Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Day 13 – Tucson: Getting to know family again

Visiting relatives while on a trip is an iffy proposition, especially if you are inconveniencing them by plopping down for a multi-day stay. Normally, relatives (or in-laws), like fish, stink after three days – both in odor and temperament.
But staying with family is different. And by “family,” I mean direct blood – brother, sister, your children, grandparent, mother, father. And “different” means you take them in – few questions asked. At least, it is how it should be and it is the manner I believe it should exist. You care for your own unless it is physically or medically impossible; or they request otherwise (in no uncertain terms).
My family is quite small; both my parents passed away some time ago (my mother while I was in college and my father in 1993). When my father was alive, he chose to retire from Detroit, Mich., to Montgomery, Ala., and live on his own. Whenever I asked him to move to South Texas to be closer to his grandchildren, he politely but stubbornly refused. Sadly, he died without seeing either of his granddaughters, and only saw his grandson (Robert) twice.
My divorce drove a wedge through the father-son communications, but he was already in the grip of what probably was a form of Alzheimer’s (he often did not know or recognize my voice over the phone). That final year went without a word exchanged until I was notified of his death – oddly on my 41th birthday. My final act as his son was to sign a document permitting his remains to be cremated in Alabama (state law apparently demanded it from the oldest living relative).
I have only one sister, Vicki, who has been in Riverside, Calif. for the last 15 years or so as a librarian in the UC-Riverside system. To say our past relationship was volatile is an understatement; years went by without speaking to each other. Anger was replaced by resentment and stubbornness and each of us did our damnest to erect a wall that neither Ronald Reagan nor Mikhail Gorbechov could tear down.
But the sands of time DID wither away those bricks. Time does try to heal all wounds; it doesn’t always succeed and there are still some scabs that need more time to disintegrate). Stubbornness flows out of the body like waste and is eventually replaced with kernels of wisdom that should have been elevated long before. On both ends.
I have changed drastically since I remarried and underwent a major open-heart surgical procedure (and subsequent heart attacks a year ago). Vicki changed shortly after my operation when she adopted a daughter, Alissa Marie (5 at that time, I think).
It’s funny how life-changing experienced DO alter one’s perspective on life its ownself (to quote the great B.J. Puckett in “Semi-Tough”). The little crap that was SOOOOOO annoying just isn’t so freaking important anymore. Goals are different; priorities are altered in different directions; “I” is replaced by “we.” There’s less “me” and more “you.”
You begin to see the values and talents of others and how you can utilize your experiences and talents to help others. Perhaps it explains how retired people can bring a needed perspective to various charities; they have been there and seen it all and have less needs for themselves and a stronger desire to help others.
While in Riverside, I got my first real up-close and personal observation of Vicki’s life as a single mother. Like every parent, raising a child is a balancing act; not having a spouse just makes that juggle more difficult (just from a logistics point of view). And, at times, she and Alissa have engaged in a heavyweight battle of wills, which can be emotionally draining as anything imaginable.
It probably stems from their individual creative abilities. As I discovered, each woman is VERY talented in various fields – neither of which I was fully aware.
Alissa is a potential starring athlete; in volleyball, perhaps tennis, basketball, or anything else she puts her mind to. And she LOVES music and could be outstanding in that field as well.
Best of all, she LOVES to read (which should be expected as the daughter of a librarian but isn’t taken for granted). A young person who devours books like our dog devours pillows has a thirst for knowledge and will never be satisfied with any particular answer until she has fully read and researched all pertinent information.
That will do her well for her future. She will only accept that which she can prove herself and discover as fact/truth. Hopefully, her journey of discovery will only take her down safe paths; the steering is in the hands of her mother, Vicki.
Meanwhile, it was a total revelation to me that my sister was a magnificent artist. Hell, the last thing I remember in terms of her artwork involved crayons. I knew she studied art history in college (at The University of Michigan), but, honestly, I had never seen any of her work since then … until this past week.
I was literally stunned. There was enough sitting on her walls at home to do justice to a galleried one-woman shop anywhere and she seemed more than proficient in all mediums (watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal). I was actually jealous of her ability; it made my forays into needlepoint seem small in comparison. She was able to express her emotions, expectations, insight and dreams through a canvas – something I could only dream about in the recesses of my mind.
She was also an effective parent; making mistakes just like everyone but having a complete, long-term game plan for Alissa’s future, rather than just a week-to-week activity calendar. Everything is done, purchased and said (even when disciplining) with the eventual goal of producing the best functioning adult possible when it is time to cast the girl into the real world as an adult.
Sometimes you need to open your eyes completely in order to see the completeness of people around you. It could happen during a five-day vacation on their couch and recliner; it could happen during a phone conversation; it could happen merely by imagining yourself in their shoes.
Despite the miles (and I felt everyone of them on my backside from Plano to Riverside), I am hoping this relationship grows closer over the years – that our family doesn’t stay so “small.” Perhaps alternating visits to Plano and Riverside (they came to our home last year) will become a steady and regular happening.
Personally, I’d like that. I would enjoy charting Alissa’s progress and imparting any slight knowledge that would be beneficial to her.
I might even get to teach her what Motown sounded like BEFORE Michael Jackson.
I thought driving the route from Las Vegas to Riverside involved desolation and solitude; it has nothing on the trip from Riverside to Tucson. We ducked off Interstate-10 on U.S. 95, through the Yuma Proving Grounds, to Yuma itself and then eastward on I-8 (it just sounded cool to say I-8) along the southern Arizona-Mexico border. Man, talk about miles and miles of nowhere!
All the eye could see from hundreds of miles were rotting cactuses, scores of dust devils and wind spouts, splashing the Ford Escape with gusts of sand and searing heat. A massive high pressure center is hunkered down in the Desert Southwest and temperatures reached triple digits before noon.
Along the 8, towns were as infrequent as clouds in the clear blue sky. Gila Bend is the biggest population center between Yuma and the I-10 intersection (between Phoenix and Tucson), so any chance for bathroom breaks were strictly hit and miss.
My bladder held out until we reached the Tucson hotel; Jodie was not as lucky. But each time we pulled off the 8 to accommodate her need, the truck stop or café looked like Norman Bates was the proprietor.
Finally, she could wait no more and some hole in the wall desert way station was the winner! Sort of. Restrooms were only available to “paying” customers (two Cokes and two waters became the toll) and the rest room itself had its own “rules.”
Basically, since the commode tank was attached to a septic system, the management politely requested that ALL paper utilized in the visit, regardless of condition of said paper, be deposited in a basket next to the commode.
YUCK! The mind boggles at the mere thought of the disposal method for THAT!
Even worse, the person preceding Jodie into that women’s unit (four stalls; two out-of-order) failed to follow the direction, found the bottom of the commode and did not flush … double, triple, and quadruple YUCK!
“I’d never seen such a sign except for Mexico,” she sheepishly said upon returning to the Escape. “I guess we’re close enough.”
Ah, the advantage of a larger-than-usual bladder.
Last night’s dinner hunt was a success as we found a hole-in-the-wall, Italian family-operated place (Mamma Luisa’s) with excellent veal scaloppini and handmade linguine. It was better food, atmosphere and service than a chain restaurant, which is the dream of every traveler (I would think).
Tonight is a dinner with a former business colleague of Jodie’s at a classic Tucson Mexican restaurant and back on the road to Albuquerque. We’ll brave the heat this afternoon to visit Saguaro National Park and see lots of cacti, indigenous only to the Sonoran Desert
Until then …waiting for the image in that rest room to disappear … shalom!

No comments: