Showing posts with label family adventure time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family adventure time. Show all posts

October 5, 2016

Small expeditions

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Years from now, I hope we see these small expeditions as the beginning of Schuyler's true adventure, the one she takes on by herself, in a world that may be as unprepared for her as she is for it, but which will be hers for the taking nevertheless.

March 4, 2016

"...the song woke his heart into the darkness and sadness of joy..."

There's a quote that seems to originate from a number of sources, which isn't surprising since it's not terribly original. But it is terribly true.

"You may be done with the past, but the past isn't done with you."

I returned to West Texas this week for that most compelling of homecoming reasons, a funeral. My Aunt Kay died last week. She was married to my father's brother, but she was also my mother's childhood friend. The four of them were the closest of friends, and that closeness applied to all of the cousins as well. We functioned like an immediate family; all of my childhood memories include my cousin/best friend, as well as her cooler-than-cool dad and her impossibly kind and good-hearted mom. When Uncle Tommy died in 1979 and our families drifted apart, something cracked in my family. When my father died eleven years later, that something shattered altogether. I don't think we ever entirely recovered.

Going home this week was about saying goodbye to someone who existed as a central fixture in my childhood, but it also served to try to place that childhood family experience in a larger context. Schuyler went back with me, partly because I thought it was important for her to begin trying to understand the whole end of life process but also because selfishly, I didn't want to go alone. Five and a half hours in the car from Plano to Odessa leaves a lot of time for conversation. When Schuyler asked if she had ever met Kay, I realized with sadness and shame that they had actually only met once, when Schuyler was a baby. It had been so long since I'd seen Kay, or my cousin Pam, either. Pam and I spent our childhoods basically functioning as brother and sister, and I hadn't seen her in fifteen years. Aunt Kay was part of a different life, one in which my family was whole and the future was whatever any of us wanted it to be. My life hasn't turned out like I ever imagined it would back then. Maybe that's true of us all, I don't know.

It happens, I suppose. You put your head down and you live your life, and then one day something terrible happens and you realize that you've let things slip out of your hands that never should have been treated so casually. I loved my Aunt Kay, as I loved and idolized my Uncle Tommy and as I adored my cousin. My memories of them are almost entirely from childhood, from a time so long ago that it feels slightly unreal in my memory, and from a place so unlike anywhere else in the world that it is almost impossible to describe without sounding like I'm making it up. West Texas in the 1970s really does represent a world that was very different from whatever past you probably know.

The time of my childhood is remote. The place, less so. Returning to Odessa is always something of an emotional shake up for me, but now, in the context of returning to embrace not just family but the family and the life of the past, it really is overwhelming. I sometimes turn to music to put it in perspective. Not the popular music of my youth, or the country music that was always present when my father was around. I actually associate home with specific classical pieces. Aaron Copland's celebrated Americana, for instance, like the slow movements of Billy the Kid or Rodeo or even the very end of Appalachian Spring. Big, lonely prairie landscapes in sound, albeit a little cliched.

The music I associate with home isn't about cowboys or even people, which is just as well since my ancestors weren't cowboys or romantic lawmen or heroes of the Alamo. They were the oilfield poor, living in primitive camp houses with faded, peeling paint and cheap screen doors and the occasional snake in the living room. That was my family's world, at least until my father's generation changed course. Uncle Tommy joined the army and moved to New York for a time, probably enough to get a taste for a life different from his own father's. My own father quit the oilfield after watching a friend and coworker burn to death in a horrible accident. My family grew from a hard and dirty industry, but one that hardly any of us still living have any experience with. I have petroleum in my blood, but none under my fingernails. For the first time in my life, I actually find that I regret that, maybe just a little.

Growing up there, I always understood something about Odessa, or any town out in the desert, and it's something of which I'm still very aware. Experiencing that part of the country isn't really about understanding the towns, not even larger ones like Odessa or Midland. West Texas gets under your skin when you drive outside the city limits, and not necessarily all that far, either. As soon as I was old enough to drive, I would sometimes head out to the edge of town, where imported and pampered green gave way to mottled brown. I'd eventually pull off the farm roads and follow a dirt road until I found an open spot where the mesquite bushes had been cleared, usually to accommodate a pumpjack. I'd lay on the hood of my car and listen to the rhythmic wheezing of the well, and I'd watch the sun set in a mess of vivid color and take in the sight of the stars sprawled out across the sky. Sometimes I'd see jackrabbits racing through the brush as I approached, and once I even saw a rattlesnake lazily twisting across the road in front of me. But mostly it was just silence and solitude, bigger than anything I've ever experienced since. The daunting but quiet snows of Michigan, the rolling waves of Long Island Sound, the towering Redwoods of northern California, some of my favorite places in the world, but none could quite compare to the almost oppressive silence of the West Texas desert.

