Note from Aunt Jo

Sometimes life seems like a blur of color
And sound. Events emerge, retreat, emerge
again. Faces, moments large and smaller,
Once important, now dim in time’s dark dirge.
Old songs, old fashions, worries, memories
family and old loves in faded ink
Safe in small boxes, the past’s treasury,
three-cent stamps, folded paper, the heart’s link.
“Dear Martha Ann. Thank you for the flowers.
Uncle Hank is here, too. Some days we do
OK but on other days we’re slower.
I just wanted to say thanks. We love you.”

“I love you, too, Aunt Jo,” I say, sure she,
in the timeless stream of being, hears me.

Yesterday I did some cleaning and found (again) a bunch of old letters I have saved. I guess I saved them so that when I clean, I can find them again. 😀 Among these letters, I have the letter from my dad to my grandmother enclosing a train ticket. The ticket, obviously, is not in the letter. The event was my birth. I was very small when I was born and they were afraid… well here I am, so… That letter is the one that says “Air, special delivery.”

They had spoken on the phone before that, but my grandmother never liked the phone and she was on a 3 party line anyway. Whenever the phone rang in her house she would jump up, startled, and say, “My lord.” Long distance calls were (to my grandmother) very expensive. It’s hard to fathom that in these days when people carry their phones around with them everywhere and spend a LOT of time on them. The top letter in the photo is a birthday card from my grandmother on my first birthday.

The note from my Aunt Jo was thanks for a Christmas present — plants that she could grow at “the home” where she and my uncle had gone to live in the last two or three years of their lives.

This is a Shakespearean sonnet and here’s a very complete and somewhat annoying explanation of what that is. I write them because they’re easy and I don’t have to think that much about the form. I’m also not very fascistic about following iambic pentameter since English more or less forms itself into that rhythm pattern anyway.

The Real Thing

The dogs and I headed out this morning for a ramble. No one around. The silence was broken only by the call of a raven after I said “Hi” and he flew over me to be sure it was me. I saw two muskrat huts — maybe one that’s a work in progress — along a deep stream, ditch. The big pond is drying up and the shallow water is frozen. A few tracks of deer, a few goose feathers carried by a the wind from a kill spot I noticed a few days ago.

So much of the country is experiencing uncharacteristic cold. We’re not here in the San Luis Valley. When I looked at a map of the front, I saw exactly what had happened. The front with its heavy cold air had been stopped by the wall of the San Juan Mountains, a massive range with many high mountains in the Rockies. It and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains form a kind of basket that is the San Luis Valley. The front seems to have been too heavy to cross them.

Our day down here was on the warm side — a few degrees above freezing. I wore a sweatshirt and a down vest as I walked my dogs.

It’s the season of metaphors, all these holidays celebrating a belief or another, even the return of light after the longest night of the year. I was thinking about that, all the ways humans have developed to understand — even (at least in their minds) control the earth which really STILL seems immense and random — this cold spell for example.

We are facing a climate change crisis in which we humans are part of the problem. Then here is this place, this Refuge for the animals — even the small ones — where nature works its work with only benign interference from humans. Hopefully benign. Nature being nature isn’t always pretty — my raven friend is hungry. Some goose met its end at the “hands” of a coyote or fox or more than one. There’s a spot on the road where I remember in September encountering a garter snake who’d been dropped by a hawk. I wanted to move his corpse off the road so it wouldn’t be run over, but I didn’t get the chance.

I thought of that as Christmas approaches, the metaphor of Jesus, the light of the world. Dark at the Refuge is VERY dark. It will be very dark — and cold — for at least four more months. And in that darkness creatures will find a way to stay warm and alive.

