Wyoming on a clear afternoon with summer starting to settle in as the cattle low somewhere out in the pastures.
Warmth rising up through the earth and time to sit on the porch and quilt. Winter and its dreary snow gone. Hard. The cattle the same, but used to somewhere warmer. Texas and its dust much the same but never as frozen. Coats needed in winter but of a Wyoming fall variety and no need for swaddling in fur to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
Some of it the same. Nearly as far to get to an Episcopal church as it did back then. Everyone else something else and closer but Mother from the city and wanting her own. Not wanting to settle for someone else’s prayers and hymnal just because it was closer.
Children and grandchildren and home at least to them. But not a real home. No, home where the heart is. Lost dolls that big and little brothers tossed into the bushes that were never found again. Cattle with long horns and houses with walls that are so thick that you can’t even bang on one side while someone listens from the other.
Albums found and pictures lost but one in the very back of the cookbook shelf where no one else peeks.
Grandfather’s ranch and the summer before seventh grade when those fat corkscrew curls were so big. Nights spent with hair wrapped around what felt like entire sections of the newspaper but pretty in the morning.
A memory . . .if only . . . all afternoon to take the wagon out . . . no one to make anyone come back and someone else to make the dinner . . .bliss. . . too bad it ever had to end . . .
Mountains that grow and mountains that shrink the further away you get. Oil pumping away by the side of every road in things that look like ancient dinosaurs come back to earth but spitting black goo instead of grass or whatever it was that they ate.
Family all around and a barbeque later once evening starts to settle in. Steaks, potato salad, and corn. All right but dreadfully unseasoned up.
The problem. Grow up somewhere else, and something never fits. Missouri. Not that many states away but Mother with New Orleans blood and seasoning everything up. But a Western fellow coming along at that office after college and date after date until the ring turned up.
All of that all right but the other still missed. Land flat as a pancake until something starts rising up. Buttes that rise straight up into the sky like multi-colored birthday cake candles, one side melted and the other not.
Fun but still. An album brought out in the trousseau trunks stuffed into every room and a special tiny one in the front pocket of every pocketbook. Heavy to carry but not where anyone ever looks. A portable home whenever life gets too hard and you need to go back.
But a special one for a new pocketbook that had hidden itself away. Grandfather’s farm that time Mother got so sick and everyone had to stay.
That part hard but the rest fun. Fences to perch on and horses to ride. Hills to ride through and creeks that never ran dry in summer. . . another few years and no water at all . . . but not then . . . no . . . .water so cold it made your forehead hurt and all you wanted . . .
In the city for a few weeks and a niece that just had twins. Surgeon she is and and high up enough to be able to pay enough rent to see almost all the way to the sea. Husband that paints things but no matter.
But London. The main thing, that and baby feeding and holding. A long time ago but remembered. Mini skirts that looked ancient but all that having come back. The clothing shops just as chic and the prices just as high. But fun. Nothing like that in the village and shopping from the computer not nearly as much fun as real shopping.
The flat totally different from the one right after university. All beat up that one had been with a mattress on the floor to sleep on and only a table with two chairs in the kitchen. Ancient sofa and cinder block and plank bookcases in the sitting room.
But a joy. A first apartment and boyfriend after boyfriend to share it with.
Babies napping and a little time to explore. Bus to the old neighborhood and a used everything shop still on the corner. A wonder. Everything else different but not it.
Prints and old postcards to sort through and a memory thing at the bottom. Exhibit on the South Bank and that building that looked like a birthday cake with the candles all lit. . . going back and back just to visit it and it’s frosting like décor . . . boyfriend liking the other girl at work better but not then . . .happy memory instead of a bad and that a treat.
Iowa and fall inching its way towards winter. Pillars of smoke reaching into the sky from every house as father after father builds a leaf bonfire in the driveway for his children to dance around while the wives stay inside warming up cider.
Very pretty but too cold. Well not too cold if you grew up in Canada but a childhood spent in Alabama, not Ontario. Grandchildren with warm boots and coats but no idea about how to sneak away from nannies while visiting grandparents out in the country and standing still while the biggest boy throws a rock into the pond out where the next yard ends to make the water moccasins swim away.
Loving fried chicken and green tomatoes fried in bacon grease but a strange accent.
Loved just the same but if only. Father losing his job and having to go where the cousins with the bicycle factory could help.
But the memories still there. Albums carted out on the train and from house to house ever since in who knew how many moving vans. The pictures looked at a million times but a new one falling out of the back. Who knows why but a time travel or at least a thinking.
The Pluto bandstand in the big park in Montgomery where the grownups went on weekends.
No children but for the one time. All the staff sick with something but both parents wanting to hear the band anyway . . . The music, a cup of warmed cider and a honey biscuit . . . Gone for Iowa the next year but that no one knew . . . A good thing . . .all those people come and gone like moths fleeing a blown out flame on the back porch and never seen again.
The old house in Belarus and a treat just having arrived. Invasions and wars that just keep coming along like the units that march in the May Day parade in Moscow. One done and thinking you can go but another something that ties up all the trains only a hop, skip, and jump behind.
But all worth it. Grandmother’s house where Mother was a little girl before the big war that reshuffled everything. Trains to take to whatever big city struck Grandfather’s fancy and summer vacations on beaches everywhere in Europe that they had sand. Finland, France, and Dubrovnik, wherever anyone wanted to go. Coins flipped every spring. Maps pulled out with passports stuck full of stamps by the time anyone was big enough to go to school.
Different after that and Vienna near impossible let alone Paris. But all right. Someone new for a tsar and the old tsar gone.
All right but a smaller place and the house nearly cut off what with everyone being someplace else.
An hour looking through the old chest in the hidden place behind the night nursery closet and another in the hiding place in the attic. Funny. People having run through like a river and that over and over again, but the old things not found. Must not have been looking for them.
But a treat at the bottom of the second chest. Mother when she was little that winter in Odessa. A coat with swansdown and a big bow on her head from what must have been the finest children’s dressmaker.
Happy and bundled up with love. . . Life and a husband that goes from place to place and never sticks. . . a home that stays in place but not for much longer . . but a mother to love you and that’s all you ever need.
The French Riviera and spring a long way away. New bathing suit a bit too low cut but all right for this beach. Something to leave behind in the spring. Likely to have someone call the police over it in the Hamptons and that one doesn’t need.
The sun warm and the wine in its bottle almost hot. A pity. Cook using all the ice up on last night’s gin and tonics and shrimp cocktail. Nothing left to chill anything in the morning. But someone coming down with one of those sarong things and then the restaurant on the bluff for lunch.
A bit more time to drowse away and time drifting away. Funny. Even the seagulls’ whoop changing. The rooks up in the tall pines around the school and their caw instead. Strange. Mother thinking a four-year-old would want to be in a boarding school with all those nuns in their habits with so many layers of cloth that their hugs hardly registered at all.
But part of it fun. Halloween with everyone in the same colored costume with the ears. Like the Martians in the funnies in the paper. The same sick green. No ray guns but someone’s big sister to take everyone around. Bags and bags of candy and horses that spooked.
Best Halloween for decades . . . New Jersey once little brother came and no candy there . . . no coal either but no fun . . .
Same Florida but like stepping through a looking glass into the other side. Old person things to do, not young. Bingo instead of speakeasies and a bathing suit that shows more skin than anyone could back then. But not as much as anyone young and from a boring store, not the fun one where the granddaughters shop with the music blasting with what’s on the radio.
But life a joy wherever you find it. A husband still and that a treat. Shuffleboard by the pool and lunching with the ladies at a different spot every Friday in season.
