Tuesday we hiked up to St. Mary’s waterfall. After a 3 mile hike including 1,000 feet of vertical rise, we drank cold water pouring down the face of the granite.
That was right after Lauren and Karen startled two young men and a young woman who had built a sort of cold water mountain pool at the foot of the falls. When I bested the final boulder, this young man was pulling on his boxers. There is something about nature at 9,500 feet than makes young men lose their senses and their clothing in a sort of back-to-nature euphoria.
I looked up at the mountain to the west. My son taught me to look at the sky. Brandon is an atmospheric scientist…a meteorologist. He specializes in wind profiling and works for the National Weather Service in Norman, OK. Once when Brandon was about 10 years old, we sat on a peak in Arkansas watching a thunderstorm wrap around the mountain.
I thought of that as we made our way back down the mountain, listening to the sounds of atmospheric indigestion at 9,500 feet elevation. Lightning crackled in the pines chasing us all the way down to the parking lot just as rain hit our windshield. Karen hasn’t run that much since Sadie Hawkins date night at church camp.
Yesterday was one of those days that I kept looking up at the sky even in the midst of fear as we walked across a steel suspension bridge with lightning crackling all around.
After sharing some pictures, my son commented, “Mountain weather is the best.”
I tagged along with Karen to a yoga studio in Denver on our vacation. On the mat next to Karen is a woman who lives in Connecticut, although she grew up in Red Bank, NJ.
Karen grew up in New Jersey and we lived in Tabernacle, NJ during our early years of marriage. We are stretching and sharing stories about the Jersey Shore. I have never heard of Red Bank, NJ.
Later, we walked along Broadway avenue to Illegal Pete’s for some mexican food. We strolled by a creaky weathered bookstore with a rack of $3 books and I picked up a thick regal-looking volume of “Edmund Wilson: a Life in Literature.
I read the synopsis inside the cover and put the book back on the sidewalk rack and went into Pete’s. After savoring a carnitas bowl and soft tortilla, we walked back down the sidewalk and I passed by the book rack, until my daughter Lauren said, “Aren’t you going to buy the book?”
I took the book inside, handed the clerk a twenty and she fumbled around trying to find seventeen bucks change. Apparently this isn’t a cash infused enterprise.
I opened the book and read the first two sentences.
“Born May 8, 1895, Edmund Wilson, Jr., was a shy boy, the only child of Edmund and Helen Mather Kimball Wilson. He grew up in Red Bank, New Jersey, thirty-some miles south of New York, near the ocean.”
I wondered if the Connecticut lady on the mat who grew up in Red Bank, knew any relatives of Edmund Wilson.
What made me pick up one book…only one book off that rack?
U2 opened it’s 2018 world tour in Tulsa of all places…not Dublin or New York. Which meant I had to go, especially since my buddy Doug Sanders bought me a ticket. Doug and I are musical brothers…we both like U2 and Springsteen.
Going to a concert is like going to the zoo…so many sights, sounds, smells, and leopard print. We arrived two hours early and there were thousands of fans queued outside the BOK arena as police lined the streets, their turret lights soundlessly swirling expectation into the downtown evening air.
We sat above main stage right not far from a lady who paid $360 for her ticket. She attended the 1983 U2 concert at the Brady Theater in Tulsa and she still has the $10 ticket stub.
Whether it’s $10 or $360, people will come, because they still haven’t found what they are looking for…and, if they were looking for the Joshua Tree in this set list, it was nowhere to be found. Not one song from The JoshuaTree, although Acrobat, from Achtung Baby, was played for the first time in a live concert.
Bono wore John Lennon granny glasses and he talked a lot…or was he preaching like Billy Graham?
Larry Mullen, Jr. electrified the arena with a snare drum strut down the center runway connecting a round stage on the south end of the arena and a square stage on the north end in the rat-a-tat-tat opening to Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
David Howell Evans, the Edge was…well he was the Edge…brilliant as usual, creating riffs like no other. He is my favorite guitar player.
And if I could play bass, I would play like Adam Clayton, slightly awkward and physically inhibited, staying in the background giving substance to melody, fingers floating gracefully.
The concert was fantastic but getting there is another story…park for 20 bucks, walk this way, stand in this line, empty your pockets, go through the metal detector, up the ramp, climb over seats, step on feet, here we are. Now wait another hour until 8:00…and then another 40 minutes until the real beginning, as security struggles to upload the crowd into the arena delaying the first riffs of “Love is All We Have Left.” And when it’s over, we walk through a rain shower and tornado warnings to our car with a headache and ringing ears.
It was enough to make me wonder why I go to concerts. But I go…
I go to recover lost moments, to steal back memory from the tree of life like a kid plucking apples in an orchard on a rickety ladder.
