A Little Behind

Well, so much for the good intentions of posting every day!  I’ve got 4 things to be thankful for, all in one fell swoop.

1) My father’s profession.  Paul Reed got a position at Wichita State University the year before my parents were married, and was a member of the keyboard department.  He retired in 2008, after teaching there for 42 years– 17 of those years after he had a stroke in 1991.  The man embodies midwestern grit.  But the reason why I’m grateful for his profession?  He’s a music junkie.  I cannot remember a time when he wasn’t blasting out music from his sound system, and it was all classical.  I was conversant with Wagner, Bach, Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Debussy before I knew anything about rock.  (Even as I write this, I’m listening to the first act from Die Walküre.)  Not only did I grow up with classical music as a baseline, I also grew up understanding it as an activity, as kinetic–as something people did, that they worked at.  We had a grand piano at home, and sometimes Dad would practice there (Do Not Disturb in force!).  More often, he’d practice at school.  Much of my childhood memories are of wandering the WSU campus, visiting him at the  music building (Deurksen Fine Arts), meandering down the wing of practice rooms hearing snatches of vocals, trombones, trumpets, piano.  Music was not something removed from human endeavour, but something as concrete as gardening or baking.

2) My mother’s calling.  I grew up with the understanding that my mother wrote poetry.  I was too little to understand her poems (and when I was finally old enugh, they frequently made me cry), but I was always tickled when she showed me poems she’d written that had me in them.  Like music, writing was something that people did.  Many’s the night I went to sleep listening to the clackety-clack of her typewriter–a sound of absolute comfort.  Every once in a while she would go to a poetry reading, usually in Chicago or somewhere in Wisconsin (I was still pretty little), and Dad and I would drive her to the bus station.  More often to the train station, first in Wichita–when one still existed here, a grand marble edifice–and then in Newton, a little town about 25 minutes north of Wichita.  Always at hours that seemed surreal to my single-digit perception–3 in the morning!  Cold, dark, and the smell of diesel always signal adventure, anticipation to me.  And of course her office was filled to the ceiling with books.  Still is, in fact.  Books on history, books on Egypt, books on birds, books on horses, books on New Mexico and Spain, books on Native American issues, books about ships, books about polar exploration, books all in Spanish.  So not only was the concept of writing normalized for me, but also the importance of language–of getting the words right.  Someday here I’ll tell the story of how one of her critiques changed my writing life forever.

3)  Alcohol.  Yes, I’m thankful for alcohol, and my parents’ attitude for it.  Alcohol was an accepted part of celebration and hospitality, but no bigger deal than a well-cooked supper.  Alcohol was part of a succesful party, or birthday, or Christmas.  Beer and wine was the going thing, although my mom was fond of “a toothful” of Tullamore Dew, and my dad is still partial to Black Russians.  They let me have a sip here and there.  After dinner parties, when the adults woul dall go off to talk, I’d go around drinking the lees from the wine glasses–not because it was BOOZE and therefore a big deal, but because I thought wine tasted good.  No one, that I recall, batted an eye.  By the time I was 9 or so, for family get-togethers or holidays, I was permitted to have my own drink, what my mother called a “shandygaffer,” which was one part beer and one part 7-Up.  I thought shandygaffers were the best thing ever.  Alcohol to me isn’t necessarily a symbol of debauchery–to me it represents civilization, the continuity of culture, the diversity of the world, the ability to savor the deliciousness of life.

4) My husband’s early years in California.  Last night, at a few minutes before 11:00 (Central time), my husband and I were watching a movie in our basement.  All of a sudden I became aware of a definite rumble through the house.  I thought it might be a really big truck going by, or the kids getting up to some mischief.  I looked at my spouse, and he said cheerily, “Earthquake!”  I goggled at him.  And then I realized he was right–there are fault lines in Kansas.  My husband grew up in Southern California, so he knows what they feel like–he also knows when to freak out and when not.  He was more amused than anything, and after my initial impression of a chicken with its head cut off (which of course included posting bon mots on Facebook), we went back to the movie.

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