Thursday, September 10, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Mirth (Part Two)

It has been a largely unbloggable week here as we deal with the "joys" of farm refinancing. To remind myself of life's more celebratory aspects, I'm taking some time to chronicle our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Another awake-at-five morning, after which we struggled (successfully) to fall back asleep. Two hours later, we were awakened by the sound of a door shutting, a dog barking, and a car engine starting...ohmygosh! Mom & Dad had left for the ferry without telling us! We knew they had to leave early, as Mom had taken on the triple tasks of flower-grower, flower-courier, and flower arranger for my big brother's wedding. The need to keep the flowers cool and minimally stressed required an early-morning travel schedule from the island down to Portland, Oregon.
A call to my Dad's cell-phone eased my worries. Unlike them, we had no crucial time-table for our own arrival, so we eased a little more gently into the day.

Suitcases, kilt, bagpipes, alb, and little brother (a comic-book fan henceforth known as "Z-Man") tucked safely into the car, we headed down the road towards the 8:50 boat and made it with time to spare. The Piper had never driven on to a ferry before. As feared, they directed her to the outermost lane where she had to navigate my parents' minivan between metal colummns into what looked like the automobile version of a cattle squeeze chute. She did a fine job.

We drove down I-5, joining the commuters and speeding holiday hordes on this massive western corridor. By noon, we were eager for food and a break from the Interstate's pace, so we pulled off and headed towards Kelso.

Kelso is one of several Scottish town names in Washington State. The list also includes Fife, Elgin, and Aberdeen. Euro-American settlers displaced the Cowlitz tribe--for which the county is now named--to create a booming milltown where thousands of stately evergreen trees were "processed" and shipped away daily. Although we did see a couple of logging trucks trundling down the road, overly-zealous logging practices have combined with the overall economic downturn to depress this extraction-based economy. The place looked it.

We drove through the flat, grey industrial landscape in search of a decent eatery, but all we saw were railroad yards and drab lots full of dusty, banged-up equipment. Following signs to "city center," we reached one of the most depressing main streets I've ever seen--almost colorless and ghostly, full of empty storefronts and letterless marquees. There was a Tudor-style YMCA that must have been grand in its day, but the rest of the buildings were flat-roofed and eerily featureless. We pulled into the only establishment that showed any life: a stuccoed cement drive-through advertising "Comida Mexicana" via sprawling letters painted on the windows. Three people sat at a booth inside--the largest gathering we'd seen anywhere in town.

The Piper and I split a chicken chimichanga. Z-Man got a seafood taco plate. I enjoyed the kitchen staff's banter as we waited. My Spanish is rusty, but I caught just enough to know the cooks were good-naturedly teasing each other. A young man came in after us and ordered in rapid Spanish. The cooks hurriedly packed his order to go, and he was out the door again in three minutes. I'm guessing the place caters to Spanish-speaking workers, both settlers and migrants, on whom the local economy now depends. Our food came just a few minutes later: nothing special, but good, fresh, filling and reasonably-priced. Twenty minutes later, we were back on the road.

Z-man made use of his superhuman navigational skills and got us safely off the freeway, through city construction zones, past roundabouts and into my Big Brother's driveway. Preparations were underway for the rehearsal dinner--a potluck in their backyard. The Bride-to-Be came out of the house just as we pulled up, welcomed us all with hugs, then fired up a string trimmer and attacked the front yard. (For purposes of this blog, we'll refer to her henceforth as "Dr. Honey" because, well, she IS a doctor, as sweet as she is smart. Her ten-year-old daughter will be known as Elf, because I think she is one!)

Big Brother (a martial artist henceforth known as Monkey King) excitedly showed us through the house and yard, detailing his adventures as a new homeowner: the pulling up of damaged floors, the planting of gardens, the replacement of exploding appliances, etc. Talk about a carpenter's holiday-- hardly fifteen minutes had passed before The Piper and my uncle bounced on the spongy wooden deck, discussed the impending influx of heavy guest traffic, and declared the deck in need of immediate repair. Half an hour later, The Piper was ripping up boards, I was hauling two-by-fours, and my uncle was operating a circular saw. Why, the place felt just like home!

