Moments of Grace
4 years ago, I said to The Husband, “Our vacations are always going to where family is. We need to find a place and go on a trip, just us and the kids.” I searched for a place in the mountains, where The Husband could get his fill of fishing and where I could sit by mountain stream, watching waters rise.
We found the place. And it has been a place of healing, and joy, and numinous moments of experiencing God.
And … it has become a gathering place for family. Shy of just one, all the members of both his family and my family will join us this week. Privately, he and I sometimes get a giggle. “Good thing we found a place for just us and the kids.” But we feel blessed that they want to join us. What a gift to our kids. And to us, now that you mention it.
We arrived here midday. First thing, before any unpacking, we have to come out to the river to make sure it’s still here. It is. Through all the tears and heartbreak we experience during the rest of the year, that river is constant. It is always here, waiting.
My parents open up their cottage, leaving the doors ajar to let the fresh air in. A rufus hummingbird wanders in, and gets trapped between a curtain and the window. My mother opens the curtain, but he is too tired, and just sits there on the windowsill. She carefully picks him up, and he sits there in her hand, his heart beating rapidly. She takes him outside and sets him on the wood railing of their porch. Immediately, he lifts up and flies away, zooming this way and that. “I have held a hummingbird,” she says wonderingly, blissfully, the rest of the day. Moment of grace.
There is a giant deck built over the river. Our tradition that we insist on (not that we get any argument) is that the first evening is “wine and cheese night” on the deck. When we arrived, it began pouring. “Might have to do it inside,” my mother says.
But the clouds blow away and the sun comes out, drying everything. At 6, we come out of our cabins, and load the tables. Smoked blue cheese, butterkase, sharp cheddar, brie, black pepper cheese. Shrimp dip, the same kind Mama made for our wedding; livervurst pate, mushroom pate, raspberry chipotle sauce poured over a block of cream cheese. Chewy Texas sausage, chunked and seared. Breads and crackers. “This bread is wonderful,” my mom raves. My dad agrees. “Where did you get it?” “The Walmart by your house,” I reply. Outdoors is better than MSG. Red wine and dry champagne, cokes for the kids.
“Look, look!” cries Bo Peep. Across the river, a mule deer wanders, followed by a smaller fawn. They look at us, then go back to their business of nibbling and wandering. Grace.
After we have had our fill – and then some – a light rain visits. We pack up everything and put it all away. Dishes clean, we pour more wine and sit on the porch, the adults talking stories of when they were young siblings. Our young ones listen quietly, secreting away little details of impropriety that they can use against us later.
We open the windows and go to sleep with a cold breeze slithering in. In the middle of the night, Little Warrior comes in. “I can’t get back to sleep.” I allow her into the big bed. She slides her arms around my neck and goes to sleep, koala style. The Husband wraps his arm around my waist and we drift back to slumber.
Monday, July 19, 2010
“Now that’s what I call a baptism!” says The Princess.
I have just lifted my head from the river. It is very cold, melting snow from higher up the mountain, but the sun is hot today. We dipped our toes in the water – ooh, so cold! But we couldn’t resist, she and I. Others stood on the bank as we carefully make our way, first to this rock on the right side near us, then to the rock in the middle. She sat there, and I said, I’m going to go all the way across. Her eyes lit up. I made my way across, a little slip here and there, but never went down. She, of course, had to follow suit, and did so, nimbly. We sat on a rock and talked about how once you got used to the cold water, it felt good. We were hot on top, cold on our toes. “I’m going to sit in it,” I said. She smiled broadly. “Me, too.” We sat down, the water now up to our chests. “It tickles!” she said, giggling. We talked about the water, and the rocks, about how we wondered how long they’d been there. She bent over and dipped the top of her head in the water. “It feels great!” she said.
We sat there a bit longer and then the urge to go completely under was just too much for me. “Okay, I’m doing it,” I said. I felt behind me carefully – wouldn’t it be my luck to conk my head on a rock like an idiot! – then slowly went backward. Underneath, the water swirled all around and over me. I come up and take a deep breath. Refreshing, I think, in all the fullness of the meaning. “There will always be waters to refresh you,” shimmers God. I dip back again.
“You’re crazy!” yelled Aunt GlamourGirl from the deck above us. We smile and wave.
Our clothes completely soaked, we make our way back out, with a little lesson in physics. “If you try to go back the way we came – upriver – it will be more difficult than if you make a diagonal and go with the flow, then walk back,” I explain. The Princess sees the logic in that.
The others have all gone elsewhere now, back to the cabins, walking dogs, or throwing horseshoes. The wind hits our sodden clothes and we shiver. “Let’s get in the hot tub!” I hiss at her. “Shhh!” We go around the back to where no one can see us, and hop in, wet clothes and all. The warmth feels good, but it is obvious that the shared secret with her mama feels even better to The Princess. Someone walks near, and we duck down, giggling.
Dinner that night is by Mother-in-Love. “Taco Mountain” she calls it. We heap our plates appropriate to the name and dig in. It’s delicious. The strange ingredients in it – pecans and coconut??? – make the dish. Trust me.
