EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND
Through a wine glass, darkly,
start with the sky
where flags of the County and of the State snap
into the wind like salmon whipping upstream.
The flag pole ropes slap slap
Seagulls above pump slow motion
against the wind
. . . against the wind
the tidal backwater stretches,
surface pocked and ruffled,
toward the hillside ridged in trees,
tops torn bare
. . . . . . against the wind
Mustard Flowers shiver
in golden ripples up and down upon the hillside,
muted in the fine mist
banged by sunlight from the slate ocean.
Behind gates gnawed by salt,
unfazed upon the hillside up and down,
black iron hammers pounding down into the dark liquid remains of a forest pressed deep underground.
Shadows stretch under the wind and the weight of the setting sun.
The coastal traffic rolls back and forth,
targets in an arcade,
shots of sunbeams
strike, flash, ricochet
toward the edge of my wine glass
pressing me into a river of twilight
on the edge of my world.
January 24, 1989, Tuesday
Last Saturday afternoon your mother and I decided to just DO IT and visit Great Grandma Siegers, down south. Your mother was up almost all of that night, wrapping little gifts, and ironing, and what else I don’t know because I went to bed. She joined me at 4:15 a.m. for about a half-hour of sleep.
At 7:00 a.m. we called a taxi and we were driven via the freeway to the Santa Barbara train depot. The weather here in Goleta had been clear and sunny but near the Santa Barbara train depot there was thick coastal fog. The train, due to depart at 7:50 a.m. (and usually late), was already at the station and there was a slow line of people buying tickets (we were next-to-last in line). We purchased two round-trip tickets for $58 and got on board with minutes to spare.
We went to the smoking-car, which had only about five other people (the non-smoking car was crowded). Your mother sat beside the window, finishing her make-up. I went forward to the café-car and bought a cinnamon roll, a cheese-Danish, and two cups of coffee.
The coastal fog advanced and retreated along the coastal cliffs. Your mother pulled the courtesy-tray down from the back of the seat in front of her and continued wrapping little gifts as we passed through Ventura, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Los Angeles, and finally arrived at the Fullerton station.
Grandma Phyllis met us at the Fullerton station. We were in need of “real” food and more coffee after so little sleep, so we all went to The Cracker Barrel after several miles of indecision. We ordered two eggs over-easy, pancakes, an omelet, a waffle, onion rings, coffee, and, and, and… The table was piled with food and cigarettes.
Great Grandma Siegers is living at Farmdale Convalescent Home since she fell at Great Uncle Harold and Great Aunt Marge’s house, breaking her hip. In the lobby, Grandma Phyllis signed our names into the registration book (which I saw, and your mother returned to find, confirming her suspicion). I scribbled our names away later.
Down the long hallway was that distinctive smell, that damp stink of medicine and bed sheets and bedpans. Turning right down another hallway we met women in wheelchairs, restrained by straps around their waists, staring.
I didn’t recognize Great Grandma Siegers watching us in the hallway. Her eyes were bright but she didn’t really recognize your mother or me, at least at first. Her hair was somehow different (it was a wig that Great Aunt Marge had needed to buy for her when one of the attendants cut off almost all of Great Grandma Siegers’ hair).
Great Grandma Siegers really enjoyed opening your mother’s gifts: powder, lipstick, a mirror, a pink gown embroidered with flowers on the big pockets, and several bright ribbons for her hair.
We had to put ribbons in the hair of another woman because she started to cry in the hallway, watching us. Great Grandma Siegers’ roommate also got a ribbon as she lay in bed unable to get into a wheelchair.
There was a gospel sing-along being sponsored in the recreation room and so to there we wheeled Great Grandma Siegers who then only wished to stay for one weak version of “Amazing Grace”.
We didn’t want to leave too soon even though Grandma Phyllis seemed eager to get out of there but what can you do at a place like that for very long? Great Grandma Siegers was hard-of-hearing. What could we talk about? We asked her if she wanted us to wheel her around so she could “show us around the place”. She said yes but after we began to head down another wing of the place she became disconcerted, saying “No, this isn’t right.”
We returned to “her room” and talked awhile, watching the other old people slowly wheel themselves in and out of other rooms up and down the hallway.
We returned Great Grandma Siegers to the recreation room one more time for a cone of vanilla ice-cream which she seemed to enjoy.
Back again to her room, just outside in the hallway, we said good-bye, walking away down the long hallway, turning to wave. She was smiling, waving (we joked that having to visit with people like us would help her to sleep).
In the lobby we ran into Great Aunt Marge and her daughter Sandy just arriving. I felt better that someone else was visiting (“Changing of the Guard” I thought). We talked briefly about theft in that convalescent home.
Grandma Phyllis drove us to her house in Norwalk where we were treated to chips, dip, wine and cigarettes. Your mother and I tried to coax Grandma Phyllis’s cat Champagne out from under her bed but ever since Grandma Phyllis had left him overnight at the veterinarian’s to be neutered he was distrustful.
Grandma Phyllis, for some reason, called Aunt Judy and Uncle Steve and got them to agree to come over. They had just finished a softball game and they were watching Super Bowl XXIII (San Francisco 49’ers and the Cincinnati Begals).
I called them back and told them that this was no Christmas Day and that we had come down to see Great Grandma Siegers and that we in no way expected everyone to uproot just to say ‘Hi’ to us.
They came anyway. And so did Aunt Carol (nicknamed “Weester” because that is how your mother pronounced “Sister” when she was a child) but Aunt Carol’s husband Jim had refused to leave his TV. Grandma Phyllis called Uncle Billy but he had guests over at his apartment watching the Super Bowl game. He asked me over the phone, “Why did you pick today to come down?”
Uncle Steve, Aunt Judy, Cousin “little” Steve (junior), Cousin Mark, Aunt Carol, Grandma Phyllis, your mother and I snacked on crackers and cheese, olive, celery and chips while we talked, laughed and watched the Super Bowl game.
Your mother and I had to return to the Fullerton station by 6:45 p.m. but this time, as I got in line to ask when the train was really expected, I overheard that the north-bound was an hour and a half late. So instead of leaving at 6:50 p.m. we were looking at nearly 8:30 p.m. That meant getting home to the Santa Barbara station at around midnight.
Well, we snacked and smoked and talked for that hour and a half and then said good-bye and thanks to Grandma Phyllis. The train arrived and then we were homeward bound, napping as best we could, nearly exhausted (your mother had gone with only half an hour of sleep for the last 36 hours). We made it and we were glad that we had finally done it.
There was a lot to think about.
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