Monday, July 25, 2016

Reveling in the cool factor that IS Table 7

At the rehearsal dinner of our nephew Sam, my sister Susan and I were assigned to Table 7. There was quite a crew in the restaurant -- family of the couple, including Sam's two grandmothers; wedding party members and their significant others; a handful of clergy members (including some who had traveled from Wisconsin, where Sam attends seminary), plus Sam's and Katy's siblings.

Sam has two sisters and a brother. Katy has a sister, plus several step-relatives, eight of whom also had Table 7 seat assignments. 

Susan and I meandered through the crowd to our large round table in the corner, and we all introduced ourselves. It took a little repetition and a few pssst! Remind me who that is? -- but we finally figured out who went with whom and a little about each other.

Conversation was polite and nice and friendly, of course. And then -- what was it? What was that turning point that changed everything? It could have been when we sat down and Susan almost immediately proclaimed us to be "the renegade table." That did make us all smile and put us at ease and maybe even set the tone. But I'm not certain that was the moment I'm seeking.

Maybe it was glancing at the other tables, wanting the familiarity in Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to be in Table 7 as well. Or, most likely, it was a combination -- a sprinkling of serendipity, mingling with the fairy dust that seems to hover over happiness venues.

Whatever it was compelled Susan to make a proclamation: "We need to be known as the fun table," she said. "On the count of three, everyone start laughing really, really hard."
So we did, which of course made us laugh even harder. Other tables looked over at us, amused. That opened us up and we kept talking and talking, feeling this mirth that just seemed to grow. At one point, one of the bridesmaids moseyed over from another table and said, "You all are having so much fun, I just had to come over and be close to all this."

I said we needed to set up a Table 7 Facebook page. Susan decided that at the wedding reception the following evening, someone should request "Uptown Funk" and when we heard it, we'd all run to the dance floor.

The toasts to the happy couple ended; the stories and memories and hoo-haws and tears stopped, and we all went home. 

The following afternoon, the wedding was beautiful and joyous. At the reception, we acknowledged the presence of fellow Table 7-ers with a wave, a smile, or with seven fingers extended. The first time "Uptown Funk" played was early on, and everyone was too busy talking or mingling or eating to dance. 

An hour or so later, the bridesmaid who had come by Table 7 the night before found Susan and me eating dinner. 

"Table 7, right?" she asked. We nodded.

"I asked the DJ to play 'Uptown Funk' again," she said. "He said he doesn't usually repeat songs, but he will if you promise to dance." Then she said, "When I get married, I want Table 7 there."

We were, quite honestly, kind of weary. But after hearing that, how could we possibly say no? We looked at each other, nodded a little, and told her that sure, we'd get out there.

When the music started, suddenly our whole Table 7-ers were next to us. We sashayed onto the dance floor, and one of us (I like to think it was me) suggested a conga line. I reached for Susan's shoulders, and she weaved us around the other dancers -- even under a bridge of raised arms, where we were going the opposite way of everyone else.

But did the Table 7-ers care? Darn right we didn't. I laughed the hardest I had all evening; at one point, I turned around, and seeing our tablemates doing our crazy snake dance behind me made me laugh even harder.

When the evening ended, when guests were handed wands of streamers and bells and lining up to cheer on the newlyweds, Susan and I saw two fellow Table 7-ers. We joked about one day running into each other in a restaurant or anywhere else, and how we'd all just say "Table 7!" and start dancing.

Susan said, "Or if you're ever feeling down, just say out loud, 'Table 7.' You never know who might be around."

"Table 7," said Landon, one of Katy's stepbrothers, "is a state of mind."

What more can I add to that? Except that when you sit at a table of renegades, you just gotta be open to laughter and to mirth. Because only then can you feel it -- that subtle sprinkling of magic; that fairy dust which brings us together, and which keeps us whole.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hiking heaven

We took the hike because that's what you do when you're in Colorado. It's what we do, anyway, because the mountains call out to us. And if we don't answer, if we get too caught up in just ogling their snow-capped loveliness, our allotted time here passes and we're left grasping for them with a sense of desperation, the what-ifs settling over our psyches like impending afternoon storms.

In their bountiful altruism, the mountains extend a magic looking glass in front of our faces, giving us a chance to flash forward a week, a month, six months. 

Will just being caught up in their beauty have been enough? Will we be kicking ourselves for not venturing out on these trails, interwoven like a basket, each its own entity, yet together leading us back to the trail head, to our car, to this cabin we call home for never long enough?

I'm never quite as brave up here as I'd like to be, or as I am when contemplating what I will do when I get here, or when I look back thinking about what I probably could have accomplished. This truism manifests itself on this hike with my son Charlie when, on a perfect Tuesday in July, we come to a part of the trail that has been washed away by floods two years ago. 

On the other side of nature's ravine, the trail picks up, but reaching the other side would require more agility and less anxiety than I have at this moment. So  despite him telling me, "You can do this, Mom!" I not surprisingly take a deep breath and tell him I think I'd better go back.

A half, a quarter-mile after our u-turn, I call out an apology. We're walking single file; the trail is narrow, and if someone approaches, either they or we step to the side to let the other pass.

For what? Charlie asks. For not believing in myself like you believed in me, I think. But instead I say, “For being such a wimp back there.”

He seems to not even remember. We trudge on, backtracking down paths so rocky we can't look at the scenery lest we stumble; through the aspen groves; across a meadow; up a pine-strewn trail. He's a forgiving sort and, like his mother, more willing to forgive others than himself; more likely to feel disappointment in himself than in someone else.

With equal degrees of comfort, we're silent and we talk -- about school, about religion, about nothing at all. We contemplate lunch, re-savor last night's dinner, remember random answers from the silly question game our whole family has played (and guffawed over) for two nights now. 

He and I have always felt an ease with each other. Here in the mountains, our comfort level is especially high -- him in front of me, moving more slowly than he'd like (and I'm not a pokey hiker, really!). When I call out to him or when he senses the footsteps between us lengthening, he pauses to let me catch up and to catch my breath. When stepping seems especially precarious, he turns around and extends his hand, which I reach for like a quicksand victim.

By the time we reach the car, which is parked by a picnic table next to a stream, we've gone 5.8 miles. "Come on," he says, taking the words from me. We walk two-tenths of a mile more. "An even six," he says. And even more triumphantly, "This wasn't a destination hike, but it sure was a good one."

We sit at the table and eat our sandwiches which, like all hiking sandwiches, started out thick and savory and are now panini-smashed. They're also sigh-worthy delicious. We take a few pictures, then head back to the cabin. 

In a few days, Charlie and his friend will drop me off at the airport, then drive the rest of the way home. I'll wake up the next morning in my own bed and resume the running for which I've swapped out for mountain exercise the last five days.

It will be hot, so I'll wear shorts and a tank top and I'll carry water. I'll sweat and feel my heart beating, and if I gasp for air, it will because the atmosphere is sultry and not because it's too thin. 

I'll run five miles or six or seven; maybe 9 or 10 on Sunday. When I'm home, it's what I do. 

But if I happen to glance into a mirror; if I catch my reflection in a car's windshield or in a storefront window -- for a few days at least; a week if I'm lucky -- I'll see behind me a range of mountains, a rocky path, and a kid who's not a kid any more reaching for my hand when I stumble. And I'll find myself thinking about next summer, breathing in courage for all I'm really and truly going to do when we're once more in the mountains.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tennessee Waltzing

Mom and my brother Allan

When I was growing up, we were lucky enough to have a cafeteria -- Radford's Cafeteria, to be precise -- around the corner. All these years later, I can still close my eyes and conjure up how it smelled. The aromas were mostly tangible: Fried chicken (which my dad wouldn't eat so we rarely had at home); plump macaroni swimming in cheese sauce the way nature intended (unlike our family fare of skinny noodles bathed in Kraft neon orange); liver and onions (which only our dear mother dared imbibe); desserts of every texture and weight.

The permeating smell was more than food; it also brought in plastic flowers and -- pancake makeup maybe? That's neither good nor bad; just a statement of fact.

But what I'm remembering now is the organ, and its steady stream of music serenading diners. At the helm was one Miss Inez, who, admittedly, we kids used to try to stump by asking her to play such decidedly un-cafeteria selections as Theme From Shaft.

One song she played without fail was Tennessee Waltz. The moment my father stepped through those doors, it was as if she'd been looking for him all evening. He'd hear the first notes, look surprised, throw her a smile, lift his palms upward, give her one of those facial expressions of his, and lock eyes with her in gratitude. Daddy loved that song; more often than not, he'd sing it, if not then and there to himself, on the walk home to us, then three-finger its melody on our piano at home.

Flash forward -- oh, decades. Last Saturday, to be precise, the day my brother Allan turned 60. The original plan was for us all to go to El Fenix, Allan's (and Dad's) favorite place on the planet. But my niece Claire had the flu, so my sister Jeanne couldn't go. My sister Susan and her crew were going out to dinner with their daughter Julie and her new husband. I wasn't feeling all that great, but Charlie and I were going to go with Allan and Mom.

Then Mom called to say that Allan had had Mexican food for lunch, as he always does on Saturdays after he gets off work. So she said she and he were going to go to Highland Park Cafeteria. I talked to Allan, and he said we can all go to El Fenix in a week or so.

The next day, Mom called to tell me about their evening. She asked me to guess what she had to eat; I guessed (correctly) liver and onions. She raved about the vegetables and the portraits of the U.S. Presidents lining the wall.

Then she told me about the music.

"Oh, honey!" she said, her enthusiasm even greater than it was about the food and portraits. "There was a lady playing the piano; you should have heard her."

She paused.  

"Oh," she said, "you'll never guess what the first song she played was?!"

We haven't talked about Radford's Cafeteria or Miss Inez in years and years and years. But maybe because it's the holiday season and I miss my dad as much as I feel his presence, I didn't need a hint or a nanosecond or even three guesses to know exactly what the organist played.

"Tennessee Waltz," I said.

Which, no surprise to me -- nor to Mom either, when she thought about it for a second -- was exactly right.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reveling in the rhythm

The day before Charlie and I were scheduled to run the Turkey Trot, he volunteered to be a guinea pig -- excuse me, research subject -- at IEEM, the exercise-research facility where he worked this past summer. This particular study involved locating a nerve in Charlie's calf (which apparently was as eek-inducing as it sounds) that connects to the part of his brain which regulates blood pressure during exercise. After it was found, tests were done to determine the brain/nerve connection. Or so I think; I'm too embarrassed to ask Charlie to explain it to me again.

Five hours after the test began, I went to pick Charlie up so we could pick up our race packets at Luke's Locker. As the researchers were removing the various leads, Charlie asked about exercising. 

"Oh, after 24 hours, you should be fine," he was told. 

Charlie and I looked at each other. Then Charlie asked about running eight miles -- a distance he neglected to mention he had never run before -- 17 hours later. It was the researchers' turn to look at each other. After a brief silence, he was given a reluctant OK, with the stipulation that if, at the 3.1-mile/8-mile split, we'd head for the shorter finish line if he wasn't feeling well.

Thanksgiving morning dawned glorious and cold. We ate oatmeal and a banana, layered up and headed out. We took our places in the corral for timed runners, and when the gun went off, so did we. We'd decided to stay together till the split, then go at our own pace. Those first couple of miles, we did well keeping tabs on each other, somehow sensing each other's proximity despite the thousands of runners sharing the streets with us. 

To ensure we wouldn't lose each other, we'd stopped by Sports Authority the day before and bought walkie-talkies, the whole idea of which amused us mightily. Aside from the entertainment factor, we figured they'd come in handy if we did get separated (as we did at last year's Trot and this year's Race for the Cure), and thus curtail post-race wanderings looking for each other.

When we saw the arrow pointing one way for the 5K and another for the 8 miles, I could sense Charlie right behind me, and also that he was up for eight. So we kept on, maintaining a steady pace as we got into the rhythm of the run and of each other. 

