Friday, September 4, 2015

A Little Michael And Deborah Memory

The family that I was born into, is, to say the least, unusual.  I think we are peculiar and I think we've all felt the sting, as well as the grace of that, from the start.  And I think  much of that has to do with circumstances outside our ken and control, as well as with our own particular psyches and internal wiring.

The outside world has a name for people like us: "Those Armstrongs."  This is not necessarily brag. It is a sometimes lonely, often prideful, sometimes very confusing and painful fact. It can also be snug and lushly comforting.

Of course, everyone thinks he and his are special; unique and more hilarious than his neighbor.  I am not here to argue that.  In fact I know that no one's joy or pain or disappointment in/delight with the world is deeper, stronger, nor more heartfelt than anyone else's.

I'm just here to tell a story or two about some of those sui generis Armstrongs, even as I know the telling will not necessarily illuminate the unusual.  I just prefaced this story with that explanation because where unusual comes in is the not-easily-explainable nature of our ties to each other.

I've already introduced our seventh sibling, baby brother Michael.  I can never write the pith and heart of his excruciatingly wondrous drop--from a hole in heaven--into our lives; his dazzling childish poise, that fierce doting hovering he engendered, especially from his older sisters.

Writing recently about him and me and our doing things together, I keep thinking about an escapade (so much of what we did, I would call escapades because I wasn't the brightest, most careful caretaker and we actually had some "close calls" or some experiences that certainly could have become close calls) that we shared with our sister, Deborah.

In my mind's eye, the cover photo of this memory is of Deborah standing on one side of a raging canal, two children... Michael and Margie-- standing next to her, me straddling the canal on the cement walls that contained it and Georgie flapping like a flag in a windstorm as I held him by the hands to swing him over the water for Deborah to catch, his legs buffeted by the current.  She and I were grown enough to jump over, but the smaller, trusting children couldn't do that.  Not a deterrent to our determination to hike the mountains in Ogden to the rainbow's end in Waterfall Canyon.  We had successfully catapulted the others across without getting wet, but Michael had tried to put his feet down too early.  My laughter weakened me and Deborah scrambled to save the day.  Again.  She grabbed him by his waist as soon as I was able to hoist him closer to her, and we all laughed at danger.

We hiked up the trail that, at points, crossed the full and fast river, in the days before bridges were invented.  OK, well at least before they were placed over that river.  It was early run-off, then.  There was more hoisting kids over or sending and catching them on the other side.  There was climbing steep and rocky surfaces and throwing slimy moss at each other.  There was much chatter and laughter and many squeals at near misses on rolling river rocks. There were detours through the trees at places the river seemed to be too daunting and there was just plain grit at jumping from high rock faces into rushing water.

At one point on the way up, we had to cross where the river was too wide to jump and too deep and turbulent to enter.  There was a large flat rock in the middle of the crossing which I could straddle on one side and swing the kids to land upon, one at a time.  Then I would jump across to the other side of the river and each of them would leap into my arms, and I would cross again for the next one, but we lost momentum when Deborah suddenly panicked and couldn't jump to the mid-river rock landing.  We encouraged and cheered and instructed, but she just couldn't brave it for a few minutes until she finally made the first leap onto the large rock, frightening herself so much that she had to lie down.  Right there on that cold and wet and slippery rock.  Face down, her arms sprawled out to the side in an effort to grip and ground herself, she just lay there exclaiming that she couldn't move.  When I offered to cross back and help her up, she was adamant that I not come near her.  For several minutes she lay there, resembling a slow-moving, resting alligator, the roiling river disregarding her, swirling around and past her.  And then suddenly she was up, fairly flying into our midst on the other side.

On the return trip, she opted to forge her own trail through the trees, taking the two youngest, Michael and Georgie with her, to bypass that crossing.  Margie and I decided to try to take the shortest route, because, frankly, were just about done with that great adventure.

There was much well-deserved relief and gratitude in the dark by the time we reached our car for the trip home.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Little Michael Memory

I picked Michael up in my sporty little Chevy Nova (some late 60s' vintage, used, two-toned rust-colored and white) to come stay the night with me one weekend back in maybe 1974-75.  I had recently moved away from home into my own apartment in Sugarhouse, SLC, and we missed each other, my kid brother and I.  While I lived at home, we had embarked upon some lovely, weird and woolly escapades in his very early years; some even before he could speak.  (Telling a few of those stories will likely and lovingly come at another time. I only mention it to point to our history of doing "fun and funny" things together.)

Angels or Gulls game, Utah scones, Allen Park peacocks, Trolley Square fried ice cream? The last place we went was somewhere we could be barefoot. (This is germane.)

