Remembering

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Me and my best love, our drive west and the Mini packed tight. We had seven suitcases, three tote bags, one duffel bag, one milk crate, one Vitamix (nestled between us in the arm rest!), one computer monitor, one fire extinguisher, and one gallon of laundry detergent! The heavy burden made our car 10 miles per gallon less efficient and injured my right arm so terribly that I could not move it AT ALL for three days. Oof. But boy howdy, was it worth it! We are home. And what a marvelous drive we had, missing every bit of bad weather. We saw not one snowflake nor rain drop fall, and were treated to some of the most gorgeous landscapes America has on offer. My love for this great country has been galvanized further still, yes ma’am.

And the little white house, off of Sangamon Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, is where my Grandma Tess was born and my Great Aunt Mary lived until she was well into her seventies. Two adults, eight children, and who knows how many pets made their home in this wee two bedroom one bath. By some great stroke of luck, the current owner was sweeping the porch when we pulled up, and I asked him if we could go inside. He kindly obliged, and we spent the better part of the next hour sharing stories. Sadly for me, but great for the house, it is under renovation, with plastic and tarps obscuring the majority of the space. Thankfully, there was enough exposed to get a feel for it and my Grandma’s spirit in it, to see relatives I’ve only known in pictures puttering about, gazing out the window while washing a dish. Part of me is there now, too.

And Lincoln! It’s turned out to be quite a year for Colleen, Greg, and good ole Abraham. Gettysburg and Springfield – the train station from which he made many journeys and his final return, his law office, the old state capitol building where he worked, just one of many bronze monuments. And his crypt, which, wow, and hmmm, what to say? Evocative. If you have never been, go. Just go.

It was a sleepy New Year’s Eve, with us full up on sentimentality and hypnotized by a murmuration swirling about the capitol dome (that bit that looks like a smudge). The beat of wings the only sound we heard.

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Today, this 30th day of December, is our last in Pittsburgh. The house is sold, quiet, and for a short spell, empty. Our car is packed to the gills and ready to roll along home to Colorado. Colorado, where we were born and raised, landlocked anchor to our drifting hearts.

When we are far greyer than we are now, and reminiscing about our life, we’ll gaze at each other and say, “Do you remember that year we lived in Pennsylvania?” We’ll wonder aloud if maybe it was a wild shared dream, the two of us living in what our friends called the mansion, a century-old beauty of red brick, chock full of gleaming wood, stained glass, four fireplaces, and three stories, the top most we rarely visited, save to gaze upon and photograph the sky.

We will, always and forever, be glad for our choice, to have been courageous enough to pick up sticks and live on the other side of the continent and known yet another part of America: the undulating hills, hardwood forests, ravines and deep river valleys; the diversity, having come from the whitest city of Portland; the kind faces of generations of poverty and souls broken by back-breaking labor, giving all they had; the vast brick mansions, museums, and every last vestige of the steel age; the wretched air pollution and ridiculously high property taxes that buy virtually nothing ($7,200 on a $200,000 house!); the road trips to places we had longed to see: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, the New York and Quebec countryside.

We will smile, conjuring the streets of Bellevue: the kids of all ages at the skate park, the fabulous library, the lights at holiday time; the pitch perfect weather and four gloriously distinct seasons; the new vocabulary and that crazy Pittsburgh accent, how we drove sahth on the parkway with a bunch of nebby jagoffs to go aht dahntahn, bought groceries at the Giant Iggle, and watched the STLRS play.

We will remember surviving and thriving during a year of massive grief and wonder: a mother with breast cancer, a cousin with a cancerous brain tumor, a soul broken enough to attempt suicide, the sorrowful loss of our beloved cats and our two grandmothers; the quiet evenings of summer, lying, jubilant and awestruck, under a sky alive and shimmering with fireflies; the hills ablaze with the dazzling colors of fall; having walked and driven, mile after mile, eager and curious, to big places and small spaces, forests and towns, and gotten lost, lost, lost.

We will be glad to have learned more of our own selves, the roots we never knew we had: how living in and amongst the rolling hills and winding roads of Appalachia drove us absolutely mad, and flat cities with grid systems make us as giddy as children with a secret; how we found a gaping hole in our collective soul, one that could only be filled with the nearness of our aging family and the dreamy-big skies, sage scrubland and open spaces, and mountains, giants snow-capped and cloaked in evergreen, of the West; how there was simply no substitute for being T H E R E.

