Monday, August 15, 2005

CT scan

Here in Connecticut, I've spent about a week speedily moving along narrow roads shaded by the maples which tower over Colonial homes. My family comes from around here, at three points of a triangle that straddles State Highway 8. This is slightly north of the gold coast, those expensive NYC commuter suburbs which include Greenwich, where I'd lived briefly as a boy. A few hills over is where the new money is, in the form of huge houses where entertainment types with names like Spielberg and Hoffman live part time. I'd spent a lot of time here as a kid, mostly at my aunt and uncle's place. Deer sometimes come through the arched bushes and into the yard. The neighbors have a pool where I used to swim, but there are now new people there, whose names I do not know, so I cannot ask for swimming priviledges even with the 100 degree heat. Years ago I marched in an Independence Day parade on the quiet road out front. My grandparents' place the next town over has long been sold, but the home where my grandmother grew up is still in the family, my cousin Matt being the fifth generation to live there. My Nana had told him of the days when she was young, how they'd have to be careful of the noisy third stair when sneaking in late. Recently, when renovating those same stairs, Matt found a crack in the third one, running from wall to post. History will always reveal itself when it is the right time. In Waterbury, the house where my father used to fend off his drunken dad is gone, but my uncle John now lives nearby.

I spent most of the week with him, sparring with our usual topics of college hoops and film. A decade abroad has left me armed to handle only the latter. We watched quite a few together, "Steve Zissou," "Smoke Signals," "American Splendor." On a trip to New Haven we saw "Apres Vous" in the cinema. It was like a refresher for John, a retired high school French teacher. We also wandered Yale a bit, the tall stone halls reminiscent of my recent UK trip. Though thin in stature, John's life also entails dining out a lot. He talks of restaurants in superlatives: Zini's in Litchfield doing the best Italian; Cookhouse in New Milford doing the best ribs; Pepe's in New Haven doing the best pizza; and of course, Frankies doing the best hot dogs. Growing up, I'd often gone to the latter, yet had never noticed their slogan, "Come In and Eat or We'll Both Starve." (This trip I tried their Lobster Roll, which is basically cut-up lobster on a roll. For $12, I'd rather have just the lobster.) I'd always loved hanging out with my uncle, he serving as my sole male role model during the time between my mom's two marriages. Ironically, he has outlived both men. And he shows no sign of slowing down. His sense of humor is still razor sharp, with a cynical wit which may have been contagious. It was hilarious to hang out with him and his friends, like being in an episode of Seinfeld. One morning, we walked four straight flat miles along a long abandoned railway line. I'm told there are now more trees in Connecticut than ever, due to the owners of large estates planting on what was once farmland. This thick wood was bear country, and mountain lions have also been sighted. More prevailant were the horseflies and deer ticks. As we walked, I almost expected to see Ichabod Crane come racing up, the Headless Horseman in hot pursuit. At least the Horseman needn't worry about the ticks.

This trip, I wasn't able to see much of my aunt. She's been busy taking care of my 93-year old Nana, who broke her hip last month. Rehab will last a few more weeks. The care hasn't been bad, but the food is lousy, so she's been having a tough time. When I saw her last Tuesday, I'd been expecting the worst, but Nana's a resiliant old bird, the glow in her eyes undiminished. Here's a woman who survived polio 80 years ago. I visited with her everyday, listening to her tales of her grandparents who left Ireland in 1874. I feel a certain kinship with them since I went in search of their hometown and relatives back in February. Irish blood runs thick in my family, and I heard about it constantly. The West is now the "New World", races mixing as they manifest their destinies. Back East, as I've mentioned before, is still the "Old World," with strong ties to the Older World of Europe and beyond.

Ten years away has made me feel that I'm only a satellite member of the family, one who doesn't have full voter priviledges. Spending a week out here plugged me back in. Saturday night, we had a small party for my Nana. Afterward, my cousins took me out on their pontoon boat. They're much younger than me, and it was the first time we ever got a chance to hang out. It was interesting to hear their take on family politics, coming as it was from a different angle. We floated on the still lake, drinking Sam Adams. A bad cover band was playing at Lake Quasapaug Amusement Park, the sound cutting thru the dark to us. (For awhile we thought it might actually be John Fogarty, until we heard the singer say, "Thanks, we're the Steve Allan Band." Cousin Matt: "Isn't that guy dead?") The park played a major part in my childhood summers. Cara said that the rides probably haven't changed since then, and that without fail, somebody gets killed every year. (Props to my aunt and uncle for risking their lives for my entertainment.) Back on land it was hot and muggy. Matt sped the roads in his new Mustang, a car modelled after its classic 60's ancestors. I'm not a car guy, but I couldn't help but be impressed. It's been a long time since I've been in a car which has real balls. The engine is so powerful that it feels like you're being pushed from behind. This engine growled as it downshifted into turns, frightening the deer off the roads .

On the weekend, I privately celebrated Obon. My aunt has built a small garden for the memory of Ken-chan. I weeded and trimmed the shrubs, then placed flowers behind the small pagoda. Though I'm miles away from my home in the 'Nog, he is here with me. No matter where I am, the air always seems thicker at this time, as if filled with spirits. On the fifteenth, when the ghosts depart, the storms began and the summer night once again turned cool.

On the turntable: Mickey Hart, "Apocalypse Now Sessions"
On the nighttable: Gish Jen, "Who's Irish?"

1 comment:

Tom said...

Wow... Brilliant stuff.