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Archive for the ‘Fond Memories’ Category

I suppose it’s not that unusual to realize in later years that your most mortifying moment with a parent has become your fondest memory. Perhaps you’ve even discovered in retrospect, as I did, that the mortifying moment actually contained the seeds of all you were to become.

My mother’s parents (who always made sure that Dad knew Mom married beneath her) decided to treat me to a very ritzy tour of Europe for my 16th birthday. It was to last a full six weeks, a leisurely exploration of England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Spain’s poshest hotels and grandest artistic traditions.

My parents agreed very reluctantly to let me go, and this surprised and hurt me because I’d devoted my life to being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the perfect daughter and big sister. It turned out that perhaps they knew more about me than I did, but that’s another story.

The tour leader, a professor of art history at a major university, claimed halfway through the tour that he’d aged 20 years in three weeks, all because of me.

I wasn’t intentionally a problem (still firmly committed to my Goody Two Shoes persona), but even though I was only 16, I somehow functioned as a European man magnet of epic proportions. The professor’s last straw moment came when I walked with the tour group through a Swiss hotel lobby and had three men offering me dinner before we reached the reception desk.

The tour was incredible, and even 50 years later it remains so vivid that, although I’ve never been able to return to any of the countries but England and Scotland, I still recognize art and architecture, cities and landscapes, and vividly remember the fragrances and flavors and visual feast of the gourmet meals which were part and parcel of an experience which had been tailor made for the exclusive sorority/debutante daughters of the very rich. Which is the other reason I was a “problem” on the trip. I was not only at least 2 years the junior of the next youngest girl, even worse, though my father was an aviator, a Colonel in the Marine Corps, and although my Mom had been brought up in the upper echelons of Naval military elite, my upbringing was inescapably middle class.

The other girls/young women were at worst tolerant and at best very kind and helpful, so I didn’t suffer for my plebeian background. I even got a foretaste of what was brewing in the early 60’s because one of them was deeply involved with the nascent radical movement in Berkeley. My conservative, military world view took a severe beating in Paris during a 2 am conversation over French onion soup with her and two of the other girls. She was gorgeous and militant and ferocious and, for all I know, grew up to be Gloria Steinham.

So, cut to the trip home. I’m returning smugly full of artistic erudition and sophistication, as well as being possessed of a highly trained gourmet palate and discerning knowledge of wines.

Before I tell you about what greeted me on arrival, I have to say one thing. I have always adored my father. He was boisterously and unstintingly affectionate, he always somehow loved and respected me in all my quirkiness without wishing I were better or different, he gifted me with a thirst for knowledge and a respect for the subtleties of language, and whatever storytelling gifts I have were seeded and nurtured by him.

Now, on to the Mortifying Moment.

My Dad hadn’t arrived to pick me up when we landed, so when he made his entrance I was being introduced to one of the impeccably groomed and mannered girls’ impeccably groomed and mannered, dark-suited and handsome fathers.

I heard a shout behind me and recognized my Dad’s deep, resonant and somewhat growly Marine colonel voice. I executed a calm, sophisticated turn and was greeted by an unforgettable image of my Dad in all his screw-your-social-rules-and-norms glory. He hadn’t wanted me to go to Europe, and must have gotten a good idea from my few letters of the condition I’d be in when I returned home. And obviously he was determined to get me retrained and back into the family fold beginning immediately.

So, there was my inimitable Dad, vigorously striding toward me, arms open, and dressed to kill (my pretensions). Besides his typical bald head and red handlebar moustache, complete with curled, waxed tips, he’d dressed in his outrageous best, which this time included a voluminous Hawaiian shirt, baggy brown pants, a Panama hat and his favorite down-at-the-heel cowboy boots. I wanted to die. And at the same time I was so glad to see him that I wanted to cry.

It was the first time I remember my Dad taking steps to make sure I didn’t get “too full of myself,” but it was far from the last. Another favorite memory (it really is a favorite) was when I treated him and my youngest sister Anne to New Year’s dinner at a client’s restaurant. A few seconds after I told him in awed tones that the owner was on her way to our table, he grabbed up our (excellent) champagne and took a big swig directly from the bottle, twinkling at me over the top with his rascally eyes. My 10-year-old sister completed the farce, just as my glamorous  client arrived at our table, by dropping her napkin over her head and declaiming dramatically, “Oh, the shame of it! The shame of it!” (You probably won’t be surprised to learn that, even though she’s more than 50 now, I still call her my Bratty Little Sister, or BLS for short.)

However, as much effort as Dad put into reining me in that day at the airport, I have to say I probably won that particular round. They decided to honor my homecoming by allowing me a glass of wine with dinner. After taking my first sip, and savoring the flavors for a moment, I said:

“This is quite pleasant … for a minor domestic wine.” I can still hear the thundering silence.