I probably made Schilling Salisbury Steak and gravy with powdered potatoes and canned corn for supper.

Then we slept.

We were up again, early and revved for another full day of taking in the city.  Michael had left his shoes down in the car, and being the very mature eight-year-old he was, I sent him down with the keys to retrieve them.  He came back through the front door with no shoes.

"Couldn't you find them?"  They were right there on the back seat.

"Yeah, I got them."

"Well, where are they?"

"They're next door."

How in the world...?  Who lives next door?  I had no idea who lived in that apartment.

The obligatory French toast was ready and waiting for him on the table.  He sat down, poured a bucket of syrup onto his plate and calmly told me that when he came back up the stairs of our building, he went into the wrong apartment.  He hadn't realized it was the wrong apartment until he walked all the way into the bedroom and saw someone who wasn't me sleeping in the bed that wasn't mine. That person heard him, raised up suddenly from the pillow and the two of them stared in stunned silence at each other.

It startled Michael so, that he dropped his shoes, spun around on his heels and scampered out the door.

In a fashion, I witnessed history repeat itself several years later while I was living in Seoul, Korea.  I slept on a cotton mat on the floor next to a large and low garden window, a window through which the Granny of the family would often hand me roses and cosmos as she tended the flowers in the yard and I sat inside on the floor, painting.  It was a very warm summer night, illuminated by moonlight and a few distant stars through the branches of a persimmon tree .  The sliding rice-paper panels had been widely separated in order to help cool off the room as I slept.  In the middle of the night, I raised up on my elbow in an effort to stretch out a bit and roll over.  Right as my face was level with the broad window sill, a scavenging, brown rat who had been running along that same window sill stopped abruptly, raised up on his hind legs and I could swear I saw his squinty little eyes widen with fear in the split second before he dived off the window sideways, Esther Williams-style.  (If you are unfamiliar with Esther Williams, think synchronized swimmer diving sideways.)

Well, that was a fine how-do-you-do!  Now what?  Neither of us wanted to go knock on someone's door and explain that the kid accidentally entered the wrong apartment and continued all the way into the bedroom without realizing it looked nothing like the right apartment, the furniture looked nothing like the right furniture.

They were only shoes, after all.  New shoes could be found in any department store.  Take Grand Central, for example.  They had just the right size. (Of course, this was back in the day when you could go into a store barefoot.)

Til this day, I wonder about that neighbor.  What scenario left those shoes in the middle of the bedroom doorway?  And, what of those shoes?  Where did they end up?

Who lives in the city and doesn't lock their doors at night?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Six In One

Not keeping up on keeping up the blog!  Here are several pictures to represent what we've been enjoying in the last six months since the last post, and only a smattering, at that.  Basically it's been weekends of day trips to all the parks we love visiting.  We also took a long trip to New Mexico for a family reunion.  Desmond loves going to places where there is a lot of water...marinas, lakes, beaches, rivers, and even puddles.

Sierra Blanca Mountain Range near Ruidoso, NM

Boston Harbor Marina, Olympia, WA

Millersylvania State Park, WA

Millersylvania State Park, WA

Boston Harbor Marina, Olympia WA

Twanoh State Park, Hood Canal, WA

Tumwater, WA

Woodland, WA near the Lewis River headwaters

Bainbridge Island, WA

Woodland, WA tulip farm

Boston Harbor Marina, Olympia WA

Long Beach, WA

Long Beach, WA

Waiting for DASH downtown bus, Olympia

On the bus first, second or maybe third trip around?

Percival Landing, Olympia, WA

Percival Landing, Olympia, WA

Black Lake, Olympia, WA

Westport Marina, Grays Harbor, WA
Burfoot Park, Olympia, WA

Boston Harbor Marina, watching Orcas

Monday, January 19, 2015

Merry Mishmash 2014

Our Desmond turned 2 a couple of months before Christmas, and although it was his third Christmas, a lot of the quiet traditions we engaged in were wonder-filled firsts for him: 

drumming pomegranate arils from their shells with a spoon,

 filling and frying up Korean hoddeok,

hunting for and cutting down a just-right-for-us Christmas tree,

(You sure know how to find those perfect rocks, Desmond, but we're actually looking for a tree this time.)

embracing the hauntingly lonesome glow of harbor lights on the silv'ry sea,

overcoming Christmas Cracker anxiety, (because this was neither actually a first for him nor was it a necessarily quiet activity,)

and determining whether the obligatory marzipan pig is a darling little toy or something as exquisitely toothy and edible as it looks.