Friday, January 12, 2007

These Foolish Things

When you come back from a trip, you unpack quickly, toss the laundry in the washer, stash the shoes in the closet, and sock away whatever gifts you bought along the way, hopefully somewhere you’ll find them when the time comes. Then you sort the mail quickly into “junk” and “maybe junk,” and you try to catch forty winks before it’s time to growl into work again.

My golden gift stash is with the Christmas lights. When the lights go up, it’s time to remember what you got on road trips this year, before you go out and get the same people still more.

I put my Christmas lights up late last month, and remembered too late what I'd got my brother and his wife on a road trip in April, before they added a third family member to their dinner table.

Tonight I got home and decided it was time to wrap some things and send them out. Reached into the closet and pulled down the bag . . . and found, when I went into it, what else I had forgotten I got on the road last year.

Mom was never a fancy dresser. At family get-togethers, she as often as not wore a T-shirt from one of her many road trips, from a Yosemite hiking weekend or a Midwestern museum or a historic site near where one of her kids lived. I knew every Christmas I could count on adding a few T-shirts to my collection, because from her travels all over the U.S. she brought home pencils and souvenir spoons and T-shirts and other gifts to share. Mom was the one who ordered the T-shirts for our extended family reunion in 1993. If we were going out to a show, Mom had plenty of togs that were presentable for a more well-heeled crowd, but at home we’ve always dressed comfortably.

As I was driving across the country last May, Mom and I joked about Arkansas. It was the one state she hadn’t been to. In her travels, I think Mom must have driven through every other state. I can name the times when she was in most of them. (I couldn’t swear she’d made it to Alaska. I know she’d been to Hawaii.) But somehow, in all her driving around, she’d always missed Arkansas. So when she heard I was going to be driving through on my way to the East Coast, she naturally let me know she was jealous.

I know Mom followed my progress as I made my way through Arizona and New Mexico and Texas and on eastward, because after she died I found maps in her house of the Southern U.S., with my stops marked in highlighter ink. With the maps were her jotted notes from when I called her from the road, notes that mentioned a song lyric here, a thunderstorm there, and more notes from different entries in this blog, or from my e-mails to her. I tried to send her a fresh batch of pictures every day.

And I remember, clear as day, calling her from the parking lot of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock—it was about twenty minutes before sunset—telling her I was somewhere she’d never been, teasing her until she figured it out.

So of course I had to get her something when I was there. I can’t swear everything here was for her; sometimes you get enough to cover several bases and decide to decide later who gets what. But I can tell you the T-shirt was hers. I got blue, her favorite color. I was excited to be able to give her something for Christmas from a place I’d actually reached before her.

And the medal sitting on the T-shirt had to be for her too. It's from Texas, from another stop on the journey home. I’m not a huge medal collector, but I have more than one that arrived in my Christmas stocking, marked “from Santa.”

I had forgotten those were there, next to the Christmas lights, waiting to be wrapped and unwrapped. I looked forward to seeing her face light up when she saw what was under the wrapping paper. I looked forward to telling her again about Little Rock, about the oil fields in Texas.

If you’re expecting to die, do me a favor: Remember the people who love you. Would it be so hard to save it till after Christmas?

I think I may go ask my brother now to mix me one of his powerhouse martinis. We are indeed fortunate who can share the conviviality of family.

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

Medals: a few years ago, my Mom moved from Ann Arbor to Marshfield, WI. When packing things up, she would find things that belonged to her children. One thing of mine that she found was a stash of Academic Decathlon medals. Seven things, actually. I've got them in Basel now. Do you still have yours?