This Wednesday evening my loved ones will pull into my driveway for the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the long day trip from Portland. The dog will run to the back door with his ears at attention, and I will wipe my hands on my apron or jump up from the computer screen and scamper to the door, all smiles. We’ll be together again for another wonderful vegan Thanksgiving. We’ll use my Mom’s silver, and at dinner I’ll get out my Native American Medicine Cards book and we’ll read about the spirit of give away that is embodied by living turkey. Then we’ll each say something we’re grateful for. Mike will probably snap a photo of his full plate with his iphone to put up on his Invincible Dude webstagram before diving in. We’ll laugh at the dogs insisting on eating each other’s food, then sleeping together like long lost buddies. At night, we’ll lounge around the fire burning in the masonry stove, deciding whether we’re ready for another piece of pie.
About two months ago, we’d been having very mild, Indian summer temperatures here. The tomatoes were still ripening on the vine. But it was dry, very dry. The first half of the summer, was moist, humid even, for here. But it hadn’t really rained in several weeks. And there were regional forest fires in every direction and surrounding states, so it had been smoky too. Very poor air quality, week after week, with only small breaks from the smoke here and there.
The smoke had been hard on me. I’d noticed I was more tired, sore, and a brief wash of pins and needles accompanied my yoga stretches, or greeted me when I woke up in the morning. My feet were slapping a bit more. I needed more sleep. My eyes burned at times, and so did my throat. My swallow threatened to act up. Even though it was all so much better and more mild than it used to be, I still didn’t like these reminders that I better take it a little easy. But I listened.
In the late afternoon or early evening, before dinner and after our nap, Romeo and I take a second, usually shorter walk. Sometimes it involves an errand, sometimes not. While it was smoky, I tried to stay away from the old grain tower sites in my neighborhood, where the towers are being dismantled and the dust of nearly a century is now unsettled in the process. One evening we walked up into town, away from that, and then turned north, going a little farther than we usually go. I was following a hunch.
Before I knew it, we were standing across the street from a little white house on a lot that slanted downhill in the back.
I had found it. My son Mike and his girlfriend Kelly had lived here when they were in college. It was their first place together. I remember how excited they were to have a backyard, and room for their various art projects. They hung their laundry. Kelly was happy to try growing a few tomato plants. It was here she began to make her beautiful, whimsical felt sculptures. And Mike was glad to have room to build a life-sized paper mache space ship in the backyard for a movie he was making. (The finished project is a short film that can now be viewed online called Space. It’s been shown at 25 film festivals internationally.)
When Thanksgiving came, they invited me to their house for dinner. That was five years ago. At the time, I was pleasantly surprised. I remember that Thanksgiving day very clearly. They were so excited and had decided to make everything themselves but the pie, which I brought. They came to get me in Kelly’s car (Mike didn’t have one then), apologizing profusely for the door that stuck on the passenger side. Their kitchen was piled high with dishes from all their preparations. The table was set and a plate of healthy munchies was on it. Mike had worked at creating a homemade tofu “turkey.” Kelly had made a beautiful salad, stuffing and other sides. We were not eating this way yet, didn’t know it existed. That would come after the turn of the year, in Winter. But we were all vegetarian. Tinne, our golden retriever, came with me. We met Kelly’s ginnea pig, Bubbles (who would later be the subject of another short film). We watched Hairspray, the movie remake. And the pilot for Freaks and Geeks. We called my Dad and he talked to Kelly for the first time.
But as I stood there, I also remembered how sick I had been. How hard it was for me to get in and out of the low car. How much I depended on my walking stick to get me in and out of it and up the steps to their front door. How tightly I had to hold on to everything as I made sure not to miss a stray patch of ice on the cleared walk. To move was like inching myself along a ledge or a cliff, even getting up from a chair. How careful I had to be of vertigo. How unpredictable and unstable my body temperature was. How much the nerves in my face always hurt. How bad the rosacea was. I couldn’t sit next to the heater, or without support for my neck. I was always trying not to be too hot or too cold. I had forgotten some herbal tincture or homeopathic remedy I was dependent on to manage the inflammation. Mike went back to get it because I couldn’t make it for even a few hours without a flare-up that would require some attempt at amelioration, given the extra stimulation and energy output of the holiday. They arranged an easy chair especially for me with extra pillows. How weak and tired I got, even just sitting up and watching the movie. Nevertheless, I had a grand time, surrounded by their love and their fun.
I remember saying to my friends that I was going to my son’s house for dinner, and feeling so proud of them for hosting, that they had arrived at a gracious milestone in their young adulthood. Now I realize that they must have talked about it and decided it would be too much for me to do with how I was feeling, so they would try it themselves. And how concerned they must have been for me to undertake that, amid their busy school schedules and jobs and their tendency, like all college students, not to plan a meal until the last minute, let alone even think in terms of traditional meals.
I became very aware of my present self looking at the house it had been such a big deal and a huge undertaking to get to five years ago, even a few minutes away by car. And that now I had simply walked here. With Romeo. No walking stick even. Back then it would have been as unrealistic to consider walking to this house as it would have been to consider a walk to China. As I stood there, my face and eyes were a little sensitive from the dust and smoke, but they were, for all practical purposes, clear. In fact just the day before I had received a lovely compliment on how clear my face is. No more neuralgia. No more terrible rosacea. No horrible fluctuation of body temperature resulting in pulsing feverish heat I would nearly pass out from, and then chills like the flu. No more exhaustion from simply holding my head up to talk or watch a show.
There I was, “now,” near the end of a long warm day, taking a second walk, after having walked for an hour that morning. I had also hung laundry, done some light weeding, picked a few pears, written e-mails, followed up with a client, talked on the phone about some local park issues, cooked some lunch, taken a nap, read part of a novel, taken in and folded laundry. And I would go home to do more: water, make dinner, upload photos, freeze pears, write the first draft of what would become this post down. Mike has joked with me that I had more energy than they did when they came to visit me last summer.
If time bent back on itself and the present “me” could have stood there, then, five years ago, watching my past self make her deliberate way up the steps to the door, would she have noticed me? Not likely, she had to concentrate so hard in the moment to put one foot in front of the other, locked in effort and pain. But I was “there,” somehow, waiting, having faith in her to find me, somehow, someday. And she did. Even though, like the characters in Mike’s film, we had to go in opposite directions first, one in search of the other.
Suddenly my flurry of pins and needles and my extra fatigue, slightly slapping feet and touchy throat didn’t seem like such a worry. If this was a “slump,” I’d take it. And run. Well, maybe walk. Up a steep hill I hadn’t anticipated on this new route. But then back down. Toward home. Pacing myself, Romeo at my side. Having gained new territory, and perspective. Tired, but not exhausted. Thankful. My heart glad.