It is in this quiet, on this gray morning with gentle rain, that I open the door which is straining on its hinges and release some words, if for nothing else, to relieve the pressure of them within my mind.
“What is the matter?”, he asked, concerned, because I had withdrawn from conversation and was studying the design in the carpet.
“I’m sorry…I’m writing in my head.”
He understands without understanding, the way good spouses do.
My parents have been here from Montana, and I have been a sponge soaking up their presence, their words, their nearness. When my rarely-verbose father begins to tell a story, we all gather near; we know it will be good. And my mother, what a hoot. We had gone to a friend’s reclaimed wood business to pick out slabs for some tables my father is going to make and she and I rode on the tailgate of the truck down from the warehouse to the storefront, holding on to the boards atop the pickup topper as Dad managed to find every low-hanging branch for us to duck and/or get our face washed by. We roared with laughter, getting smacked with greenery. Seeing her joy, silliness, and love of adventure is always, and ever, a gift. Her and Dad are good people; they’re a matched pair,it’s hard to imagine one without the other to reference them by, to echo their characters back to.
Life is different on the east coast; many times I am out of step with cultural norms or ways of reckoning. Many times my lack of university education shows and I feel shame, almost as though I wear a scarlet letter “U”, for “uneducated”. I am always around my betters, and I know it. Being around my parents reminds me, however, of the goodness from which I spring; of the generosity of spirit, the adventurousness, the good humor, and hard work ethic.
Once, in a self-pitying frame of mind, I was comparing my background with that of an English novelist friend. Where he had been brought up in London, taken from the age of four onward to the Tate and the National Gallery, sent traveling on the Continent in every school holiday, taught French and German and Italian, given access to bookstores, libraries, and British Museums, made familiar from infancy on with the conversations of the eloquent and the great, I had grown up in this dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere, utterly without painting, without sculpture, without architecture, almost without music or theater, without conversation or languages or bookstores, almost without books. I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe air….
How, I asked this Englishman, could anyone so deprived a background ever catch up? How was one expected to compete, as a cultivated man, with people like himself? He looked at me and said dryly, “Perhaps you got something else in place of all that.”
Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner
I watched as my three older children charged upstream through the swift current. They had found a fishing lure and attached line and were hunting a good stick to tie it to. They spent the next hour fishing in the clear stream with their hodgepodge pole. Their Grandpa told us how to best remove a hook if they got snagged, and that launched him into a related story. I watched the smoke go up from the campfire and let his rich voice paint a scene in my mind, and I was glad for what I got, “in place of all that.”