Sunday, April 08, 2012

Trips To Alabama And Then To A Little Place Called Calm

My fondest memories of my Grandparents, whom we affectionally call Mama Bette and Papa Jack, come from visits to their house in the summer in Birmingham, Alabama. It would usually start with my father Larry, helping us all pack our bags while my Mom corralled me and my sister Lauren to get out the door. Now, since I was the painless child, Mommy's little angel, we really had to force and coerce Lauren to cooperate. It was a serious struggle... OK, and then I woke up. After the packing problems, and on the road, Lauren usually was immersed in a book of some sort trying desperately to figure strategies to keep my attention focused elsewhere. If Lauren was not having it, playing possum I see, I would search for other victims. I had developed a particular talent of pushing my Mom's buttons, I would try to hone my craft during lengthly sections of flat travel, the type where nothing really pulls your eyes outward, yet makes everyone think inward - as in what's the smell? 

And so it was, beyond our home state of Oklahoma. Through the great rolling hills of Arkansas and eventually to Memphis, where stops were mandatory. Larry, the Zen Master, had weathered it all. Lauren, probably slept through Arkansas. Mom and I were at the brink! During our travels, I had creatively challenged her to a few religious debates wherein I played the contrarian role (in all cases). Lauren's reading had been interrupted several times by my failed attempts to toss her book out the window (Larry's careful use of the window lock blocked my attempts). And I complained consistently and feverishly about the stupid book on tape we were listening to (of course, now I love them - classic). But in Memphis, the travel excitement all came to a head... 

I'll never forget, I was on one of my diatribes concerning Republican and Democratic politics and the state of the union. And note, when I'm arguing, I'm thinking of legal posturing. In other words, it isn't usually about my point, but how well I play the other side and look for buttons to push. Yep, I wanted to be a lawyer growing up, but I went into sales instead - it fits! Mom and me were heated! I had back-seat advantage, so I could get the whole picture of her turning to Larry for support. Lauren even piped up once, but I grabbed her book as a hostage - in this case, a peanut gallery wouldn't help. I was gaining the upper hand, until... Mom tells Larry to stop the car! Now, this was a tactic Mom had deployed before, but usually consisted of her and I just talking it through, and we would go on our merry way. However, I always had this feeling she would kick me out of the car. Well... As I exited the vehicle, by demand, I felt the humid, yet relatively cool Memphis breeze come over me. What a nice place, I thought to myself. I waited for just a few seconds, with the assumption that my "talking to" would soon occur. Nope. Door closed. Car engine back on. Gone! And so I found myself back focusing to the breeze... Uh... Now what? I thought to myself, I just got one-upped - would this happen to Perry Mason?!?! I figured my life on the road would be a hard one, but full of adventure. I guess I'll start writing poems, and singing the blues, right? Ha ha... They'll be back. Five minutes past. Ten minutes. Twenty. OK, it was time to start considering my road tramp name. The name "Walker" opens up so many possibilities. The Road Walker? Walking Walker? How hard is it to get on a moving train? Well, of course they returned, but I had been put in my place... It was smiles and sheer love all the way to Birmingham. But the story continues... 

I had learned a lesson... I think all Grandparents illicit a calm to your mind. Perhaps it is a "getting older" thing, and at 35 years old, I can relate, kind of. But what I've found most valuable with Mama Bette and Papa Jack is their ability to cherish. On this particular trip, I remember listening to Papa Jack talking about his garden. He would show Larry and me the new vegetables or trees he planned to add to the landscape, or pick and provide to Mama Bette for some fantastic dinner recipe - always remember the green beans! As he pointed, I would look at him and see such pride and, well, joy. And you don't create joy, it just comes. Mama Bette has a way in the kitchen that most Nuclear chemists would be jealous of. Her hands tend to vegetables, dough or succulent proteins with such care that you would think a little prayer goes into each stalk, grain or chicken breast. As with Papa Jack, I would watch and see her smile as she worked her magic, while continuing on with a conversation about the local community, church groups, card games or her family. Just as her mind moved while she prepped for dinner or lunch, my mind would calm too. She has a way of making you relax in the kitchen. If this is a "Souther thing" then all Southerners learned it through Mama Bette - period! There have been other, more recent times, when I've spent afternoons with Mama Bette and Papa Jack. All these same feelings have returned to me, and I keep these special moments of calm, caring and conversation close to my heart. I open the door to these memories and use them during the many tough times I've had in the past 1.5 years. I use them as much as I do the majestic mountain mornings I see daily outside my door in Durango, CO. On this particular trip, I left with a greater sense of calm and carefulness. I learned how precious family is and how powerful it is to our growth. And I am always reinforced with love each and every time I visit Mama Bette and Papa Jack! 

And as we left from Birmingham, I pulled back to these memories. Each of us reflecting on the conversations, hugs and great meals. The car was calm... Larry smiled at the road ahead. Mom eased back in the front-seat captain's chair to close her eyes and take in the movement of the road. Lauren picked up her book and began reading. And it was then, with peace at hand, that I opened the window to take in the cool Southern breeze again. Then, I grabbed Laurens book and chucked out the window! HA HA! 

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