Sunday, August 2, 2009

The NEXT to the LAST word!

Sorry! I KNEW this would happen! I forgot to mention the nicest part of the trip... my sister. She made me laugh so hard I snorted and wheezed, just short of peeing my pants! Golly gee, was it fun! As the bane of my childhood, who seemed fairly intent on making my life a living hell (by breaking my toys, hitting me, showing me scary pictures and telling me tales I was innocent enough to believe) I once despaired of finding common ground, but she is so real, so authentic that even strangers seemed to connect to her... that is... er... well, you KNOW what I mean! While everyone played their roles in this comedy, SHE was the real center of the whirling, colorful pinwheel. Oooooh! Pretty! Thank you Patty, for all that you do and all that you are! You're the BEST!

The LAST word...

Well, Ken's and my great adventure is over. Back to my mundane little life (or lack thereof), working, taking care of Mom, and oh, did I mention working? Our trip was wonderful!! Thanks to my brothers for holding it together and special thanks to Naomi for keeping them in line. As she put it "You're both idiots". Well put Naomi. As a matter of fact I believe we all came together as family more than ever before and I do believe my brothers gained an appreciation for each others' intelligence and humor. We had so many laughs and gained some insights into each others' lives. Erin did a bang-up job of taking care of Grandma and – bless her heart – she's a sweetheart. (I AGREE! And, I treasure her for it! Ken)

I have come to realize how much I miss the place of my childhood. Pennsylvania is so beautiful. The trees, the rain, the green spaces everywhere. After we got off the plane in California and onto Bart for the trip home, I looked around at our puny and not very plentiful trees - well, I just wish we had more. Ken and I shared a lot of memories and made each other laugh. Kennywood was so much fun and no, I did not tease Ken mercilessly about being a wimp. Gettysburg was a very moving experience and boy, do I know A LOT about the battle and people involved.

Ken, thank you for arranging this. I can't tell you how much I needed and appreciated it. As Mom nears the end of her life, it is getting tougher and tougher to watch and keep it together.

Well the little lady I live with needs some attention so I must go and get her taken care of and my work done.

Love you all,

In the end...

As they say, all good things MUST come to an end, and I MUST end this chapter in our family’s history too. It’s taken a lot of time, but I feel that its rewards have greatly outweighed its costs, and I am grateful to those of you who offered your support and appreciation even when the skies darkened and the thunder rolled. So the first thing to make clear to any who anticipated “Armageddon” that it was ALWAYS intended as a joke, which I think eventually became clear, even to #1 son. There is, doubtless, a tremendous, and apparently unbridgeable chasm (miles… you can’t see “there” from “here”) between our respective political and philosophical positions, but I guess I love him, and sometimes, even like him. While I had to scale the walls, attack the keep and batter my way into its dark recesses, I was finally successful in finding his sense of humor, and we laughed… we laughed a lot. That was the bond that finally drew us closer. Probably the truest words were Naomi’s… “I think you’re both idiots.”

In the end, I found much to learn from… about the experiences I shared with my siblings and their reactions to them, which were obviously different from mine but which when woven together, portrayed a richer and more vivid image of my childhood. For those experiences before my time, I am grateful to my older and MUCH older siblings for giving me a fuller sense of what happened, where it happened and why I would eventually be blamed for it.

The great schism in our family occurred when Dad’s wanderlust propelled him to turn his back on all that connected him and Mom to our common origin and force an entirely new destiny on all of us. For Bob and Donna, Mom and Dad’s first, amateurish efforts at children, their lives were theirs to make as adults, based in the certainty and continuity of their youth in Pittsburgh, even when they found themselves in new and different places. For Patty and me, friends and family were left behind and our lives evolved into a kaleidoscope of changing schools, friends and addresses. We ultimately found ourselves in California during a period when change was the norm and the norms were always changing. While we held onto some core values (at least I did) we had to constantly adjust and (as the Garmin GPS in our rental car frequently said) "recalculate." I told Bob when I left that looking at one another was like looking “through a glass, darkly.” Paraphrasing Susan, she remarked how much I was and was not like her Dad. It did give me pause to wonder that old paradox of Rousseau… “Nature, or Nurture?” Had we never left Pittsburgh, would I have been “me”? Or would Bob and I be the best of friends as well as brothers because we would see the world with common eyes based on common assumptions?

This would probably be the best place to assert my earlier idolization and idealization of #1, who, until he showed me otherwise, could do no wrong. Well, that’s just growing up, but I will tell you that while Dad DID what dads do, Bob was much more my father figure because I felt validated by his attention and inspired by his example to read, write, study and draw. Bob and Naomi took me to see Ben Hur at the drive-in (they never touched, but then I stayed awake through the whole thing!) THEY saw it as its sub-title says, “A Tale of the Christ”. I saw it as… ROMANS! It changed my life and led me down very different spiritual and philosophical paths. So, thanks Bob! Thanks Naomi! Thank you for making this trip possible. Thanks for welcoming Patty into your home and allowing me to stay. Thanks for bearing with me to see that in the end, there WERE butterflies and rainbows! I will leave “The Last Word” to Patty.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The High Water Mark

