Grown Son’s Visit

Zac gave this candle holder to us before he was married saying that's how he saw us--with him secure in the middle.

Zac gave this candle holder to us before he was married saying that’s how he saw us–with him secure in the middle.

Our son came into our bedroom at 4:00 a.m. this morning and said he was leaving now. Automatically I sat up and told Sam to get up. Son Zac said we didn’t have to get up, he could just slip out, but I was already putting on my robe and Sam was right behind me.

I had to get together a few items for him to eat on the road though I know he would have been fine without it. When I walked through the hall I saw his suitcase already standing, ready to go. Sam and I put together fruit, juice, nuts to munch and cranberry bread.

He had arrived three days earlier just before two in the afternoon. That six hour drive started after the sun had risen, but he was still earlier than we expected. Out of the blue he’d announced a few weeks earlier that he was coming and we’d been like kids waiting for Christmas ever since. He hadn’t seen the house we now lived in and I

Sarajane sent him with presents. She knows I love colorful dish ware.

Sarajane sent him with presents. She knows I love colorful dish ware.

wouldn’t be surprised if it was our very thoughtful daughter-in-law who suggested the visit. Sarajane has back problems that make long road trips difficult and the girls needed to be in school, so he came alone.

The past few years we’ve always gone to see them. With every visit I see my two granddaughters have grown. They’ve changed from little girls to now maturing teenagers soon ready to drive and plan for the SATs. Fewer changes are noticed on Zac and Sarajane. They are in the adult years that are so busy that nature itself seems unable to keep up with their pace and the changes on faces and bodies are few.

Zac “retired” before we did, but he has filled his days like a “working” person with service to nonprofits while he of course tends household funds. Three years ago when he announced he was leaving his very lucrative career to pursue working with nonprofits and extensive worldwide travel, I remembered that had been his stated goal sometime around his senior year in high school.

I had listened at that time, fully aware Zac had always been unusual in planning and conducting his life as a maestro. Sam and I started with zero assets, a modest wedding in my mother’s backyard and rings that totaled less than $100 for the two of them.

I would like to take credit for all he has accomplished. I am his mother, right? Yes, I certainly did have my influence, plus either Sam or I could have messed things up terribly for him. But I believe that every one of us has a unique core center we are born with that is ours to build on or destroy as we choose. I’m very pleased to have helped create an atmosphere and some guidance that allowed him to steer his life the way he wanted to go.

The second day of his visit we traveled the seventy miles to see his grandmother, my mother, and yesterday we attended a spring training game for the Chicago Cubs and The Colorado Rockies. The score was 0 for the hometown Cubs and a runaway 13 for the Rockies.

Last night Zac said he wanted to get an early start for home. He is a grown man with other people we love as much as him and being with them is where he now calls home. But I “remember when,” and he is always my boy.

Posted in Not the Grocery List | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

God’s Middle Finger, Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

Richard Grant
Free Press, 2008

UnknownFor a certain sort of adventuring gringo Mexico has a hypnotic effect. He can be told a hundred times that Mexico is dangerous in its remote mountains, pressing, airless jungles, and haunting deserts, but that only quickens the heart and sends the gringo further into a suspension of time to experience the magical and horrific. British journalist Richard Grant is such a person.

Living in Tucson, Arizona, familiar with travel into Mexico, and an accomplished writer on western themes, he wanted his next book to be about traversing the inaccessible Sierra Madre mountain range. He knew its deep canyons, rutted roads, wild animals, and thick forests would be a physical challenge.

He nodded when several friends warned him that even with his penchant for danger and ingratiating journalist’s personality he would be in over his head. He slightly paused when author J.P.S. (Joe) Brown told more of the violent drug history of the mountains and said he would find “…murder. Lots of murder.”

The Sierra Madre in Mexico.

The Sierra Madre in Mexico.

He promised himself he would live by the rule that if he couldn’t make friends in twenty minutes in a new town he would leave knowing he was in danger. It was the early 2000s, but as soon as he crossed the border into Mexico there was a palpable difference in felt security that leaped off the page through his smooth, swift-footed writing. There’s no pretense in the writing, just a clear ability to get the story out and move forward.

The reader is given quick background in the convoluted relationship of police, military, and drug trade traffic along with a brief introduction to Mexican thought. He refers to Charles Bowden’s idea that in Mexico an event happens, then there are rumors and theories about why, and finally, it is swept under the rug and never happened. There is an evolving through the book that begins with this idea and leads Grant to understand Octavio Paz’s description of Mexico and its magical realism.

So we travel with him through nights of endless dangerous revelry, listening to tales of the drug trade habits and murders, picking up hitchhikers for protection, employing a charming homosexual as a guide, assuming the posture of machismo, and traveling through the village of Mátalo that translates to Kill Him.

This is not comfortable armchair traveling when it relates your real protectors on the Copper Canyon Railway tour through Mexico are the drug lords. Nor is it a positive report on the Mexican character. It is a first-hand account into the back country that thrives on the drug trade and fuels itself on AK-47s, beer and machismo. Is this an uplifting book? No. Is Grant changed? Yes.

After a horrific night he compares to the movie Deliverance, with him as the night’s easy target “to make the trigger finger happy,” Grant can no longer abide the prevailing male supremacy, freedom from law, or unlimited access to firearms.

Posted in A Book Stream Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Utah to Arizona #20, Arizona Senate Bill 1062

Beautiful cactus at a nursery to make my own.