In previous Turkey Trot races, port-a-potties were -- if not everywhere, at least every so often, and more than one at each location. This year, though, though, there were hardly any. So when I spotted one around Mile 4 or so, I told Charlie to go on; that I needed to stop. He started to continue, then asked if I wanted him to wait for me. Sure, I told him, if you don't mind.

My hands were obviously more frozen than I realized, because by the time we started running again, we'd lost a few minutes. I could tell that was fine with Charlie, because he seemed to be lagging just a bit.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Hanging in there," he said. "I'm fine."

We passed Mile 5, Mile 6, Mile 7, running up some hills and down others (while I tried to remember who had told me this year's course was flat). When we could see the skyline, I picked up the pace. As we got closer, I yelled, "Just two minutes!" When the finish line was just a few breaths away, Charlie dashed ahead and crossed just before I did. 

I couldn't stop smiling; neither of us could. We accepted our plastic-wrapped medals -- the first I've ever received in a Turkey Trot! -- and put them around our necks. We hugged each other and headed for the banana and power-bar tables. We saw our dear friend Yolanda, plus recognized a couple more runners. We had our picture taken, then headed home and to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Jeanne's.

We had a wonderful time that morning, as we have in each of the races we've participated in. Some we've only started together; this was one of the precious duo we finished together, too. 

Charlie turned 21 the end of October. In two months, he leaves for a semester in Austria. He won't be home till July, and we've made a bit of a pact to limit communication to the occasional email, plus (isn't it funny how old-fashioned this sounds?) letters or post cards.

All of which makes this race -- these miles together; the meals, the hugs, the talks and the silliness we share -- all the more precious.

When I think back on this Thanksgiving, on his first 8-miler that I'm tickled beyond words to have experienced with him, I will, of course, remember exalting in the finish. Even more though, I will feel incredibly lucky, undeniably blessed, to sense each other's presence -- whether looking over a shoulder or scanning the crowd ahead -- every step of the way.

Oh, and the walkie-talkies? We didn't need them. Which, truth to tell, doesn't surprise me. Not even a little bit.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Embracing time

My mother likes to be awakened by the sun streaming through her window. Not me; I prefer my morning runs to be finished long before I even think about squinting. But this morning, that changed -- for me at least -- with the backward turn of our clocks.

From this Sunday through spring, unless I start running at  5 a.m. (which is doubtful, though I like the idea of it) I'm going to need to carry sunglasses along with water, raisins and an old driver's license for ID.

It's an annual event, this borrowing an hour of sunlight from dusk and presenting to dawn -- with a bit of a flourish -- these precious 3,600 seconds. The deeper we go into the cave of year's approaching end, though, the less light the days offer anyway. But for now, the morning gift is fresh and new; the evening dearth of light, a bit perplexing. We have to remind ourselves why the sky is dark when we leave work, and to psyche ourselves up to face it head on.

We can think of this tossed-around hour as an extra one, which NPR's Scott Simon (who keeps me company on my Saturday morning runs) said in this essay. An hour in which, he told us, we can at least dream of reading "a book we made the time to buy, but have never been able to find the time to read..."

Or this which made me take a quick and deep breath: "to have another hour to talk with our parents again, or pat a family pet we loved."

Time, and this isn't exactly profound, is weird. It's iffy and fickle and makes no guarantees. It seems at times limitless; at others, way too finite. Yet those are among the reasons we cling to it, and bargain with it; battle it and coddle it. Say what we will about it, we want to very much for it to be our friend. Because of everything that time is, above all it is precious.

So on this, the first official day without Daylight Saving Time, what can we do but honor, not just the hour that most of us probably slept through, but minutes and moments that make up our lives. Of course we'll fall short. Huge chunks will pass in a heartbeat; minutes will drag by.

And then forgiving resilient souls that we are (or try desperately to be), we'll stand up straight  and dust ourselves off. We'll put on our sunglasses and, vowing to be ever aware and ever appreciative, we'll open the curtains to let the morning light stream in.