Wednesday, August 27, 2008


A F250 four-wheel-drive diesel crew cab pickup towing a huge horse trailer pulls up in front of my house. They do it all the time, but for once I know the driver -- my niece! Well, I mean, I’ve never met her before, but I’d know she was my niece no matter what she was driving the way I’d know my brother, her father, if he rose from the dead and walked into the room. She came with her mom, also a first meeting. Such events can be a little tense and I’d worried that they might feel sleeping in my dubious “bunkhouse” would be just a little too much of an adventure, but their plan for the previous night had been to sleep in the horse trailer, so I needn’t have worried. (They were transporting llamas rather than horses, so that did make such a choice a little less problematic.)

The three of us turned out to have a whole lot in common and why wouldn’t we? Genetically, culturally, ethnically, and every other way but age, we weren’t that different. I’m almost seventy, Adrienne is twenty-seven, and her mother Susan is fifty-five. All of us are artsy, all of us read, all of us love animals, all of us can drive a stick-shift pickup, though I’ve never driven a four-wheel drive. I’m the shortest, too. They’re five-nine with feet like Jackie Onassis -- long. I’m only five-six-and-a-half, probably shorter by now, but my feet are longer than the size seven-and-a-halfs they started out. Wider, too.

We’re emotional but not demonstrative. Adrienne and I like boundaries and Susan likes to take care of people and things. We’re all three both romantic and idealistic, which can be problematic when the principles don’t match up. I mean, we’re people who expect a lot and attempt a lot.

I’ve always made my living by being on a salary until now. Adrienne is a modern hunter/gatherer who does artificial insemination on cows, shears llamas and alpacas, runs county fairs, and works in a biological research lab while she continues towards a Ph.D. in Animal Studies or something like that. Her mother was a graphic artist, then bought a ranch and raises llamas and sheep, but lately her ram got “rambunctious” and bashed her headlong into a wall. This came too soon after a couple of fractious llamas ricocheted her head off the inside of the trailer. Since my brother’s life was tragically (Is that too strong? I think not.) altered by a head blow in a fall, this makes us nervous. (It’s not what killed him -- he died of a heart attack years later.)

We had a lot of discovery to do, as they say. Time-lines and old photos and genealogy charts and speculation about patterns. Susan accurately noted that I have the same mild paranoiac assumptions that started out mild in my brother and became full-blown wild tales in the next ten years post-concussion, his convictions about conspiracies preventing him from getting both medical treatment and welfare support, because as soon as they started filling out paperwork and asking questions, he imagined they were up to no good and announced he was in the secret employ of the CIA assigned to check up on them. Once, they were ready to arrest him for impersonating an officer, but he stormed out.

Adrienne and I have the same nose and she has her father’s unibrow, which turns out very nicely when properly plucked. A sort of Brooke Shields effect. (I have a few four-inch hairs in mine which hide when I get out the scissors.) She has Paul’s fair skin, which flushes even rosier than mine, which is more ivory. We sat there looking at each other and analyzing. Adrienne has more booty that either me or her mother. We're bosomy babes. Hair is a continuum: my white scrazzly thin stuff, Susan’s elegant straight gray bob, and Adrienne’s titian riot, enough to make Anne of Green Gables turn, well, green.

We counted up the closed-skull head traumas: too many -- and years ago no one realized what they were. We just thought people were being ornery. It’s only now that the Iraq veterans are beginning to tell their stories that we know to even think of it. We talked about terrible burns and foreign expeditions and menopause.

Then we changed gears to tell funny stories and Crackers came to walk around looking at everyone in case they had a can-opener in their pocket. Finally the cat zeroed in on me and mentioned in a little voice that no one had FED her for quite a while! Squibbie failed to come in until everyone was tucked in asleep. Adrienne showed me two cartoons on YouTube of cats taking desperate measures to get fed -- both involved baseball bats. (Put in stuff like "cat food" + "cartoon" to find them.)

We went through the old family albums from back in the days when my father was a wool-buyer for Oregon Wool Growers and took many a snapshot of sheep and sheepdogs and sheepherders. Susan and Adrienne lit up like Christmas trees, admiring the photos, so I pulled them out of their little black corners and gave them over. That neatly solves one of MY problems: what to do with this careful archive that doesn’t interest anyone anymore -- or so I had thought.

When it was time to get back on the road, out came the cell phones. My old eMac fired up and messages began to fly around. A guy with a mule wanted a ride for the two of them from Columbia Falls to Corvallis, the same route Adrienne was taking. She voted for picking up the unknown guy and his unknown mule. Her mother was opposed. I stayed out of it. David, dad and husband, was expecting them for a family reunion. Many opinions, much information. Check the weather. What about a motel? Are you sure that’s the right mileage? Is this cheese too old to take back on the road? Where to buy ice?

Way back at the beginning of time, the Pinkerton girls (my mother and her sisters who are Adrienne’s grandmother and great-aunts) took a road trip to the beach and up to Washington. They stayed in cabins so primitive that they looked just like my bunkhouse and didn’t even have beds, so it was like sleeping in a horse trailer. There were more of those women: seven. The end result was a photo album I still have. Family, especially for women, is a kind of warrant for adventure. Can’t know what to expect, bound to make discoveries, and relying on the enormous comfort of female relatives.

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