Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Out on my skateboard

Grandpa Jenks's hands
Did your grandfather knot up with tears at the least occasion? Both my father and grandfather can dissolve in weeping at the slightest push by memory or nostalgia, especially during prayer. After graduation I moved in with my grandparents and great-aunt in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a seventeen-year-old with three octogenarians. I cringed inside when Grandpa Jenks prayed over beef roast and gravy, his tears catching his voice.

“As God holds us in the holl' of his hand.” He couldn't hear the harsh midwestern vowels of his accent, but I could, and spot the hypocrisy in his emotional faith. I felt trapped in their one-bathroom house, watching Keanu Reeves movies I blockbustered on the Jenks's card: good ones, too—Bill & Ted's and Point Break and My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Zant's homoeroticism especially bewildering before the white birch of my father's childhood front lawn. At night I read Ayn Rand and Henrik Ibsen.

My cousins came over for Sunday dinner, and when he'd choke during his prayer--”We thank thee for our family gathered here together. Our children, grandchildren, all our loved ones. We thank thee”--when he'd melt, embarrassing all of us grandchildren with such an awkward silence that we squinched our eyes open to peer at him. I couldn't look at his face, at the age spots, the brylcreem-combed hair, only the grease-stained collar of his faded Dickies, till he gained control again.

Remembering the intensity of the emotions I felt then—when I was denying the existence of any emotion, thanks to Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand—Howard Roark rapes a woman in the very first chapter of Fountainhead, spoiler alert—bewilders. But now I knot up in tears at the least push, too, although maybe it's only when I'm weakened by hormones and winter that a melodramatic commercial or film or any honest sadness will make me catch with tears. The other day it was a short film, on the Academy Award collections of short films I've been Netflixing:  Binta and the Great Idea.  Watch it.

I am as weak as my forefathers.  Or is it strength? But my archetypal Father is plagued by grief and loss. Jesus weeps above the city of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clouds in the sky

Oatmeal bread
I've been making lots of bread. I bake oatmeal bread a lot, because it calls for oatmeal and whole wheat flour, and I have seven-grain mix from the Amish, so it's technically an eight-grain bread. As my cookbook says, “it makes delicious toast.” I'm convincing myself that it's a health-conscious choice, but it just tastes like decadent lavishness.

I convinced myself I needed oatmeal for breakfast in winter, and I can't eat eat real oatmeal anymore, not since the Appalachian Trail. Before I left, I blended six months of whole oats with wheat germ and soy powder and whey protein to make a high-protein breakfast cereal I packaged in ziplocs. By Maine, even when it was our prime source of calories from the mail drop, I could bear just to bring the goop to my mouth. It'd been invaded by weevils in my mom's basement, and was threaded with webbing.

I didn't find any actual insects, but I recognized recognized the signs. I knew she'd still had them, because when she came to hike with me, for a week in Tennessee, the box of generic mac-and-cheese she'd packed had insects fly from its cardboard. We didn't eat dinner that night. But the cereal wasn't as bad, just a bit of extra bitterness.

As Bahamians said, when we were invaded by boat weevils, you only need to worry after the bugs leave. Because till then, it's got plenty of protein. So we swallowed the bitter oatmeal, kept hiking to Katahdin. But I can't eat oatmeal anymore.