I am on my seventh day in the United States of America, land of my birth. It is an exciting and exhilarating and very very exhausting place, America.
I think it is not only the ambitious pace, the odd eating habits, and the harrowing winter weather -- and my habit of lumping some of life´s more unpleasant duties into each of my visits. (this one included a professional conference, as well as visits to the dentist and the Department of Motor Vehicles). I think the main factor, for me, is genetic.
My family lives here.
Families are messy, emotional, demanding things. You don´t know how much you love them until they are threatened. And as you know if you´ve read this blog recently, my mother´s health took a bad turn in the past month. I flew back to the old stomping grounds to stand by while she recovered from an abdominal surgery, and the lab results that came after.
It started out exciting and star-studded, at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While there I spent quality time with my great friend Kathy, my daughter Libby and her Intended, and several old friends sent my way by the Camino. I also met an awesome Franz Klein painting, la Infanta Christina de España (a princess), and a Hollywood movie star (Martin Sheen)... all of them up close. I met an ambassador, an importer of Spanish jamones, and some fascinating college professors, too. I invited them all over to visit, and some of them may well show up in Moratinos in coming months, part of a new intercollegiate pilgrimage study program. (probably not the painting, nor the princess. Nor the star. But you just never know.)
Maybe the best part of the whole trip, though, was driving a little rental car from Washington DC up to Pittsburgh, over the Allegheny mountains on an ancient highway on a Tuesday morning. I turned up the radio, and enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed the radio in a very long time -- starting out with National Public Radio´s deep and wide coverage of revolutions in the Middle East, then fading into the rural stretches of Maryland with country boys singing of fishin´ buddies and pickup trucks and Mama´s Hungry Eyes, then Eminem snarling "Mama, I Didn´t Mean to Hurt You," shifting into preachers calling me to a life of "the joy of holiness," hair-bands howling out how they Sold their Soul for Rock and Roll. Finally, up over Breezewood and onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike I found the jazz station from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, playing old Ella Fitzgerald "Got You Under My Skin" with a weird rhumba tom-tom syncopation. George Benson. Cedar Walton... then a shift up the dial for some Decemberists, Death Cab, and finally Train and Lady Gaga and the Top 40. By the time I rolled up at Mom´s house the NPR news cycle started up again.
The snow in mom´s yard is almost knee-deep. The house was fragrant, my sister Beth had brought over a big pot of beef vegetable soup.
Mom was her funny old self, walking slow, thinner and smaller than I ever remember seeing her, terribly pale. But smiling radiantly. Her hug felt the same, that beautiful Same that is Mom. I did not cry, at least not on the outside.
And so I stayed with her. I cleaned the bathroom, swept the floors, folded laundry, filled up the bird-feeders out in the snow. I learned about the sickness she´s up against, but I didn´t look at the big cut down her belly. I learned that my sister Beth is not only handling all of mom´s paperwork, she is now taking care of that horrific surgical wound, too -- arriving after 8 each morning to change the dressing. (I have known Beth my entire life, and the older I get, the more I have to admire her. I could never ever do that kind of heavy-duty nursing. No way. Not even for mom.)
I visited my grandfather, who at 94 years old looks more spry and healthy than my mom does at 72. I visited my sister Beth, my nephew Joey, my Aunt Esther and cousin Barbara and cousin Pete ... all the people who make this place my home town.
And this morning, me and Beth took mom to the big cancer hospital in Pittsburgh for the Last Word.
The tumors are not invasive, not even really cancer, the handsome young oncologist said. Someday Mom may need more surgery, or some chemotherapy, but not anytime soon. Her bloodstream and vital organs are not compromised. They will check her every six months for signs of cancer, but so far, so good. She is going to be alright.
Mom and Beth smiled politely and thanked him.
I went out into the hallway and sobbed til my nose bled.
The snow is melting, rain is coming down hard, the rivers are rising. It´s almost March.
It´s time to get the heck outta here. Time to go to my own Home.
I drive back down to Washington Saturday morning with the radio blasting, and I will fly out over the Atlantic overnight. God willing, I will be back home at The Peaceable on Sunday afternoon. (I know you come here to read about Moratinos, not Pittsburgh.)
Once there I will scratch my dogs and pass around the goodies I bought for everyone. And I will go to bed and sleep. I will sleep for days and days, because I will finally be able to rest again.
My mom is alive still. The earth is tipping back onto its axis. Life can go on, at least for a while.
Thank God thank God thank God.