Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independance Day Memorial

4th Annual Williams Lane July 4 Parade
Growing up on the border of the Lummi Reservation made the Fourth of July a very spectacular holiday, ironically.  We had access to heavy artillery, no limits on when and how to use it, and we lived on the wet west side of the state where fire danger usually resides in the negative digits, if that's even possible.  M80's in garbage cans? Check.  Bottle rocket wars with the neighbors? Check.  Slugs riding bottle rockets? Check.  Slugs on strings of black cats? Hell yeah! We dragged it out for weeks and weeks of hand-singeing thrills. Ah! the glory days!

When Coyote was three a flaming chunk of sparkler fell into his shirt and burnt a hole in his chest, enough to leave a quarter size scar.  I felt so sick, both with the smell of burning skin and my off-spring in pain.  It's enough to make even the sturdiest mother nearly faint.  And I was furious.  I felt so betrayed.  My limitless, completely irresponsible, wild weeks of July 4th resulted in NO scars in the entire neighborhood.  And here, my son tried a single sparkler and he's scarred for life!

All that freewheeling revelry changed when I was either 11 or 12; I shamefully forget the year.  My mother's side, the Roosma's, had our yearly picnic at Bloedel Donevan Park (I'm sure you can forgive me for misspelling that one!  Who in tarnashun could spell that!)  The park was our swimming park on Lake Whatcom in Bellingham.  When we didn't want Birch Bay, or the Nooksak River or her sand flats.  When we wanted diving boards and life guards, we went to Bloedel.  My mother usually met friends there.  Ah, but those were the days when Stay at Home Moms still existed in such masses that you could find someone to go with in the middle of the week day.  I don't have such luxuries as I only really know just one other stay at home mom.  Bloedel has since been closed to swimming.  Apparently the city dumps it's sewage into the lake right there, which wasn't a problem, I guess, until the city got big enough so we all did start noticing logs and tp floating around and then the jig was up.

Transforming Blue's bike into Coyote's
As people arrived, I saw my Grandpa Roosma walking to the picnic tables carrying a huge box full of hot dishes and jello salad.  And I thought to myself, "He's getting up in years (he was only 60-something) I should go help him. But maybe he would be offended.  He's not that old.  But maybe he is.  And that looks like a very heavy box.  What if I offer to help and I can't carry it?  That will be embarrassing and if I drop the box, really bad!"  And by the time I figured it out, to go at least offer to help him, he was at the table.

Every-other Sunday, we'd hang with the Roosmas.  After lunch and volleyball, the Roosma's would scatter into separate activities.  For a long time, I had only 6 cousins on that side, all boys (two girls came later and then three more boys much later).  So they played "smear-the-clear."  Yeah, "clear," because no one knew what the heck "queer" meant, either that or it was considered a bad and dirty word.  I was and am and always will be confused on that whole issue.  I tried to play sometimes, but couldn't, really. And I'd be relegated to the role of root "BEER" distributor.  I always thought of myself as a sort of brunet, six-year-old Root Beer St. Pauly's girl and I'd pull my shirt off my shoulders.  And that got old. So then I'd go sit in on the Uno game of the women as they discussed sales at the Crescent and gossip.  My uncles parked in front of a ball-sort of game on the tv.  And so I found my place with my father and my grandfather, discussing theology.  I LOVED this.  This is where I belonged. I don't remember adding anything to the conversations, but I remember listening hard and feeling a sense of comfort and that perhaps I was related to this clan after-all.  My grandpa also had a large Jersey dairy farm and I loved that too.  I would beg to spend the night so that I could help with the milking. I felt that Ed (my sons middle name is after him) "saw" me, in a way no one else seemed to. I have 50 cousins in total and in that kind of herd it's very hard to feel special or even connected to family. He wasn't lovingly demonstrative or anything.  He just seemed to see me as an individual, it was in the way he spoke to me and interacted with me... a way that was perhaps missing from my interactions with the others.
Torch-weed (mullein) torches

But anyway, we were there for the Fourth.  As always, a traumatizing game of volleyball was played.  I loved playing, but I hated playing with adults. We always played volleyball with the Roosmas. My parents would goad me in to playing, though I'd resist for hours.  And then there I'd be, a child among what looked like GIANTS.  And they'd come charging towards me, fists extended, yelling "MINE!"  And I'd very reasonably get out of the way and let them have it.  Then they'd begin criticizing me for not putting in more effort, for not sacrificing my body for this incredibly stupid game.  And I'd say, "But he said, "mine" so I thought it was his!"  And someone would say, "He only said that because he knew you weren't going to get it, you never do, and when you do get it, it goes way out of bounds!"  So, then next time I'd stand my ground and get clocked and everyone would say, "He said 'Mine!' so you should get out of the way!!"   And then two weeks later, "Come on, Play! It'll be fun! I don't understand why you don't want to play!"  To this day, I love a game of volleyball until someone competitive shows up.  Keeping score and a single cry of the word "mine" and I walk off.  I feel no need to explain.  They might yell after me to come back, let them yell.  I shrug.  I don't turn around.  I keep walking.  I don't need to fulfill anyone's fantasy of what a good game of volleyball should look like and how people should just love it and how I should sacrifice my holy body for your desire to get points in an effing GAME.

So, we'd just played THAT "game."  Dinner was eaten, "salads" of marshmallows and jello, ham rolls, fried chicken, etc.  Then my family left.  Everyone would be coming back to our house later to enjoy the lawlessness of reservation life for the rest of the day.  My mom stayed at the house to put away the picnic stuff and dad took us down to the shacks along the Nooksack to pick out our weapons.

fire-safety practice somehow ended up here.
We turned into the driveway, a trunk full of gun powdery toys, and there was my mother, probably about my age now, standing on the porch, standing like she'd been hollowed out and drowned.  She was soaking wet from the tears pouring out of her face.  Grandpa Ed had died at the picnic table.  An uncle told a joke and my usually serious grandfather had actually laughed at it, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he'd fallen over dead -- at the picnic table.  He was not sick, he had never even had a cold.  He actually died laughing.  A great way to go, if it's you.  A terrible shock, indelibly and traumatically underscoring life's uncertainty for everyone around you, including some young grand kids.

(NOTA BENE: this is my best and truest remembrance of this event.  This is not meant to portray anyone else's memory of the event nor is it meant to be an archival historical report.  I have not dug up medical records nor have I interviewed witnesses.  I have only plunged my own memory.)

I felt several things that night: 1) disappointment that our Fourth of July was ruined forever, 2) confusion, cuz' wasn't he an old guy?  Old guys die.  It's normal.  (now I see that 60-something is NOT a normal time to die of old age) and 3) guilt.  This guilt stayed with me for DECADES.  Had I just helped him with his box that day, perhaps he would still be with us!  Later, I would come to really relate to Hamlet; he too hesitated at the wrong moment and ruined his life.  I no longer feel guilt about this, phew.

Coyote found this suit coat at Value Village
It wasn't until the funeral that the last emotion hit me so very hard: I was LOST.  I had just lost the only person who had ever "seen" me and I felt certain that no one would ever "see" me again.  I cried hysterically and everyone around me was embarrassed and wanted me to stop.  But I was stubborn.  I knew what I had lost and it was the feeling of being special to him, an anchoring sensation, and I wasn't going to stuff it just because some old lady or my cousins didn't understand. 

I have often wondered how my life might have been different if he had been able to stay.


At least he wasn't around to "disappoint".  To leave his faith.  To get divorced at 21.  To have my first child "out of wedlock" and later, to marry my second husband, the child's father (and then be with him for well on 11 years now! How scandalous!). He was part of a belief system that attaches lots of meaning and morality to particular steps done in particular order and sanctioned by the government. But who knows how he would have changed, or not. Who knows?  But in the state that "he" is in now, (as part of me, as a memory, as part of the fabric of the universe, as recycled into the ecosystem, or perhaps although unlikely, he's sitting on an actual cloud, near pearly gates, looking down on me.) Whatever state he is in now I believe that "he" can still "see" me, perhaps even better than before. And I am not lost.

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