OmegaDad tells me I need to write down memories while I’m indulging in them.
My mom–when I was a child–was into hooking rugs out of a variety of cloth that she scrounged from old clothes at the second hand store.
One of the rugs she created was of the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg. A classic mathematics problem, it was the start of Graph Theory. So: In Konigsberg, there was an island in the middle of a river, and there were seven bridges that led to that island. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that there was no way to traverse those seven bridges without crossing one of the bridges twice.
My mom, being an odd duck, used the Seven Bridges problem as one of her hooked rug subjects. I grew up with that rug, with the knowledge–imparted to me by my parents–that you simply couldn’t cross all the bridges once without crossing one twice. I spent many hours on my tummy on that rug, trying first one route, then another, sure that I could figure out a way to cross those seven bridges without doubling back.
I never could.
Many years later, while in the midst of my final attempt at getting a bachelor’s degree, wherein I discovered that it might be fun to get a minor in mathematics, I took a class in graph theory. It was the hardest damned class I ever took. It was made less hard by the fact that I spent so many hours trailing a finger across one bridge, then another, trying to figure out a classic mathematics problem in the form of a hooked rug.
That was mom. Another of her hooked rug masterpieces was a rug inspired by a flight over Midwestern farms divided by a small river. The fields of crops were staggered–based on the soils they were on, different crops were in different positions, and it so happened that the river was following the course of an old fault. So a crop of corn, say, on one side of the river turned into a crop of corn on the other side of the river, but shifted by two crop fields down the river.
Somewhere, I have a picture of Mom and my two aunts, sisters to my father. It’s from before I was born. My aunts are dressed in lovely, picture-perfect ’50s cocktail dresses, the full skirts swirling around them. Mom, on the other hand, is dressed in a black pencil skirt, a dark turtleneck, her hair severely pulled back, a cigarette in her hand. She looks the utmost urban sophisticate, my aunts look like debutantes.
I remember when my first True Love had to leave, and I was left bereft and heartbroken. My brother’s graduation from An Illinois University was happening, so we all piled into his mom’s Volkswagen van for the long drive to exurban Illinois for the ceremony. I was dazed and sobbing from the ending of the dramatic love affair. I spent the few hours to the ceremony sitting on the floor of the van, with my head in mom’s lap, sobbing my heart out. She spent those hours stroking my hair and letting me vent my angst.
Mom was born in California, but spent many adolescent and childhood summers in Arizona, trekking to the various mountainous areas in Central and Northern Arizona. When she grew up, she always remembered those times in the pines of Flagstaff, Prescott, and small town Yarnell. So when she and Dad were thinking about retiring, she began agitating for retirement to Yarnell, Arizona. She and Dad subscribed to a realtor’s magazine for northern Arizona, and began daydreaming. Much to the family’s surprise, one day we were told by Mom that Dad (who hadn’t left Chicago since he returned from the Japanese occupation after WWII) had (OMGWTFBBQ!!!) purchased a ticket to Arizona to view a property they had seen in this realtor’s listing. Three months later, they were packing all their worldly goods to move to nowhere, Arizona (aka “Wilhoit”).
After they moved, I would visit them there, in this tiny not-town in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. I would sit at the kitchen table hanging out with them, watching through the sliding glass doors as the sun and the clouds would create ever-changing patterns across the valley between their house and Yarnell, highlighting the small canyon that was a feature of that valley, limning the small hills with light and shadow.
I would return to Chicago, to my city life, with my city friends, and find myself, at times, standing on the beach of Lake Michigan, seeing the sun set on the clouds building up across the lake, looking like the mountains of Arizona, and my heart would break with “home” sickness.
So when Dad needed to have back surgery, I chucked everything to move out to Arizona to be with them, to help out with the driving, the groceries, etc. They had long since moved into Prescott, once-upon-a-time-state-capitol…So I sojourned in their house in Wilhoit, a town of maybe 250 people, and drove up the twisty-turny White Spar Road to the town of Prescott to hang out with them.
They introduced me to strange, secretive gold miners. They showed me ancient rock art that few people had ever seen. I would hang my head back against the back seat of cars at night and watch Cassiopeia and the Scorpion rise (at different times during the year) against the backdrop of the Milky Way, which I could never have seen so brightly and clearly even fifty miles from the city.
Mom would spend the evenings poring over the old USGS topo maps of the area, quick to leap upon any small marking that said “ruins” or “spring” or any other interesting feature. In the morning, Dad would ask her what was on the agenda, and she would pull out the latest map, point to the feature, and say, “We’re going there…” And go there they would.
Mom was always looking forward. Her childhood during the Depression, her father’s search for work, his working for the government as an IRS agent, all made her willing to look Forward, rather than Back. She was an explorer, always.
There is more. But now I am drunk, and tired, and sad. My very best friend in the whole wide world died this afternoon. I can’t ask her, now, “Ma, am I remembering this right?” I can’t ask her where they were planning to go on that particular day. I can’t ask her where the photo is, the one of her with her new sisters-in-law-to-be. All I can do is be thankful that I was there for her, and that she was there for me. She was my very best friend in the whole wide world.
I miss her already.