Saturday, November 29, 2014

Moving Parts

I’m not a big fan of moving parts.  Not in real life, anyway.

 I like plans. I like on-time. I like predictable.  We “joke” that our family mantra is Stay in Your Rut, because our rut (aka, “tradition”) includes good things, like the annual trip to Bar Harbor and the seven Christmas cookies we always bake.

So I had more than the usual anxiety leading up to Thanksgiving this year, not only because the spouse and I had a looooong drive ahead of us to New York state (think: the northeast corridor on the busiest travel day of the year), where my parents live, but because our kids were spending the holiday together on the west coast. 

 This would involve our daughter travelling from a small town in Vermont to a small-ish airport in Vermont, flying to/changing in Philadelphia (all the seasoned travelers reading this just groaned), landing at LAX and connecting with her brother, who would expertly scoop her up at that busy airport in the still-coughing-beat-up-but-beloved-blue-Subaru and transport her back to his 20-something apartment in West Hollywood. 

Meanwhile, my sister, brother-in-law and three precious nieces were driving to NY from MA, and my brother and his wonderful brood were heading out from one location in NY to the other, while all over the news reports of fires, protests and tear gas in Ferguson were competing with Black Friday ads and hyperbolic weather reports about the approaching winter storm.

Serene I was not.  Too much of my family was on the move at the same time.

So when the first half of it all went smoothly (kids connected safely in Los Angeles where fun was had and turkey from Ralph’s was eaten) and at my parent’s house we were popping yet another cork on another really nice bottle of Pinot which someone had brought (my sibs have good wine taste) I didn’t think a thing of it when my phone chimed, indicating a text.  I happily scooped it up, anticipating a message from the kids.

But no, it was my friend from Maine.  Did you know, she queried, that we’ve had no power for 24 hours, none is anticipated for another two days and the temps might dip into the teens tonight?
My thoughts flew to all those still-raw Thanksgiving turkeys in Brunswick.  My shivering neighbors.  Then:  my mud room.  A poorly insulted extension of our otherwise solid house, where many pipes lead, including conduits to the washer/dryer and a gardener’s sink.
This is when predictable flew out the window.  Because our house was locked up tight and I had not hidden or given out copies of our keys, so no good Samaritan could go inside and fire up the wood stove and keep the pipes from freezing.  So with visions of water damage dancing in our heads, the spouse and I threw our bags in the car and began the long, dark, still slightly icy drive back to Maine.
Somewhere along I-84 I realized I had left the house keys on the counter of that chilly mudroom.  I do that, because we usually go in through the automatic garage doors.  Which, when the power is out, don’t work.  I broke this cheery news to the spouse as we drove, and to his credit he took it all in stride, and simply asked me to get out my iPhone and Google “How to Break Into Your Own House.”
You’d be surprised how many interesting ways there are to break into a house.  This kept us awake and entertained for hours.
Luckily, in addition to 1. Not hiding or distributing extra keys and 2. forgetting the keys, we left a window unlocked (right now you’re probably thinking, These people are too stupid to live) so I scrambled over the woodpile stacked under the eaves,  climbed in through the garage, and voila!  Entry.
This is where the story slows and gets comfortably predictable, which is reassuring in real life but death in fiction.  Because after we got into the house we fired up the stove, snuggled into our sleeping bags before it, and all was well.  The End.
But as my very wise daughter observed the next day, the best stories are in the mess.
“Just think, Mom,” she said when I was finished complaining about the interruption to my Thanksgiving festivities, “someday we’ll be laughing about this one. ‘Remember the Thanksgiving when you and dad had to race back to keep the pipes from freezing, while me and Christian were hanging out on the beach in Malibu.’”
I’ve lived through 53 Thanksgivings and the only one I clearly remember was when we dropped the turkey, pan drippings and all, on the kitchen floor, and my abuela, hoping to be helpful, slipped in the grease and landed on her ass right next to the hot bird.  As we tried to hoist her up her legs kept slipping out from beneath her, skittering wildly and further spattering grease. 
The other 52 were fairly calm, organized affairs, and they all run together for me.  At the time they were lovely … and forgettable.
The best stories are the ones with sharp edges, the ones that go pop! They aren’t always happy stories with happy endings, but they’re the ones worth telling.  They’re not necessarily stories I want to live through at the time, but it’s not I’ve got a choice.  Maybe the key to surviving those, is recognizing them.
The other day I treated myself to a lovely, hardcover copy of Mary Oliver’s latest collection of poetry, Blue Horses, and this one surprised me.  She seems to welcome the moving parts that scare me, and I think she must be very brave.

If I Wanted a Boat
By Mary Oliver

I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves,
that didn’t know starboard from port
and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close,
would slide in for a touch or two,
that wouldn’t keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray.
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe? Yes, by the
heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat I couldn’t steer.

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