Here you go. This recipe feeds 25, making it perfect for a potluck. (You can also shrink the amounts.) And yes, there’s beans in it. But it’s not called chili, it’s called chili sauce.
2 bags Fritos, crumbled
1 large box rice (cooked by direction)
chili sauce (recipe below)
1 lb cheddar cheese, grated
2 heads lettuce, shredded
7 tomatoes, fresh cut in small sides
3 onion finely chopped
1 jar green stuffed olives, chopped
1 pkg chopped pecans
1 package shredded unsweetened coconut
1 jar hot sauce
2 or 3 oz doritoes
Place all on table in order. Stack in plate in layers, like taco mountains.
4 lbs ground meat
3 chopped onions
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 large tomato sauce
2 cans tomato puree
4 Tbsp. chili powder
2-3 tsp garlic powder
2 23oz Ranch Style beans
Combine. Simmer 1 hr.
Tuesday, July 20
We are on a 2 hour trip within our trip, to go to another town to go rafting. Gentle rafting, since we’re taking the children. Aunt AdventureGirl, who conceived and provided the trip, is sitting up front with The Husband, looking at a map and discussing this and that with her brother. I sit in the back, idly trying to get a signal on my iphone so I can check my email for the first time in 2 days. I finally get one as we get to a small city. Something unexpected, that makes my day brighter – I have an RSCC appointment for October.
We get to our destination, which is at the end of what will be our raft ride, climb aboard an old school bus that takes us upriver to the start of the raft ride. Apparently one of the guides is Jeff Spicoli.
We divvy up children to adults, strap life jackets on all of ourselves, and hop in. Our guide is a former army psychologist, working on her Ph. D. in psychology. She spent two years working with soldiers as soon as they would return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Her eyes grow dark. She has scars of her own from that work. I tell her about one of my friends, of whom I am very proud to know.
She turns the conversation back to the river and guides us in our oar-ing. We get to a calmer spot and pile out of the boat to swim around. The current carries us and the boat down the river. Even with the life jacket, Little Warrior is a little frantic. “Just float on your back,” the guide coaches her. To float on her back, backwards, offers too little of a feeling of control for LW. We compromise, with me floating on my back, and her partially on my stomach, on her stomach, facing forward. She looks like a baby turtle.
We swim, we float, we get back in and raft through a tiny bit of rapids. We hit a big bump and The Husband nearly gets bounced out of the raft. I grab the hem of his shorts and pull him forward long enough for him to regain his balance. For the rest of the day, I remind him that I saved his life. He goes along with it, agreeing that that was indeed what happened.
We have lunch on the riverbank, then finish our journey. The Princess wistfully looks downriver, where the longer, white water rafting trips take place. “Please, can’t we do that next time?” I am raising an AdventureGirl of my own.
The sun has mostly dried our clothes, so we don’t bother changing when we get back to our cars. AdventureGirl goes with her mother and her gentleman friend, and The Boy, who is prone to car sickness. The girls and I want to take the high road back to our cabin, so The Husband takes us another way, high through the mountains.
I am with The Princess. I want to go farther.
Wednesday, July 21
We get up early to say goodbye to AdventureGirl and GlamorGirl. After a quick breakfast, we join my father in going to a fishing spot upaways.
The Princess did not want to go fishing. A couple of years ago, she was at a girl scout camp, and a friend got a hook in her hand by walking behind another girl fishing. “Pops will show you how to be safe,” I tell her. We make a deal – she will give it another try, and if she doesn’t like it, that’ll be that. And no matter what, I will take her out in the river again.
Pops has been fishing since he was 2 ½. Literally. His family would tell stories of this little punk kid fishing. Our vacation trips always included some type of fishing. Mountains, lake, ocean – always, there was fishing. He is 80, so he has been fishing 77 ½ years. He gently explains to all the girls, but especially The Princess, how to be safe. “You always stand on the left, since most fishermen will cast on their right.” I remember the old thing that used to be said about which ear to pierce if you were a heterosexual male: “Left is right, right is wrong.” I repurpose it for a better use. Little Warrior solemnly repeats it after me; she knows her right from her left. “Left is right, right is wrong.” She sits down on Pops’ left.
We are at the children’s fishing pond. I leave the girls in Pops’ experienced hands and wander down to the lower pond where The Husband and The Boy are. The latter is 14 now. He is no longer permitted to fish at the above pond. He is frustrated – he can see a nice-sized rainbow trout swimming just below the surface of the water. It mocks The Boy’s attempts to catch him.
Back at the above pond, Bo Peep and Little Warrior are playing in the tiny creek that feeds the pond, while Pops and The Princess get some serious fishing in. The Princess has already “caught” two – Pops tossed the line out, hooked a fish, then gave it to her to reel in. He is teaching her how to cast and reel in on her own. They are using small spinners, but the pond is full of plants, so it’s a trick, to learn to begin reeling in as soon as the lure hits the water, so that it never goes too deep, never gets hung up. “She has the most natural instincts about fishing than any kid I’ve ever worked with,” Pops confides to me. “She just gets it.”