When I'm not there, when I'm living my life in various cities as I have since I left Odessa at eighteen, I still feel the desert of West Texas. When I'm in large groups of people or in busy parts of the city, surrounded by beautiful chaos, part of me is still back home in wind-tossed solitude. Back in my youth with my family, including all those who have slipped away in some way or another, I didn't understand it, I don't think. I didn't really hear the weird, loud silence of West Texas.

My father did, I know that now. He longed to get out into the wilder parts, and we did, often. My father and I had a complicated relationship, as he had with most of our family, and I didn't always fully appreciate trips to the lake or the camping excursions to places like Fort Davis or Big Bend. But I guess I was soaking it in just the same, because I think I'd give just about anything to go back. Not just to the place, but to all of it, with my mom and my dad and his cool older brother who never got to be old in my memories, with my own siblings and my cousin, and with my aunt, to whom I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say goodbye to any of the ones I lost; my family hasn't had a surplus of lingering hospital deaths. Just unexpected phone calls with sad voices and then hurriedly packed suitcases. And memories, played out against that huge desert, always present.

I left the desert as soon as I was old enough, or I guess I thought I did. Maybe those of us who lived there never really get to entirely leave it behind. It speaks to me. Is that strange? West Texas has a voice, and a kind of ancient loneliness. It predates the current fracking boom that has exploded my town with apartments renting for two grand a month but which will probably be occupied by mice in a few years now that the bust is looming. It's a towering sadness that goes back before high school football and my family's departure from the oilfields, back before dusty depression era towns and the first oil strikes, before the US Army and its experimental camels and before the Mexican settlers or the invading Conquistadors before them, before the missionaries came with their god and even before the Mescalero-Apache and Comanche came with theirs. I can imagine the desert how it must have been before humans arrived at all, because it almost certainly wasn't very different at all from now.

That looming sadness comes not from tragedy or hardship, although that desert has certainly known plenty of both, as my own family knows all too well. I think it comes from that very timelessness, that sense like nowhere else in the world I've ever seen, that this world has rolled along for millions of years, and our presence won't matter for more than a blink. A few jackrabbits will hear us and scatter, and maybe our footsteps will startle a few horny toads (if we can even find them anymore), but that's about it.

And yet, those of us who lived there and those who have gone back to that receiving earth are a part of the West Texas desert. I've known so many people who have visited it and who simply don't understand how anyone could feel fondness and that low-burning homesickness for such a hard, barren place. Those of us who grew up there joke about its remoteness and its flatness and the rough people who live there, people with whom we like to pretend we have nothing in common but from whom in reality we are separated only by years and experiences.

I hear it all the time, and I've said it to myself many times over the years.

"How could you ever live in such a place?"

And then that ancient voice whispers, "How could you think you could ever truly leave?"

November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I worry for Schuyler around my birthday more then usual, especially with the grey skies and desaturated colors of fall settling in for the coming months. It's just as well that Thanksgiving arrives at the same time. A day for examining the things for which I should give thanks, followed by a season of celebrating the better impulses of humanity, these might be parachutes in an otherwise rapid loss of emotional altitude. Perhaps I should simply be thankful for Thanksgiving and it's slightly contrived but much needed sense of "Quit your bitching and think of stuff to be thankful for!"

March 31, 2014

The Long-Abandoned Path

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Returning to New England has given me the opportunity to think back on the last 10 years, and to reconsider all the choices that we’ve made, and the paths that we have chosen. That is a foolish endeavor, I know. But just lately, as we prepare for Schuyler to enter high school next year, we are more aware now than ever that the paths we walked down with her did not necessarily lead to unqualified success. It’s hard not to wonder if we could’ve done better for her, which is of course the question that occupies far too much of my mind as it is.