As I was leaving, driving slowly, looking for ungulates out there, I suddenly got the idea that this earth holds every human metaphor just as it holds every human being. I have always felt on my hikes and walks, even since I was a little kid, that I’m walking on the hand of God. I don’t have an image for god in my mind. I tend to cringe away from religion; dogma has always felt to me like a prison of limitation, a way of eliminating people and possibilities. But this planet, the tiny parts of it that I have known and walked on and loved? It’s all of us, all of time, cataclysmic change, silence, wonder, the tiger salamander that arouses Bear’s curiosity, the lenticular cloud forming and vanishing. Snow on my nose, a deer in a thicket, staring at me, tracks of mice and voles in the snow, the smell of black sage after a rain or white sage after I brush against it, the hawk who stares into my eyes, the eagle I had never seen before, the gyre of Sandhill Cranes helping one another climb into the sky, the wild lilac in March in the chaparral, the annoying deer fly, the sweet Mayfly, the black and white fox disappearing in the mist and snow, the Mule Deer staring at me from under the train cars, the neighbor’s friendly horse, the kid running down the street, calling my name, the boys hoping to get a ride to the jumps, the baby hawks in the box who ride on my arm to the vet, the red diamondback, sleeping in the early morning sun, warming up, the rabbit butt hanging from Molly’s mouth, the fog from the ocean turning the chaparral hill into the Scottish highlands, the rain shadow that puts my left arm in the desert and my right in a spring shower, the pond that pulls the snow to it as the moisture comes up the ravine, the bare trees lit white by the sun breaking through the clouds JUST THERE, the red tail hawks mating in the dead cottonwood tree, the family of owls, the tarantulas looking for love, the hummingbird finding what it needs on the bean flowers in my garden, the neighbor who comes to tell me about the book she’s reading…

I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.

“What turns a person gay?”

That got your attention…

My friend is disturbed because her daughter-in-law refers to her son (my friend’s grandson) as “beautiful.” My friend is clearly worried that somehow an adjective like that will confuse the kid about his sexuality, maybe turn him gay. As I listened, I chose not to answer. She didn’t say that straight out, but it was what she was thinking. I steered the conversation elsewhere because…

I don’t enter the discussion about the pronouns, either, or the discussion about the difference between sex and gender. Not interested in those things. They’re — to me — as superficial as the “person” vs. “woman” thing from the 70s and 80s. This is really about the private natures of individual people, in my opinion. 

I went to an all woman’s college. What’s sometimes said about all women colleges was true; a lot of my schoolmates were lesbians. I’m not. Why not? I’m not just not and THAT folks is the bottom line of this whole discussion. Calling a boy “beautiful” won’t change him. Sleeping on the breast of the most beautiful girl (a ballerina!) in my college on the long drive back to Denver from Omaha after an art trip didn’t turn me lesbian — if anything would, it would be that, Marbie Ingles was wow, a Botticelli Venus, intelligent, talented — and a lesbian. When I woke up somewhere around McCook, Nebraska, she was gently stroking my hair. I just felt complimented. Then there was another attempt on the part of talented pianist at my school, but no. Then there was the time I was caught sleeping in the same bed as another girl, but that was because her roommate locked her out of their room not because we were lesbians. We were friends, so she came to my room. Still rumors abounded. Do I have a problem with this? None. Love isn’t easy to find and finding it? Luck? Maybe, but definitely a tremendous gift. 

My mostly gay but somewhat bisexual boyfriend, Peter, said it best. “I’m gay, but I hope that’s not ALL I am.” I was a huge confusion in his life — and he in mine. But I cherish every memory of our time together. It was great, intense, inscrutable, interesting — an adventure; he was brilliant, well-traveled, had graduated with highest honors from Harvard after winning a scholarship that had once been awarded to Thoreau. He was beautiful (yes) to look at, fascinating to talk to, irreverently witty, and we were eminently compatible.

From Peter I understood even more deeply that no one “turns” anyone anything. “Would I choose this?” he said one evening, tears streaming down his face during the time he was trying to figure out if he COULD marry me, “and be shut out of every normal human thing? The most basic human thing? A family and a home?” The first serious writing I did was about our time together. He read it and liked it. His words — in a letter — are in a frame in my studio along with other words that are precious to me. Among his words are, “I like it. It has energy. Keep writing!” He was one of my life’s great loves.

As for whether a gay guy can be attracted to a woman? Yes. Some yes, others no. There is no “one size fits all.” I believe that, fundamentally, we love a PERSON.

From these and other experiences I realized that human sexuality may be indefinable. I doubt that the range of possible human desires can even be charted. 

And… I didn’t even mention to my friend that many other languages don’t have two words for male and female beauty. In Italian a handsome man is a “bell’uomo” a beautiful man. Sometimes silence is the better part of valor. 