Toss, reel, toss, reel. The Boy and Husband aren’t having any luck, so we decide to call it a day. “One more cast!” says The Princess. She casts, gets a strike, sets the hook, reels it in. As she brings it in, she’s hollering, “I did it all myself. ALL of it! Didja see? I did it all myself, with no help!” Others around the pond chuckle.
A few more casts, then we gather up what we brought in. Bo Peep and The Princess go with Pops in his car, LW and The Boy with The Husband and I. The way back is right at the edge of the mountain most of the way. The Husband is driving very slowly, and thank goodness, as we come around a curve and nearly hit a large doe. She looks at us thoughtfully, then turns and walks back down the mountain. As she does, an itty bitty spotted fawn pokes its head up to take a look at us. Then it follows Mama, down down the mountain.
When we arrive at our cabin, we see that Brother Lizard Eater is here with his wife. They are in a cabin we’ve never used before, so I and my mother go check it out. Her eyes are sad. When we are away from the children, she tells me that a realtor came by our cabin while we were gone. It is being sold.
I am heartsick.
The Princess comes up, reminding me of my part of the bargain, to take her to the river. We go down, carefully wade across the cold waters, and sit on a large rock by the edge of the water. I cannot help myself. I weep.
The Princess is the private type herself, so she doesn’t pry. I weep for the past – this was where we came after LW had cancer the first time, it was where we came after she had it the second time.
I weep for the future plans I had in mind. Next year, I will be doing CPE, but The Husband and kids were still going to come. And the far off future dreams … on the way up here, Sunday, The Boy said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we keep coming here, and then we grow up and bring our kids here?”
The Princess is quiet. I thank her for letting me letting my emotions out. I assure her that no one has died, no divorces, nothing like that. She really wants to know, though. I don’t know if it’s the right thing, but I tell her. She weeps a bit, too. Then we talk about the wonderful memories we’ve had, and how this might mean that we find an even better place.
I remember the words given to me a couple of days earlier. “There will always be waters to refresh you.” They take on new meaning today. There will always be a place for me to find healing, find God, be refreshed.
We cross back over the river, calm and more at peace.
Thursday, July 22
Up early for another goodbye. Mother-in-love and her gentleman friend (I really need to name him, he is a lovely man) continue on their 4 week trip. “I’ve got the dates written down for your thing in October,” she tells me. “I’ll be there for whatever you need me to do.”
A day to laze. Brother Lizard Eater and his wife, Bitty Thing, come over to our cabin and make breakfast tacos for all of us. Bitty and I lounge around til 11:00, drinking coffee, having girl talk about makeup and their recent move. They have a very different marriage than ours – no children, and they split their time between three homes. We talk about the need to keep communicating, especially in situations like theirs, where they frequently are not in the same home at night. We discuss the concept from How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, that the vast majority of issues between men and women come down to a fear of abandonment (women) and a fear of being shamed (men).
The children flit in and out, down to the dock (but never the river, unless with an adult), to Bubbe and Pops’ cabin, racing around the property.
I eventually stir myself to take a shower, then walk down to have a mimosa with the rest of the grown ups. We sit on the porch of my parents’ cabin, solving all the problems of the world.
Buffalo burgers and bratwurst for dinner, topped with New Mexican green chile. Afterwards, we go down to the river where The Husband (former Eagle Scout) has built a large campfire. I play guitar, we all sing, and the children are stuffed with s’mores til they can ask for no more. A distant roll of thunder and a bit of lightning say it’s time to call it a night.
Friday, July 23, 2010
We chat with the landlady and any hopes that new owners will continue renting out our cabin are dashed. It is time to find a new place. New adventures await.
Wanted: 4+ rustic cabins, all on same property. 1 to sleep 6 people, the others to sleep 2 each. Mountain location and river/lake mandatory. Maid service unnecessary. Kitchen appropriate to a riotous multigeneration family that loves to cook, drink, and eat. Property must have memories of its own, with room to spare for new memories.We bounce between the different cabins all day. Bubbe’s breakfast casserole at our cabin, drinks at Uncle’s, conversation on Bubbe and Pops’ porch. A game of horseshoes. The Princess and The Boy and I wade across the river one last time. I find a gorgeous green rock. “It’s your Awesome Stone of Power,” The Boy proclaims.
I bet you wish you had an Awesome Stone of Power.
There is talk of more fishing, but what I want to do is curl up and read a book. I feel a little guilty – I can read a book anywhere. Nature solves the problem for me, delivering a powerful rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning. The thunder echoes off the mountain walls. We putter around, doing laundry, a little packing. By evening, it is cold enough for a fire. A glass of wine, a book, a fire, and my family. It is my favorite “emotion,” – cozy.
Tomorrow morning we will pack up and stop at the double ponds to go fishing one more time.
The last time.