On the Road

It’s another Zoom meeting on a Sunday afternoon when my son Sam and his bride-to-be Alex announce that they are canceling plans for their wedding in October. While not a surprise exactly—they have been deliberating this decision for months now—it is a disappointment. In the grand scheme, it’s almost petty, but on a personal level, sad. They are going to get married, probably sooner than any possibility of a family-and-friends fête arrives, but no specifics are offered.

When we receive the email letting attendees know even though we had been forewarned, it’s like opening a barely scabbed wound.


I had been excited about the prospect of these two wonderful people joining forces, but especially, and selfishly so, because for the first time, all five of my siblings had been invited. (There have been many marriages among my nieces and nephews but none to date had included all six of us.)

I let my imagination bear me away on wild wings, beach walking to images of the six of us loudly laughing and carrying on in some chill New Orleans venue, jazz in the background, crawfish on the table, and shared joy, a reunion. It is a rarity when our tribe gets together; the bonds that unite us are enduring yet forgiving. Love underpins it all, but we are an independent, far-flung bunch, and this event would pull people from Hawaii and Wyoming, Oregon and Mexico. The last time we had all been together was at my aunt’s funeral nine years ago. An updated photo featuring bright and sunny smiles in festive finery would have been a much-desired addition to our family album.

This morning we are leaving on a road trip to meet Sam and Alex at Alex’s parents’ home in Santa Rosa. It is a big adventure—with more than a dash of anxiety—because novel virus, novel world. En route we plan a brief stay in the redwood forest before completing the 10-hour journey. The kids will meet us there on Friday after flying from NOLA. (The details of their preparation to ensure that they are being as safe as possible don’t bear repeating, but be sure, they are numerous.)

This was to be their engagement party weekend, large and merry. Now it will be small— but merry? No doubt. When I spoke with my sister yesterday, the satellite buzzed with our Hawaii-to-Oregon chatter. We had recently canceled our family-sized New Orleans Airbnb and were discussing plans to do it again when fates allow. Then she said, “You know, Trish, your trip? It might be the perfect situation, the parents in one place…,” and I stopped her.

“We’re trying not to think about it, you know ‘expectations are planned disappointment.'” But the thought, their words, “Oh, we want to get married more than ever,” has crossed our minds. I have written before about Sam surprising us— and Alex— with his proposal while visiting here in Oregon, and about how my husband and I eloped after knowing each other for a month, so…

Road Trip! Whatever happens, oh, we are so happy!

Chance Encounter

(Flicker Douglas T. Muth)

Baltimore Convention Center offers massive concourses, offshoots in many directions, and ours is wide and relatively empty. Only an hour before we had listened to Tommy Orange, author of the novel There There, deliver a wry, powerful keynote address. I had recently finished his moving narrative told in many voices depicting the lives of Native residents of Oakland, California and during his speech, urged Dana, my friend, colleague and erstwhile longtime NCTE Convention companion, to read it. She really doesn’t need my plug; Tommy has convinced her all by himself of course. How she tolerates my enthusiasm, I don’t know. Every book is “the best book,” every session “the one that will change my practice.” But she does, so when we emerge from a poetry session, and I am quiet, she knows something is amiss.

Aging has educated me to this phenomenon called ocular migraine, “characterized by a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars. Unlike other forms of migraine, they may occur without any accompanying head pain” (American Migraine Foundation). Experience has taught me that if I relax, breathe, close my eyes for a bit, it passes. After I explain my atypical calm, we’re headed for a lunch break.

My head is down to avoid light pouring in from floor-to-ceiling windows, and I am trusting Dana to navigate when I hear her voice raised, excited, my kind of timbre,”There’s your boy.” And I look up.

It’s Tommy Orange walking toward me; it’s really him. I’d love to say what I said, but I’m pretty sure dumbfounded me let Dana orchestrate the entire photo op. I’ll be honest—it remains a blur to me, but the shaking and the pounding heart, those chills that course like electric current as he heads away afterward, the “Did that just happen?” sensation? That I remember even now.

And relief, relief in the aftermath, that my migraine is gone, 100% gone. I can see clearly now. The mind, the body, adrenalin— miraculous. Tommy Orange: Medicine Man.

Cuts Like a Knife

I’m slicing a jalapeño when I smell the garlic gaining that right-before-burning bitterness that I want to avoid. Oh, those cliches, “haste makes waste” springs to mind. This little pepper under the knife has seen better days, and the recipe doesn’t even call for him, but his wrinkly countenance summoned me from the bottom of the vegetable drawer, so I’m a savior!

That slice on the diagonal, does it, and opens a lash across my ring finger, almost taking the tip off, before I drop the knife, howl, and watch blood seep. My husband jumps up (who gets to be savior now?), grabs a paper towel, escorts me to a chair, and says, “Are you going to pass out? throw up?” He knows me well, but no, I elevate and keen, ever the Sarah Bernhardt, and ask him to move the garlic off the heat. I am hoping to salvage our dinner.

It is after all, these small events that I regard as insurance against the big ones. We have finger bandages for this very occurrence, and my finger will heal despite the immediate emotional toll it exacts, fleeting in the scheme of things.

On my desk are three notifications from different health care providers regarding my annual appointments. I am healthy, but now that I have the time to be vigilant, I am. I have my physicals, my mammograms, and my monitoring appointments post hip-replacement, and they necessitate actual, rather than virtual, attention. More insurance.

The New York Times announces in bold that “A Record 5.4 Million People Have Lost Health Insurance” according to a recent study. This comes when I am safely—and I realize the irony as over-65 remains hard- hit by the pandemic—covered by Medicare.

Insurance is hard to come by these days. If only my slip of a knife were enough to protect everyone who desperately needs it.

The Best Laid Plans

“But the thing worth doing well done/has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident./The pitcher cries for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.”

—Marge Piercy from “To Be of Use”

I have found my “work that is real.” I discovered it early, retired from it, and returned to it part-time as a substitute in February, 2019. Teaching.

When I see the email’s subject line, “Do you plan to work with ESS?” I am not surprised. Last summer my school district turned the management of substitute teachers over to a national outfit Employee Self-Service. As of January 2020, the system took over, but because I now knew several teachers and had found a bit of a “home” at the nearby middle school, I was fine with it.

Of course along with everyone else, my work stopped abruptly in March, a week before the scheduled spring break. Our district took some time getting itself restarted, but it did resume, continued feeding those who depended upon it, and delivered devices to those households that opted to go online. Additionally the iconic yellow school buses rattled almost empty delivering books and supplies for those who preferred that.

Just last week the local paper published its reopening guidelines for next fall. The Oregon State Department of Education has okayed three models and allows districts choice. Complicating that decision—as if we don’t already know—is the requirement for social distance: 35 square feet for each person. Lincoln County has decided on the “hybrid option,” primarily with A and B days and cohorts to accommodate both distancing and consistency of contact. The first group is scheduled to start on Thursday, September 10, the second the next day.

That, however, doesn’t help me. Substitute teachers generally don’t see much action until October anyway. That question, “Do you plan to work for ESS?” supersedes all my other concerns. The email asks us to take a survey; it consists of three items:my name, the district name, and the question,”Do you plan to return?” followed by a box for comments. The deadline is August 1, 2020.

I’m only certain as I navigate the sea of this virus that I should not return to substitute teaching. That I will turn 69 in September figures prominently in my decision, but the reality of not participating in my real work pierces my heart. There will be alternatives; I know I will find a way to be useful because necessity, invention, all that.

I procrastinated writing this post today primarily because I didn’t want to commit with written words. That’s how I know I’ve found my truth—for now. I will comment and request that when there is a vaccine, I be given another opportunity to respond. Who knows when that will be? No one— but I, like everyone else, will do my best until that time comes.