Most of all, we will be grateful to have such marvelously generous and big-hearted Pittsburgh friends: Peggy. Mike. Kristen. Patrick. Dale. Therese. Dan. Janet (times two!). Ron. Megan. Tricia. Jonathan. Andrew. Kelly. Beth. Peter. George. Jordan. Rose. The beautiful women of the Non-Native Pittsburgher Women’s Social Meetup. The Sisters at Bethany House. The creative men and women of my Writer’s Group. The kindly businessmen and women of Bellevue. The cashiers at the Whole Foods in Wexford. To all, we give our love and sincerest thanks.

It was a great and wonderful year. Here’s to an even better 2016!

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Today is my Grandma’s birthday. I am dancing to Motown and baking Biscochitos, some of her favorite cookies, in between great belly laughs at our shared memories and hearty sobs that she is not alive. Since I cannot call her to say Happy Birthday and am glad she was born, I talk to her in my head. I tell her that I miss her and that I love these pictures, that they capture her spirit and make me glad to have known her for so long. I tell her that I am well and the hubster, too. The neighbors put up their holiday lights, and the block looks so pretty. I tell her that it is raining, and November in Pittsburgh was the warmest since the Hoover Administration. I wonder, how old were you then? A teenager, maybe? Oh, and I’m trying something a little different with the cookies. Hopefully they’ll turn out the way I am anticipating. I’ll let you know. I love you, Grandma. Have a great day…

We got up early Sunday morning, before the sun, but not because we were pressed for time. Despite walking for more than four hours on Saturday, and going to sleep late, we’d had enough rest. A luxury. To be away from the million and one needful things that mire us at home to a million and one possibilities, what to do next? As is often the case, we chose art and nature.

This is Griffis Sculpture Park, more than 250 sculptures tucked away on 450 acres of parkland. It is art, in large part, that has to be earned, via curving backroads, pathways snarled with tree roots and rocks and twigs, up grassy slopes and under tree branches, a glimpse across a pond or a massive field of goldenrod, positively alive and singing with bees, crickets, cicadas, too.

It was a fine end to the weekend, and it got me thinking, about luxury and choices and how we arrive where we are. Our airbnb was beautifully utilitarian, with chipped edges, cracked tops, and strategically placed objects hiding all the worn out places. And yet, it was perfect and ever so lovely, not only for the inventiveness of our host’s decorating choices, we need not toss the imperfect aside, but for the fact that every comfort was considered. A fan next to the bed, nicely scented toiletries, a fantastic cast iron frying pan, a sweet kettle, boxes of tea, tins of coffee, a fine coffee pot, beautiful pottery from which to sip. Then there was the thoughtfully curated collection of books and art (many painted by our host), ever so much lining the walls. We don’t need new and shiny to feel luxury. We need love and care.

When we lived in Portland and had owned our Subaru wagon for more than a decade, friends kept asking us when we were going to replace it. It’s so old! Scratched! Dinged! But, we argued, it was a great color, long paid for, ran beautifully, and got great gas mileage. And, without a car payment, we had more money to spend on what matters to us, like travel.

The hubster and I are often gently reprimanded or told “it must be nice” to travel so frequently, and, to be quite honest, it really, really is. That being said, we’ve earned it! We save like the dickens and forgo a lot of expenses that many people deem necessary. We don’t have cable (but do have Netflix); own one car; don’t get manicures, pedicures, or color our hair (never have, and it’s getting very grey up there!); have a pay for what we use phone plan; don’t eat out a lot; don’t drink a lot (but it’s still plenty); and the biggest of all, chose not to have children. None of this feels burdensome or sacrificial, either. It feels right and good and perfect, actually. But if you start tallying expenses, say just for cable, even a cheap plan can run about $600 a year. That’s two weekends of travel for us, one if were splurging. It adds up!

Maybe it’s the fact that though I grew up poor, I rarely felt it. I never had a lot, but I always had enough. I kept clean (a bath every three days, whether I needed it or not!), had dolls and stuffed animals and a near-infinite collection of library books to keep me company, a tidy room, great food, a park to play in, and friends nearby. Yet there were people in my same position and even some who were better off who were perennially sullen and angry characters, cheated by their lot. They were constantly embarrassed, by their parents, their cars, the houses they lived in, their clothes, their shoes, all they did not possess. It was a terrible poverty of mind.

It never made sense to me, and it still doesn’t because I am of the mind that I’ve got the whole world, and if I don’t embrace it, I will never have more.

 

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