|Me and my sister Beth|
The Peaceable is far, far away from here.
Here is Apollo, Pennsylvania, a little post-industrial rural area in the United States of America. This is the town where my parents grew up, where I did some growing-up, too, a place I could return to someday, if I wanted to. Here everyone is friendly and polite, if a little rough around the edges. It is easy to be here. I know where to find the library (the library where my mom signed a paper so I could see books kept on the "forbidden" shelves), the St. James Catholic Church, the pub with the best white pizza, the Dairy Queen where I sat in a Sunbeam Tiger sports car with my first boyfriend and drank in the glories of the mocha milkshake... three decades back. Apollo is my hometown. My mother and sister and former in-laws still live here. Apollo is my past.
I spent the weekend at a hotel in Toledo, Ohio, another place from my past. Toledo is where my children were raised, where I dug in and flowered as a newspaper journalist, where I met and married a wise-ass Englishman called Paddy O'Gara. Toledo is where my son Philip met a very pretty girl called Raheela. More than a decade later, after our family broke up and scattered to places all over the world, Philip and Raheela called us all back to Toledo again for their big wedding celebration.
It took three days. It was complicated and ethnic and in some ways slapdash – Raheela's Pakistani-American family followed an elaborate canon of customs, which I was supposed to follow along and fulfil in my special role as the groom's mother. A bevy of aunties were recruited to get me into the right place at the right moment. Orders sometimes were scrambled or contradicted, but all the henna was duly applied to hands, all the photos snapped, all the skirts and under-garments duly ironed and veils appropriately attached at the proper moments.
The whole shebang climaxed Sunday evening. Everyone put on his most spangled suit and headed to a great banqueting hall in downriver Detroit. We the groom's side, seventeen of us, were charged with Making An Entrance, so we gathered in the backside of the parking lot and tried to keep out of sight.
A cowboy pulled up with his two-horse trailer right on time. Beth stepped up with the handiwork of many hours, and the tack and saddle were hung with patchwork quilted by my mother's mother. We threw the past onto the back of the present, and Philip, clad in splendid Sergeant Pepper-meets-Aladdin finery, clambered on board. In command from atop his golden-haired mount, he belted out the verses of "Dunderbeck," a gruesome childhood ditty, and his family walked along down the car park singing the choruses:
"Oh Dunderbeck O Dunderbeck what makes you be so mean?
You'll be sorry you invented
That sausage-meat machine!
Now kitty cats and long-tail rats will nevermore be seen
They've all been ground to sausage meat
In Dunderbeck's machine!"
And just before we got to the entryway, where a sparkling assembly of 370 of Raheela's kin awaited the groom, a man jumped out from between two parked cars – a bearded man with wild eyes, a turban, and bright yellow pants. He pressed shakers and jingle-bells into our hands, he shouted at us to shout and dance, to follow him as he drummed and capered and yodelled, so that is what we did. The horse, apparently a victim of some long-ago jingle-bell incident, jumped and capered at the racket. Philip looked only a little concerned, he held his seat. It is a good thing he decided against his turban for the horseback arrival business. (The turban was sent over from Karachi, but proved too small for Philip's cranium. We considered duct tape, bobby pins, and staple guns, but a cousin finally just split the thing open from inside and showed how to fold it onto his big head. No problem.)
My sisters snapped pictures and herky-jerky videos. Philip's dad, my former husband, danced a wild dance with the Sikh drummer, ululating. Our bright silk garments floated and turned round our legs as we spun on the asphalt. Spangled aunties tottered out to meet us, they kissed my cheeks, they told me "welcome to the family."
And so Philip was enfolded into the noisy embrace of his new wife's people.
And so the two of them zipped off into their future in a stretch limo, with a scheduled stop on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for a couple of days.
Monday morning we headed back east to Apollo, where I am now until Thursday. From the future back to the past, where the next big event was a drive down Dime Road to visit Barbara.
Barb is my favourite cousin, another person from the past, particularly beloved. She taught me to neck-rein a horse, how to help a dog birth pups, how to turn a Jeep to four-wheel drive, how to knock down a shot of bourbon and not choke. She drives steamrollers and forklifts for a living, and builds dry-stone retaining walls on the weekends. She can set vertical fence-posts on a sheer hillside and shoot a .44, and tell a lowlife to go straight to hell. But she knows how to pray, too. She's praying a lot these days.
Barb has cancer in the bones of her spine and the organs of her abdomen.
I went to see her this morning. She does not look like Barb at all. I held her hands. I never noticed before how elegant her hands are. She is very small, she is in a great deal of pain.
I will probably not see her again.
She is the future, too. Most of my family dies of cancer eventually. We fight and medicate and suffer, but it gets us in the end. Cancer or old age or accident, something gets us, all of us, in the end. Aside from the suffering, there is nothing to feel too badly about. Everybody goes.
Me, too. I go home on Thursday, via Charlotte. On Friday I will be home in Moratinos, the tiny pueblo. My present.
(I promise to post more photos. I have a new computer and have not figured out how to move things around comfortably.)