I remember my first concert, (unless you count Up With People) the Chicago Transit Authority, just down the street at the Tulsa Civic Center, listening to 25 or 6 to 4 and Beginnings as a 14-year old in the midst of the doobie hip and slightly elevated, long-haired mystics who seemed like insiders to the sanctum of rhythmic nirvana yet unknown to me. They danced and swayed in the aisles singing Beginnings:
Time passes much too quickly
When we’re together laughing
Something was happening here and I felt left behind, just outside the door to an inner room. There were horns and bongos, bass that rattled my gut, harmony that raised hair on my arms.
Here’s the thing…you don’t usually find music that moves you, it somehow finds you.
And once it finds you, you want to be in the room with the throng of the broken-hearted and the euphoric, drifting above the mundane, no longer alone in your solitary room with headphones.
Although it is not all magical. Sometimes it’s just life…like the moment at a 2009 U2 concert which featured an opening act, the Black Eyed Peas. We sat in the midst of a group of baby boomers and my brother stood up…alone…in the midst of a thousand concertgoers in our section and sang with the Peas…
I want it,
Myspace is your space, Facebook is that new place
Dip, divin’ socializing,
I’ll be out in cyberspace
And he turned around after singing alone among the middle-aged settled and seated explaining, “I have kids!”
I first really heard the music of U2 on a pastoral highway in upstate New York while driving to Utica where my brother was to be married in the early summer of 1987. I was listening to The Joshua Tree on cassette tape. I can still see the pastoral upstate New York countryside listening to…
I believe in the Kingdom come Then all the colors will bleed into one
…and I remember, as a survivor of the disco age, that someone was writing music that I believed. It seemed true. So, I go to concerts to see the brush strokes of the painter, to hear the sonic walls of the drummer, to feel the soaring hope of the guitar, amplified by a voice in full wail.
I heard Born to Run for the first time on AM radio…in a 1970 Dodge Charger prefaced by a misguided DJ telling me that Springsteen is the next Elvis.
Later, in New Jersey on a lunch break with office mates, driving the White Horse Pike to the King of Pizza, Springsteen’s Thunder Road came on the radio and four CPA’s sang at full throttle, “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair…” We were one, bullet-proof and lifted above the drudgery of ledgers to a gathered place, even if it was only a moment, we had escaped, everyday despair brushed aside by the fire of harmonic emotion. We go to concerts to reclaim those moments.
So I go to hear music, but I also go to be inspired by story and poetry, and to recover those flashes of inspiration, moments in my life when I heard a song for the first time and it surprised me, like a sudden storm overhead, if I can steal a line from Joe Posnanski.
My friend Doug emailed me an article by Mr. Posnanski who writes about hearing Born to Run for the first time. It helped inspire Mr. Posnanski to be a writer:
I’d listened to many rock and roll songs before Born to Run, so many, but I did not hear them… in my room, with the broken-frame bed…the Nerf hoop, the boxes of baseball cards in the corner, the broken down stereo and Chris Evert calendar stapled to the door, I could feel my heart blast through my chest and my mind go supersonic and all that teenage lunacy…I was going to be a famous musician and ride around the country in a double-decker bus — and the basic fact that I played no instrument and could not carry a tune did not seem a particularly troublesome hurdle. That’s a great thing about being a child. To dream you only need dreams. Reality is a distant storm cloud; it barely registers. Then, suddenly, the storm cloud is overhead, lightning and thundering, and it’s hard to concentrate on dreams — they spark and flicker and go out like trick candle.
There’s such a powerful longing when you’re young … to escape from your parents, to escape from your town, to escape from your chains, to escape from yourself. All I heard in Born to Run was the last of those, a chance to escape from the awkwardness and the ugliness and the sheer boredom of who I was. The crazy thing about Born to Run is that you can tell there’s something Bruce knows: They ain’t gonna make it. The kid. Wendy. They’re not going to make it. But making it isn’t the point. Endeavoring is the point. Trying is the point. Running is the point. They weren’t born to just accept the awkwardness and ugliness and boredom. No. They were born to run. I can’t tell you that I became a writer because of “Born to Run,” but I can tell you I would listen to Born to Run again and again in those moments I sought courage…
The song doesn’t sound dangerous now. It sounds like an old friend.
And that’s what I hear in Born to Run now. The kid I was, against odds and everyone’s better judgment, did try to become a writer. I know how scared he was. I know how defeated he felt. I remember how sure he was that he would fail miserably and horribly. I can see him — see myself — in that little apartment bedroom, listening to Born to Run, hunching over a spiral notebook and writing page after page of awful poetry and gimmicky short stories and pointless sports columns. Sometimes, I run across one of those old notebooks, and I cringe as I read the words but I’m also proud of that kid. He didn’t know. He was a scared and lonely rider.
I listen to Bruce sing that song now, and we’re all older, and he gets to that part, my favorite part:
“Someday girl, I don’t know when
“We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun.”