Beautiful cactus at a nursery to make my own.

“How can you move to Arizona?” more than one person asked as I prepared to move from Utah. Full of anticipation for a new perfect house, lots of sun, beautiful cactus, and adventure on every roadway out of town, I listened.

They explained, “It’s so hateful against Mexicans, really everyone who isn’t male, white, and balding, they’re all crazy gun-toting extremists, the summers are too hot, the landscape is barren, Phoenix hasn’t any style.”

Depending on the perspective, all of their criticisms were valid. And they are all also wrong. I’m writing this because Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, recently vetoed Senate Bill 1062 which was supposed to protect the right of a company to refuse service to anyone based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Ya right.

The firestorm that developed from that unthought-out bill was well deserved and thank you very much to all of you who participated in barbequing the Arizona legislature. During the national controversy that also got international news, I revisited that question: “What am I doing here?” Shouldn’t I be in Oregon, Colorado, California, Washington, or Sweden?

Cautiously I consulted quarrelsome Irma Prattle. I’m a female who grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a single mother, father-very-absent household in Utah as a non-Mormon. Bluntly: I was shunned. Rarely is Irma this kind.

The only contacts I had were other outsiders and we were few in number. Luckily my mother and grandmother branded into me (notice western verb because I am a western girl) a deep and abiding belief that “God” loved everyone and the child-like Mormons were to be pitied. The Mormon view could have been better framed, but please remember, this was decades ago and my family was only trying to secure a little safe ground around us for survival.

Utah history is all written around the Mormons who will tell you they have historically been very discriminated against so it is necessary for them to be strong in protecting their religious rights. Arizona history is cowboy and Indian stories and this state will tell you they must be strong to preserve themselves in this hostile environment.

Those are the official stands. Back to Senate Bill 1062. Behind those official stands the old ways are crumbling. Mormons have been slowly changing with every generation and so have Arizonians. They both have much natural beauty in landscape and people (and continue to elect to many idiot legislators). They both have their failings with noisy, frightened people who are clinging to old views.

Salt Lake City has a surprisingly hip city life and is predominately Democrat. Arizona I’m still learning about but I know the everyday people are far friendlier and open to newcomers.

Strangers will converse with me here like they never would in Utah and no one has asked my religion. I’m no longer feeling quite so much like that little girl who sat alone at lunch and I’ve decided something else.

Utah needed me. I was a rock in their Sunday best shoes that silently

An Arizona rock. I'm a the smallest pebble, bottom right side.

An Arizona rock. I’m a the smallest pebble, bottom right side. I think the big one is named “Undiscovered Conscience.”

questioned their superior isolation. (Yes, this is superior isolationism reversed.) Regardless, through time a lot of other rocks joined in to result in today’s more open acceptance. Maybe being a rock in Arizona’s landscape is not as dramatic, but it might be my calling. There are worse legacies.

Posted in Arizona, Not the Grocery List, Utah to Arizona for a Next Life | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Beautiful Ruins

Jess Walter
Harper Perennial, 2012

UnknownJess Walter has managed to show the too often dreary literary novel and the fun but clueless bestseller can overlap. Both sides have an argument that this novel doesn’t belong in either category, and they are right because the book has scattered bits of both.

The story begins when Pasquale, a young innkeeper of a remote Italian hotel named The Hotel Adequate View, watches a beautiful young American actress named Dee Moray approach his hotel by boat. He is suddenly alive with the possibilities for himself, his inn, his town, and the rest of his life. The reader is told she has cancer and has been sent from the real-life set of the 1962 filming of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. From there a series of events through the plans and random actions of a dozen people propel the story through the next fifty years.

But to the beginning. Pasquale, overwhelmed by Moray’s timely visit and

Hollywood's 1960s  beautiful couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Hollywood’s 1960s beautiful couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

her beauty, declares life a “blatant act of imagination.” He is sure he has conjured her presence into his life. So Walter lays his steps by drawing the reader carefully into the story with romance, possibility, intrigue, the beauty of the Italian seacoast, Hollywood history and charisma, with cancer for a dash of drama.

Then enters Alvis Bender, a wreck of a U.S. vet from World War II who retreats to the inn to write his book declaring, “death is life’s point, its profound purpose.” Ah, so literary. Except we’re at The Hotel Adequate View and along the way we’ve also met a man who has in his pocket a business card for a strip joint named the Asstacular. It was somewhere in the first hundred pages that I wondered if Walter could be compared to a Quintin Tarentino without the violence and a goofier sense of humor. He does claim to be a fan of the Cohen Brothers.

The story never approached the darkness of a grad school literary outline, but there was an insightful direction of asking the reader to consider. Consider the difference between what we desire and what is right. Consider our own shortcomings and failures before condemning another. Why do we train-wreck our own lives, where do dreams fit, and where does planning verses random acts of nature, God, and action fit?

I think it’s a dirty trick when writers loosely play with the lives of real historical figures, but the practice is widespread and the book is clearly fiction. Walter is capable of writing interesting material without rewriting history that includes actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but giving the Welsh well-known womanizer an illegitimate child doesn’t hurt Beautiful Ruins. Perhaps Walter felt obligated to use Burton in his novel since it was the real-life quote by Louis Menand in The New Yorker that described Richard Burton as a beautiful ruin that gave this book its title.

Posted in A Book Stream Review, Grief's Blossoms of the Lower Branches | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments