Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Long Ride Home

Patty Griffin is one of the best writers I know. The fact that she writes songs seems even harder to me. Somehow the words have to go with music and timing, phrasing and the rest of it. She sings many sad songs, but I can't help myself.

I don't think I get depressed by listening to her music. I just think wow. Amazing turn of phrase. Unbelievable irony. And I love her voice.

Her song Long Ride Home is about a husband attending his wife's funeral after a marriage that lasted 40 years. This is one of my favorite parts of this song:

Forty years go by with someone laying in your bed

Forty years of things you say you wish you'd never said

How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead

I wonder as I stare up at the sky turning red

In June I went to a baby shower for one of my closest friends. Note I didn't say oldest. I've known her since circa 1978. She's having a baby. Actually she just had a baby named Maeve.

The baby shower hostess lives in a grand apartment on Park Avenue. In fact her home was featured in the New York Times because her architect/interior designer decided to set up a series of puzzles in the house à la Rube Goldberg. Okay this is where the weird confluence of events begins.

Weird coincidence #1 was my husband and I attended a lecture given by David Isay from NPR's Story Corps on Valentine's Day, He was promoting a compilation of their best love stories from Story Corps called All You Need is Love. One story was about a couple who met in New York on a rainy night when a man sitting in a cab spotted a woman walking down the street crying. He was so moved, he got out of the cab and came to comfort her. Apparently she initially thought he was crazy. But like all great love stories, what might seem crazy suddenly becomes a good idea.

I realized the baby shower hostess was the woman walking in the rain when I googled her. My friend having the baby had explained to me one night at her swanky NYC 40th birthday party that you have to google everybody. So I do. Weird coincidence #2. After googling the hostess, I found the story about her eccentric home in the City that had Rube Goldberg-type puzzles.

When I was a young woman, I worked at the Washington Post for a wonderful man named Herb Block the editorial cartoonist for the Post for 70 years. After Mr. Block's death, he established a foundation in his will - the Herb Block Foundation. You should look up the Foundation They do great things including awarding much needed scholarships.

Anyway, from time to time I get a parcel in the mail from Mr. Block's longtime associate and friend (also my friend), Jean Rickard. One time she sent me a Rube Goldberg book from Mr's B's library. Mr. Block knew Mr. Goldberg because Goldberg was also a cartoonist. I still have the book and thought of it when I went to this baby shower at the so-called "Rube Goldberg" like house. Weird coincidence #3.

I was a little late for the shower because I was working and then I needed to make it into the City on the train. Plus I think it always takes me a little extra time to make it into the City because I have to figure out what to wear that doesn't make me feel like a gal from the Coldwater Creek collection running around Manhattan. You know sort of slouchy, with elastic waistbands and weird sandals.

I made it finally and was on my best behavior in front of the cool NY girls. Instead of having one too many Skinny Girl margaritas, I hung out with my girlfriend's mother Mary Agnes. I've always felt a special bond with Mary Ag as we call her. I think because my granny Helen was also an Agnes. Helen Agnes McDowell. Weird coincidence #4.

There actually aren't that many people named Agnes anymore. There was Agnes Moorehead from Bewitched. Not the Bewitched with Will Ferrell for you youngsters. The one before that with Elizabeth Montgomery and Darren who changed characters once or twice. Mary Agnes is Swedish where as my grandma was Scottish. But they share the middle name.

At the end of the shower I'd arranged for a car to pick me up and take me to Connecticut. The train into the City is fine, but the trains out start to get few and far between around 9pm. Mary Ag hitched a ride with me because we were going in the same direction.

On the way home we were talking about stories from back in the day. This was the 70's mind you so our stories are pretty fricking great. Mary Ag brought up the time she got so mad at us for being "lazy bones" - that's actually what she called us - that she started throwing our clothes out the window of my friend's bedroom. I'm thinking that one of our guy friends had also spent the night and was in bed with us too that morning.

So Mary Ag is chucking our clothes out the window because we'd overslept instead of cleaning my friend's room like we said we would. No, she was not chucking our clothes out the window because a guy slept over. Remember? It was the 70's.

Mary Ag said, "I don't know why I did that." And I said, "I think you were just sick of us not cleaning up. I totally get it." In a way, I think it was an apology. Something rare from Mary Ag because she has very strong opinions and in many cases she was dead on right.

I do totally get it, now. I really didn't think it was that strange then. Just very matter-of-fact. Get your butts out of bed or your clothes are going out the window. Makes complete sense.

We talked some more about husbands and wives and grandchildren. Her granddaugher was coming to visit from Chicago for Father's Day. I asked what they were going to do and Mary Ag said that she was worried that her granddaughter might be bored. The girl is 15 and Mary Ag and her husband are in the 80's.

She told me the granddaughter had visited them another time when they were staying out in Palm Desert, California. So I asked her, "Well what did you do when she was out in California?"

Mary Ag explained to me that she'd taught her granddaughter Katherine, then 14, to drive. She said, "You know she did so well we just decided to let her drive us around town." And I was thinking about my childhood and learning to drive a tractor in Texas from my Grandpa Fred. Almost couldn't reach the pedals. Then learning to drive a truck in New Mexico that time when I almost hit a cow. Maybe I get it now what my mom is always saying to me. As the mom, you're hyper-crazy about safety and rules, etc. As the grandparent, you've seen more of life and you know that although you can't legally drive at 14, some kids just have a knack for it.

Mary Ag and I came to peace that night on the long ride home from New York. This week Maeve was born and Armin left this world. And that is the tragic, beautiful reality of life. We are only here for a short while as Cat Stevens would say. Enjoy the ride.


  1. What a lyrical, thoughtful post Beck. Just this month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a total hysterectomy and a mastectomy, my treatment options are still up in the air. It's good to be reminded how dear life is. And how fragile. And how we are all walking through it together. As Warren Zevon said before he died: Enjoy every sandwich.

  2. Beautiful essay. The beginning of wisdom :)))

  3. Pauline the fact that you're quoting Warren Zevon makes me love you all the more. Take care sweetheart.

  4. Thanks mom. I'm working on the wisdom. xos