The repair was finished--just barely--by dinnertime. The rehearsal dinner was so relaxed, I began to wonder if a rehearsal was included in the evening's plans. Friends and relatives were scattered around the pretty little back yard, some casual and some elegantly dressed, all chatting amiably and enjoying the delicious array of food. Fortunately, a stalwart FOB (friend of the bride) marshaled everyone into their places and got us all rehearsed with remarkable efficiency--no easy task, with a wedding party that included a wild band of little Amazons as flowergirls! Afterwards, we held a hurried conference and typed up the ceremony on my laptop, then repaired to our various designated sleeping places for an attempt at rest before The Big Day.

Up at five. Back to bed. Up at six. Back to bed. There we were in a big city hotel, thanks to my parents, in a lovely quiet room with a comfortable bed. Could we relax and enjoy it? No, apparently we are now hard-wired for morning chores and the sound of roosters. At 6:45 we heaved a sigh and headed down to try out the hotel's "continental-plus" breakfast. Senator Kennedy's funeral was being shown on a large (but thankfully silent) screen. We kept our voices hushed and respectful, eyes flickering up to the screen and back to our own kith and kin, busily discussing the wedding-prep schedule. The screen's sea of black umbrellas and somber coats cast a strange tension over our own anticipatory joy. In my mind, my professional interest in the close-captioned funeral homily warred with my professional need to finalize wedding homily wording and find a place to print it out before the ceremony.

Cut to the chase: fifteen minutes 'til designated start time, and my mother's flowers are everywhere: in vases on the reception room tables, in urns flanking the wedding arbor, pinned onto dresses and jackets, and tucked in my hair. I've just helped one sister place the last flowers on the cake she made herself. It's beautiful, and so is she. Z-man is showing off his own handsome outfit, complete with a very stylish new tie. I scurry to the back room and pull on my alb. My other sister has arrived with her personal aide and a young man who introduces himself as her boyfriend. She taps out the words to me on her letterboard: "Hi, Sister. I miss you." She gives me a furtive hug, then ducks her head and moves away. She needs to find a few seats at the back, where she can slip away if anything overwhelms the delicate balance of her neurological system. I was her caregiver for several years, so I don't pressure her to stay and chat. I understand how hard it is for her to brave this situation, even on an occasion of joy.

The Bride is late. The word passes through the crowd that a flowergirl--a friend of her daughter--jumped from a treehouse and put her foot through a metal chair while the bride was attempting to get herself be-gowned. Finally they arrive. I can't tell which flowergirl was injured. They all look sweet in their pretty dresses, and not one of them has a telltale limp, though one girl's smile looks a bit grim. The guests take their seats again, The Piper strikes up a tune on the bagpipes, the wedding party lines up, and the procession begins.

First the welcome and greetings and introductory remarks, then a special blessing from FOB. Next, the sharing of handwritten vows, the exchange of rings...then the time comes time for that homily I printed out (whew!) in the hotel lobby. (Readers, please note that blognames in the homily are in brackets. I didn't really address my brother as "Monkey King" in front of all those guests!) Here we go:

"...The first time [Monkey King] brought [Dr. Honey] to meet me, it was high summer on our farm in Maine. The cows were dozing under the apple tree in the middle of the pasture. The pigs were meandering sleepily into the shade at the edge of the woods. The chickens were taking afternoon tea in the garden—-or at least helping themselves to the cherry tomatoes and an occasional bug.

My partner and I were about to embark on a year-long home renovation. We were living in an worn-out 1830s farmhouse, soon to start work on rehabbing a 20-year old post-and-beam woodshop to make ourselves a warmer, healthier home. But when [Dr. Honey and Elf and Monkey King] came to visit, it was a freshly-emptied, not-yet-reinvented space. It was no longer a shop. It was not yet a home. It was just a 30' x 30' plot of potential and possibilities.

I'll never forget our first meeting. [Monkey King] showed up, radiating happiness, with this strong, lovely woman and blythe, impish child at his side. There were the requisite introductions and awkward embraces, then a rambling tour of our fledgling farm. The sun began to sink lower in the sky and Maine's infamous mosquitoes and black flies found us, so we retreated inside and began to discuss things in earnest. [Dr. Honey] leaned over to me with a confidential air. “Do you mind if I ask you something personal?” My mind began to race. Would this be a comment on my female partner? Something about past relationships or children? A question about our odd vocational blend of farming, social services, bagpipe lessons, and Christian ministry? I nodded nervously, not wanting to seem impolite. She leaned a little closer with a quizzical expression and spoke in a half-whisper: “I've been wondering: does EVERYONE in your family take photographs of your food?”

