On June 3 we began. In a minivan of all things. My brother’s minivan. I climbed in, smug, until I discovered I was relegated to the far back seat . . . the place for old women and little sisters. In this situation I’d like to think I was the little sister, but reality is, at forty-six years old, I was probably a little bit of both. The two men sat in front, of course, and the teens in the middle seats where they could plug in their “devices” and talk about how long the trip from Omaha to Wisconsin was.
This will be good, I thought, my chance to poke fun. My chance to laugh. My chance to point out that I’ve managed to raise three kids without ever owning a minivan. Ever. When our kids were little, we were Jeep Cherokee people. We’d cram three kids and two car seats in the back and commend ourselves for how progressive we were as parents.
Luggage? Inside the car? Hell no! It goes on top. When we need a diaper, by God, we will pull over for it.
But that isn’t really what I want to talk about.
We moved my mom from Wisconsin back to Nebraska. She had a lot of stuff. And I mean a LOT of stuff.
One storage garage.
One 26-foot truck.
And it still didn’t all fit.
But I guess I don’t really want to talk about that either.
I can’t quit thinking about that minivan.
You know, when I climbed into that thing, and hiked to the far back seat, where I buckled up and stretched out . . . you read that right . . . I stretched out, all five-feet-two-inches of me. I dozed. I read. I watched Iowa blow by my window and marveled at all those wind generators they have going, wondering how many birds those things actually kill. Is it really as many as they say? And I studied my family.
My niece and my daughter sat in front of me, sharing music, laughing, moaning when I poked them with my feet (heh heh heh), and beyond them, in the distant front, my brother in law and my brother sat and talked and caught up with one another.
We don’t often spend time together in long chunks like this, and it was interesting to watch and listen and study them. I suppose some would call it wool gathering. If I asked the brilliant Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird fame, she would likely call it “feather gathering.” At least I hope she would, because I think she is cool.
And so I guess I gathered a lot of feathers . . . but not in the way you may think. Mostly, I think I got to see how my family interacts with each other. We were a hodge-podge mix of folks thrust together to help a woman who dearly loves her material possessions move them from one place to another. And as a writer, I gotta tell ya, it was fascinating to watch everyone’s responses. It was like if an entire parrot just popped all its feathers off right there in front of me . . . there were that damn many.
There is nothing of sentimental value in my mother’s possession. No childhood crayon drawings. No macaroni pictures. There are no old ornaments or family dishes or cherished linens.
My brother would carry a box to the truck and get his usual sideways smile. I can always tell when he’s going to say something sarcastic (which as it turns out is greater than fifty percent of the time) because of the smirk on his face. “These decorations bring back so many memories,” he would say. “I’m feeling very nostalgic right now.”
My mother, standing nearby in her Liz Claiborne, her hair perfect, her toes peeking out from her mules and painted just right would smile. “I appreciate everything you kids are doing. I really do. Can I get anyone a cold Coke?”
My brother in law would flare his nostrils a little bit and walk slightly on his tiptoes. He does that a lot, especially when he’s in a hurry. He kept quiet. The boxes to him were just that, boxes. To us, my brother and I, who were sort of sad our two sisters weren’t there to see the sheer lack of evidence of our existence in our mother’s possessions, the boxes were a betrayal.
What the hell, Mom? Where’s my high school wardrobe? Where’s the sleeper I wore when I was six months old? Where’s Flipper, my favorite stuffed dolphin? Was it too much to expect that you would carry these things around with you for eternity?
I guess since we all moved out thirty plus years ago, life moved on for her, and the accumulation of what are now her possessions had become random stacks of boxes that hold little meaning to us.
Anger settled a bit, followed by resentment, followed by sadness. Where are those dang macaroni pictures we made forty years ago? Naturally, macaroni and construction paper just don’t hold up that well over time. And as for dishes? Who the hell wants to cook in a pea green or dark gold casserole dish for sixty years? The hipsters might find that cool and that is fine. But my mom can move on from this. I’m okay with that.
This, my friends, is life. As we loaded the damn truck, I resolved my feelings. One cannot expect a parent to continue to use the same salad tongs for seventy-five years. That’s in the Bible. I looked it up because I was pretty upset that there were no familiar salad tongs anywhere. Sometimes you need good ol’ Exodus to keep you on track. Thou shalt not use salad tongs nor dessert forks for more than thirty-seven moons. I’m not sure how long thirty-seven moons is, but even if a moon was a year, that still means my mom is due new salad tongs.
Where was I?
Right. Minivan. So this thing was comfortable. The middle captain’s seats the girls had were actual recliners. The kind your feet actually go up in. The only consolation I can give myself for this epic parenting fail on my part (i.e. never owning a vehicle like this) is that they simply didn’t exist when my children were young. They were boxy and boring and not at all sexy. But I will tell you this . . . when we did finally trade in our ten year old Jeep Cherokee exactly ten years ago, we all cried. Every single one of us.
Our cars now? Pretty nice, but no sentimental value. We’ve brought no babies home from the hospital in them. We’ve never been stuck in the snow with toddlers and complained that the four wheel drive wasn’t four wheel drivey enough. We’ve moved on.
Things are things. People are people. Feathers are feathers. Movement is movement.
Life goes on.
And now I’m thinking, at age forty-six, that I really missed the boat with the minivan thing. Dammit anyway.