This was written in May of this year on a trip home to Iowa to take care of my mom after one of her many hospital stays. I am working on something new and hope to post it soon. Thanks to everyone for indulging my therapy.
I wake up on the sofa. It’s very early, not fully day yet, and the light that does attempt to filter through the darkness of the living room is further dampened by the heavy clouds of an impending spring thunder storm. I quietly make a pot of Folgers (my parents' brand of choice), pour a cup and let myself out back with a 150-pound chocolate lab who needs to see what’s going on.
The thunder here is different from where I live now. It’s slow and big, low to the ground, rumbling in my ears and through my body. The world is inside the coming storm as it rolls over the plains and down the street, finally reaching the house. It announces its arrival gently with big, warm drops of wet: first one plops on my sleeve, then one on my head; then they fall a little faster as I try to tough it out for just a few more minutes. I am not finished listening to the owls and frogs, the morning birds and insects working in chorus to bring the day. They are dedicated, reluctant to be overpowered by the thunder. But the dog is restless and the owls grow quiet as the rain falls harder. Lightning flashes overhead and the frogs give up too. I head indoors, grateful for at least the brief communion we shared.
Soon I will be returning to Milwaukee, to my busy life, the one where I’ve made the choices that shape my physical existence. There’s very little leeway there at present, the minutes from waking to sleep almost entirely accounted for. Here in the country, the days are long, punctuated by meals and by conversations with neighbors, errands and chores to attend as my mother convalesces. Public radio is on AM and even BBC World News sounds like a farm report.
I have no cell phone service and no internet connection at my parents’ house, but the public library that didn’t exist when I was growing up has an unsecured connection named “Library.” I spend an hour or so a day there pretending I am interested in email, Facebook, clients and upcoming appointments. I am secretly grateful each time the low battery warning pops up, stashing my laptop in its bag and rolling away in my mom’s little black convertible with its leaky roof and scratched-up back window. It’s the wrong car for where she lives, but she had to have it and my stepdad indulged her. Their other car is a big Buick, so it doesn’t matter if she can only use it a few months a year. She doesn’t drive much anymore, anyway. Mostly now it’s only when she’s irritated that my stepdad won’t run to the store for her on a whim. On those days she declares that she'll just go her damn self and, if the weather is nice, she’ll make him put the top down for her before she stomps out the door. Old couples are funny.
This is the car I’ll be taking back to Milwaukee today, and I will lay in a supply of dry towels for the trip. One of the leaks in the roof is where it connects to the driver’s window, so I’ll be soaked continuously until I manage to drive out of the front, which the weather service is showing won’t happen until I’m almost home.
In my regularly scheduled life this would be unacceptable. I would rent a car I couldn’t necessarily afford and not think twice about it. But at home it’s different. Here in rural Iowa, people are more inclined to use what they have, and the fact that there’s a sound-running car at my disposal renders the idea of spending 125 unplanned-for dollars completely foolish.
Faced with such irrefutable common sense, I defer to the wisdom of my people. I’ll put garbage bags on the seat and turn up the radio. It's only six hours.