd seen it empty down to a lifeless shell, and then, within the last six weeks or so, begin to fill with shiny tanks and a canning system and kegging lines. A dusty, concrete mezzanine had been transformed to a packed and hopping tap room, with a beautiful curved bar, booths, and a racecar hood with the Oskar Blues Thunderbird on it. It was decorated and lively with Christmas lights and silver ball ornaments hanging from the lights. Noah took my hand and led me up to the bar and introduced me to the women working the taproom in vintage red dresses. I got my first taste of Brevard-brewed, husband-brewed beer and we stood along the railing, looking down on a stage where a local bluegrass band played and what seemed like all of Brevard, including many of our new, dear friends, drank and cheered and danced below us. The whole OB crew was there--the three other families who moved out from Colorado with us and many people from the Longmont location. We posed for pictures and hugged our new friends and shared relieved beers with our old ones, looking around at the throbbing, growing crowd with wonder.

It was so much work to get there. Noah and his coworkers have worked exhaustive hours for weeks upon weeks, hitting and overcoming nearly every bump imaginable. These weeks have been trying for me too, home alone with the tireless daughters day after day, away from my family and my home, missing my husband so very much. We cut a Christmas tree while Noah worked, and hung it with lights. While he worked, we baked cookies and made ornaments. While he worked, I shopped for gifts and went to the post office and bought wrapping paper, often not seeing him for days at a time. A time I would not have survived without the help and friendship of the many people we have met in Brevard. Months, and then suddenly this: the end of the deepest challenges in sight, the firepits and food trucks and everybody in glitter and suspenders reveling in a finished, running, working brewery.

After a count down and kiss, we got home around 1:30 am and the doggie we are fostering was chirping in her crate. I put the leash on her and, in my boots, walked like a prowler across our neighbor's backyard, down the hill on the soft earth, to the place where there are trees and a wide dormant cornfield and a nearby creek, and we could hear the creek telling secrets in the darkness. There was a veil of spotted clouds stretched in the sky, and they raced with velocity across the moon, or maybe the moon flew swiftly through the sky without getting anywhere at all. Then the clouds broke and I turned up my face and felt the moonlight on my pale skin, a wild thing. My breath was in the air. All around us was darkness and corn husks and tall trees, but in the distance I could see my neighbor's porch lit up in the night like an old campfire meant to stay the shadows, and rising and falling over the creek were their voices, near and far away. To the east a long silent path stretched before us, blue and chill, but the dog didn't like it. So we walked on the places where our feet made stones shudder like shells. Everyone was sleeping. There was none but us in the world of frost and darkness, but we turned our noses up toward the moon and never felt afraid. The night aware it was new and everything around us, breathing softly with the untroubled huffs of the earth.

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