January 2, 2014

A Complicated Homecoming

I don't return home to Odessa very often. Probably not nearly enough, anyway. It's been almost three decades since I actually lived there. I left home a few weeks after I graduated from high school, back during the end of the oil boom and the beginning of some tough years for the place, and for my family. In the mid-80s, the oilfield economy was tanking, hard, and the publication of Friday Night Lights a few years later would train a spotlight on West Texas football and education and the community in a way that was ultimately good medicine but at the time probably felt a little like being kicked while they were down.

My father was to die suddenly a few years after I left, too. The aneurism in his heart burst as he stood in his yard talking to a friend; as a doctor later said, he was "dead before he hit the ground". I don't know why I always imagined a death bed scene like something from a movie, where he and I would somehow work things out before he died. What I got instead was a phone call, and a quiet six-hour drive home to Odessa, and another two-hour drive out to the remote cemetery at Paint Creek where he'd inexplicably chosen to be buried.

His last resting place felt ridiculous and cliched at the time, with its dusty plots and wild flowers and lizards, and most of all a kind of desert silence that felt almost loud. But that was then, I guess. Almost twenty-four years later, I can see why it appealed to him. I suppose most people pick a burial spot with the grieving people they leave behind in mind, but not my father. He thought of himself, and the kind of place he'd like to spend eternity, as if he would be doing so sitting in a lawn chair, sipping from that old plastic cup he always carried, the one with the words "The King" written on the side, perhaps with an irony I didn't recognize at the time, in his own hand writing.

So my father is removed from my hometown, and what's left are the family who still call it home. I should visit them more. I wonder sometimes if they think I don't care. I do care, very much. They've all continued to grow and age and have babies who then have babies themselves. My father is stuck in my head forever at the age of fifty-one, only five years older than I am now. If there was to be any wisdom or even self-awareness waiting in his future, it was ultimately denied him. Denied him, and all of us whom he left behind, hurt and wondering at his choices, and at his love. It was hard to see, that love. All these years later, long after it ever ceased to matter, I wonder if his love existed at all. He's no longer in Odessa, but his presence lingers, in memories and the places to which they're tied. Perhaps that's part of why I stay away. My hometown has grown ghosty.

Schuyler has been asking to see her Granny for a while, and my niece had a new baby at the beginning of December, so it felt like a good time to make the drive. As a retail manager, Julie is pretty much out of commission from November to the middle of January, so Schuyler and I pick a time when her mother wouldn't be home much anyway, the last weekend of the year, and we head west together.

Schuyler is a great travel buddy at any time, but going home is particularly fun. It's been a few years since she went back, long enough that the whole experience feels new to her. She sees the things that seem old and tired to me, but with new eyes. She doesn't see the desert like I once did. Schuyler sees a place that is rare and impossibly flat and ready for adventure, as if mummies or dinosaurs are waiting just out of sight. When I was her age, living there, Odessa felt like a prison, with a desert instead of walls. I thought I'd never leave. I saw places on television and in movies that seemed exotic simply because they were green, or densely populated, or on the cusp of a much larger world. New England could have been Mars.

Now, even the remote desert feels new. As soon as we pass the halfway point at Abilene, great spindly wind turbines begin to appear on the low hills on the horizon, and we notice the most unlikely of motion from their gigantic blades. These are the wind farms that have become the new face, and currency, of West Texas. Schuyler is fascinated by them, and I am, too, come to think of it. They seem so alien, like armies of robots in search of something. Even if they didn't represent a commitment to clean energy in maybe the last place on earth I'd expect it, I'd still love them. They add something to the landscape, something modern and peaceful and strong. It's hard to explain.

Odessa and the surrounding area are now in the midst of a boom, but it feels different than the one of my youth. I remember Odessa then, growing, gradually and organically, with things just generally getting a little weirder but a lot nicer as a result. Driving into town now, though, it feels very, very different this time. Housing is impossible to find, I'm told, and the lines at restaurants and local businesses are long and rowdy. The outskirts of town where my friends and I once did our drinking and lighting fireworks and making out are now built up, with lookalike strip malls and the same box stores you find anywhere in America. Passing into the town itself, things feel... diminished. The town of my childhood is still there, and it hasn't changed much except for growing more ragged. I'd hoped the new boom might save my home, and perhaps it will, in some sense. But from my eyes, those now of an outsider, it seems like new Odessa is simply building over the old. I guess that's the way it happens. Maybe that's why you can never go home.