So, the president signed legislation that, if we were better, kinder, more imaginative and compassionate people, would never need to be codified. 

I posted this, and deleted it. A reader sent it to me because he gets my posts in his email. I’m grateful to him and resolve to be braver.

Little Words…

Inside my address book — a Moleskine book I bought in 2004 — is written in tiny letters, “I’ll meet your flight.” These lovely words arrived in an email I got from a man I first met at summer camp when I was 19 and he was 16. I am not sure even now who he was in my life. It was a connection that lasted decades, and was, in my mind anyway, a great love. He grew up to do incredible things with his life.

We planned to meet at the airport in his city — a hub city. I was on my way to Italy to study Italian; he was returning home from DC. Our plan would work because he would already have been through the TSA ordeal. We met. Had lunch. We talked. We had not seen each other in nearly 20 years. In a very short interval we managed to say things we needed to say to each other. I knew I would never see him again.

I loved those words, “I’ll meet your flight.” Not “I’ll be there.” or “I’ll meet your plane.” but “I’ll meet your flight.” Two birds in the air. Two old lovers meeting in the timelessness and placelessness of an airport. It spoke of ephemera and the essence of life to me, but he just might have meant, “I’ll meet your flight.”

They are why — even though the book has been chewed by puppies and the covers are falling off — I keep the book.

“The Wedding is the Easy Part”

Seeing the prompt today — “Wedding” — I realized that the only weddings I’ve attended have been my own. I’ve been part of some pre-wedding stuff for my cousins, but otherwise? No. The only person saying “I do” in my life has been me, and as we know, I don’t. I should have said, “I might” not “I do.”

My first wedding was the whole shebang with expensive white dress, people in the church, reception, all of it. I was 22 and had known my husband since 9th grade. Our meeting in Mr. Morland’s biology class was one of those movie things — eyes meet, sparks fly but it was years (four) before we went out together. We’re in some classes together throughout high school. Various girlfriends and boyfriends and finally we find each other. I seriously think this might have been made into a Hollywood movie… Hmmm. ANYHOO it lasted 6 pretty miserable and scary years.

No, I wasn’t that innocent but nice photo…

Looking back I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. Back then, marriage was one of the “easiest” ways for a girl to get out of the family house.

The second wedding was a lot simpler. It happened in my mom’s backyard. I guess I shredded the photos of that in the great Purge of the Evidence of the Examined Life. BUT I had a GREAT dress and everyone had a good time. The only downside is that the man I probably SHOULD have married showed up a couple days before the wedding. I hadn’t seen him in years. He lived in Europe. He’d just packed up, crossed the “pond,” got a job delivering a new car across the US so he could get to me economically. Long story… Anyway, the Good X and I got home from ordering the wedding cake and found him on the steps to our apartment building. The day of my wedding, even my mom said, “So who IS the groom?”

When the universe speaks to me, even shouting isn’t loud enough.

The Good X and I had 12 mostly OK years together. We’re still friends and a kind of family.

There was a third wedding, and it was my favorite. Extremely low-key. It even had a reason beyond “luv'”. In fact the witness — my good friend — took me aside and said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with ‘luv’ does it?”

“No, god no.”

“OK. Then I’ll do it. Let’s go.”

Destiny designs rollercoasters for each of us and these were some of the “thrills” on mine.

Some weddings lead to happy, if complex, lives together. I admire that. Here are two that I know of. ❤

The featured photo is a car in Guangzhou decorated for a wedding back in 1983.

Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.

I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.

There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”

I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”

The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.

My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.

The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.

I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.

We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.

Real Love Story in an Old Journal

I know how love is supposed to have been,
But my love didn’t turn out that way.
I have a stack of letters, tied with green
And every letter came from Italy.
A fall afternoon on a chaparral
hill became a lifetime’s love story.
Moon rise, while twilight held the day in thrall.
The lovers’ hearts remained a mystery
in that eternal moment. Letters filled 
These six thousand miles and thirty years.
Journeys, losses, loves; time does not stand still. 
Their two hearts hid predicaments and fears,
Written here, in my handwriting. Turning
pages, I read bewilderment — and yearning. 

I’m sorry. I got so wrapped up in this I forgot to use the word of the day, clink. Too bad, too, it’s pretty easy word to rhyme.

