Homeland Security

L and I have just returned from Texas, where we had a three-day celebration of my mother's 80th birthday, and then we drove to San Antone to visit his friend J, who used to work with him. Yesterday we walked up and down along the river, which is brackish and greenish (and not just from St. Patrick's Day, I don't think), but nonetheless has ducks and fuzzy brown ducklings and a cormorant or two making homes in it. We chose a nuevo-ish Mexican restaurant it seemed to me; it calls itself a Texas bistro) for dinner and L and J sat down at an outside table but I stopped to see why about a dozen people, including several waiters, were staring at the water. Turned out that a duckling had a pink snake-like object in its mouth. Some people thought it might be bubble gum; others, candy; others, a real snake. I thought about throwing something at the duckling so that he'd release it (in case it was bubble gum) but I didn't. I just stood and watched helplessly as the duckling gobbled up more and more of the object. I don't think candy would hurt a duck, but I think that bubble gum would do damage. I doubt any studies on this have been performed.

In Texas it was spring, with balmy weather and bright green grass and geraniums, floods of pansies, tall bright snapdragons--and azaleas, on their way out. And the state flower, the bluebonnet, and other wildflowers, Lady Bird Johnson's legacy. We saw very few lizards at first, which disappointed me, but then L and I walked around before the brunch started and for some reason found a lot of lizards on the cement borders of flower beds in front of the restaurant. I recommend Masraff's if you are looking for lizards.

My mother hadn't wanted any fuss for her birthday but she relented and it turned out she loved the events, which my sister, for the most part, had arranged. A friend of hers said, I hope I look as good as you do...when I'm as old as you are. She said it to be funny, of course, because they're almost the same age. We would all do well to look as good as my mother does. See photo below.

It was the first time I'd been to back for almost two years, since I stayed in Chicago last Passover instead of flying to Texas, like I usually do; I'd started chemo and and didn't want to expose myself to airplane germs. On this trip everyone told me how wonderful I looked, which may say more about how they expected me to look than how I do look. L keeps telling me to keep my hair short, and he was sure to pass along any compliments he could gather about my hair-do.

Here is a picture of me at the brunch. I swear I didn't have this much gray before chemo.

In San Antonio, J had thought that we'd gone to Houston to celebrate my birthday, so she had a birthday card for me and made a chocolate eclair cake for me. She put a little green candle in it and turned down the lights and she and her husband and L sang happy birthday to me. It was very nice.

We were both happy to be home tonight and we walked around the neighborhood. It was cool and not too windy. Yesterday was opening day for the Cubs, and there were still signs in the window at nearby Murphy's Bleachers, letting people know they could come to the bar from 5-9 a.m., when Mike & Mike from ESPN radio would be broadcasting live. I kept thinking the "a.m." was a typo, but a man standing outside smoking told us that people had indeed come to the bar that early in the morning; they were disappointed because the bar couldn't serve beer until 7 a.m., he said. The ESPN web site tells me that people were lining up at 4 a.m. and ventured that they "may have had some Bud Lights in their system already."

In San Antonio in a few weeks Fiesta will begin--a huge, 10-day festival. The Cubs are our continuing fiesta, and even their constant losing doesn't dampen the party. We humans need to gather together for a cause that is that is larger than ourselves, and for many people that thing is the Cubs. A baseball team is benign enough. It could be worse.

In Houston Sunday night, after the cousins and aunts and uncle had left for the airport, and I was returning photos to my mother's albums (we'd put a bunch of pictures in frames and set them on the brunch tables), I felt melancholy. Partly because it was so quiet after three celebratory days with a crowd of family. Partly because in going through the albums I'd seen pictures of so many people who had died--my father, my maternal grandparents, my father's mother, cousin J, Uncle C and Aunt M, cousin B, Aunt S, Aunt B, so many of my parents' friends, and on and on--and I'd looked at photos of cousins and aunts and uncles when they were so young, so very young. I was so young. And partly because a number of people at the brunch were my mother's friends I'd known forever and some of them weren't in great shape. I felt Time as an antagonist, a strong, unstoppable force like wind or earthquake. And just as indifferent. And at the same time I wondered how long the photo albums would stay in the family, how future generations in general will deal with their inherited surplus of tangible memories. Who will be able to name all the people at my father's 60th birthday party? And who will care?

In San Antonio, J brought out a shoe box to show me. It was filled with letters her father had written when he was serving in the navy just after World War II ended. He was 19 and on a destroyer in North Africa. And then he came home, married her mother, and they had J. He died in a car crash when she was a baby. Because his life was so short, because she doesn't have memories, everything he left was precious.

We were in Texas at the peak of wildflower season. Because of Lady Bird, the highways are lined with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, evening primroses (which I call buttercups), a deep red species of phlox. This is what Lady Bird wrote, five years before she died: "My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth. I wanted future generations to be able to savor what I had all my life." In the comment section of her on-line obituary in USA Today, some people ridiculed her beautification crusade. Yes, it's true she didn't speak out against the war in Vietnam. But she also didn't do nothing.