Monday, January 7, 2008

How Many Blankets Do You Have?

We drive by Seal Beach in Waldport, OR at 10:40 pm. I feel quite inconsiderate showing up at my grandparents' home this late, but I-5 South had presented numerous obstacles: not only were we fighting through a monsoon of sorts, but there were three completely separate accidents choking our path. The first two weren't that bad, but the third was that wonderfully annoying traffic that seems glacial until the second you pass the scene (which is of course far off the road), and then you're at warp speed all of the sudden. I go blind with rage when that happens because it means that I've been held up for hours due to a long line of selfish uncoordinated craning necks and not some street-blocking wreckage or rush hour. The only justice I can really serve in that situation is to purposefully NOT look at the wreck and the ambulance as I pass. And really, what kind of justice is that? I noticed that Lumas also did not look at the accident. In fact, he may have been more spiteful than I, opting to express his feelings of futility in a rigorous and defiant groin-slurping.

So we pull into my grandparents' rocky driveway just before eleven. I knock on the door apologetically, haloed in the porch light and rain soaked: the way every prodigal son comes home.

Grandma has meatloaf (the dish not the guy) in the oven for me, which I graciously inhale, having subsisted mainly on cashews and truck stop fruit the entire day. I will admit I've been a fairweather vegetarian this month. My nutrition and my sanity seem to be on opposite ends of my own private seesaw.

I hang my hoodie in the closet downstairs, and use the bathroom. Grandma calls me to help reach something upstairs in the kitchen. It's easy to get. I think about the fact that she's alone here for much of the year, and this is a well-weathered pot she's ask me to retrieve, one she probably uses daily. I like that she wants me to feel tall, and I silently thank her. But I think about it maybe too much, and feel like it's a mixed message - spiritually, they often treat me like I'm a little boy, confused about my direction and my purpose [This is a ghastly side effect of monotheism that I know can never be reconciled for us. We have mended so many things, but these two planes can never truly converse - because one insists that the other doesn't exist. The hopelessness of it pulls my face skin down]. But this pot-getting thing is a nod to my adultness... errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr I decide not to think again until I've slept. Grandma gives me soup and I find my spot on my favorite couch (The All Business Couch - the one with no throw pillows, no doilies, no arm covers, just the hard plushy facts). I think about how this couch has been here forever. I start to think that maybe grandparents are placed on this earth to hold on to the furniture you love. I decide again not to think until I've slept.

We don't talk much. I think I'm too worn to explain myself, and I think they might not want to know why I'm here, fearing the worst. Or maybe they know that home is a place where you don't have to explain your presence. I don't know, but it felt ok to be still. It felt wonderful, truthfully. While Grandma told me a story about one of my cousins, Grandpa was getting acquainted with Lumas. My grandfather has taught me everything I know about dogs, and for ten years now I've wanted him to meet my son and see how good I've done for myself. I knew he would understand the magic of Lu.

He always introduces himself to any animal by grabbing its face in his sausage fingers (the very same that I inherited), shaking it playfully, and speaking in a pseudo-aggressive low gravelly voice, "yesh yooor a good boy, Loooomas." He is immediately the alpha. Then he will stroke its head in weighty, enthusiastic waves to let them know they're in good hands... Hands that can either snap your neck or caress that perfect spot behind your ears, depending on your next move. Within minutes Lumas became my Grandpa's furry satellite, following him into the kitchen for snacks, and then down to put more wood in the wood stove. I accused Grandpa of keeping beef jerky in his pocket, but he turned them out, empty. I didn't have the heart to accuse him of keeping beef jerky anywhere else on his person, so I had to take him at his word. To date my grandfather is the only person who has accomplished this transference of authority with Lu while I'm still in the room. And for some reason it doesn't really bother me.

Grandma sends me to the downstairs closet where I find stacks and stacks of blankets. There are blankets from Chile, Guatemala, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, and India. Most of Central America is itchy, so I go India. I think for a second how it must say something about people when they've acquired this many blankets. I have three blankets in my life.

I sleep fourteen hours. I wake up dry-mouthed - my body knows I'm on the west coast before my mind remembers. When I follow my nose up the soft green stairs to what Grandpa will call the Pancake Palace, he declares loudly, "Daylight hits the swamp!" I smile bashfully, and Grandma says, "Oh, hush now, Bob" and then to me, "Now you sit yourself down and see what nonsense Grandpa has cooked up for you."

"Is this Pancake Surprise?" I ask, delighted and horrified.
"You bet your doggonenoggin it is, buster!" [I know, I know. Sometimes I too believe he gets his dialogue from some sort of Grandpa handbook]. "Pancake Surprise" is what it's called when Grandpa puts whatever he wants in the pancakes. Often times you'll find last night's leftovers, or ingredients that aren't the best of friends: bananas & sausage, potatoes & strawberries, etc. I know I have his DNA because I'm somehow looking forward to this PS sesh.

I survive the breakfast roulette (it's just plain old agreeable blueberries and raspberries) and then he says in our signature sarcasm, "If you're going to just show up and take over our humble home like this, the least you can do is help me bring wood over to Betty." I'm excited to be useful, but I feign lethargy, "Well, to be honest, I thought maybe I'd watch some TV, maybe take a nap." This is where the witty exchange ends because Grandpa has lost maybe 40% of his hearing. He hands me a puffy flannel vest from the closet ("Here!"), rebuttal-by-way-of-humiliation, and then leads me out the front door and down the street.

There is an eighty-nine year old woman down the street that my grandfather visits every morning. He gets her wheelbarrow, and transfers two loads of wood from her shed to her living room. She thanks him and offers him a Little Debbie treat. He passes it to me, pretending like he isn't interested in it's chocolate goodness, but I see a basket of them by the door, and I know that this is the payment he's worked out.

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