Monday, June 18, 2012

"Not all those who wander are lost."*

    You know how when you tell people you like a particular thing they start getting you versions of that particular thing? Like, you mention in passing how you’re keen on Precious Moments and the next thing you know you have a whole breakfront entirely devoted to Precious Moments and you have to open that goddamn cabinet and dust the Precious Moments every week and you start to wonder why you ever mentioned it in the first place and how you became such a hoarder? It gets embarrassing and worse, every Christmas or Hanukkah or birthday you stop guessing what’s in the gift box because your almost 98% positive it’s going to be another Precious Moment. (Maybe it’ll be the First Communion Precious Moment! Or the Baby’s First Christmas Precious Moment!)
Wedding Precious Moment!

   And the next thing you know, you’re a cat-obsessed accordion teacher that’s 45 lbs overweight and can’t explain why you love re-runs of The Golden Girls.** You used to be normal! How did this happen?
   Maybe that's an extreme scenario.
   I’ve gone through several incarnations of “likes” that became collections. It started with my affinity for pigs in junior high. I think I made some sort of stink about wanting a Miss Piggy Doll. Or I admired the movie Babe. I don't know what I did, exactly. But soon I had pigs all over my bedroom—a poster, a mirror, a stuffed animal, a statue, etc. Then it was The Beatles, and I had posters and books and albums (I’m actually still okay with this one). Many people of my generation went through a Beanie Baby phase—we thought they’d be collectible! Sadly, they aren’t. And...they're stupid.
    I think a lot of it has to do with figuring out who you are and what you like. Sometimes that takes a while (it probably should: if you like the same things now that you liked as a 12-year-old, you’re probably a few tacos short of a combo platter).
Exotic (Italy-from Emily)
    I started my most recent collection in college. Postcards. Couldn’t get enough of them, and still can’t. Whenever my friends travel, I request a postcard, and my collection has grown into the hundreds. I have postcards from all kinds of different countries and cities and continents. Turkey, Australia, Poland, Japan, France, The Czech Republic, Mexico, Ireland, India, Guatemala and Canada to name just a few. I’ve got postcards from almost all of the 50 states. I’m very proud of them. This particular hobby/collection never gets old or tiresome because postcards take up very little space and remain a cherished portrait of somewhere I’d like to go but haven’t been able to afford. Sad, isn’t it?  But it’s also inspiring.
More Exotic. (India--from Gabe.)
    I have always loved to travel, and in large part I owe this instinct for exploration to my Grandpa Charlie. He spent the vast majority of his retirement learning Spanish (and never quite succeeding) and traveling the himself. He had a special affinity for Central America and would go on trips to Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. He’d later show us the pictures he’d developed: Grandpa solo in front of a burro; Grandpa with an entire Mexican family in what appears to be a slum in the middle of nowhere; Grandpa on a bus through Belize with a real-life Mayan (he was really excited about that one). My mom used to joke that he probably had a second family in the middle of Costa Rica that we knew nothing about.
Super Exotic (Istanbul--from the kiddos)
    He always had a sense of adventure and was a great traveler early on in his life. He was a WWII vet, serving in the Army Air Corps in Europe. He cheated on his eye exam (more proof I'm his grandchild) so he could pilot his plane back to America after they declared victory in Europe. He couldn’t have been more than 25-years-old.
    After the war he worked for the B&O railroad as a brakeman, a switchman and a conductor. He was later recruited by the Federal Railroad Administration as a Railroad Safety Inspector (safety and compliance investigator). Again, movement, traveling, and exploration were his day-to-day. 
Not very exotic at all (Idaho-I actually went there).
    When we’d say good-bye to each other, whether after a phone conversation or after an egg breakfast (he made the best fried eggs in the entire universe) he’d say, “See you in my dreams!”
    I’d respond, “I’ll see you in my dreams.”
    He’d say, “Just don’t have me falling off a cliff or getting chased by wild horses.”
    But I think he would’ve preferred if the dreams had ended that way. He liked to be moving. In many ways his life was like the most responsible version possible of a hero in a classic movie Western. Like John Wayne.*** Or maybe a Civil War-era drama. Like Clark Gable. He liked history in general and American history and the Civil War in particular.
    Anyways, a few years after I started collecting postcards, my Grandpa died. And when my Aunt Kris and I were going through his things, she said I should pick out anything I wanted to keep. One of the first things I found was his bridgework, but that seemed weird and somehow creepy. ("Hey, look, Grandpa, I've got your teeth!") They weren't something I (or my grandma) wanted to keep.

   Then I was lucky enough to stumble upon a railroad map of Nebraska from 1963. It was special for many reasons—it was a railroad map, it was of my home state, and it had been my Grandpa’s.
    After that I started collecting maps and my apartment started to look like the headquarters of the C.I.A. or the residence of a stalker/serial killer. But it also started to define me, just the way I’d wanted the pigs or The Beatles to do years earlier. It started to represent what I wanted out of life: exploration, travel, experience, adventure. And of course, I’d always wanted to be like my Grandpa, so that was there, too.
We look a little trashy and sweaty here, but that's okay. Louisiana, circa 1984.
    I’m writing about this because a few days ago marked the 7th anniversary of his passing and yesterday marked Father’s Day, and he really was a remarkable father and grandfather. But he was also a fearless explorer, and someone who tried to experience as much as he possibly could in the time he was given on this plane.
    I may also be writing about this in the hopes that someone reads it, feels sorry for me, and decides to send me a butt-load of money to use on travel. Eh, it never hurts to put it out there. (Also still open to the idea of marrying for money...)

*From "All that is gold does not glitter," a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring.
**It's totally reasonable to like re-runs of The Golden Girls.

***Maybe more like a character John Wayne played, as John Wayne was (sadly) an infamous draft dodger during WWII. Bummer.

****Shame(ful/less) plug: if you like what you read here, will you follow me? It will make me feel like I'm living the dream!

1 comment:

  1. One of the best trips your Granddad and I experienced together was the one we took when we brought you out to LA to go to college. You had to be in orientation and get settled in at those fabulous Cardinal apartments at USC, while Pop and I roamed the coast and downtown LA, eating cuisine unimaginable to me (but not to him---he was a locavore where ever he visited.) He was a great pilot, but an even finer navigator.