The Pere Marquette train and I go way back, and it’s a history of strife and frustration. I hate to speak ill of any train, but it cannot be avoided. When I was tens years old, a trip on this route from Grand Rapids to Chicago took over nine hours, three times the necessary length, because of some minor electrical problem that forced us to crawl along at about 2 mph the entire way.
This time the delay leaving Union Station in Chicago was only 45 minutes, and I expect we’ll make up the time along the way, but this train still has its irking ways. For one thing, I’m facing backwards. The view out the window is quite poor and instead I have a front seat view of the necking teenagers across the aisle. Also, the snack car supposedly does not have hot water, which means microwaved cheeseburgers are the alternative to the udon soup I brought along to make.
The real reason for my peevishness, however, is that I’m two hours from home. Two hours from the end of my last summer as a student. Two hours from The Future. Expect little blogging in the coming months.
Vacation was marvelous. I’m grateful for: seeing an old friend after too much life lived at a distance; getting to know my terrific future brother-in-law; the many meals shared, tides avoided, wines tasted, vegetables picked, fairs attended, and talks had with all of my family along the way. I’ve written a lot about the traveling itself, but in my mind the train memories are only frames around the real stuff. Thanks to all of you for putting me up and putting up with me. Hope to see you again soon.
I’m back on the train for another long haul after my last visit to Washington relatives. The east side of the mountains is so much different from the west, but I love the desert. My lips chap and my skin cracks and the dry heat is hardly more comfortable than the humidity of Michigan, but it is awfully nice how quickly my hair dries. Plus the sunsets are gorgeous. Tonight the moon came up big and full, and while the sun set off a spectrum of colors in the western sky, the reflection off the moon in the east was a show of its own. With hay bales and tractors in the foreground, it was agrarian bliss.
It always amazes me how much farming happens in the desert. It is so different from the farming I know, and I know so little about it. It seems like a tenuous livelihood, to be so dependent on infrastructure and compliance with allocated rights. But it certainly seems to work: those hay bales and orchards, dry beans and—of course—the wines are a definite testament. And it’s beautiful, too, if I haven’t already made that clear.
Today my aunt and I stopped into town where my uncle was helping to get some old tractors running. They were starting up a 1939 Deere when we got there, and after a few turns of some part I didn’t recognize, the engine crawled to life. Over the cheerful thrum of the two cylinder machine was a syncopated sputtering that I could almost dance to. It’s be a great rhythm to mix into a jazz tune, that’s for sure.
It’s such a different experience, traveling alone to visit my relatives, than traveling with my family. My aunt observed as we were saying goodbye how much more of a chance we got to talk, and it’s true; she and my mom get along so well that I can hardly get a word in to their conversations when we all come out together. In some ways, I wish I weren’t alone. I love to listen in to the conversations my dad and uncle have about their work and worldviews, and my sister brings to life a side of my cousins that I don’t see when I’m alone, but traveling alone is a different blessing.
The sun rises in Montana. I can’t wait.
My brother and his wife recently bought their first house, so I drove over there from Ann Arbor and helped clean their old place and shuttle the last of the boxes to the new one with them and my parents this weekend. I’ve lived in houses most of my life, so I guess I’ve sort of swallowed the great American myth that home ownership is the key to successful living and responsible citizenship. I recognize that there’s all sorts of problems with that myth, that the suburban, mid-century neighborhood my brother lives in is a product of the privilege, power and politics that underlay the myth at the height of white flight from Detroit. However, home ownership itself is typically a good thing; people take care of what is theirs, which is why ownership is a high priority for organizations that work on low-income housing and neighborhood stabilization.
Buying a house and moving—and this is not a metaphor—are about investing money, time and affection, about committing to take care of a place, and about jettisoning all the things you’ve collected in one space and taking only the important things with you, then starting your collection again in earnest. Houses take a lot of work, but they also build wealth, security, and autonomy.
I won’t buy a house any time soon, and right now I’m looking for a small, cheap apartment with a month-by-month lease. This is good, since I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 months. But maybe I can find someone who will let me help them pick out paint colors, fix the faucet, plant the garden…
Every three year’s my paternal grandmother’s family and all their progeny get together for a whomping big family reunion. It’s a four-day extravaganza held in different parts of the country each time, complete with puzzles, antiquing, a talent show and more. Hell, we’ve even got a family song—and we sing it in round. That’s how cool we are.
I missed it this year though, and so missed beautiful West Virginia (Mountain momma!). I was working, as I am now, in Ann Arbor, MI. We had a tornado here the night my parents arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains. (I hope you sense no bitterness there.) I’d have liked to see my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandma and her sisters catching up together. Luckily, a small contingent of them stopped by on their way back to West Michigan.
But second best was witnessing the annual convention of the organization in whose employ I find myself. It had a definite family reunion feel, with a little more moonshine and a lot more committee work. The organization is a unique one, with a history to match; it’s volunteer-run, fairly well endowed, and enamored of Robert and his Rules. It has all the quirky personalities and canonized memories of a large extended family. Granted, I was a recognized outsider, so it was more like sitting in on some other family’s reunion.
I like this family though, quite a bit. And now it’s tasked me and a comrade with helping 18 teenagers form a family of their own in six short weeks. Ai! We’ll make it. And if we’re successful, they might be having reunions of their own some day.
Thanksgiving abroad is a potluck affair, and I was responsible for all things cranberry. Liz and Drew (whose visit was wonderful, a cause for thanks giving if you’ll pardon the expression) brought a can of jellied stuff, but I found some fresh ones in the import market and decided to make my first go cooking up that North American wonder berry.
I found a marvelous and simple recipe and set to work. I boiled the water, added the sugar, washed the berries and put ’em in the pot. Pretty soon, they started bursting, making this underwater pop pop pop. It was marvelous. The music, the color, the tart-sweet smell, the thickening texture and (I did sneak some) the taste.
It turned out well. I made one batch with orange peel and one with blackberries and cinnamon, and if I didn’t have to pay for them to be imported all the way from Wisconsin, I would probably make enough to eat for breakfast every day I’m here.
I missed being home for Thanksgiving, as it’s probably my favorite holiday and always a good time spent with family. But we made it work over here, and I’ll see you all soon enough. Is that Christmas music I hear?