Let’s just start with this: last Friday I came home from work, ate a quick dinner, and mowed the yard. Saturday night it snowed.
That, in a nutshell, is so many things: March in North Carolina. Par for the course. Life right now. Friday I mowed the grass, taking care to bag the clippings and empty them into the heavy-duty trash can I keep for yard waste, taking time to stripe the grass diagonally on the opposite angle from when I did it the weekend before, and there was a chill in the air as the sun set, the kind that felt more like October, like football and bonfires and the awakening of some adolescent excitement than the warmer urges of spring.
Saturday it snowed, a bone-chilling, damp, cured-only-by-hearty-stew cold snow, one that fell remorselessly after a concert we’d put on at the college, one that celebrated the life of a man who directed the community music program until several years ago, one who seemed cut from the cloth of local legends, the kind of fellow who could tell a soprano what to sing and she decided he was right. Anyway we’d sat through two hours of tributary music, really good music at that, a fantastic showing for our post-industrial town of about 35,000, and then it was over, and we threw open the doors to the 110-year old hall, and discovered the mulch beds and tulips and daffodils were filling up with sleet.
The ladies groaned, and the men turned their collars up against the cold, and a lucky few reappeared with umbrellas plucked from some previously hidden place. I went back inside to hob-knob a while longer, thinking maybe what I’d just witnessed outside was a misconception, that if I chatted some more it would simply go away.
It didn’t. I walked back to my car and sat for a moment while it warmed up and then turned a tight circle in the empty parking lot just to see if I’d lose traction. But the car held, and I drove home without fear of slipping off into a ditch.
That’s only a part of the tale Saturday, the day of Julia’s seventh birthday, a day that was interrupted by a concert celebrating the life of a man who’d died on Christmas, even if the music was good and the stories truly funny.
We’d started the day with presents and breakfast, hugs and kisses and thank yous. I am resigned to knowing that most all of the gifts she will receive in her life will come from her mother’s resolute shopping. In so many ways, that’s just how it works.
Then it was off to my Mom’s house for a kindred birthday lunch and visit, and then some cake and singing and more presents. A beautiful dress for Jules. We celebrated Annie’s birthday a little bit more, too–she turned two on Wednesday–and then we loaded up the van and drove home, the misty afternoon ready-made for a nap.
Then it was off to Kel’s parents’ house for supper and cake and singing and presents. Julia, Thomas, Annie, and Cousin Bear all squealing and tearing at wrapping paper and laughing. Hugs and kisses all around.
One of the silly, out of the way things I’m quietly pleased about in my life is the gift of knowing artists.
That might seem like a non sequitur, but after the concert I chatted with a few of them, one who was a student at the high school where I taught another lifetime ago, and it reminded me that there was a point in life when hanging out with musicians was a more common thing. So many of them live on a different plane, an inhabited weirdness, the sort of place where some things are brilliantly composed but others laughably broken.
A group of them was going to a restaurant, presumably to consume greasy burgers and french fries and beer, and I thought about inviting myself along, just to see if I could still do it, still hang out with the musicians, but then I came out of the concert hall and it was sleeting and snowing big, downy flakes, and I knew the kids were in bed, and the next day was Palm Sunday, and I’d paid good money to help repair the laughably broken parts of my head, and it was easier just to keep the car pointed straight into the moth-tunnels of snow on Broad Street.
I actually scheduled work on a Sunday afternoon.
Earlier in the week, someone had emailed about posters for the Artist Series (different series, this one) for the April lecture by a painter, and after glancing at my calendar I found it was boorishly skimpy on liberated time slots.
So I resigned myself to creating an Outlook appointment on a Sunday afternoon, a reminder to come downstairs and do the creative work, to order the posters and postcard mailers, to update the website and schedule the Facebook event, to update the online ticket exchange.
By now I am used to this–I have been doing it for half a dozen seasons now, so it’s all but rote–but it still takes a good couple of hours’ work. I took breaks here and there to peak at my basketball tournament brackets, of which there are four, of which there is one that is still viable.
Palm Sunday, and we’d read the Passion out loud. Father Brad recalled how Christ, alone, doubting, filled with regret, prayed God would take away the cup. But after he said amen, he opened his eyes, and…there’s the cup. Still there.
And you can imagine Jesus sighing almost imperceptibly, then nodding, summoning up the reconciliation to say that God’s will was his will, too. Father Brad reminded us that if we could arrive at that same empty train station-stop in our journeys of faith, then perhaps our tombs might be empty, also, when they rolled away the stone. It was a near enough shot that it startled me, from an Episcopalian priest, no less.
After church and after lunch and after the scheduled Sunday afternoon, then to Dad’s house for supper and singing and cake. I write it here as if it were a chore, all of this birthday celebrating, but it wasn’t–every minute, honest, was warm and fun and terrific to share, these wide-grinning moments with Julia and Annie and our families. I did gain three pounds along the way.
By Sunday evening, the sun still hanging on a bit, the snow gone, the air still smells clean. Dad and I chat out in the garage, his new Corvette under a spandex-tight car cover, its screaming geometry masked in bright blue. For some reason I think of Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona robbing a convenience store. Bandit.
Julia is given a toy camera that is surprisingly functional, and immediately she is gripped by the gift of a creative tool. She takes blurry landscapes on the twilight drive home, selfies in the living room as we change into pajamas, pictures with Thomas before bed. Thomas, for his part, is quietly racked with jealousy and manages to keep it hidden from public view.
Monday morning. I often joke that I am the junior varsity parent on our team, but on school mornings, everybody’s in the rotation. We lose the remote to the television and spend five minutes looking for it. Annie loses a shoe and walks around the house halfway barefoot. Thomas forgets the days of the week.
At work, we are losing a truly integral member of our staff, and I am learning the administrative art of spinning plates while looking calm. My post-Palm Sunday work calendar is riddled with appointments and meetings and reminders, and at one point during the day I roll my desk chair back and blur my eyes and try to focus on the blocks of white space.
I realized the only day I had an open lunch hour was today, and that if I was going to meet Dad for lunch, as is our custom to do during the work week, it would have to be right now, so I called, and it somehow miraculously worked, so we met at a divish-looking taqueria between our offices, and we indulged in Mexican comfort food, which did nothing to help what the weekend cakefest had done to my waist line.
Eventually I stopped working and drove home and after supper I played piano for the first time in a while, and Julia brought her camera downstairs and we plugged it into the computer I’d set up for the kids, and we looked at her pictures and listened to her voice recordings on the big screen. And then we took photos together, making faces, trying out different attitudes, learning how to use the flash. I browsed through folders and folders of old digital photos on my computer drive, intent at first upon showing Julia a few things about composition, but eventually just staring at pictures of Kelly and me, a sort of shell-shocked, dumbfounded stare like Marty McFly in Back to the Future when he sees his own parents as teenagers. We looked great.
There were pictures from concerts, pictures from holidays, pictures from traveling (see image at the top of this post, circa 2009), pictures with our grandmothers. I admired our glassy-eyes in photos from parties, friends twisting our heads around, goofy smiles abounding. I realize I’ve been happy for years and years.
It was enough to goad me into pouring a glass and putting on a Miles Davis/John Coltrane album that just dropped and opening up the browser and writing, putting down here what’s now beyond 1,600 words, a respectable diary entry if I may so humbly suggest.
I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I’m glad I found the time.