Cold feet

I was on my way to Winslow by myself, which let’s face it, is pretty rare these days. Wearing blue jeans, shirtsleeves rolled up, and sandals. You can still wear sandals here in late October. I’m headed to my mom and dad’s house, to go through some of my mom’s things. My brother and sister-in-law will arrive late in the day with two dogs in tow.

My mom’s been dead for four years so this is a trip long in the making. If you know me at all, you know it hasn’t been easy. My relationship with my dad has hit a lot of potholes since my mom passed away. And, at least part of the tension has been over the fact that (I think) we’re long overdue for getting together as a family to make some decisions.

And I don’t know if I even believe in such a thing as closure. It sounds suspect to me. Undesirable even. How can I close what I want to remain open? But I do think there is a process for moving forward, and I’d prefer making active choices rather than avoiding any choice at all. One thing’s for sure she’s not coming back.

I just want us to be all together when we decide.

So through sheer force of will on my part, and stubborn refusal to let it go, this moment now presents itself. But now that it’s here I’m feeling tentative. For one thing, I’m not sure how I’ll feel on the other side. I mull all of this over in the car.

I decide I’ll make a stop in Flagstaff to get a coffee and focus myself before the final leg of the trip. Also I’d better change out of my sandals, and into boots, because the temperature in flagstaff will only be in the 50’s.

I find parking just down the street from an old coffee shop and hop out in the chilly air to walk around to the trunk to retrieve my boots, but I can’t find them. Crap. I’ve accidentally left my boots back in Phoenix!

“Girl you need boots if you are in Flag! It’s cold there!” says a friend via Instagram where I’ve already opened the moment up to the public.
“I know. I’m wearing sandals and a jacket.”
“Left my boots back in Phoenix’ was on Winslow’s KINO country yesterday mornin’n” says another friend. Referencing my old high school job as a disc-jockey for the AM country radio station in my hometown.

And it’s not lost on me that I literally have cold feet! I’ve managed to make this trip with sandals as my only form of footwear.

My mom never would have made an error like this. She took multiple pairs of shoes with her for even the shortest of trips.

Later, once I get to Winslow, I dig up an old pair of white sneakers abandoned in the bedroom where I sleep when I am visiting home. So it will be ok. I will get by. Much like how we handle the rest of the weekend. We’re ok. We are getting by. Still got a long way to go.

I think of a song Emerson came up with one time, bored, in the backseat of the car.

It’s a sad road to Winslow
Driving on highway 40,
Eating hot tamales in the car…

Still standing

The Sheagles

We spent the weekend in Winslow.

Every September my hometown hosts the “Standin’ On The Corner Festival” to honor the song that put it on the map, Take It Easy.

Well I was standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl my lord on a flatbed Ford,
Slowing down to take a look at me.

Written by Jackson Browne, but made popular by the Eagles, it is my town’s claim to fame. This two-day music festival always culminates on Saturday night with an Eagles cover band. This year’s performance was by the all-girl Eagles tribute band the Sheagles. Their set is made up entirely of Eagles songs, building to the one song that is the cornerstone for the whole event.

I sat on a patch of grass with Liam, and Emerson, and my sister-in-law, Ryan, thinking Winslow sure is a funny place. We watched an odd assortment of cowboys, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and railroaders dance around to a Mexican band. Kids running around with marshmallow shooters some enterprising vendor has made out of PVC pipe, scattering marshmallows across the dusty pavilion. One particularly exuberant man, who we nicknamed the Scarecrow because he was so tall and skinny, kept raising his arms, outstretched and flapping, to draw more people out to the dance floor. Looking for any willing female.

What unites everyone is a mix of music, Navajo tacos, dust, and beer.

When the Sheagles came on, my fellow townspeople gathered round the front of the stage and stared at the eight female musicians from Nashville, seeming unsure about the band. But they warmed up after a couple of songs, after one of the Sheagles challenged into her mic, “Let’s hear it, Winslow!”

Dark and stormy

before the geyser

A couple of weeks ago Emerson had two baby teeth pulled to make room in her mouth. Later that night we were expecting Liam’s twin, Seth, and his boyfriend, Matt, from LA. The next day their older brother, Hil, and Tara, and the kids were flying in from Brooklyn.

Emerson was brave and calm at the dentist. Keeping her sights set on the weekend fun ahead. The teeth came right out. She made the drive home with gauze in her mouth, and the bleeding was minimal. She had a bowl of lime Jello. So far, so good. A few hours later, just as Seth and Matt arrived, her mouth started bleeding a little so we put more gauze in and headed for a Vietnamese place for dinner.

But once we got to the restaurant, her mouth started bleeding A LOT worse. She had her hand over her mouth. When she pulled it away it was covered in blood. I changed the gauze but it quickly turned bright red again. I took her home while the guys ate. On the way there she said, “Am I going to be ok?” “Of course,” I said (though the amount of blood was beginning to freak me out). I told her to lay on the couch with her head back and bite down on more gauze. We got one side to stop bleeding, but the other side JUST. WOULDN’T. QUIT. This went on for two hours. Bloody gauze pack after bloody gauze pack. We had her bite down on a damp black tea bag. Liam called the dentist. Apply pressure with the gauze for 15 minutes non-stop she instructed. So we did, and thought we’d finally gotten it to stop. But Emerson got up to go to the bathroom and it started bleeding again.

It was getting late now, and my sweet smart daughter said through her bloody mouth, “This isn’t normal” and I had to agree with her. This was a Iot of blood for one little tooth hole. After calling the dentist again, it was decided we would meet back at her office. It was 10:45. She was in sweats and a t-shirt, and really nice to my kid, as she put some coagulate putty in her mouth. Then waited to assess the bloody baby-tooth hole. Making small talk she said this was the first time in 25 years she’d had to do this. What?! “You’re kidding me,” I said. She wasn’t. What a distinction. I guess she won’t forget us. But, believe me, I was glad we went.

Luckily, kids bounce back because it was a Sherman Bonanza weekend, and by the next afternoon Emerson was splashing in the pool. We had a good time: all three brothers together, late summer cousin time. We were at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in the pool and in a cabana, all of us taking turns going down a waterslide over and over. Mela and Emerson, born one week apart, got along like two peas in a pod. My sister-in-law Tara and I went thrift store shopping and scored some good dresses and reconnected. My nephew Marcello was bright, and feisty, and wearing seersucker pants with a gunslinger belt buckle.

Even though we hadn’t travelled anywhere this summer, it felt like a vacation for us. A much needed break in the usual action. We drank “Dark and Stormys” poolside to celebrate the good and well conclusion to last night’s bloody mouth fest. Resolved and toughened up. The tooth socket holding firm. Family bonds holding firm. Blood thicker than water, or rum, or something like that. The mood wasn’t dark and stormy at all. In fact, the bloody tooth, though not exactly life threatening got my attention. It was a reminder how happy I am to have these days together in the sun.

Hot tamale!

All that's left of the drive-in is this sign.

There’s not much left of it anymore, but growing up we had a drive-in movie theater, the Tonto Drive-In. It classic Winslow-style it was built right next to the train tracks. At least once during every freaking movie screened there (but usually more like two or three times) a train would go past clackety-clack, clackety-clack getting louder and louder making it impossible to hear the scratchy audio from the drive-in speakers hanging in the car window. You would be forced to read lips for the several minutes it took the train to pass. One night Jan was headed for the low cinder-block concession stand located in the middle of the red dirt parking lot. “Anybody want anything?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Tom, “I’ll take some hot tamales.”
Jan went to the concession stand, then came back handing Tom two foil-wrapped bundles.
“What’s this?” said Tom.
“It’s tamales. I didn’t know what kind you wanted so I got a green and a red.”
He started laughing, “What? I meant the candy!”
Jan laughed too. “You want me to take them back?”
“No,” said Tom “I’ll eat them.”
Only in Winslow could someone go to a drive-in movie concession and come back with actual, homemade, steaming hot tamales.

happy place

You'd never know by looking, but this woman would take you down at Disneyland

I recently had a dream about my mom. We were at Disneyland and she said something like, “This is my favorite place,” or “I always love this place.” Something like that.

Really, there were two religions practiced in my family. There were Mormon leanings of course, from my mother, but the other religion even more fervently venerated was Disneyland.

My mother was a dynamo at Disney. The first time Liam experienced her there she blew him out of the water. He couldn’t keep up. Plus, she was on chemo. He was ready to hoof it back to the hotel for a nap and she was ready to take on the 45 min. wait for the Peter Pan ride. He developed a coping mechanism to keep up with her. Pickles. Throughout the park they sell big dill pickles, and he would eat one every couple of hours claiming that the salts and herbs were helping replace vital fluids — lost to him on the force march through Disney.

Here’s how the Petersons did Disney: Get to the park early, preferably before the gates open, and stay late. Stay past the fireworks. Leave so fried you do a sort of zombie shuffle out of the park, your cheeks smeared with tear stains; completely spent. If you’re there for more than one day, wake up and repeat the whole process.

My father swears I’ve dined in the Blue Bayou restaurant that looks over the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but for the life of me I can’t recall this. I’m sure this is because I was asleep face first in a Monte Cristo sandwich.

When Liam first witnessed this behavior, he thought we were mad. He kept looking at me longingly to put up a fight, to speak up for our right to take a break, take a moment, compose ourselves, something. But he didn’t understand the sanctity of the ritual. We were on hallowed ground. I had no more power to stop this than a moving locomotive. To suggest we leave the park for a nap was sacrilege. A sign of weakness; of a faulty moral compass. Onward we must go! So I’d slip him a couple of bucks to grab another pickle.

