Believe it or not, I was traveling from Brazil to colder climes for the first time since the fall of 2007. All subsequent trips to the northern hemisphere had occurred in the warmth of summer. What I’m getting at is that I had been wearing only flip-flops and sandals on my feet for two years when I headed to the US for Christmas. I left my worn-out flip-flops next to the ladies’ room garbage bin at Rio airport en route to Houston and struggled into the boots I bought in Poland two years ago.
As soon as I stepped off the carpet of the jet way exiting the plane in Houston and stepped onto the slick granite airport floor heading for Immigration, I fell all over the place. I felt like an indigenous person after the missionaries make them wear shoes. I’d love to say I acclimated, but there was yet another splat at another airport. We found homeopathic arnica first thing in Tulsa, so luckily – I mean in a big way – my knee and ankle did not hurt for long. I really hate injuries.
My 95-year-old, beautiful mother was just back in Tulsa from Thanksgiving in Denver, and was anticipating Durango, Colorado for Christmas. Elise flew in from New York the same day we arrived, and we all converged on Mother’s new single room. The room suits her very well and has all the charm Mother has brought to her every dwelling. Despite her shoulder and neck pain, naturally Mother was in good spirits and sharp and funny as ever.We had arranged to stay at my friends Vivian and Mike’s house. They live in the house where Vivian grew up down the block from us Needham’s on 22nd Street. I am still unable to look at the now completely transformed and refurbished version of my childhood home when we drive by, always turning my gaze across the street to study the ravine and creek in old Mrs. Johnson’s yard where we were allowed to play. My memory of the house where I grew up is too sacred to mess with.
Vivian and Mike raised their three kids on this street. Now Vivian teaches ethics to little kids for the public school system, and Mike is the dedicated and honest version of a lawyer. The four of us seem to be able to gab incessantly! They had several Oklahoma-gothic tales, like the one where the babysitter tried to come over with a loaded gun to kill them all, and the one where the raving neighbor lady jumped on top of the neighbor’s car sun roof and stomped while they were driving by – while the children were outside. Plus the one about the knocking sounds and mysteriously knotted curtains in empty rooms at the lake lodge. It is fascinating to hear about their non-neo-conservative, non-evangelical life in Oklahoma amidst the cynical religious/political scene that has changed dramatically since I grew up there. Guess I’d be in trouble pretty often with my big mouth. Mother has addressed her problems with some negative and strident fellow-residents at the Methodist Manor with her usual dignity and grace.
Newton had a project to make a Brazilian (Bahian) dinner for all of us called moqueca, so we unpacked the coconut milk, dendé (coconut) oil and malageta hot peppers - which leaked a bit in the suitcase but were well-wrapped! – and shopped for shrimp, peppers, onions, rice, etc. (and mango sorbet). Mother, who has an almost non-existent appetite, had two good-sized helpings of moqueca. Guess the Methodist Manor needs some hot peppers! Vivian and Mike’s daughter is married to a guy who photographs rock groups. He invited Elise, who videos rock groups, to accompany him on his rap assignment later that evening. Between that venue and a jazz place next door, Elise had a full night of partying Tulsa style with his friends.
We also got to spend an evening with my nephew Mark’s family. His three daughters were almost unrecognizable since the last time I saw them, so I fulfilled the true great-aunt “how you’ve grown” role! Lainey, the brunette, is almost 17, around six feet tall, looks like a model and is so chic I really felt like a (short) country bumpkin next to her! Madison is 14, also beautiful, and is, get this, a big-scoring soccer player on a boys’ team! My heroine. Taylor is 9 and impish and cool interchangeably. Her dimple on one side says it all. Mark and his wife Jenny are a package of good looks and charm and kindness and astuteness all rolled together. I am indebted to them for the willing help they offer Mother constantly.
The only real culture shock that amused me as we went around the city was the way everyone apologized for walking near anyone else. I am always annoyed in the northeast of Brazil how, in a grocery store for example, people come right at you with their grocery carts like one big game of chicken. Or just walk as if you are not actually standing in their path! I have no idea how to play this game, so spend a lot of time getting out of the way and waiting just to get around in the store. And one inch is considered passing space! A young worker at the store actually ran right in front of my heavy cart as I was pushing it away from the check-out. I almost slipped trying to stop it before it hit him, and felt better after yelling an expletive in English! Anyway, all the “excuse me’s” and “sorry’s” when people entered a room or passed our table in a restaurant in Oklahoma – with plenty of space to spare – was now funny. I especially appreciate the driving version of this courtesy in the US!
I stopped by to see my former high school gym teacher, Lynne Morgan, who keeps up with the gossip on everyone from school days. She paints incredible reproductions of Picasso, etc., one of which is soon to be framed over our living room bar. She is battling cancer again with rounds of chemotherapy. Fortunately, the prognosis is mostly good, but better than that, she seems healthy and hearty as ever.
Elise and I got to help Mother pack her Christmas-specific wardrobe for her Christmas trip. It was nice to contribute in some small way and fun to hunt down the jewelry she wanted in her dresser drawer! Besides several holiday earrings and sweaters, she actually has a necklace of Christmas lights that light up…lucky to have an electrical engineer around to fix the batteries for that. Anyone who knows my friend Carolyn McMonegal in NY can guess who sent that to Mother! We just missed our nephew Brad from Durango when he flew into Tulsa to pick Mother up right after we flew off to Las Vegas for our holiday with Jake.
More on that…