So, that's a bit grandiose of a heading, but it WAS our last full day in the "burgh" and we did get the "last full measure" of our intended experience. After our long drive to Bob and Naomi's, we slept well and in. After our usual breakfast (enjoyed by all, of course) we left for Pittsburgh on the "T", their new mass transit system that utilizes or really, recycles their old inter-city trolley tracks. It's a VERY nice and efficient system and the ride took us through Dormont, where Donna used to live. When we arrived at the station, we visited Station Square where we, as Erin and I did nine years ago, rode the incline to Mt. Washington. We got off and walked to a local coffee house where my "treat", frustrated by their refusal of plastic was rescued by my big brother. Well, dinner was going to be on me. Station Square is anchored by the old PNLE (pronounced "pianelli") railroad whose grand waiting room had been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. We looked around for restrooms (apparently, they don't pee here) and went down to await our "Ducky Tour." This is an amphibious tour of Pittsburgh's streets and rivers on (what else?) an amphibious vehicle built for the Normandy invasion in 1944. Lots of bad jokes and interesting commentary later, we decided to return to South Hills via the "T" and find a place for dinner. After that, we (including Patty!) stayed up to watch the four-hour-long movie Gettysburg. As Bob and I have both read the book, seen the movie and visited the battlefield, let's just say there was a BIT of overlaid commentary, answers to Patty's and Naomi's questions and quibbles over names and other details. Nevertheless, I'm really glad Patty lasted, because it put it all into order and perspective for her (and I was planning to re-watch it at home anyway!) Well, that's a quick summary for you followers who hang on our our every adventure. I'll write a more ruminative summation when we return, along with Patty's always promised but seldom completed entry.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Battlefield Detectives

So, Patty and I DID the 3-hour battlefield auto tour and it DID take us about six hours. Of course one of those hours could be divided into Patty’s cigarette breaks, leaving us with a total casualty count for the day of 20 Marlboros at roughly 3 minutes each. The WAS some excitement at the Virginia Monument, as Ken, not wanting to pee on hallowed ground under the gaze of Robert E. Lee, vaulted into the woods in a kind of reverse Pickett’s Charge (although MINE was successful!) It was hot, there was sweat and thirst, but in spite of anything I’ve written that MIGHT be amusing (perhaps), we were both moved by the scope of the battlefield and the sacrifice of both sides which in the end, comes down to the willingness of men to do what they think they must in spite of every shred of self-preservation that tells them not to. Patty remarked on the ultimate pity of the “gamesmanship” of war, and we talked about the (almost) two long years that remained of it, of the battles yet to be fought, ground to be attacked, held and given up as the armies maneuvered to end the war on very different terms. Mercifully, I confined my explanations to Patty’s specific questions, which is probably where we saved the extra hour-and-a-half the tour took with Erin! The tour Cds Bob lent us were REALLY good and what had seemed to Patty like an overwhelming number of facts from the museum tour gradually organized themselves into corps, armies, divisions, brigades and regiments, giving her locations and times to “place” the personal stories she liked so much. And now, (just for Bob), on the way out of town, Patty and I confirmed the presence of General John Reynolds on McPherson’s Ridge, ON HORSEBACK! Now, I hope that doesn’t lower me further on his “Pease-o-meter”, but little brothers get to be right SOME of the time! (There are actually three monuments… one equestrian, one standing, and one marking where he was shot, so we BOTH get to be right!) It was a grand day out, and the trips there and back really allowed us to re-connect with our old homefront.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Deadly Sofa

Well, Gettysburg has been quite an experience! The museum was wonderful and quite emotional for me. All those young men giving their lives... Today we are doing the battlefield tour and I'm looking forward to that. We stayed at a lovely place called the Brafferton Inn last night. Built in 17 something, and the sofa I slept on last night (my choice) probably came from that era also. Rocket scientists that we are, I guess we didn't realize that it only had one queen bed and a sitting room with a sofa. It was the dip in the middle that really got me. So we are sitting in the sitting room waiting for our breakfast, drinking coffee and just enjoying. My vacation has been wonderful and I'm looking forward to taking another one in about five or six years.
Love ya all,

Fourscore and 20 minutes ago…

Gettysburg! I love it here. History is around every corner and so is the kitsch. The good news is the history moves you and the kitsch is at least well-intentioned, so easier to take. An example: a statue of a rather animated and smiling Abe Lincoln doffing his hat and pulling a man who looks rather disturbingly like Perry Como (including the sweater) to consider… what? The house he stayed in while writing the Gettysburg Address. Otherwise, there’s a lot of the sentimental/political type of monuments erected in the 19th century. But you know, it all doesn’t matter. NOTHING can take away from the men, young and old who gave their lives for their cause here, whatever “side” they represented. The new Visitors’ Center is spectacular, from its museum of artifacts to its “History Channel” overview to its newly restored Cyclorama. Both Patty and I felt some tightness in our throats and tears in our eyes. It was truly a moving experience. Tomorrow we will do the 3-hour Battlefield Tour (although Erin and I took 7.5 hours to do it!)