Are you Ricky's boy?
For the past three weeks, I have been in my hometown, helping my sister who recently had surgery. She is now the proud owner of zipper like incisions on the inside of both her still shapely legs (a gift from our mother) resulting from a chunk of her right saphenous vein being yanked like a worm from the comfort of its usual location on the medial side of her leg, turned upside down to disable the valves, and transplanted on her left leg, bypassing a blockage in or near the femoral/popliteal artery. This is her fourth surgery on her left leg which refused to consistently deliver oxygen to her foot. Hopefully the displaced vein will pick up the slack and keep her foot pink.
I have enjoyed some great runs in the humidity and clean smelling, moist air. I never see anyone else running in this town of 150 or less people. Maybe no one ever does so I am somewhat of a curiosity. “I saw you running” people say. Sometimes they seem puzzled by the activity. "You wouldn't see me running unless someone was chasing me" I have heard a few times.
“Are you Ricky's boy” I ask a young guy standing in front of his house (where long ago an old lady named Kate Burke lived) with an overweight black lab. I notice a resemblance to a guy I went to high school with and kissed once for some reason. Maybe it's the smile or the voice or the eyes. I was right, and I tell him I am sorry about his father's death. I run through and past many memories in this little town as I listen to my sister's ipod playing mostly Johnny Cash, my dad's favorite.
“Don't go out of town, someone saw a bear/wolf/cyote/dinasour recently” my sister warns each time I leave the house. But I do anyway – it's a game for us, and I am as stubborn as she is and hate to be told what to do. I run to the Michigan dam which has been renamed (in a move not popular to us older Rockland raised folk) the Rockland Pond. I take a picture of it; the clouds reflecting in the clear water make it look beautiful, but I think of how some people used to drown kittens and puppies that they could not care for in its deep waters. That thought makes me sad. I have to admit although life seems idyllic now, it wasn't always, and still isn't, for a lot of people here – it certainly was not for my family at least not all the time. Some people tend to remember the past in a more positive way than others. I guess it is whether you are a beer bottle half full or half empty. I tend to think of all the good things but there are times when some of the unpleasant, usually alcohol fueled bad memories take over.
|The Michigan dam|
Feeling brave, I go up the hill to the Irish Hollow cemetery where Dennis Pantti said he saw a big black bear. It is nicely maintained by Tina and her husband, who own the small store that was once owned by Margaret and Gus Erickson and Margaret's parents before that. I go down the muddy dirt road a little way but it is dark with all the trees towering over the road. I turn around and head back to the highway even though the dead there seem to beckon me to pay attention to them or at least to not forget they existed.
I head back into town and run around Ricky's kid's block about three times - so far I am up to three miles, according to my Fitbit. Running up the nicely grated road to the little church on the hill, I am happy to not have to run on the usual rocks and muddy ruts. The little church is a cement replica of one that was blown down in a windstorm many years ago, way before my time. My sister and her friend painted and repaired it last summer while enjoying margaritas. This road is now used by many snowmobilers or “sledhogs” as my sister (not fondly) calls them. From this little church I used to be able to see my grandmother's house but it is all grown over now and grandma's house is gone. There are a lot of mine shafts in the surrounding woods, most filled in. My mom told us that she and her friends used to explore them back in the day. Johnny Cash appropriately sings “Big Bad John. "At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man...big John”. By the time I get back down the hill and into town I reach 4 miles.
|The little church on the hill.|
Heading further up the hill I go past the yard where my grandparent's little house had been. That house had been built so well that my brother and sister had a hard time tearing it down. I see where my grandpa (and later Barb and Siggie) had their beautiful gardens. My sister learned about gardening, canning, and fishing from grandpa. She cans vegetables and fruit every year and makes the best jam, honoring what they have taught her. I remember having coffee almost every day with grandma and how her coffee pot groaned and her floor was uneven. Some of the roses in her yard are still there, and so are these memories. Grandma and grandpa never had indoor plumbing and the euphemisms used for having to use the outside facilities included: “I have to go check the weather” or “I have to go see a man about a horse”. I circle the block a few times and go out and back on some dead end roads . By the time I get to the other end of town I have five miles and head down the back street below main, where I stop to chat with some guys building a garage.
“You guys are Floyds” aren't you”. They confirm that yes they are and it turns out they are Danny Floyd's and Shirley Roehm's brothers and are older than I. I remember them after they tell me their names and chat with them for a minute. I realize that I foolishly expect people to stay frozen in time, age and their looks since the last time I have seen them and am surprised to see these "old" people.
Near the farm where the Davy sisters lived with their dad and sold us fresh eggs from their warm, milk smelling kitchen, I see a red fox race across the road. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” I think, remembering the sentence we had to type in high school because it contained all the letters of the alphabet. Just past the farm and the fields, on the road to the railroad tracks I see a mama deer and a fawn. They are too quick for me to get their picture. I detour down a road leading to a pasture, turn around and head to the tracks. I run down and back a few times on the rocky trail till I get 8 miles. I wave at Jerry Hoffman and his wife as they drive by. It occurs to me that Rockland had a lot of old maids – sisters mostly who lived together – some staying to take care of their aging parents and then never leaving when they could.
The cemetary is beautiful and green from all the rain. There are more people here that I know than there are in the town. I stop to greet them and have a chat with my mom and dad. I can almost hear my mom saying “aren't you getting too old to be running?” “Nope” I say to her. “Today is not that day”.
I head back up the dirt road towards home. A pickup truck pulls up to me and stops. “Donna want a licking” some older guy says. If I lived in the city this would be alarming, but I know Kenny and his wife. When I was a little girl, Kenny, whose dad (Skinny as we called him) owned the only gas station in town, used to always tease me by saying that. I used to ride on his shoulders down the ski hill or at least I have a memory of doing that. Sometimes I am not sure if things that I remember really happened or I just remember someone telling me a story or sharing their memory.
There's not much traffic on these roads but mostly I know everyone that goes by or at least someone related to them. I round the corner by the sad looking, deserted house that I grew up in and stop to look at it. It seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid. I was always ashamed that we lived there but what I remember now is how cozy it was and how secure I felt there with a wood fire and people who loved me. I think of the Barbara Streisand song: “The way we were”.
“Memories, may be beautiful and yet...
What's too painful to remember,
We simply choose to forget.
But it's the laughter, we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were”
Ten miles done.