Sunday, August 1, 2010

Anniversary Road Trip

I was taken away from blogging for a few days by a big road trip: I drove down to Knoxville, Tennessee to see my parents for a combination of things, mixing my annual summer visit with my son with a celebration of my parents' 50th anniversary (today, August 1, actually) and my mother's 68th birthday, which was today as well. She got married on her 18th birthday.

I hadn't realized, until I talked to my son about it, that it was the first time in a year and a half that I'd been down there. This was mostly due to school. Since the last time we'd made the trip, the wind farm in the picture at the top had been installed, the Benton County Wind Farm. It's an enormous project. So far, there are 87 of the 400 foot machines installed, enough to power over 40,000 homes. I found an article on it online which indicated that the project, already huge, will eventually be six times its current size. I found sighting this wonder a rather magical way to start the trip. My son and I are very interested in sustainable energy and frequently talk about it.

My wife and my stepdaughter came along for the trip. Neither of them had met my father, who is unable to travel since his cancer surgery four years ago. As noted in my blog, my wife and I are currently in a rough patch, and this sometimes came through during the trip.

Overall, the trip was great. I had a couple of great talks with my folks about a bunch of things, including the fact that it appears that I am probably permanently alienated from one of my brothers, who I have not spoken to for nearly nine years. In the last couple of years they have realized what I'd figured out a long ago-- that he's an aggressive bully who constantly works to make the people around him uneasy, and who constantly blames his problems on others. I think that my wife came away with a better understanding of me after spending time with both of my folks (she'd met my mother already).

My folks were delighted to spend time with my son, who is hands down their favorite grandchild, and my father was happy to finally meet a granddaughter he'd never met before.

I did manage a little bit of down time, but this was balanced by the fact that I did the majority of the driving. I took the time to do something that is the start of a long-term project. Inspired by the life and career change of one of my favorite bloggers, mi, the "blogger formerly known as barista brat," who has launched upon a new endeavor, becoming a young adult fiction writer, I made the decision that I am going to write a book about my friend Mark, who was one of the most alive, unique and vital people I had the fortune to spend most of my adulthood with. When I attended the trial, last summer, of the guy who killed him (the trial was actually for the killing of one of his accomplices in the robbery, who Mark's killer was afraid was going to "roll" on him), I met Alex Kotlowitz, an author who wrote, among other great books, a book that was very influential when I was a teacher, "There Are No Children Here," about two young boys growing up in Chicago's horrendous Henry Horner Homes housing project. In an issue of the British literary magazine Granta last year, Kotlowitz had an article about the murder of Khalid, the young Sudanese immigrant whose family had been Mark's tenants, and had been led unwittingly, I've come to realize, into the attempted robbery in which Mark was killed. I finally purchased the issue of Granta last week on Amazon, and during this trip, I finally skimmed the article, marking the references to my friend in the article with Post-Its as I sat at the pool with my mother, watching my kids swim. It's a starting point.

It was funny to see my kids on the trip. They kibbutzed a lot, and bickered a little. Later, my wife and I talked about it and made the observation that it's exactly what a sixteen-year-old brother and 13 year old sister would act like. They're as close as if they were actually blood relatives.

The trip was, overall, I think good for Kim and I. I think that meeting my parents together helped her understand me better. I don't think that she'd really gotten my sense of humor, irreverence, sarcasm, openness and not giving a shit what other people thought about me until she saw where I got it from. Our frustration with one another spilled over into a couple of brief spats during the trip-- it was funny to hear our kids referee them. Overall, though, the trip was good for us individually, and probably as a couple. I'm not sure we're going to be together forever, but I think there was a better understanding overall.

The trip was a good one. It had been way too long since I'd been down there (this last Christmas they flew my son down since I could not afford to take the time off to go down, since I'm paying my own way through school). It cost me a lot, taking a whole weekend off. But as imperfect as their marriage has been, it has lasted 50 years, longer than most, and I thought it was important to be there. And whatever beefs I've had with my parents in the past, I'm now close to both of them. Recently, I've been faced with a bunch of mortal illnesses in people around me. As I've mentioned before, I've been doing a lot of emotional housecleaning lately. I've come to the realization that when I lose my parents, I don't want to be crying to myself "why didn't I give them more phone calls and visits?" Having my own kids has made me realize that nobody gives you a manual when they're born. My mother is fond of quoting Maya Angelou, who said something to the effect that "I did the best I could, and when I learned better, I did better." As I travelled, I looked both backward and forward, hoping that I've been able to take what I could learn from them, and hoping I've done well enough with it that my kids can live happy adulthoods.


SkylersDad said...

Both of my parents are gone, dad in 97 and mom in 2000. I miss them both a lot, and it is funny how the little things that happen to me will cause a wave of emotion when I associate it back to them.

Try and stay in touch as much as you can with them.

Churlita said...

Sounds like a great trip. I hope things smooth out with your wife. I can imagine how tough that all is for you two.

Erik Donald France said...

That was epic, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Good choices, so it seems from this perspective. Congrats to your parents, too!

p.s. best wishes on the book project, as well!

Pat Tillett said...

Great post about a nice road trip and family visit... It's nice that you still have your folks

GETkristiLOVE said...

I'm sorry to read all the negative stuff you've been going through lately but the road trip sounds like a good starting point. I hope everything works out for you and your family.

bubbles said...

Hey, I'm sorry I've been out of the loop. I'm looking forward to reading JY and getting more up to date. I'm going to read on here first... I'm way behind.