Posted by: Robin | February 21, 2008

Highways

Moon to Earth & Back “And I was wondering if you had been to the mountain to look at the valley below. Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley? Did you know which way to go? But the mountain streams run pure and clear, and I wish to my soul I could always be here, but there’s a reason for living way down in the valley, only the mountains can know.”

Noel Paul Stookey, from his song “John Henry Bosworth”

One of my earliest memories is gazing out the window at the night sky, long after I was supposed to be asleep, with an eerie lone train whistle down in the valley calling me from the vertical world to the horizontal. The thought in my child’s mind was “What’s out there? I want to see.” The longing and curiosity are as piercing now as they were then. Nor has the tension between the call of vertical and that of the horizontal eased, the transcendent and the immanent.

Yesterday was a case it point. I began the day as usual–working on my novels. On my desktop I have a Google map gadget that changes every few seconds to a new place in the world. I glanced over and noticed a zip code near my home town and realized I’d never seen a satellite map of it. It was amazing to see the bird’s-eye view of how hilly it really was (in case learning to drive a stick shift there didn’t bring the fact home). I zoomed in on my brother’s funeral home (we’d lived above it growing up). A four-lane highway runs in front of it. Behind is an alley that was the highway of my life from five to eighteen. It runs from Montana Avenue a dozen or so blocks to the town line. I walked it to school, to church, to my grandparents’, and when my parents divorced, it was my route between them. My worst childhood memory was because of the alley, and some of my best as well. It was always The Alley. It had no street signs. It still has no street signs, but yesterday I discovered on the satellite map its name: Warner Alley, almost certainly named for my great-grandfather!

It really was the highway of my life in a way I’d never known. My great-grandfather was the family patriarch whose choices still shape our lives long after his 1946  death (i.e., the first of four generations of funeral directors). He’d lived on Montana Avenue, and genealogy research, old letters and my mother’s memories revealed him to be a man who loved life and lived it fully. I was so excited I called my brother whom I haven’t talked to in months. Our family is not very good that way. His GPS had beat me to the punch. He was, as usual, bewildered by the strange things that excite me, but he was happy I was happy. Then we talked.

The day ended with me racing in and out of the house to watch the lunar eclipse with its entourage Saturn and Regulus. The awe and wonder is wordless, and it happened as my son Dan returned from class to pick up my grandson Benjamin. Dan shares my fascination with the natural world, and it seemed as serendipitous as my alley carrying a family name that he should be there to watch it with me. The last scene of my day was walking out to the car with him as he carried his sleepy son. We were walking single file. Just as Dan reached the car his head tilted toward Benjamin’s, and he pointed upward. His voice soft with the sweet mystery of it said, “See the moon. That’s an eclipse.”

As he went on to explain, my eyes lingered on them in the loveliness of the moment, and then my son’s up-stretched pointing hand called me from the horizontal to the vertical world. And this time I felt no inner-tension. It was a moment, a day, big enough to encompass both, as big as the God who authored it.

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Responses

  1. This is beautiful, Mom. I look forward to reading your revised books after being reminded just how talented you are at weaving words.

  2. This was lovely. That last paragraph really brings it home.

  3. It was a lovely evening.

  4. Thanks, family. It means a lot that you like it.

  5. Actually, this sounds like good material for one or two short stories.


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