Posts filed under ‘Stories’
The spout of a gray whale is shaped like a perfect heart. It’s almost startling how shapely and valentine looking it is. In Monterey, we never see it. It’s always too windy, and the swell of the ocean is too high. The spouts just blow off to one side or another. This morning, I was walking Cholla out on the beach, and there it was. A baby gray whale was in close to shore, bursting soft vapory hearts from its blowhole to me. Each one was so perfectly formed, so happy and gentle, quiet and free out there in the calm bay. I smiled with each heart until she waved at me with her fluke and left to go deep, deep.
Through the years, I’ve read about the spouts in books, and generally felt that the description and drawings of them were a kind of exaggeration. And then Russ and I did a side trip in Baja out to San Ignacio Lagoon. We were there a bit early for the whale kissing that guide books and travel brochures advertise. The area is protected, so we couldn’t just take out our kayaks and go off on our own. We had to go out in one of the tenders with a small group of people. It was off-season, so there were just a few of us.
The bay is so calm and still, like the biggest warm bathtub going. It’s no wonder that mama gray whales want to have their babies there. What could be a safer spot? Right away, we saw the hearts hanging in the air around us, and I was thrilled just for that; I didn’t need to get my picture taken of me hugging a gray whale. I got to see the hearts! The folktale was real!
People got to chatting in the boat, and I did what I usually do; sort of hang my head over to the side, letting myself go far away from others, looking so deeply into the water as I used to do when I was a kid out fishing with my dad. I’d look and look, and I’d like to say that I’d invent stories or resolve the mysteries of life, or talk to the fish, but all I can say is that I’d just look. And that’s what I was doing; observing the changing terrain of the shallows, observing the passing of the little pebbles, the mottled colors of the bottom. I was reveling in the textures and beauty of being there, joined with the stillness of water, the flow of the bottoms. Then my mind crept in so slowly to make sense of it all; what I was looking at was the passing of a whale close and directly under us. The pebbles weren’t pebbles; they were the crustaceans living on the animal. I could see the long smile of her, the eye right under my hand dangling in the water. In a moment, the others spotted it, too…ballena!
That moment, or vision has stayed with me with perfect clarity through these years. I loved that moment of not knowing what I saw, but feeling its familiarity; being transfixed and lured in willingly with all my senses. With all senses wide open, the gifts of nature and love are exactly in the air and beneath our very hands, moving with color and magic.
I’m making tapioca. It’s the first time I’ve made it since Russ died. It was a magic dessert; not heavy in fats, soothing to a chemo and radiation fried throat and belly, something we could both share. Something, like tonight, I could stir and stir and become somewhat transported in time while waiting for the mixture to become frothy and thick and grow to the sides of the pan. Initially, we discovered tapioca at Costco; it was sweet and wonderful and the carton claimed that it was made by hands in little batches to be sold in the thousands daily across all the Costcos. Imagine that! I decided I’d make it myself. Russ curled himself on the mat close to me, two dogs intertwined with him, and me stirring, stirring with the wooden spoon, reflecting and stopping the worries to simply stir. I would serve it up cold in my Winfield china with cinnamon on top, and it became a preferred treat for visitors.
My mom used to make custard. She rarely cooked anything, so I always felt her custard was a kind of sacred event. She had special cups just for it, and she would line them up neatly in the refrigerator with nutmeg sprinkled on top. Even the neatness of those glass cups had an aura about them, as nothing else in the refrigerator was neat, or fresh, or perhaps even edible. The custard wasn’t made for any special events; sometimes I would come home from school, and there they were, lined up like sentries in the refrigerator, made in a little batch by hand, by my mother, who had an inspiration to stop chaos for a moment, to stir and stir, waiting for a creamy yellow mixture to thicken.
Stirring my figure 8s in the tapioca, I swirl in thoughts of the cool custard in those glasses with the surprise of nutmeg, me a little girl in awe of my mother the custard chef. I wonder if even then I sensed in the spoonfuls of cream the moments of peace the stirring brought to my mother so hungry for some reflection beyond the comforts of her cigarettes.
On Washing Cars
Last Sunday I washed and waxed my car. I spent a full three hours on it, and as part of the event, I talk to my neighbors. Jack comes over a lot, tells me his guitar stories. He claimed that I wash my car every weekend, and I got into a bit of a willful battle about it, like that old married couple who fusses over remembering dates for a single dinner thirty years ago; and then I realized that whatever habit I have, it’s definitely a lot more than anyone else I live around, and that would be noticeable. So instead, I told Jack warmly about my dad, that not a single one of my car washing events goes by without thinking about my dad who really did wash the cars every weekend, and how I loved to trail around him polishing the chrome, and however good I am at keeping my car clean, it still doesn’t match with the perfection my dad had in buffing his out perfectly.
I love chrome. Cars don’t have chrome any more. Chrome is jewelry for cars. It buffs out so purty you see your face in it stretched out like in the old “Fun House,” or you love seeing those ripples of blue sky streaked in that silver colored metal, or the big arcs of light bouncing off from the sun. Plastic black trim on cars these days just is no comparison at all. If you use the right compound, the metal once flecked with salt spray revives to something so clear you want to lay it on the table to eat off of. It’s such a “guy thing” to love those cars, to love to work on them, to love to polish and fuss over them; I think it’s part of all our innate desire to have shiny things in our hands; as women, the excuse is small and dangles off of our ears; for men, it’s big and comes with a key and they can dangle their arms out the window. Either way, design and sparkle add to the delight.
Dad used to get up early to wash the cars. He’d wash his, then my mom’s, and when I got a car, it got into the line-up, too. No matter how well I thought I cleaned it, he always found places I scrimped; wax lines left between the crevices of doors and windshield washer sprayers; streaks of Armor All across the dash, a little fuzz left on the hood, a neglect of attention to the tires. He was right. He always did do a better job, and every time I clean my car, I always think how much better Dad was at it. Like so many of the things he did, he did it with purpose and passion, even though the effort would seemingly disappear with the first rainstorm.
He never played music as he worked; he simply got into his routine of chamois, sponges, toothbrushes and specialized goos and went about his work, and when all was done, he would come in the house, take a shower, then promptly take a nap followed by lunch. When I joined in with him, I was simply along as a kind of apprentice, and with his model, I now do what he does; I crawl all around the car, spraying water, getting dirty, rubbing, noticing details in a detached sort of way, because the bigger piece is the quiet time alone outdoors, smiling at my reflection in the paint and letting thoughts amble around, and having simple conversation with the neighbors.
Dad doesn’t wash cars any more. He’s had to adjust and take it in to a car wash. He’s getting old. Like so many of these things that we do, the baton has been passed, with my personality added…I don’t wash the car every weekend (truly), there still are wax clumps in the crevices, but dad is with me every time; smiling, thoughtful, purposeful; just being him, daughter and dad washing the cars and loving those reflections in the paint.