This is another Shakespearean sonnet (sort of) but it’s actually (OMG!) about love. I’ve been cleaning out and shredding journals and journal pages, but I found one yesterday I will not touch. For the most part, my journals are full of really dumb stuff. They aren’t “my past,” so much as me attempting to contend with some trivial problem in a former present. They are really mind-boggling examples of stream of tedium. As for my past, I’m its product, the fruit of it. I have kept things that I really do not want to part with — but it’s amazing after going through 7 of the 27 volumes of The Examined Life, the pile is pretty small. The question I ask as I work is, “How often have I needed to see this?” And most of the time the answer is, “I never need to see this.” ❤

Flowers Never Bend

“There is no ‘I’ in team!” Was that the 80s? I think so. I remember one of my more obnoxious colleagues at the international school blasting this from his ego-driven position of assistant director. The thing is, it bothered him that he was the assistant director. Wasn’t he a MAN? BOTH directors were — gasp — female.

I sat in that meeting mumbling to myself in my mind, “No but there’s ‘meat’ in team. And ‘eat’ and ‘ate’ and ‘mate’ and ‘tea’ and ‘mat’ and ‘tam’. ‘Team’ is full of words.”

The meetings were boring and pointless. I think I got through them by playing Tetris on notebook paper. Seriously. Don’t ask me how I did that, but I did. Then I’d be cut loose and I’d hurry home and I’d get Truffle, Molly and Kelly and head for the hills and begin the process of expunging or exhaling the accumulated human noise in the comparative silence of the hard chaparral hills of Mission Trails Regional Park.

A friend recently sent me a poem that very beautifully and sadly defines our mutual experience. It’s a poem about transience and how we cannot properly know until the moment has long past and the illusion of its return or future has vanished. Still, the experience has changed us and is permanently an aspect of our identity.

It’s difficult to fully understand all that might be wrapped up in a moment. Among other things there is potential. Potential is lovely. There is a kind of rapture in “tomorrow.”

The other side of this? Perhaps the important thing is not fulfilling the potential of something, but the awareness that something has transformed us. Whether or not we understood it, it happened and it was precious, amazing.

A Family As Large As the Universe; Living the Metaphor

Although it seems unlikely — if not impossible — that I would ever be busy or need to work out a social calendar it does happen sometimes… The concatenation of events drove me to City Market in Alamosa yesterday to get my groceries several days earlier than my “usual.”

On my way I passed one of the big companies (big in space used; I have no idea about their investments, etc.) with several large silos. They are painted with political signs giving an indication of the long-held political beliefs of the owner of the company. There is “Bush/Cheney,” “McCain/Palin,” “Romney/Ryan,” silence, then yesterday “Let’s Go Brandon!” which is (cowardly) code now used by the supernally cool for “Fuck Joe Biden.” It’s a long not very interesting story about how THAT happened, but now we have it. I see the juvenile uncool snickering behind their hands hoping, hoping, hoping, hoping that FINALLY the cool kids will let them into their group.

For a moment, seeing the sign, I was a little irked. “That really doesn’t make you cool,” I say mentally to the guy who owns the business. “You just think it does. Cool would be understanding that there’s something more to life than that media-driven bullshit.” Grrrrr….

Then, smart driver that I am, I looked out the windshield (advisable to anyone driving 65 mph (100 kmh). And there was the immense wonder of the San Luis Valley spread in front of me, Sangre de Cristos dark gray/blue below a blue sky, winter-fields and horses, bales of hay, in the distance, the sand dunes. “Good God,” I thought. “Who cares??? Fuck Let’s Go Brandon.” Those star-spangled people don’t fully appreciate the transience of flags.

At the store, Destinee — one of my favorite grocery delivery people — came out with my stuff. I haven’t seen her in a while. I jump out of my Jeep, Bella. Over this past year or so, Destinee and I have talked about — and joked around about — pretty much everything and touched on a few NOT funny subjects, like her dog and her mom who has not been doing well. We share how we’re glad to see each other and how have you been and then I say, “How’s your mom?”

“I’m so proud of her,” says Destinee, “She got covid and then after that, she decided to go to a sober living center.”

I got a lump in my throat. “I’m so happy for you. Maybe you’ll get your mom back.”