Okay, so maybe this family IS a bit different. Some families just share the same facial features, the same genes, but we've come together from different parts of the world. There are other things things that bind us. We love a good meal. We love a good story. We don't always say what we mean, but we celebrate well-placed words. Mostly, it is our laughter that binds us, and a shared conviction that family is as family does—that we find brothers and sisters wherever there is justice, hospitality, and celebration.

There are many ways to create a household, to make a home, to make a family. We are proud of our diversity and the sometimes odd, often entertaining, connections we've made amongst ourselves. I didn't actually take pictures of my food, until [Dr. Honey] brought it to my attention, but now I find myself reaching for the camera at the table now and then. It makes me smile. It makes me feel close to my sister, with her passion for good design, and my brother, with his passion for food adventures. And it makes me feel close to my newest family members: [Dr. Honey], my first ever sister-in-law, and [Elf], my first ever niece.

Over these past two years, we've followed each other's stories. We've woven together our struggles, twisted together through our frustrations and our fears. We have traded tales of renovation, news of new nests. We have gone swimming in the same oceans. We have taken turns drowning sorrows and leaning on the arms of others, reckoning with grief and death.

Slowly, sometimes subtly, we have laid the groundwork, the sturdy foundation, for a bountiful and beautiful abode. And we have learned, working together, about each others' rhythms and styles of engagement.

[Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey], like [The Piper] and I, have spent part of the last several months immersed in the work of home renovation. There is, perhaps, no better metaphor for engagement than this! The work of renovation demands engagement. It demands hands-on, total-body engagement—the kind that sometimes leaves you aching with bruised shins and ragged nails, the kind that marks you with paint splatters and with scars. It demands that you work, sometimes, in a noxious atmosphere, your breathing laboured, your eyes watering from the fumes. A loving partnership makes similar demands. [Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey], you have weathered so much together, engaged so fully with each other, that I feel confident your home—and your love—will endure. Wallboard may crumble. Appliances may stop working. Deck planking may need to be replaced. But your true home, your deepest sense of peace and shelter and security, will endure, because you have made your home in each other's arms.

We all have looked on, lent a hand, and shared this engagement with you. Your marriage will be blessed not only by your own home-making, but also by this ready and willing crew of consultants, groundskeepers and carpenters. Look around you, now, and know that, whenever the work seems too much, whenever the burden seems too hard to bear, we are all here, ready to share our tools, to lend a hand, to help with future repairs, improvements, and renovations.

In lives filled with movement, may this loving circle of friends and relations be the solid structure of support on which your home depends. May you feather your nest with the laughter and love of many—peers, elders, and children. May your walls resound with stories of adventure and songs of peace. May the wise old earth cradle your abode, and may it be known as a place of joy and grace.

[Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey]... welcome home.

The rest of the wedding went well, although the Beloveds snuck in two quick kisses before I officially told them they could! Nobody seemed to disapprove, though. We all knew how wonderfully, deeply in love they were, and we all blessed them together. The reception included dancing for the grown-ups with the added fun of hula-hoops, courtesy of Elf and her friends! As for me, I had barely changed out of my alb, grabbed some food and plunked myself down at a table when everyone around started teasing me, saying, "Where's your camera?" and "Aren't you going to take pictures of your food?" With a begrudging grin, I went back to the dressing room and rummaged around, came back with my camera, and dutifully documented the feast. Only then was I "allowed" to eat!

Finally the time came for the Cutting of the Cake. The blurry sweetness of the day all came into sharp focus as Bride and Groom lifted the knife and lowered it into my sister's beautiful creation, careful not to disturb the flowers. They fed each other bites of cake, and it was lovely, and everyone clapped and cheered...but the best was yet to come. They beckoned to the Elf, standing nearby in the shadows. She walked up to them, wistfully glancing at the cake, eyeing their finery, clearly pondering how and where she fit in. Then, as her eyes widened in joyful surprise, they both leaned down and, together, fed her a bite of their cake. None of us could contain ourselves. The room erupted in shouts and laughter as people wiped their eyes, cheered, and cheered, and cheered.

Tomorrow: stay tuned for Part Three, featuring more ferryboats, the Arts & Crafts Press and flowers bigger than your head.

Photo credits:
MV Rhododendron:
Old lumber mill:

1 comment:

Mama Pea said...

I just hope Part Three doesn't make me cry so much. That was absolutely beautiful.