Thursday, September 29, 2005

Settling In, Reflecting Back

Settling In
September 29, 2005

I’m really glad that my computer keeps track of the date for me because after so long on the road and the confusion of picking up my home routine, I’ve lost complete track of what day it is, never mind the date.

Ah, but it is Thursday. This I know because the Weather Channel told me so.

For several days now, as I return to my regular schedule, such as it is, I’ve been answering the question, “So, how was the trip?” And I say, “It was great,” or “It was long,” or “Everything went really well, thanks,” or some combination thereof. Each statement is true, and each is a necessary shorthand during the exchange of niceties. After all, it’s not called “small talk” for nothing – according to the social contract, such answers are supposed to be neat little summaries, not dissertations.

But if I were to attempt an honest answer to the question, where would I begin? I guess this journal itself is a start; it’s as close to immediate impressions as I could get without carrying a voice recorder around with me everywhere.

Here are some highlights from the trip that have stayed with me …

- Driving through Glacier National Park, climbing the Going-to-the-Sun Road as the clouds rose from the valley floor and crossed the face of the mountains.
- Meeting Marty and Chad for lunch at the little café just north of the east entrance to Glacier … homemade bread, soup, pie … and then explaining to my friends and relatives in New England about how my friends in Montana drove 2-1/2 hours to meet me for lunch. (In Massachusetts, 2-1/2 hours will get you from one end of the state to the other.)
- The Morning Light coffee shop in Great Falls where I found my first wireless connection and the mercantile in Judith Gap where we found lunch later that day …
- The friendly ladies who staff the tourist information centers at the rest areas along I-90 in South Dakota …
- The first sight of the Mississippi River as we descended the bluffs on the Minnesota side of the river approaching LaCrosse, Wisconsin, as the sun set …
- Opening my eyes to the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts on the last day of the eastbound journey, as the clouds and rain showers left over from Hurricane Katrina scudded across the sky amid the intimate landscape …
- The giggly, tear-stained hugs as we greeted Dawn and Chris and their boys upon arrival, greetings that continued as we moved from place to place and saw people for the first time …
- Sitting around Bev’s kitchen table and drinking tea until all hours; later, sitting around Joan’s kitchen table and drinking tea, and then sitting at Barb’s kitchen table, drinking tea. (It’s a Bennett thing.)
- Staying up till the wee hours yakking with Bev. (We’re a bad influence on each other.) Later, staying up till the wee hours yakking with Barb. (Guess we’re bad companions, too.)
- Seeing the smile on Joan’s face as her anniversary party unfolded and hearing her toast before their first dance: “To my husband, my love, and my very best friend …”
- Watching the Red Sox games on digital TV with Ted and Mary; having a shot glass of Chippety-Chocolaty ice cream with Ted each evening …
- Having coffee with Diane at the Starbucks in Reading that’s been built at the site of the old town dump …
- Getting to spend three – count ‘em, three – Friday mornings with the Breakfast Club (Joan and Bill, cousins Kathy and Sheila and Bev) at Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. I was there enough that Linda The Waitress remembered me and brought me coffee before I could even ask …
- Returning to Maine for an all-too-brief visit with Marguerite in Orono and Karen in Portland; checking out the bookstores of Bangor and Belfast, shopping at the Sea Witch in Belfast, falling in love with the Midcoast region all over again, walking the rocky path around Fort Williams at Portland Head Light, then watching the sun go down at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth; hanging out at the American and New England Studies office at USM, catching up on news of the faculty and other alums with Madeleine and Kent; having lunch with Nancy and Cynthia and meeting 4-year-old Eliza for the first time.
- Going to the beach at Plum Island with Dawn, wading in the waves, watching Mom make friends with all the gulls, collecting clam shells and other treasures …
- The many wonderful meals and treats that people shared with us so generously …
- Surprising Father Ignas with an unplanned visit in Putney, Vermont, on the first day of our return trip.
- The joy of discovery in the grand Canadian adventure … learning about Tim Horton’s and the plethora of “family restaurants” across Ontario.
- The unexpected wild beauty of the northern shore of Lake Superior; fall colors, rocky headlands, the steel-gray waters, the blustery rain; the road signs warning of moose in the roadway – although I wouldn’t want to run into one, I’m kind of disappointed that we didn’t see one.
- The wide-open skies of Saskatchewan – not to mention that incredible sandwich and pie at the LC Corral in Broadview.
- The drama of the rugged Canadian Rockies, highlighted by the copper-tinged hues of fall …
- Casually pulling up in front of our home, as if we’d only been to the grocery store; Henry’s look of panic and mad dash to hide under the bed when we first came in, followed by his nonstop purring when he finally figured out that it was me; the strangeness and unfamiliarity of the apartment on that first day back …
- The welcome from all of our friends and neighbors in Spokane …

After planning this trip for so long, and then being gone for one day shy of a month, it’s hard to believe that it’s all over and we’re back home again. And yet, life goes on – I’m working on assignments for the Inlander again, I’ve been to meetings already, I’ve got to pay my end-of-month bills this afternoon, and I’ll return to my Thursday night soup group tonight for the first time.

So, did I accomplish my goals that I set for myself? Let’s review. Here’s what I wrote at the beginning of the trip:

“Personal goals: Maintain my patience with my mother during the trip. Try not to gape at how much my cousins’ children have grown. Renew ties with extended family. Look into the eyes of America at cafes, gas stations and grocery stores along the way. Revisit some old favorite places. Remember all the good stuff about my life in Spokane as I wade into a landscape filled with memories.”

Hmm … Well, I can’t say that I maintained my patience with Mom all the time, but I think I did fairly well, considering. The break that I had during my trip to Maine helped.

I did gape at my cousins’ children – it just couldn’t be helped. Some of them I haven’t seen for ten years and they’ve gone from elementary school to college in that time. But at least I was able to form a new image of them as they are now, something I can carry with me until the next time.

I did renew my ties with the extended family – especially with Bev and Barb, since I stayed in their homes. Now the trick will be to keep those relationships going. I know that’s something we all want to do, and I also know it won’t happen without effort, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I can’t say that I spent a lot of time looking into the eyes of America, although I did give it a few sidelong glances. I found America – and Canada – in the coffee shops and bookstores and gas stations and ice cream stands and even the roadside rest areas. Rural America is still friendly to a stranger; along the turnpikes and in the suburbs of the Northeast, people stay pretty well focused on what they’re doing – they’re generally polite and efficient, although not terribly warm at first. I think it comes from the sheer number of people trying to share the geography. In Canada, ‘most everyone was friendly and happy to see an American taking an interest in their country.

I revisited some favorite places – Glacier, the Black Hills, the Berkshires, Portland and Camden in Maine, Plum Island – and I found some new favorites: Belfast, Maine; western Ontario; Yahk and Creston, BC; the Mass MoCA Museum in North Adams, MA; Putney, Vermont. I spent time at the ocean and confirmed my need for frequent visits to the sea.

The memories that emerged were good ones. I discovered that there’s nothing like sharing stories with people who know my past – and love me anyway. ☺ And yet, I have many memories here, too. The past did not overwhelm the present on this trip, but simply took its rightful place beside it.

1 Comments:

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous jan said...

I hope you plan to flesh out these reflections, as it seemed as thought you were just getting to the heart of the matter when I got to the last paragaph (which by the by was exemplary). Thanks for the vicarious trip. I had loads of fun if only in spirit.

 

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