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When I realized that towing a trailer behind the car meant driving 55 or less for the whole trip, I thought I’d be constantly frustrated.

Maybe it’s because my Dad was a Marine fighter pilot, and he’s the one who taught me to drive … perhaps it rubbed off … but, for whatever reason, I’ve always driven right up to the edge of the speed limit – and my reflexes – and a little beyond. I’m one of those who always sets my cruise control at 7 miles over the posted limit. One traffic cop (years ago, before I was a mom driving my daughter around) told me that I’d been passing other cars like they were nailed to the ground.

So I was amazed to discover that being the slowest on the road and not being able to do a darned thing about it is actually quite wonderful. Restful, freeing, conducive to deep thinking, and – best of all – just slow enough that I could really look at the changing scenery, and even notice view points soon enough to take advantage of them.

I mean, think of it! No embarrassment, because people couldn’t think I was an idiot (well, not fairly, anyway) since I was towing a trailer, and everybody knows vehicles with trailers have to poke along. No physical tension as I geared up to control the car when taking a mountain turn well above the speed limit. (At least, since the advent of cruise control, I don’t have to watch for cops … often.) No strained watching the road beyond my current slow-moving vehicular obstacle to find enough running room to pass in relative safety, and then tensing up and metaphorically pushing with all my might until the pass was safely concluded.

Instead, I had time to see new things on frequently traveled roads, time to just set my dreaming mind free to wander, and time to remember happy moments from past journeys.

Cultural ecologist and magician David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal, tells the story of traveling by Jeep with an aboriginal shaman in the Australian outback. The shaman wanted to share his myths, but they discovered that the stories did not unfold properly at jeep speeds; they were meant to be shared in walkabout. In my case, the stories arise at 55 mph.

One of my favorites, one I hadn’t thought of in years, was the time my first husband drove us from Highway 101 at Paso Robles west toward the Pacific Coast Highway, and Cambria, Carmel and Monterey. I’d driven the Big Sur route before, it’s one of the most gorgeous and treacherous drives I’ve encountered (especially headed south in dense fog), but Ernie’s route was new to me. He got a big grin and started fiddling with the tape deck (yeah, it was quite some time ago), popped in some rich and fabulous symphony, and then drove along, looking smug for a few minutes. Then, just as the music crested, so did the road, and I was treated to the juxtaposition of a perfect musical moment and mythically beautiful, rolling hills softened further by oaks clustered in their feminine creases!

Another sight took me back to the first World Healing Day on December 31, 1986. The Healix Center in Orange County, CA, where I worked and taught at the time, hosted an all night event – because for this event there was no convenient “rolling” coordination of noon in each time zone. That time, everyone joined in prayer and visualization at the very same moment – which meant 3 pm Moscow time, and 3 am in California.

Amazingly, when dawn broke there were still nearly a 100 people there, and we were led in a closing ceremony by a young shaman woman from one of the Pacific Northwest tribes. The two things which stuck with me were her getting a good laugh when she referred to her “sacred Bic” (Harry Dresden, anyone?) while lighting her pipe, and her initiating us all into the Fireweed Clan.

Fireweed is known as a pioneer species because it can thrive in areas which have been devastated by things like forest fires. Years after the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption I visited, and fireweed was everywhere.

Since that morning in 1986, fireweed has become a messenger for me. When it appears, it comes to tell me “yes, here is the place,” or “yes, this is the right direction,” or “yes, all will be well.” Fireweed doesn’t promise ease and grace, but it promises not only survival, but a thriving future.

When we got to the state of Washington, in spite of the fact that I’d seen it before, I was shocked again to see the trashed and brutalized areas of clearcutting on either side of the highway. Honestly, they look like bones and bodies strewn around a war zone. Not that California and Oregon don’t clearcut, but usually it’s done offroad, and behind a polite curtain of trees and hills.

My mind automatically spiralled off into adjectives like “barren,” “devastation,” and “desolation” … until I saw the tall, fuchsia spikes of fireweed. They lined the road and appeared here and there around the pitiful stumps of ancient trees. And then I noticed all the other new plant life, even in clearcut areas only a few years old, and I was reminded that life goes on.

That doesn’t excuse slaughtering elder members of one of earth’s species, but it reminds me that even after the most terrible human acts, toward our own or other species, life somehow finds a way to continue.

By the way, the most powerful and touching case I’ve ever read for why ancient trees should be allowed to stand together in healthy ecosystems is in Joan Dunning and Doug Thron’s From the Redwood Forest: Ancient Trees and the Bottom Line: A Headwaters Journey. There is a chapter which traces human history as it paralleled the life of a redwood. Read it, and you’ll never be the same.

Today we’re visiting Hurricane Ridge, and tomorrow Lake Quinault, so I’ll entertain you tomorrow one of my favorite stories about my Dad, and report our travels later. My Mom and Dad are much on my mind because they made this trip possible, and it’s dedicated to their memory.

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