Here’s to my mom, especially today, and her amazing determination.XO

Maple leaf

Years ago, I was visiting my friend Lilah in New York and we were walking in lower Manhattan heading to Chinatown. We were on a mission. I was living in Oakland, CA at the time, in the middle of a divorce at age 31, and needing to make a rebellious statement. I decided I wanted to purchase a hip-hop inspired gold-plated marijuana-leaf necklace. [For anyone new to this blog, my parents named me Sativa after cannabis sativa. More on that here.] So we headed to Chinatown where such things could be procured. We were navigating the thick crowds of people working our way to a row of shops along Canal Street whose window displays were jam-packed with thick gold chains and jewelry cases full of the chunky charms and pendants that hang from them. As I said, I was looking for a gold pot leaf. We looked in a few stores admiring oversized pendants of crucifixes, and Jesus heads with crowns of thorns, and Tazmanian Devils, and big dollar bill signs, and Superman’s emblem, and whatever the hell else had been cast in gold. But no pot leaf. Really? We’re having a hard time believing it. Lilah starts up a conversation in broken English with the Chinese lady trying to assist us. Finally Lilah takes out a scrap of paper and draws a multi-pointed leaf on it. “Oh!” the lady says with recognition, “You want Maple Leaf!” I smile bashfully as Lilah says, “That’s right.” She juts her thumb at me, “She’s a proud Canadian.” The lady disappears and comes back in a few moments with a delicate gold maple leaf. Victory! I made the purchase and wore my bling out of the store.

Happy Mother’s Day

Yesterday, I read at a Mothers Who Write event with current and past participants of the workshop. Mothers Who Write is a creative writing workshop for mothers of all ages and stages. Year after year this Mother’s Day reading makes me laugh and cry, in the best kind of way.

Here’s the piece that I read:

It’s while I’m ironing clothes that I begin to wonder if I’ve finally started to turn into my mother. There was a time in my life that I would have picked clothes up off the floor to wear and not thought twice about it. But iron . . . no. My mom liked to iron clothes while watching TV. One time when I was in high school she was ironing on a Saturday afternoon and I was stuck at home — grounded. We were watching some show about traveling America’s highways and bi-ways. “Oh, I know!” she said, “We should pick one state each summer to visit. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could just pick a state and find all those little off-the-beaten path places we’d like to check out.” “Ok” I said in my deadpan teenager voice, “But I better drive.” “Why?” My mother looked at me puzzled. “Because,” I said raising my eyebrows at her, “There are 50 states and you are going to be pretty old by the time we get through with this – taking these one at a time.” She just laughed undeterred. “Ok,” she said immediately revising her plans, “Maybe we better hit two states each summer.”

A couple years later, when I would come home from my college located clear on the other side of the country, I’d often find my mother wearing a jumper dress. If it was the holidays she would be wearing a holiday jumper dress, usually with a bib and some decorative festive appliqué thingy featured prominently on the bib-by part in front. She may even have a coordinating turtleneck underneath. And maybe even themed shoes. For instance, the jumper would have a big smiling snowman on it and the turtleneck would be covered in tiny little Christmas trees and her slide-on flat shoes would have candy canes on them. I, on the other hand, would be wearing ill-fitting thrift store clothes that I hemmed myself with non-matching thread. The fabrics I leaned toward were the types you didn’t have to iron; stain-resistant nylons and polyesters. I might put together an outfit featuring a purple gingham patterned dress paired with a fuzzy leopard print purse and red clogs. Or, a t-shirt that said, “Born Again Pagan” with an orange polyester A-line skirt. My outfits had to look every bit as ridiculous to her, as hers did to me.

Upon seeing my mom’s outfit I would usually roll my eyes, or say something mildly mean depending on my mood. She would look perturbed but would restrain herself from clobbering me.

All these year later, as I stand here ironing while watching Storage Wars, it occurs to me that I was on some level totally missing the point back then. The point being that I was not my mom’s target audience. She was not dressing for the approval of a smart-ass like me. She was an elementary school teacher; a long-standing veteran of the second grade and to them, her students; her core audience, she must have been magnificent. She was marvelous and fun and loved the holidays with the same unbridled passion they did, feeling no shame in declaring, “Ho, HO, Ho” on the front of her clothing. This is what I failed to understand back then in my fill-a-bag for a dollar wardrobe.

No, I’m not suggesting that I’m going to go buy an appliqué holiday jumper, just don’t be surprised if you catch me wearing candy cane flats.

Today also happens to be my mom’s birthday. She would have been 62 today. Happy Birthday Mom.