Funny. More places for rich people before. Needing more money and coming down on the train for the winter. Well, no sense in coming for a week, not when it took days to arrive and not hours.
But the salads with more kinds of things in them now. The oranges just the same with the same grand smell when the trees go into bloom.
But the memories there. Books to look through and albums for the grandchildren to see, all needing to be done before they descend for Christmas.
Wanting to know the stories but maybe not this one.
The day the boyfriend of the girl down the street let her borrow his motorcycle and that wild ride on the beach. . .The thing tipping over as a big wave came in and the boots ruined but that one didn’t know. . .No, a wave and an adventure and another one after. . .young and riding into a future that will never end.
Japan in spring and cherry blossoms everywhere like the pink eiderdown in the nursery in Anacortes with its pink tufts. Twigs that stick out instead of goose feathers.
Father a fisherman but Mother collecting goose feathers and down on every outing to anywhere. Money saved and an eiderdown to sell perpetually in the quilting frame that got pulled up to the living room ceiling every night during fishing season. During the winter when Father was around not so much. No, the thread ends and bits that wafted down drove him crazy. Enough white water spray up in the Arctic, he said, with no need for a thread variety the rest of the time.
But a happy life with much joy and a shore to sit on. Different now. An important husband met at the university and a different life with dreams of living fish leaping onto wooden decks instead of ones on platters for dinner.
But some of it not as fun. Big dinners and piers to visit in summer. But not like the one in Venice with the aquarium and the dolphins that swam in a circle. Grandparents that lived five blocks away and visit after visit week after week until it was time for school and to wait for the fleet to return.
Not perfect, no, but close. The same ticket lady, the one who went to church with Grandmother and let everyone have a second free turn every other week. A treat it was. Nothing like that free now but who knew that then . . . a blessing to remember and something to never forget.
Texas yes but not Dallas. Lots of money and terrific ranch land. A room just for cocktail parties off the living room twice as big as the ones Mother’s friends had. Room to fit fifteen couples doing the cha cha and a man in white tie at the end behind the bar.
Life all right. Well, a husband dead and a new one found but seven children to tend instead of four. Enough money for a nurse but no. All right in the old neighborhood with all its oilmen and bankers with houses with two maids rooms apiece but not here. No, a tiny place with only two churches, a grocery store and what calls itself a department store but is nothing like Neiman Marcus and no one with more than ranch hands let alone help in the house.
But happy. Someone to dance with in the middle of the night when the work is done, and the desk and its ledgers closed for the night.
Still. The Bagdad supper club in Grand Prairie and its floor show with everything wafting towards the ceiling . . . waiters in white jackets coming out of the kitchens in a parade with silver trays held high and someone endlessly refreshing the champagne flutes out of the biggest bottle of Moët and Chandon that they have in New York . . .first husband proposing during dessert . . . gone in not too many years and much of the joy gone and not come back . . . but a memory forever and a picture to kiss. . .
This is not my story. It is the story, rather, of my old friend Michael M. whose Dallas big house reared mother, left a widow with four children on a cattle ranch in rural East Texas, remarried and made a dazzling success out of it all.
Hawaii and the breeze wandering through the palm trees. Winter to spend and spring back home in New York. Cuba maybe next year but not this. No, someone’s cousin stationed at Pearl Harbor and dinner following dinner along with gin and tonics that never end.
Ballroom to dance in upstairs and men in white uniforms everywhere. Waiters with their trays, men mowing the lawn and gentlemen to dine and dance with.
A treat. Many places just as pretty but this one the old Haleiwa Hotel with memories of honeymooning from before the war. Flying boat over from Los Angeles faster than the old steamers were and just as exciting. The lobby different what with no desk clerk but the same potted palms set around and fans overhead.
A joy. Picture of the place colored up in the old days lying on a table and somehow sneaking into one’s handbag. . . not nice but what can one do . . . not there forever and the husband gone three years later. . .something to keep in the jewelry box where no one ever dies.