“I love that part,” I tell my own daughter, Elizabeth, who is 14. She shrugs. That’s the beauty of rock and roll. She will have her own song. Joe Posnanski
We pulled our car into the driveway, narrowly missing a huge sycamore tree while striking the curb with the front wheel, and I told Karen that one can guess the age of a particular house by the width of the driveway. This house was from the Leave it to Beaver era.
Dinner at Picasso’s in OKC with Lauren, Beck, and Karen
Nowadays, these mid-century Edmond, Oklahoma houses are being transformed into California Craftsman Bungalows by youthful attention to the style du jour. Although, Kathryn’s home is pretty much as it was in the 1950’s, except for the sunroom added to the back of the house, where she spends her time watching the OKC Thunder on television and planning her 98th birthday party.
Kathryn loves sports and she tells me the Oklahoma City Thunder need to devote more effort to offensive rebounding. I watched the game later that night and thought, she’s absolutely right. She is an athlete after all. Although now her knees hurt and she has a soft brace around one knee as she recounts her exploits playing tennis as a young woman. She once came to Wann, Oklahoma, not far from where I live, to stay for a few weeks in the summer because her cousin lived there and they had a tennis court.
We went to Edmond to see babies. We also went to visit with Nanny, the grandmother of our son-in-law, Beck. The babies are the daughters of good friends. Beck’s grandmother, Kathryn Lyon Martin, once an Oklahoma A&M Redskin Beauty, has grown stately and majestic for 98 years, along with the sycamores of her middle America neighborhood.
Kathryn spent three years in the 50’s living and working at Tinker Air Force base while her husband Marshall served in Korea. But most of her adult life has been spent in this home in Edmond.
The babies we visited were incredibly cute. I made faces at Eloise and Ramsie the whole time and tried to make them like me, but that’s a tall order. I didn’t make any faces at Kathryn, but I did say yes when she asked me if I wanted a cookie. I always say yes to 98-year-old grandmothers who ask me if I want a cookie, knowing it won’t be as good as Karen’s cookies. I just do it to help them recover some of that old memory.
And the memory of this home and a life that once revolved around food and kitchen and children in the backyard and neighbor kids coming inside to ask for a cookie. I don’t want to be a smart alek (even though I am) like Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver:
June Cleaver: Eddie, would you care to stay for dinner? We’re having roast beef.
Eddie Haskell: No thank you, Mrs. Cleaver. I really must be getting home. We’re having pigeon pie this evening.
So I always say yes to cookies from grandmothers.
Kathryn still lives in the same home where neighbor kids came to play in the backyard unencumbered by fences that now restrict passage from yard to yard. There is a heavy round pipe swing in the southeast corner of the backyard and I imagine many swing set rules being violated, children falling in the grass laughing, crying, bruised, yet happy.
Life was different then. Not necessarily better, just less regulated.
She grew up in Geary, OK where there wasn’t much to do in a small town. So she would go to Catholic Mass with the neighbors even though she wasn’t Catholic. And when they left town, it was an event with life changing possibilities. Kathryn told us about a 1926 road trip to North Dakota when she was 6 years old. Her Mom and Aunt were driving a Ford, and I’m picturing the old coupe with the rumble seat. They went around a curve somewhere south of the Dakotas and lost Kathryn as she slid off the back trunk and fell head over toes into a borrow ditch. After a quick visit to the hospital, she was proclaimed fit, and they continued down the road.
Sensing an opportunity to gather perspective from someone who has seen a lot of history, I asked Kathryn about what events really shaped her, what was memorable to her. I was thinking three-character moments like 9-11 or JFK or FDR, but instead she shared a story about skinning cats.
Which meant something entirely different years ago, and as Kathryn told the story, I watched my daughter, a cat lover, turn a shade of gray.
But skinning cats doesn’t mean that…it means just hanging upside down from a tree limb and flipping yourself through your own arms, or other crazy such flipping and jumping about. Which is what Kathryn was doing one day with her little brother and he was underneath a slab of wood when Kathryn flipped over onto the wood and it fell down onto her brother breaking his leg.
I was looking for deep meaning and got skinning a cat with a brother’s broken leg…which seems more real and American anyway.
Beck and Lauren have a long-haired gray cat named Smokey. Kathryn’s husband Marshall was nicknamed Smokey, and Kathryn told us a story about a gray cat getting caught in the wall and birthing a litter. One of the cats was called Gray ball. Kathryn said, “Smoke tied some rags together and fished them down the wall but he couldn’t get the cat out…” So a fireman cut a hole in the wall. And so Smokey who tried to get a gray cat out of a hollow in the wall is now the great-grandfather of a gray-haired cat living in Denver with his grandson.
