A Full Circle

This one has little connection to motorcycling or photography, so if you are expecting much on either of those subjects, you may be disappointed. If so, stop reading right now.

On the weekend of September 22-24 I went on a three-day ride through California, Arizona, and a few miles of Utah. My primary destination was Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation. After the valley, I rode through the Sedona area south of Flagstaff, then through the town of Jerome, suspended on the east side of the long mountain ridge between Cottonwood and Prescott. I intended to shoot a few rolls of 220 and 35mm color film. I thought of it as a photo ride, but because of haze in Monument Valley, I shot considerably less film than I expected. The journey turned into more of a long scout than a photo trip.

On the 24th, the day after I returned home, I did little because I had pushed myself a bit far on the return ride home. Typical. I should have stopped for the night at the Colorado River, then rode the last couple hundred miles home in the morning. I slept in until 7:00 am, three hours longer than usual. I unloaded my luggage, washed clothing I’d worn on the trip, and put away the cameras and film. I talked to my mother Maxine on the telephone twice, which was a bit unusual, though not by a lot, since I typically talked to her once or twice a week. I didn’t wash the Road Star (the bug suicides from the last day are still on the windscreen) – I thought I’d leave that for the following day.

That night I slept until 2:00 am, but then woke restless. I wandered around the house for a few minutes, then went to the couch to see if I could go back to sleep. If I went back into a restless sleep, I wouldn’t wake Lisa up if I was on the couch. With my eyes growing heavy after a few minutes, I thought about how it was good that I was wrong: A week before I had a premonition that my mother would soon go to the next world. I walked around with that nagging feeling for the entire day, then phoned my brother Tom and told him about the feeling.

“I’ve had the same feeling all day.” He said. 

We talked about it for a few minutes, then signed off with the thought that we were probably wrong. For a short time it appeared that we were indeed wrong. Mom went into the hospital with internal bleeding, which was brought into control by stopping her prescription for blood thinners. She was out of the hospital, nearly 3,000 miles away in Canandaigua, New York, in three days. Everything seemed to be okay with her and Tom and I wondered why we’d had the premonitions.

I thought about those events for a time while I lay on the couch, then finally sank back into the dreaming. The sound of the phone ringing at 4:00 am pulled me reluctantly from sleep. No one calls this early, I thought. I suddenly knew that it was my cousin Bobbi Wolfe, who lives in New York near Mom. I knew I didn’t want to receive the call, but I walked to the office and picked up the phone.

Because Bobbi lived so close, it was always her who made sure that “Aunt Mackie” was taken care of during the decade since Mom moved back to New York from Arizona. And that despite the very busy time she has had, as we all do, taking care of her own immediate family. She is one of a few truly amazing women I have known in this lifetime. A real human being. 

Mom had died some time around 5:30 am or a little before. Bobbi had waited a little while to phone me. It appeared to have been a heart attack and she died before the ambulance arrived. I phoned Tom and told him what had happened, then got off the phone and started making travel arrangements. 

Tom and I were in Rochester, New York the next evening after surviving the less-than-careless “service” of the commercial airlines. There was much for us to do, along with Bobbi; cremation arrangements, the cleaning out of Mom’s apartment, and the wake that Bobbi arranged to be held at her house. The wake was held on the Saturday after Mom died and it was well-attended; first, second, and third cousins filled the house to the point that it was hard to move between the rooms. We finished the wake in the evening, going to dinner with cousins Howard Tripp, Deb (Blonsky) Tripp, and Noland Tripp in Canandaigua and talking well past the time when our beer glasses were empty.

We finished cleaning out Mom’s apartment  the next day, then picked up her ashes on Monday and scattered them on Keuka Lake, the y-shaped lake in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, before returning to the West on commercial airliners with service equal to the ambivalence of the original trip to the East. During the week in the “old country” we had a few chances to visit with old friends such as Mary and Dan Bohle, Paul and Farrell Simmons, and Judy (Armstrong) Berman.

Though it was good to see old friends and cousins (in some cases after forty to fifty years), I was not comfortable with the circumstances. Mom’s death has left a hole. I can no longer phone to talk to her every few days. I can no longer hear her laughter along the wires. I can only carry her in my memory. She was the one who made my childhood tolerable, who constantly encouraged me to do the things I wanted to do, who applied bandages to my wounds, whether the wounds were physical or emotional, and she was the “voice in my head” that helped me balance out courses of action for so long (that voice is now a blend of her and my wife Lisa). She was the one who always answered my questions with the truth as she knew it, and didn’t push me aside simply because I was a child. She was the one who released me from attendance upon a religion that I instinctively found untruthful, wrong, and designed primarily to control others. She too, was an amazing woman, one of the handful I have known. Another real human being, like my wife Lisa and my cousin Bobbi.

As I waited for my first flight out of Rochester on the return trip, I got a call from Lisa. My daughter-in-law Amber had given birth to my second granddaughter the night before at 11:56 pm (Pacific Standard Time). I arrived back in Ontario Airport late, then phoned son Aaron to find out that Amber and the baby would be home early the next morning.

In the morning Aaron met me at the door with my sleeping granddaughter in his hands. He handed her to me as I stepped through the door. We sat on the couch, talking as I watched her dreaming face.

“She keeps moving around as if she isn’t completely comfortable.” I said.

He nodded. “She likes sleeping on her stomach.” He said, “I know that’s not recommended, but her brother slept like that.” 

I slouched down into the couch, and turned her over onto her stomach on my chest. She lifted her head and turned it to the side, then put it down on her arms and settled in. “She’s not supposed to be able to do that, yet.” I said, “she’ll be strong enough.”

Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know when they’re supposed to do that. Don’t remember.” He said. “But she does seem strong.”

She slept on my chest for over an hour before waking to call out to be fed. It felt to me as if events had come full circle.

The Photographs

1st and 2nd: Maxine (Tripp) Alexander. Scanned from prints. These are from the 1940s. There are later photographs, but I like these a great deal. 3rd: Digital. My granddaughter, held by my grandson the day after her birth.