It’s been a bad week. I'm glad it's done.

I woke feeling poorly. Remembered the previous evening and thought: I had too much to write last night. You get caught in a whirlwind of your own creation, and it has an intoxicating effect. Sometimes it’s cathartic; sometimes it’s therapeutic. Last night was supposed to be both, but it didn’t help much. I started writing about the Farm Life section, and why it stirred up some things I’ve avoided for years, and it made me realize how much guilt, anger and sorrow I’ve tamped down since my Mother died. One of those moments where you finally get everything out, expressed with the force and clarity you’ve withheld, and when it’s over you realize: that was just the start.

An hour after I woke up I got a text from a friend:


I had no idea what she meant. I hadn’t gone on the web yet; usually don’t until ten. I read the paper, I do some work, I listen to this or that. Never had a day improved by jumping online right away. Hmm. Hit the web, then. Nothing came up. All sites seemed to hang. Reset the modem, went downstairs, called up the news channel, expecting at the worst a BREAKING STORY about a terrorist attack or a presidential assassination attempt. Nothing. Texted back for more details, and that’s when I learned a friend had died.

And then it's all just fog.

What I wrote last night, in part:

Got a tweet from someone who’d read the Farm Life site, and said: are you okay?

Oh, I’m okay. I’m just whelmed. Not overwhelmed. Whelmed by stuff. Part of this is displacement: the difficulty of fixing the third novel has led to a manic swirl of cleaning. My wife came downstairs at 11 the other night to find me on a chair, head bobbing to iPod tunes, cleaning out the topmost cupboard. Some wives might think: he has gone mad. My wife said: huzzah and good on ya, mate; what have you found?

Well, I found three cans of Guinness from 2001. I take full responsibility. All of these water containers from various races or events, those are yours; behold, despair, and say farewell. Behold a bottle of some minty-creamy holiday liquor, either from 2011 or 2003; it too shall pass. This air-popping popcorn maker: Salvation Army. Oh, I was in the groove, I was, and I was boppin’ and rockin’ right up until I hit a song called “It Really Doesn’t Matter at All,” by the Electric Light Orchestra -

Don’t laugh. ELO get slagged, I know, but it’s really the musical vision of one guy, and I think he’s a gargantuan talent. Derivative, yes: Beatles / George Harrison / Roy Orbison and the rest, but his production skills stamp everything, and I can tell a Jeff Lynne track after two measures. This track is from “Zoom,” an album I just discovered, even thought it came out ten years ago. Nearly every track hits me right where I live - the blues, the rue, the screw-it joy of the rave-up tracks. There’s just something about being in late-middle middle-age and hearing a voice from high school, and he seems to be where you are, too. With many millions, of course, but still.

So I switched to the 80s playlist, and continued cleaning with some more useful sentiments. As in: I want to be a cowboy. My name is Fred. And someday I’ll be -

Oh, crap, well. The next morning I tackled the stack of photo albums, and it was hard work. Anything about my mother leads to a big roiling cauldron of guilt and regret and pain, to be frank. She worried so much. I made her worry, but nothing I did ever matched the catastrophic extrapolations of her concerns, and nothing ever tamped down the worries to a dead wad; the ember smoldered for year after year. She banked her discontents for reasons I will never know, and hence the pictures of her as a young girl or a young woman are difficult to bear, because I see the mind behind the smile. I know how the story ends. You feel ancient frustrations: you complained about the cupboards, sometimes. How they didn’t stick, how the doors drifted open. Dad was willing to pay for new cupboards; I remember that. But you didn’t want to spend the money because it was spending money, and I don’t get that either. Grandpa did okay. The farm was a going concern. Dad’s doing okay. The station is a going concern. But we have 14 Sue-Bee Honey plastic bowls in the cupboards - why? Because the Depression might return?

Rewind: I’ve been watching Hoarders. There was a little of that in my Mom. There was a room in the basement that had . . . stuff. She saved old magazines, and for this I am grateful: rediscovering some of the 1950s BHG mags was one of the things that kicked me into my retro fascination. Believe me, the house was pin-neat and squared away, except for that room . . .

. . . which was like the room off the back hall in my Grandparents’ house. When I was a kid my older cooler amazing cousin Bruce set up a teen fort in a room off the back hall. He lived in his parent’s house, which was on the farm, across a lawn from the Grandparents’ house. My uncle and aunt and cousins lived in one house; Grandma and Grandpa lived in another. A 50s rambler, a 1900s farmhouse. My cousin set up a room where we could hang out and exist apart from the previous generations - it had an ancient saggy bed, peeling wallpaper, stacks and stacks of stuff, a Victrola with a railroad-spike needle and a heap of scratchy 78s we’d play for amusement. I can still feel the heft of the tone arm, still see the drawer with the extra needles, the decal of the Master’s Voice dog. There was a closet across from the room that held everything Grandma couldn’t throw away. Fur coats and board games and magazines and God knows what else.

When she died the valuables were removed from the house, and the local fire department was called, and they burned down the house for practice.

My uncle died a few years ago. Cousin Bruce had a head-on with a Winnebago a few years back on a country road. He lived in town and we never, ever saw each other enough. So I see the pictures my mom took of her brother sitting on a tractor, and I think of the farm, of Sundays spent in the quiet house -

Grandpa, your ash. He’d light an Old Gold and forget to ash it. Then he’d carefully move the cigarette to his silver ashtray. He loved to smoke. Died at 88 when he fell down the stairs.

Grandpa, am I cold? He played Hide the Thimble with us, and tell us if our proximity to the occluded object meant we were hot, or cold. When we found it we got a pink peppermint lozenge.

Grandpa at the kitchen window at the end of every Sunday visit, waving goodbye. Falling asleep on the way home, feeling the car make the big turn around the road where the Starlight drive-in was.

And it’s all gone.


There was lots more after that, but I’ll keep it to myself. For once. So this morning there wasn’t much to do but think, and fill up time until it was time to do the things that had to be done. I saw a pewter pitcher on the table, something I’d pulled out of the closet - yes, the Closet of Mysteries is being divested of all sorts of flotsam I really don’t need, and can bear to never see again.

It’s a cream pitcher from the old Curtis Hotel. Black as coal. Got out the Brasso and poured some on a rag and worked the pitcher and rubbed and rubbed until it shone.

So there was that.

Went downstairs to gather up my stuff to go to the office, and there was a coloring-book page my daughter had done, some school assignment. Just the other day we were talking about how she used to do coloring books, how that was a baby thing. But here’s this.


So there was that, too. There always is, somewhere.











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