The world has changed a lot in 98 years. Kathryn spread her limbs like the sycamore as she listened to FDR on the radio and saw the headlines of VE day. She wondered about her husband in Korea for three years and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. She experienced the birth of radio, television, air travel, interstate highways, several gray cats, and four children. She grew with that sycamore, in her neighborhood filled with children swinging and playing in that great backyard without a fence.
We live in a digital world that’s full of firewalls and privacy fences. We hear a lot of talk about privacy these days. But we sometimes trade our unfenced backyards for the security of lives never shared. Life sometimes seems virtual, a digital world of ones and zeros. There is something rich and authentic about living in the moment, skinning cats and flying into ditches, and knowing at the age of 98 just what the Thunder need to win.
Kathryn’s life along with that sycamore tree seem very real. I enjoyed listening to her stories and viewing her pictures and paintings. Her reality is analog, a continuous stream of stories and experience, backyard swings and old sycamore trees and children playing and cats trapped in walls and broken legs and flying from a car into a ditch somewhere south of the Dakotas.
Talking to Kathryn made me think of Virginia Woolf who wrote this about memory:
Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world…may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the under linen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.
Memory exposes our family linen to the gale winds of life and we find out how much our linen looks like everyone else’s. That gives us comfort. For at some time in each of our lives, we’ve felt beautiful and broken, guilty and redeemed, welcome in our neighborhoods and tossed into a ditch. This is life.
Happy Birthday Kathryn! Thanks for telling your stories and painting your pictures and raising your family and serving your country.
You’ve helped bring us all a little closer to home.
Yesterday was Karen’s birthday. She is 55, but tells me her bones feel 65.
She looks 35. I’m a lucky man.
We went to the mall before dinner to check out Dillard’s 30% off of 50% sale where they price things really high then make you do complex math in your head to figure out the real price. After a while, I realize that I don’t need a pair of stylish Dior socks originally $20 but now $7 so I sit on a recliner in the middle of the mall and read 126 Happy Birthday wishes on Karen’s Facebook feed. This is obvious, but she has way more friends than me. Here is one of my favorites:
Happiest of birthdays to one of the best friends in my life. We may not see each other often, but when we do, we are just as goofy as we were in high school. Love you, Karen Mason Taylor!
Kim, you are spot on! She is goofy. Cute, but goofy.
We ate dinner at Laffa, described on the menu as Mediterranean & Middle Eastern. I asked our waitress what was different about the Israeli Cappuccino. She said, “It has a little whipped cream on top.” I replied, “OK, give me the Hot Green Lemon Ginger Honey Tea,” because whipped cream sounded Bavarian and I wanted something more Jewish and with a longer name.
We love the laffa which is a kind of bread. The menu says that laffa is named after the conical oven that is used to make it and that bread is thought of as a gift from God and only the hands should be used to break it because cutting it with a knife would be like raising a sword to God! If some bread should fall to the ground, it is picked up and symbolically pressed to the lips & forehead as a sign of respect.
We tore Laffa bread with our bare hands and dipped it into West African Hummus-spicy, sweet potato & peanut hummus with a touch of coconut served with curried tehina, balsamic glaze & feta and Muhammara-roasted red pepper spread made with eggplant, walnuts, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic & spices.
There is even advice on the menu from a Jewish grandma which was apparently stolen by my grandma since my people are not as old as the Jewish peoples…(we are Upper Corner White Bread Okies…paternal grandparents northeastern Oklahoma and maternal grandparents northwestern Oklahoma panhandle):
“EAT! You’re skin and bones!”
– Every Jewish grandma’s catchphrase (Along with “take a sweater!”)
We dined with my brother Greg and his wife Jill. I always enjoy our conversations with Greg and Jill. They understand us. We talked about our children who are college age to 28 years old.
Isn’t it interesting how children believe their parents to be fools when they are of “a certain age” and then they pass through vintage moment(s), return to us, and want to hang out, ask for advice, laugh at our jokes (or at least not roll their eyes quite as dramatically)…and yet they are still our children, only smarter than us, better looking, and somehow poised and eloquent and we think it strangely odd?
Except for some moments when they revert to childhood bath hairdos.
Before dinner, we parked near the Tulsa Performing Arts Center so after the 8:00 showing of the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, we would have a short walk in the downtown cold and darkness. I brought a stocking cap for the walk from the restaurant to the PAC which any Jewish grandmother would have admired. I told Karen my hat gives me such warmth that I would be happy to sleep outside tonight if I had to. She said that I could still snuggle with her if I wanted which made me glad I married her.
You can never be too careful or plan too well. This is how you get when celebrating birthdays on the downslope of 100 years…as if it matters at this point.
Birthdays change along with us, marking our lives like pencil marks on a door jamb. Some have fat candles, others pin tails on donkeys. This one was fine wine in a vintage oak cask. It was good to stroll along a city street with my girl during the calm of a winter’s evening, basking in the warm glow of family and conversation and a lovely table of food.