“I gotta’ be patient, that’s all I can do.”

“I lost my brother to booze, so anyone who tries to get sober is my hero. I’d hug you if it weren’t for viruses…”

Destinee looks me square in the eye and we share THAT knowledge.

“Air hugs!” She exclaims and we wrap our arms around the blessed air of the San Luis Valley. “Thanks for being so good to me,” she says.”

“You’re good to me, Destinee.” Then I think of what I said in a larger sense and it’s totally true. Destiny has been good to me. But I also wondered, who would NOT be good to Destinee? Should I tell you she’s African/American? The Valley doesn’t care about details like that. It doesn’t even SEE details like that. I don’t either. Maybe there are people around here who DON’T get it?

On the return? “Let’s Go (pray for) Brandon” on a sign outside a church. A CHURCH? Oh yeah, what was that about separating church and state? How arcane is that? As I drive I think, “These people exist to maintain their clique and piss people off.”

The sainted San Luis Valley whispers, “None of this matters AT ALL. Humans come, humans go, so do mammoths, giant sloths, an inland sea, even whole mountain ranges — a whole bunch of things.”

I think once more how much I love this place and WHY. I’m living smack-dab in the middle of the BIG PICTURE.

I stop at the the post office to mail the fardles to my cousin’s daughter. I don’t have a mask. “Don’t worry about it,” says the young masked man behind the plexiglas shield behind the counter. “I had covid. It was nothing.”

“OK,” I say, “Anyway, I’m vaccinated up the whazoo.” We laugh. A very weathered Hispanic farmer, missing many teeth, wearing his thin white hair in a ponytail, jeans, boots, faded work shirt, comes in wearing a Trump 2020 hat, beaten and faded. My brain starts clicking off all the reasons a guy like him should wear a different hat but then the Valley whispers, “Martha, I’m going to feed everyone who works for it. I don’t care about hats. Remember that.”

“Hi,” I say to him. He’s waiting behind me, not six feet away by the marked spot on the floor, but two feet, the normal social distance for his culture, something I actually like. His semi-toothless smile is glorious. “Hi,” he says his eyes sparkling.

“Do you understand?” says my valley.

“I get it,” I answer.

Once I got everything done at home, Bear and I went for a beautiful windy walk under the air-brushed sky. This huge place is a neighborhood and, I think, sooner or later we at least SEE most of the people in it. Last Easter Sunday I was out there with Teddy and met some nice people who were sitting at the picnic table (there’s only one). I put Teddy in the car and went to meet them. “Happy Easter!” I said, (I always hear Faust when I say that but whatever) “My dog’s not dog friendly,” I explained, and shrugged.

“Ours either,” they answered. They had a sweet-looking mutt, German shepherd/Pittie/cattledog looking little guy with golden eyes. We had a long conversation about cranes, the festival, and how the guy built the table — the man actually BUILT that table when he saw the one that was there was broken down, splintery, a general mess. We talked about how much we love the Refuge and chatted about all the people who’ve lived in this valley over the eons. I learned where they live, they learned where I live.

Yesterday, as Bear and I drove in, I saw them at the picnic table again. The dog was there. He’s a farm dog and he rides in the back of the pickup — tied down, but still in the back of the truck. I knew that it was likely that sometime during our walk, I was going to have to find a way to get Bear out of sight of the dog, but who knows? Maybe not. Bear and I had a wonderful, meandering walk of smells (for Bear) and clouds (for me). On our way back, when I was about 20 yards from Bella, I saw their truck headed my way, and I started walking fast judging the time I had to get Bear into my car before they passed. I was afraid their dog would dive off the truck when Bear saw him and went apeshit (which she would). But… they saw me, and stopped a good distance away and waited for me to get Bear into the car and the door shut. Then they drove past and waved.

“See where you live?” asked the Valley. “Do you get it YET???

“Yes,” I said, tears in my eyes. “I get it.”

But the Valley wasn’t so sure. I went out to get my mail and found a note from the old man who wrote me months ago wanting to order notecards. He’s the cousin of the man whose acrylics I inherited a couple of months ago. He’s from the San Luis Valley — his great-grandparents were pioneers here — but now he lives in the Pacific Northwest where his kids are. He’s homesick for the Valley, but he’s 91, and it’s not that easy for him to pack up and go somewhere. Last week, Louise, who runs the museum where I’ll be hanging some paintings and reading from my China book, sent out the museum newsletter which advertises my reading. Here’s my mail:

“Do you get it NOW????”

