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How I spent my summer vacation

Part 1 — Mom & Dad

So I flew to Seattle, city where I was born and spent most of my childhood...

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
 

A vacation is when you shuck off all responsibilities, and that means I dang well did not take the time and trouble to write diary entries while I was up north. My mind tends to shut down around the family, anyway. I took notes, though, and here's one of those memos to myself that sums up everything:

Boy, if I misplace this notebook and it's found by the wrong person — anyone but me, basically — I'm out the inheritance and officially an orphan.

The short version is, saw the family, saw some old friends, maybe some new friends, and it was nice but I'm glad to be home. 

Already I can't remember which events happened on what days, so instead of presenting the trip to Seattle as day-by-day diary entries, here's a huge many-thousand word essay, sort of arranged by people and events but basically a mess of haphazard memories. Grab a beer or a bottle of NoDoz, or skip it entirely. 

Note from Doug, 2022: For this on-line republication, I'll break one very long entry into four parts, maybe five, and each of those parts will itself be a long entry. The bit about beer, NoDoz, or skipping it still stands. 

Mom

Any visit home begins with the matriarch of the Holland family, my Mom. Regular readers of the zine have met her, from her visits to San Francisco last July, August, and this February.

Mom is so different from me, it amazes me that I came out of her. She's Christian, Republican, absolutely rated G, volunteers at the church, etc. She was a good mother when I was a kid, and like a lot of people's mothers, she still sees her kids as kids. And OK, I am shitty at being a grown-up, but also I'm 36. She offers motherly advice on all things, without being asked, and tells me when my shirt isn't tucked in, and — yeah, Mom can make me crazy.

If she really loves you, she knows better than you how to live your life, and she really loves me, so she has to tell me how badly I've screwed everything up. Like I don't know? Like I didn't screw everything up on purpose?

She talks a lot. She talks and talks, nags and wheedles, sings hymns and sometimes picks her nose while she's driving the car. And of course, so do I. So do all of us.

She talks, tells me about her church, tells me to go to a church in San Francisco, or better yet move back to Seattle, and when she's driving she slows down for green lights, hoping they'll turn yellow so she can stop the car and talk a little longer.

Some of the talking is interesting, but she's always 'on' and I'm the opposite of 'on', especially when she's talking about Jesus and God and all the mistakes I've made in my life, many of which she's probably right about.

There's also this weird glitch where she'll re-tell an entire story that she told me half an hour earlier, almost verbatim. And again in another half-hour.

Within the first day, I'd memorized most of the updated details of her life, and her repeated testimony to the excellence of Jesus. I'd heard her sing hymns, and been told again about my father's early symptoms, visits to various doctors, eventual diagnosis of cancer, the chemotherapy, vomiting, nausea, incontinence and advancing decline, and then his death, his funeral, her mourning, and her neverending hurt that I wasn't there for any of it. Guilty as charged.

As reported in earlier issues of the zine, she has Dad's funeral on video, watches it often, and when I again told her I abhor funerals and I'd prefer not to sit at the couch and watch my father's, she whipped out an audio tape.

As I didn't have anywhere near the funds to rent a car, Mom drove the taxi a lot while I was there, and she played the cassette of Dad's funeral on a the car's tape deck. Several times.

Why I'm not interested in my father's funeral? It's maudlin, it's emotional, and I don't like dealing with my own emotions, let alone hearing other people's emotional recollections of my father. I'd rather remember him as I remember him, rather than remember a remembrance ceremony.

"Look," she said, picking her nose and slowing to 10 mph in the fast lane of Rainier Avenue, as the car behind us in traffic honked and swerved past, while some stranger sang Dad's favorite hymn on the tape. "That's where your father pulled over and told me the morphine was affecting his driving. He gave me the keys right there (pointing), and never drove again."

Thanks for the memories, Mom, thanks for telling that story every time we drove past that intersection, and thanks especially for going out of your way to drive past that intersection and tell me that story four times this week.

Addendum, 2022: I hadn't remembered Mom's story of Dad giving her the keys until retyping it today, but it resonates. The same thing happened with my wife. Her left leg had been feeling weak for a while, and one day when she picked me up after work, she said braking had become difficult and scary, so she asked me to drive. She switched into the passenger seat, and same as Dad in Mom's story, she never drove again.

It's a sad memory, and it's good that Mom shared it, and I'd share my story with her. But. If I was driving her around here in Madison, I would avoid that intersection and the telling of that story, and if I'd told the story once, I wouldn't loop around a few blocks out of my way later, to tell the story again.

"See that steeple?" Mom asked. Yes, Mom. We saw that steeple yesterday and the day before, when you told me the story you're about to tell again. "I used to volunteer in the daycare at that church, but I switched to the Presbyterian daycare, because the Baptists' daycare program doesn't have a strong enough emphasis on Bible stories."

Less emphasis on Bible stories would be better for a child's mental health, in my opinion, and I may have said that once or twice. What I said didn't seem to matter much.

And then she lost her keys. Again. During the few days we spent together, she misplaced and searched for her car keys four times, and her house keys twice.

Mom's in her sixties, so you're perhaps suspecting that retelling the same stories and losing her keys are signs of senility, but the same stories and the lost keys have been happening for ten or twenty years, maybe for as long as I can remember. It's not old age. It's just Mom.

And I love her, sure, always gotta say it because it's true, only I wish there was a knob to dial her down.

She said grace before every meal, and every grace all week included, "Lord, please use this visit to bring Doug closer to Thee." 'Thee' is the Lord, but I don't want to be closer to 'Thee', and I said so, and yes, it was always 'Thee'. When she's praying or talking about the Bible, she speaks King James Version.

Her apartment is almost as messy as mine, which is cozy and made me feel at home, but hers has a higher percentage of food left out to rot.

I only slept in Mom's apartment one night, but her friends started calling at 6:30 the next morning, and never seemed to stop. Her answering machine was always a flashing light and, "You have — seventeen — new messages." 

The answering machine — when we were out and about, she'd often find a phone booth and call home to check her messages, so I'd be standing outside a phone booth for five minutes, every few hours. Might be longer, if she decided to promptly return any of the calls. Often she'd open the booth, hand me the receiver, and play a message a second time, so I could hear the voices of her old friends, some of whom were once my Sunday School teachers, but most of whom I had no idea who they were.

Lots of messages means lots of friends. People do love my momma, and despite my exasperated tone in typing all this, I can see why she has so many friends. She's friendly. It's a gift she has, that I don't. She's upbeat, insistently cheerful about everything. Even when she's telling me that every choice I've made in life was the wrong choice, she enjoys saying it, and says it very nicely.

She gives that answering machine meticulous attention, too, listening to every message and returning every call, and yet... The night I slept at her place, I'd given her number to a friend of mine, because we were trying to arrange lunch together. He later said he'd left a message on her machine, but Mom never told me.

And always she had more stories, usually the same stories, of my father's cancer and death. They're basically horror stories, but even when she's sharing gruesome details I hadn't asked about, she's still cheerful. Like when she first showed me around her apartment: "And here's the veranda, with a wonderful view of the park down the street. Did I tell you about the time your father threw up over this ledge?"

That's Mom. When I'm in the right frame of mind, she's hilarious, and in retrospect I am smiling as I type these stories. Sometimes I think she's hilarious on purpose. When I'm not in the right frame of mind, though, she makes me scream inside. 

I'm glad I got to see her in Seattle, but glad I came back to San Francisco. It's complicated.

Visiting on her turf was less hellish than having her visit me here in Frisco, though, because in Seattle I wasn't hosting her. I could escape to spend time with my brothers, sisters, and old friends and new.

Mom told me as I was leaving that I hadn't spent enough time with her, but I had.

Dad

"Dad isn't here," I said at his grave, as Clay and Mom and I stood in the wind. 

"Of course not," said Clay. "He's in Heaven."

I let that slide, because I don't believe in Heaven but I know they do, but I said, "No, it's more than that. There's nothing of Dad in this cemetery. It's grass and a carved stone, and that's not Dad. You know where I'd rather go, to be with Dad for a while? The Museum of Flight."

Sounds wacky, I suppose, but you had to know my father. He worked for Boeing almost all his adult life, and to him it wasn't merely a job. Flight fascinated him.

From his earliest childhood, when he'd seen a barnstorming pilot's show in Montana, my dad dreamed of flying. The design of aircraft became his life's great passion. He worked on the Saturn 5, the rocket that took Americans to the moon, and on the Stealth Bomber, which takes people to their deaths. I disapproved, and he knew it, but it flies and that's what mattered to him. 

I never shared Dad's enthusiasm for aeronautics, but it didn't particularly bore me either. His eyes lit up when he was talking about flight, so even when we couldn't agree about anything else, we could always talk about planes. It was easy for me to listen when he talked about what makes planes fly, because it was about joy, unlike my mother's babblings about Christ, where she sometimes ends up crying that my entire eternity hangs in the balance. 

So yeah, I suggested visiting the Museum of Flight. Seattle is Boeing's headquarters, so there's a big museum, and I knew my father would be waiting there.

Nobody else had time to go, so I went alone, wandered among the old biplanes and bombers and jets, and indeed that's where my father seemed closest. I remembered when he explained how aerofoils work, and how the placement of an engine on the tail changes the aerodynamics, and how the wings and fuselage are tested in wind tunnels, and stress-tested to see what it takes to bend or break a weld... I kinda spaced out, remembering all those lessons and lectures from Dad, with factoids I only partially understood, but I absolutely understood that he loved that stuff.

Mom reminded me many times this week, that Dad was diagnosed, withered away, and died while I was on one of my extended absences from the family, a long ways off and intentionally out of touch. She had to have the Social Security Administration track my whereabouts and forward the bad news to me. I'll still plead guilty.

I cried when I got her letter, but never said a real goodbye to my dad, maybe until that afternoon at the Museum of Flight, where he again explained to me how airplanes fly.

As fathers go, he was pretty good: tough and withdrawn, sure, and never all that close to us kids, but he loved us, had good advice, and we could safely rebel and know he wouldn't hold a grudge. I never went hungry, and never went wild until after I'd moved out.

Thanks, Dad. Many happy flights, and goodbye.

Next: Part 2 — The siblings, spouses, and kids

From Pathetic Life #12
Tuesday, May 16 - Tuesday, May 23, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

11 comments:

  1. This is a story I remember reading back in the day. You do good words.

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    1. Cunnilingus. That's my very favorite word.

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    2. I said you do good words, but I bet you're terrible at that.

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    3. Out of practice now, but I've won awards!

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    4. This, of course, is where you really want to go for the Yelp!.

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  2. There's almost nothing I do better now than when I was 40. I might drive a little more cautiously, but Old Man driving is not considered the paragon of safety among safetyologists.

    A third or more of what appears here is some of your writing from the 90s, of which you are justly proud. Much of your other work includes links with your comments.

    But in your in-line comments, and occasional opinion pieces I think your writing has improved. I don't mean gone from shit to adequate. I mean gone from terrific observational prose to, on your best days, poetry.

    When you get settled in Seattle I'd like to see more of your current observations (without any less of the Pathetic Life material.)

    This move might feel like the end of the line to you, but it's also a new beginning. At this point in life, few of us get new beginnings; you might consider incorporating that into your current writing.

    For heaven's sakes, don't stop digitizing Pathetic. I'm just saying I also like your today writing, and I'd like to see more of it.
    jtb

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    1. It's early Sunday morning, but not as early as it was three and a half hours ago when I got up. You might correctly infer that I'm not an early riser, since many of my comments arrive while other people are dressing for work, and I've obviously not been to bed yet. You, of course, would be correct.

      But this weekend I'm dog sitting. A guy with nine cats is dog sitting a pair of Doodles who have been related since the second one was born. I would do this for nobody but my prize sister, for whom I would do just about anything.

      As a point of information, on the long-shot chance that you are not a dogologist, a Doodle is a cross-breed beast: a combination of a poodle and a crocodile. Especially littermates. They have good points and bad, as we all do.

      Good Points:

      1) They are hypoallergenic: they don't shed.

      Difficult Points::

      1) They only sleep when their human companions are trying to stay awake, and are actively and dramatically awake when their human companions are trying to get a little shuteye.

      2) When the Sunday New York Times is delivered at 0645 they are bred to inform the entire neighborhood. When, after wrestling them to sleep until 0400, I awoke from my long-overdue sub-three-hour snooze, I went to see who they were murdering in the living room. It turned out to be me. Their regular full-time human companions are four hours and a mountain range away, so they decided to find out how much a guy who takes blood thinners to stave off another heart attack can bleed if you claw at his arm long enough. Turns out to be a bad Stephen King novel with blood up and down the hall, none of it canine. Why can't people buy gauze and tape on a two-for-one sale instead of oranges?

      3) They only bark at moving things and things that are not moving. There are rabbits in the neighborhood who go to some kind of rabbit school at which they learn how to stand stock-still for hours at a time. It seems like Doodle barks are loud until the rabbit actually moves. Then it's . . . have you ever been to a Garth Brooks concert where Garth's henchmen have figured out that if their man can't sing the least they can do is to subject the audience to a noise level only previously experienced during the Korean war when all those jets without noise abaters dog-fought their way up and down the Korean peninsula?

      4) They are large beasts, and they defecate more than they eat. I thought matter/energy could be neither created nor destroyed. It's just another Einstein fuckup.


      Don't get me wrong: There were difficult moments as well. I'll be relieved of duty in another five or six hours. I'll need to immediately check into one of those motels that leave the light on for me. One without a guard dog.

      John

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    2. Why jeepers sincerely. That's mighty high praise, and it means more coming from you.

      I did next to no writing while I was married, because everything I write really boils down to me being pissed off about something or other, and the marriage was a happy one. Nothing much to piss me off for all those years.

      When she died I got pissed off again, so here I am. Not sure I'm any better at it than in the 1990s, but I try to take someone's word when it's a compliment, so thanks.

      After getting laid off a while back, I was hoping to take a month or two off and do a lot of writing, but that didn't happen. Instead I got this fuse lit to move to Seattle, and then when I get there I'll need a job immediately. I'm hoping to do some writing nights and weekends, though, and yeah, a new setting with new problems might make some interesting stories.

      And maybe my MacArthur Genius Grant will finally come through! Hope springs eternal, like when I'm trying to pee these days.

      Love you, man.

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    3. I do hope I'm allowed to laugh at your blood stains on the living room carpet. Laughed, read it again, and John, I hope you've now been relieved of duty, wrapped in swaddling bandages, administered aspirin and whiskey, and are enjoying a nap as I reply.

      Stories like this are why a compliment from you means lots. Right back at you, sincerely.

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    4. Captain HampocketsMarch 7, 2022 at 4:40 AM

      >I did next to no writing while I was married, because everything I write really boils down to me being pissed off about something or other, and the marriage was a happy one. Nothing much to piss me off for all those years.

      Wow, you've encapsulated my thoughts perfectly. I've gone back and found the last bit I wrote for Gulp Life. It was literally the day I met Shawna.

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