We spend the weekend with my mother, who somehow manages to get older without growing old, and with my sister and her kids and her grandkids. (Yeah, that was a little hard to type.) By total coincidence, Schuyler's godparents are in town, so we get to spend some much-needed time with them. We eat at the fast food places of my youth and visit the sad little mall where I once hung out. We try to buy gear from the local (and new since I'd lived there there) hockey team, the Odessa Jackalopes, in part because the mascot is exactly as much fun as you'd expect (an angry rabbit with antlers) but mostly because there's something about the idea of a hockey team in Odessa that is too weird not to be celebrated. Sadly, the pro shop at "the Jack Shack" (as the Ector County Coliseum is apparently now known) is closed.

Schuyler has lots of questions about my home and my past. She wants to see the places I grew up, particularly the schools I attended. She wants me to show her the routes I walked home from school, as if the thought of doing so was the stuff of wild adventure.

When I post photos of my old schools and other shots around the area up on Facebook, some people take the opportunity to comment on how unattractive my home is. I get that. I recognize that it must be hard for people who come from pretty places to understand how those of us who grew up in harder environments could somehow still have had enjoyable childhoods, or that we might still have fondness for those places, and even find them beautiful. It's like anything else; we make plenty of jokes about "Slowdeatha" or "Odessalation", because we lived it. We did our time. We experienced our youthful days with grit in our mouths. But if someone else tries it, our defenses go up. It's the "he ain't heavy, he's my brother" effect, I guess.

The thing is, Schuyler doesn't seem to see it as ugly, or harsh. When she sees vast dusty acres of high grass and mesquite bushes, she imagines the snakes and jackrabbits and horny toads that must be hiding out there, just waiting for discovery. Schuyler has sand in her blood, I guess. She's got her father's weird love of the desert.

When we leave Odessa to return to Dallas, Schuyler again asks about my father. We leave the interstate and head southeast, for the tiny town of Robert Lee and the remote Paint Creek Cemetery a few miles away. As we drive out past Sterling City, the wind turbines return, like giants both protecting us and beckoning us further. When I see them, I wonder if they hold vigil over my father's grave now, but the road drops into a shallow valley and the wind farms fall behind us. When we arrive at Paint Creek, it looks completely unchanged, not just since I visited last, but in all those long, full years since I watched my father lowered into the chalky ground, taking his secrets with him.

He's keeping them there still.

December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I mentioned this last year, but one of the things I value the most about a site like this one is how we can come here and be weird. We can find others whose holidays are as atypical as our own, and other families whose traditions are as driven by circumstance as ours. We know the obstacles, and we know how much work has gone in and how much is still waiting in the future. And we understand, in ways we can't describe to typical families but don't need to describe to each other, how deeply satisfying the love we work for and nurture really can be. It's a hard love, and it's the very best love.

Best wishes for the very happiest of holidays
to you and to those you care about!

December 9, 2013

The Hardest Forgiveness

Today at Support for Special Needs:
As parents, we’re probably almost certainly unprepared for the disabilities of our children, at least at first. We go into battle against monsters without so much as a BB gun in our hands. What we discover as we go is that sometimes, we don’t need weapons. We simply need different tools, such as patience, and tougher skins, and ingenuity. And most of all, we need to learn forgiveness, primarily for ourselves.

September 4, 2012

Words for Life

Today over at Support for Special Needs, I discuss what is essentially the AAC equivalent of the capture of Bigfoot AND the Yeti riding on the Loch Ness Monster. Yes, friends, PRC has released its Unity language system for the iPad. My early thoughts on this new app, the one we never thought we'd see.

A quick personal note: we are putting our plans for Chicago in a holding pattern for the time being. Note that I said a holding pattern. We're circling the airport patiently, not crashing into the side of a mountain. Assmonkeys and their sock puppets will chatter regardless. Well, what are you gonna' do?

August 14, 2012


There's a new post up at Support for Special Needs, a day late and perhaps a dollar short. You can judge that for yourself. The topic is what I can give to Schuyler. And what I can't.