Mulberry, Early Summer

Know what’s really nice?

Waking up earlier than you’d like to after staying up later than you wish you had — but only because The Sopranos exist, so it’s not a total loss, and not even a partial one — in order to drive four hours into the heart of rural Indiana with your mother and your kid when a furious thunderstorm has just barreled through, leaving in its wake downed power lines, decimated billboards, and a verdant, dewy bursting everywhere the eye lands, so that you can meet your father, aunt, and uncle at the home of your recently deceased grandmother who made it to just weeks shy of 97 years and was not necessarily a hoarder, but whose lifestyle was definitely impacted by the Great Depression, to both the marginal dismay and delight in discovery of those of you tasked with the sorting, the preparing for sale, the organizing, the cleaning, and the determining that certain items can and should be lost to the landfill, for reasons of expedience and mercy, and after many hours unearthing more than 100 years of material evidence of your heritage, poring over birth certificates, practical jokes such as a saw handle with a chain attached and “Chain saw” written in black marker in your grandfather’s handwriting and ruffle-butt baby panties with “Get Well Soon, Hutch” embroidered in lavender thread and a Groucho nose-and-glasses combo, wedding invitations, postcards written in the ‘30s from Lucy to Inez (your great-grandmother), black sand your grandmother (illegally?) collected in Hawaii, brochures from Hallmark on the season’s trends in gift wrapping, every discarded end of a pant leg from every pair of your grandfather's pants that your grandmother had ever shortened, pocketknives, arrowheads, carefully completed baby books, toys from the ‘30s and ‘40s, photos, and photos, and photos, egg baskets, afghans, pieces of future afghans, games you played with your cousins on every holiday, jewelry you never saw your grandmother wear, at least a trio of “As Seen on Television” warming and massaging devices, a photo of your father at three years old marked “Little Dickie in his doll dress”, dozens of vintage bottles of salves and hair tonics still nearly full, a Decca record player in a suitcase, clothing your grandmother made for her children in the ‘50s and ‘60s — still in pristine condition — including a Western-style teal and gold shirt with pearl buttons that your father wore in a riding competition (and who knew he was ever in a riding competition anyway), Pyrex (so much Pyrex), a leather-bound bible from the nineteenth century that neither your father nor any of his siblings had seen before, locks of hair, report cards from the late ‘40s, a letter from President Kennedy’s secretary, straw handbags, perhaps 20 unopened 50-piece children’s puzzles, a completed 5,000-piece seashell puzzle pressed between cardboard, at least 40 years of IRS and other varied financial statements, and really, to be honest, that doesn’t even scratch the surface, so even as you vow to yourself that this day will only steel your resolve to slough off the majority of your material possessions the minute you return home, you are filling the trunk of your mother’s car and half of the backseat (so that there is room for your tall kid to sit) with many of the leavings of your father’s youth and a few of the leavings of your grandmother’s entire life, and then you have a decent piece of salmon and a baked sweet potato with your father, hug him very hard and he returns the gesture in kind, and you depart for home with your mother and your kid, and you and your mother faithfully note for nearly an hour the evolution of clouds and color in the shameless sunset while your kid texts their best friend, and as darkness falls in earnest and you head into South Bend remarking on what “great time” you’re “making”, the rear passenger tire blows just as you’re leaving the toll booth causing you to pull over on the shoulder of I-80/90, against everyone’s better judgement, and you feel somewhat fortunate that a semi is itself parked on the shoulder so you park roughly 20 feet in front of him in hopes he will deter traffic from your mother and your kid crammed into a tin can on the side of a major thoroughfare for 18-wheelers, and you begin to unload generations of your family's belongings — which you’ve forgotten to box up but simply shoved haphazardly into the trunk, because, of course — onto the shoulder in the dark, when the trucker approaches, and because he was very likely a lesser-known cast member in Point Break you are initially at ease around him until you remember that the Point Break guys were bank robbers, but he offers to change your tire because he and four other cars have had flat tires in the past hour at just that very spot, and he believes someone threw nails on the highway, which simply confuses your teenage kid until your mother remarks “I guess it could be a trap and they’re waiting around here to see who they catch” at which point you watch your teenage kid melt into (reasonable) horror, but the trucker is happy to change your tire because it’ll be at least three more hours until his manager brings him a spare (which costs $1,000, which never occurred to you), so you reload all of the 100-year-old photos, afghans, costume jewelry, and Pyrex into the trunk of your mother’s car, take the car in reverse until you’ve butt up against the semi and you begin to remove the items from the trunk one more time because it’s either trust Bodhi trucker or park your kid and mother on the side of a highway at midnight for an unknown duration until a tow truck arrives, but then there is no jack or iron in your mother’s very new car so your mother calls AAA and — lickety-split — the tow truck arrives and changes the tire within 10 minutes and he couldn’t be nicer and you tip him and you just hope the spare will carry you home, and as you head toward Middlebury with the cruise on 50, your mother laments the decades of popular music she missed when she was very busy raising children and teaching high school and directing plays and musicals and leading church choirs, and you remember that she’s expressed this before, so you fall into a familiar routine of “Now, who’s this?” and tonight it’s Paul Simon, The Steve Miller Band, Guns N Roses, and U2, and then the radio scan falls upon a strange and beautiful radioplay, which turns out to be Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without a Country — recorded on Decca (again with Decca, a double-Decca day) and read by Bing Crosby and Frank Lovejoy— in which both of them cruelly deride Aaron Burr, which makes both you and your mother laugh, and the night is pitch and the moon is a scant crescent, and you are now in Michigan steadily wobbling north on 131, and the radioplay wraps up and a sermon begins and your mother says, “change it,” and you press scan and a song bellows in at the next station and your mother is sort of proud to be able to identify it — which means she’s paying closer attention to pop music now that she’s retired — and then admits she even likes the song, so you both rock out for a minute to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, and you’re a little disappointed your kid is asleep and missing their grandmother’s enjoyment, but you’re afraid to break this spell so you leave the kid be, and you reflect on your parents’ ready laughter throughout the house throughout the day and your kid's beguiled pleasure in their laughter, and then, as you roll into Kalamazoo, Fallin’ comes on and so you sigh and turn it up a bit and begin to sing softly, and your mother asks, “Now, who’s this?” and you reply, “Alicia Keys” to which your mother says, “Ah, that explains why it’s so good,” and then the hotel where your mother will stay rises into view and you know your husband will meet you there and that he is anxious for your safe return, and you realize that the spare has delivered you safely home.

That’s really nice.