the road not taken

My mom grew up with this “The Land of Make Believe” poster and passed it along to me when I was a toddler. She hung it in my bedroom. I spent my childhood following the fantastic paths, flying on the magic carpet, and wanting to visit the Glass Mountain.

(click on the image to make it larger. it’s worth looking at in more detail!)

When I was 25, I moved to the beautiful coast of British Columbia with a then boyfriend. We lived a rather idyllic life for a short time. He was commuting into Vancouver for work, and I was at home learning how to make paper and soap with a neighbor and taking long woodsy walks with our cat. One of my splurges was to get internet access. Boyfriend didn’t understand why I wanted to communicate with people I didn’t know, halfway around the globe, but he went along with my whim. This was 1996 and my third computer. The world-wide-web was in its infancy. I had the joy of dial-up and Windows 95.
I was high-tech.

During my exploring of this networked realm, I came across travelers who had found inexpensive and adventurous ways to travel around the world. They worked on cargo ships, and had ingenious ways to get cheap airline tickets. If you remember what the Web looked like back then, it was pretty thrilling. (check out at 16:58 for a few seconds. ha!)

My imagination loved this traveling information I found and I planned, and schemed, and dreamt about adventures in other countries. This unknown future pulled me like a strong magnet.

Unfortunately, my partner wasn’t so excited about these ideas. I showed him pictures and budgets and tried to spark his adventuresome self, but it wasn’t where he was at the time.

I was at a crossroads.

My dad visited me from Brooklyn at my forested home in southern Illinois when I was 15 years old. We went for a walk in the beautiful Shawnee National Forest where he recited Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“. The poem obviously had deep meaning to my dad, and because of that, it was important to me. The idea of different paths leading to different lives was intriguing to my young self.

Every choice you make in your life takes you down a specific path, each path has infinite branches. One day you take the highway home from work, another day you decide to take city streets home. The time you arrive home is different, the other drivers you encounter are different. That one day where you were looking down at your phone at a stop sign and the guy behind you had to honk for you to look up and cross, might be the day when that guy behind you gets t-boned two miles later because of that pause you took. If you hadn’t been there, he would have driven through that other intersection minutes before the drunk driver arrived. There is no way to know, and it’s useless to ponder that lest it drive you mad staring bug-eyed into the infinite.

There are times in one’s life where you know that this particular choice is going to set a path with no backtracking. Those days up on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia gave me that kind of choice.

I stayed with the young man and looked over my shoulder for a while. Eventually, the urge lessened, then faded into a dull hum, and over time to an invisible recurring background process.

We moved back to Oakland, then a year later to my hometown in Illinois. That is where our relationship ended. He left back to Oakland, and I moved to Chicago.

As I sit here in my new home, with a good corporate job and invisible recurring background process, living the life of a responsible adult, I wonder what life the me is having who left from Canada to parts unknown.

hic sunt dragones.

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Tetris

I wrote this the other day about my last grandparent dying.
generational shift r.i.p.

I keep picturing a Tetris game, where you complete a row and it ker-thunks down and that row falls off into a digital void.

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The loss of the last of my grandparents feels like that row ker-thunking away. There is no bringing it back, and the game keeps pushing on. If you stop, everything piles up into a chaotic, frantic mess. But the loss of that row is a little scary. It implies that the next row, my parents, are next. Then I’m up.

And the game pushes inexorably on.

Generational shift 06/20/2015 R.I.P.

I was talking with my mom this morning about how lucky I was to have had all of my grandparents not only alive and well up through my adult-hood, but to have been so close with them.

When my maternal grandmother died (age 96) in 2008, I remember my mom saying that the torch had been passed to the next generation. My grandfather had died in 2001 (age 92) so when grandma died, my mom and her brother, my uncle, became the heads of our small family.

My paternal grandfather died in 1998. He was the only one of the four to have had a difficult death. He had worked in (auto) garages his whole life, except for his military service. He had a difficult death caused by a lifetime of smoking. Emphysema is not one of the easier ways to go.

He had permanent grease under his fingernails, which as a child fascinated me. To me it meant that he was a hard worker and had something to show for it. I think I was fascinated by both grandfather’s hands – my memorial speech for my maternal grandfather was about his large, worn, worked hands. My grandparents were blue-collar working people, with the rough, scarred hands to show for the toils.

My grandma who died this morning was an amazing woman. Like the rest of my family, hard working and tough. She had an indomitable spirit, that I often try to channel when I’m having a difficult time.

She was the last of my grandparents to die. She was 95 years old, and even while in hospice, her same stalwart spirit was there.

Her matzoh-ball soup was legendary in our family, and we were all saddened when she was no longer able to make it. In a Jewish family, food is one thing that we congregate around. It is how we communicate. I grew up with grandma’s egg creams, matzoh brei, (often with cottage cheese mixed in), melty butterscotch brownies, a never-ending confusion from grandma as to why I didn’t like gefilte fish, and of course, her delectable matzoh ball soup.

I’ll never have grandma’s matzoh ball soup again, but my Aunt will carry on the traditions of our family and we will now congregate around her hand-hewn oak dining table.