Post Script: Contending with Fardles

I really appreciate all the kind comments to my glum post this morning. After I wrote it I got the idea that maybe I should tackle a doable project that’s been weighing on me emotionally and physically (to some extent) so I headed out to the garage.

I imagine we all have sadness and disappointment in our families. I have a niece I love very much but who has disappeared from my life completely. I worry about her, but I can’t find her. I know where her mother is, but her mother is mentally extremely fragile and her mother’s husband is a combination of carer and and and? I don’t know, but I can’t reach her through him. I guess they don’t really want to hear from me which is OK. BUT. My mom put together two beautiful photo albums — one for each side of my family; her family and my dad’s. They were for my niece.

This past week, a blogging pal wrote about finding a lot of random old photos in a Goodwill store. She wanted to know the stories. That made me think of a photo album my neighbor found long ago in a dump in a nearby city, an album from WW I with scenes of an army guy (the owner?) in Italy and various other places. The photos in that old album were wonderful, but I felt a little weird, a little like a voyeur. Anyway, I have had those photo albums on my mind for a while. Those and all the letters between my parents when they were young and in love, just starting their lives. With them I thought of my Aunt Jo who burned all the love letters between her and my uncle to protect their privacy. So, today I went through (and emptied!) 2 bins of family memorabilia and got rid of half of my Christmas decorations. I don’t put up a tree so????

I contacted my cousin’s daughter and asked her if she’d like the album from our mutual family. She was so happy to have it. I seriously feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my spirit. I’ve wrapped it up in brown paper and it’s on its way tomorrow. My cousin’s daughter also wanted a little nativity I bought in Mexico for my mom.

As I worked, my spirit felt progressively lighter. I have no problem tossing the contents of the other album after I take some photos to put on my Ancestry tree.

When I finished these labors I thought, “OK. Everything left is just my life,” and that’s, I think, how it should be and I’m a LOT less glum.

Another thing I found is a small silk mass-produced tapestry of a scene, I think in Hangzhou. In itself it might not be anything special, but its story is. When I was teaching international students in San Diego in the late 1980s I made friends with a Japanese student who had been a cook in a Chinese restaurant in a resort in Hokkaido. He rented a room from the Good X and me for a while which was great because he cooked. 😀 Anyway, his father and his father’s friend came to visit.

I was nervous. These men were both WW II Veterans from the OTHER side. Aki had warned me that his father was very old fashioned, very conservative and hated Aki being in the US with the “enemy.” I knew a lot more about the Chinese Anti-Japanese war than did most Americans and I wasn’t sure about having a Japanese soldier in my house. It was a little weird.

We picked them up at the airport. Aki’s dad was rigid but Japanese friendly/polite. His friend? Wow. Friendly, open, curious, outspoken. The first thing Aki’s dad did was walk through my (large) garden which was designed in a semi-Asian style (homesick). He came in the house and said, “I had no idea Americans garden!!!” The friend saw some of the Chinese hangings I had at the time (lines of calligraphy from friends in China). He said, in pretty good English. “You know China?”

I said I’d been there a year. Then he told me he’d been a guard at a POW camp. He was 18. He didn’t understand why the Chinese were enemies of Japan. Some of the guards were Chinese. The friend said a lot of things, including that Japan’s culture came from China (not totally true, but…) I can’t remember everything, but they made me think about the war — history in general — differently. I began to understand something about the intense worship many Japanese had of the Emperor and that while sides are enemies in general in particular? Maybe not. We all know that, I guess, but hearing it from this man was very special. “I had a Chinese friend at the camp. I like Chinese.” He had even been back to visit.

Their visit ended with the usual journey to “Glando Canyono” and “Ras Vegas.” Months later I got a package and thank you from Aki’s father’s friend. I opened it to find the small tapestry the Chinese man had given him. It’s a real treasure and I thought it was long gone.

Oh and yet another draft of the Pearl Buck Project… THAT’S hopeless.

Here’s a photo of the edge of the tapestry telling where it was made.