Home now after ten days. Himself and I are always changed by visits to the north and this trip was no exception. We stayed in Mount Hermon, in an ancient cabin, vacation home to several generations of the same family and chock a block with artifacts of days passed in a sacred place. We walked in Cowell Redwoods, bequeathed to the people by Henry Cowell who made his fortune in lime kilns and lumber. Cowell is reported to have been private and little is known about him except perhaps for a hint about the family’s differentness in their unhappiness. It is said that upon his death, his daughter ordered his mansion demolished but for years maintained a crew of landscapers to maintain the lush gardens surrounding the rubble.
When we arrived I made a shopping visit to New Leaf, the local hippie gourmet health food overpriced market in nearby Felton, for provisions. The staff is almost entirely white and most of the employees are my age or a bit older. If not for this, I could have been shopping L.A. I had a full cart but the cashier commented on an overflowing bag of wasabi almonds from the bulk bin because she found them too spicy and on the dimensions of the rolling papers I had chosen because they were atypically wide.
The most sophisticated electronic device in the cabin we rented was a VHS player. I warned that it might be difficult to find VHS tapes to rent but I took the kids to the local video store and was surprised to find that about one third of the inventory is still tape. Rows and rows of sun faded numbered shrink wrapped video boxes line the shelves and plastic chips are attached to titles which are in stock (most of them) and these are matched up from the backroom inventory of brown or navy hardshell plastic cases. There was a large computer on the counter but this seemed mostly used for invoicing and membership and not inventory and our receipt was printed by a dot matrix printer onto fan fold paper. There were two women in their early sixties running the store. I don’t know if they were employees or owners. One had a scary emphysemic wheeze. It took the two women about forty-five minutes to sign us up for our complimentary membership and to locate the tapes the kids had chosen. The rental period was three days and being that it was two-for-one day, we rented four tapes for $3.50.
The population of Felton is fewer than 9000. There are two video stores. There is even a bead store. I am stymied by small town economics. I visited the New Leaf again to shop for dinner on our last night. The cashier hoisted my bag of wasabi almonds on the scale and queried, “Did you already finish the other bag?”
I watched my beloved devour some toast and a bowl of cherries while reading a withered magazine under a ring of giant redwoods. His face was the soft one that our yogi expects, even when we’re contorted like pretzels or porn stars. I walked behind him and Bob through the Redwoods, hearing and understanding only bits of conversation but I felt their intellectual and spiritual engagement. How satisfying it would be for both of us to grow old within walking distance of Chris and Bob. And to be able to cook in my own kitchen, which would have a dishwasher. Three days in a small town and it is already public knowledge that I am a pothead and that I am addicted to wasabi almonds. I will miss the impersonality of the city but, when it is time, I will trade my anonymousness to see the face of my beloved illuminated by rays of light through the ancient trees.
It is our custom when traveling with the lads to rent vacation homes instead of hotel rooms. The place I’d selected in San Francisco was not available but the agency offered instead a nearby apartment it represented on behalf a family who was traveling. It was a handsome apartment and filled to the rafters with an urbane selection of books. The family must have known before they left for Europe (their calendar was left prominently on the refrigerator) that others would be paying to stay in their home but there were no allowances except for a huge basket of toilet paper in the bathroom. The agency representative came over and dumped some of their clothes to make us a tiny bit of space to unpack but the bathroom, while completely absent of soap, was filled with used toothbrushes and dirty hairbrushes, foot fungus medication and a pair of rubber thong sandals hanging in the shower. There was something sort of sickeningly exhibitionistic about it. The transparent condition of the house made it easy to glean that the lady of the house is French. The kids ascribed the lack of soap to that.
We had our third meeting with birthmother and birthstepfatherinlaw. It is lovely to spend time with them. Himself and the woman who gave birth to him have many questions for each other, and inevitably some of the answers are wrong. We accompanied them to a 4th of July buffet lunch at their Episcopal retirement coop. She introduced Himself as “my son” to all of her friends there. She has made no secret of her sorrow that my beloved has chosen not to maintain formal ties with the Catholic Church and I get how core this is to her. She has shown that she is full of pride at his other accomplishments and she is smart and sophisticated. It must be friggin’ huge to have the approval of such a formidable mother after having been reared by well meaning adoptive parents who were nevertheless on an utterly different wave length. I am trying to be respectful of fervent Catholic devotion. I know it is complicated for her. She was counseled by a priest to never tell her fiancé that she’d given birth and surrendered the child for adoption. She followed his advice for over forty years. Yet, my husband consciously ardently diligently struggles to live with faith, a challenge given his legacy and the world we live in today. I look forward to the time when she recognizes and honors the accomplishment of maintaining any sort of faith at all.
I made Himself put down his book and remove the wife cancelling headphones which have been reprised after a several month period of IPOD malfunction while we drove home from the north down Highway 5. He is generally miserable about the condition of the world and has a much more concrete understanding of it than I have. I know that he believes in science but also that we came to exist due to some spiritual imperative. I asked him if he didn’t think that the same spiritual thingie which brought the world to be in the first place would override all that mankind has wrought to doom the planet and he looked longingly at the wife cancellers.
Bob and I met while teaching at Lincoln Heights Adult School. He just completed his PhD in Education and has taken a position running one of the largest adult education programs in the country. My hope for the world is restored when Bob reminds me about the potential for education to insure a future more glorious for mankind than we can imagine. We have fucked up the earth. We have mocked the light that brought us into being by creating big dick run religions and governments and institutions. But I believe we came here in grace and that through education and faith we will bring about Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. I know that my beloved’s faith in this is often tenuous and his skepticism helps me articulate my prayers. And I am blessed to have a friend like Bob to remind me that these prayers are not in vain.