Bored at Home? Try Traveling in Time

It started with a bedspread, back in December.

On Christmas Eve, we gift each other with books and chocolate and something warm and snuggly—a morphing of a childhood tradition of getting fuzzy, warm flannel jammies to wear to bed, to try to sleep in on a night when eyes won’t close.

Sometimes, now, we still get jammies, or, at least, plaid flannels with soft, knit long-sleeved shirts.

Sometimes, there may be a sumptuously cloudy blanket with satin binding.

Sometimes there are slippers so finely lined with lambs’ wool that the feet in them feel like they’re hugged and floating all at once.

This year, Mark and I got a bedspread to replace the worn green cloth one that we looked at in November and suddenly SAW. It was nubby in places, and, after several washings, much smaller than it was meant to be. The under blankets stuck out, and it tugged vainly up toward the head of the bed; it put me in mind of Abe Lincoln’s gnarled hands sticking out from his too-short sleeves.

Homespun and whimsical, I suppose, but geez.

Not very warm.

“How long have we HAD this?” Mark asked, smoothing it down one chilly morning as we put the finishing touches on changing the bed.

Film clicked and rattled in my head, and I saw that spread packed and shipped from house to house.

“I think we got it when we lived in Mayville,” I said.

That was about 25 years ago.

“Huh,” said Mark.

And that was when I thought: new comforter for Christmas.

******************************

So I got us a good one: white and fluffy and warm warm warm.

And that was great until a couple of weeks ago when the weather got warm to match. Then I went looking for a summer bedspread to take over duties from the cold weather comforter.

I found lots of ideas online, but the one I kept coming back to was a medium blue in what a quilter would call a wedding ring pattern. It wasn’t quilted, though: the pattern was picked out in little tufts of chenille.

I called Mark over and he looked.

“Chenille?” he said, and his mouth quirked a little. He looked at the picture, silent for a moment, and then finally, “Oh, hell,” he said. “Why not?”

**************************

The bedspread arrived about a week later; I gave it a quick run through the washer and dryer, and then I wrestled the puffy comforter, which seemed to have expanded, back into its heavy plastic zipper bag. I put fresh sheets on the bed and gently unfolded the bedspread on top.

And suddenly, the motions came back to me. It was like my fourteen-year old hands settled gently on top of my 64-year old ones. I pulled up the spread so it covered the foot of the bed but didn’t drag; I smoothed it all the way up to the pillow line.

I folded it over and stacked up the pillows, two sets, two high; chucked the bedspread underneath them; and then smoothed it over their tops.

Those were motions—that was a routine—I’d performed over and over again as a teen. The soft nubbins of chenille beneath the palms of my hands (craggy and calloused now, dewy and hopeful then) opened doors. Memory and emotion came flooding back in, hopes and joys and secrets, and scary, scary fears.

Standing there, touching that old fashioned bed covering, I felt the protective membrane grow thin. Time swirled around me; then touched now.

******************************

Mark felt it later, too. He started talking about chenille bedspreads he’d known as a boy.

“We were always getting in trouble,” he said, “because someone would lay there in bed and systematically pull out all the chenille.”

An image of trim little twin beds,—three, or perhaps four,—grew in my head. They were neatly made with matching, boy-colored, chenille spreads. One spread grew thinner and thinner as the Chenille Picker wrought his destruction.

Then: an angry voice; a wrestling of those bed-covers to the washing machine. A placing of the balding bedspread on a different bed entirely.

A creeping denuding as another bedspread lost its fluffy tufts.

Before long, matching ravaged bedspreads, prey for a plucker’s hand.

***********************************

Chenille, I think, cries out for that in some small heads; yells, “Pick me, pick me!”

And some bright-eyed young person of mischievous intent shrugs and thinks, “Don’t mind if I do.”

Now that Mark mentions it, there was a Chenille Picker lived at our house, too.

************************************

So that was the first instance of then and now colliding.

************************************

Then, I was out walking on Tuesday morning—a warm, sunny morning, and an hour or two after the Garbage Dudes had crashed and clanked their way through the neighborhoods. It was early, and most people were not yet up to rescue the big plastic garbage bins flayed and sprawled across the sidewalk.

I berthed them as wide as I could; many were pungent in the morning sun. And then I walked by one that was pungent in another way.

It smelled like…melted vanilla ice cream bar with melted chocolate coating. It smelled like Dunkirk Ice Cream.

And the smell, and the time of day: just before 7 a.m., just when I would have been getting off from work, back in the summers when I was 19, 20, and 21…well, they took me back there.

I thought of friends—of Liza and Patty and Debbi, of Mary Catherine and Becky and Kathy.

I thought of how we’d start out, at midnight, pristine in our cheap white polyester, perky and energetic.

I thought of how we’d droop home, our whites stained with a rainbow of popsicle juice or fudge melt, seven hours later.

We worked so hard those summers; the demand for ice cream raged, and sometimes we’d go three weeks with no day off. But it wouldn’t stop us from partying, or from stopping, on payday, at the only place in town, a little bar in an old couple’s living room, where they’d sling us a beer and a burger and cash our miserable paychecks.

We toughened up, we innocent college girls. We learned to talk like the Lifers, the people who busted their butts all year round, except for a month in January or February, when production was down and all but a choice few got laid off. The missed month of work kept them from acquiring seniority; when they returned in March, they started out like a newbie, like a college kid, bottom of the barrel, working their ways up.

But there was something seductive about that place, about the clang and the danger of the shiny silver Vitalines churning out their products, about sneaking popsicles to the ten-year-olds who gathered at the screened back door, behind the biggest machine, on hot summer nights. They had snuck away from camp-outs in the back yard, maybe; they could get in deep trouble if they were caught, and so could we. No giving away the product! we were told.

But…

…a clandestine popsicle on a summer night when it’s too hot to sleep, slipped to you by grown-ups at the ice cream factory, and eaten sitting, oh so casual, on the banana seat of a sting-ray bicycle… Who could resist the appeal of making that happen?

***************************************

I walked by that garbage can on a hot, sweet morning, and that hot, sweet, cloying but not exactly icky smell brought it all tumbling back.

****************************************

Maybe once the membrane has thinned and stretched to opening, it’s hard to close it back up.

“Let’s watch Superman,” suggests Jim, and he slides in the Christopher Reeves version, circa 1978. Mark and I were both fresh out of college, both growing and learning in marriages to other people.

Mark was a daddy already when Reeves first flew across the screen.

And in a different kind of time, there was a different kind of superhero, not flawed and quirkily human, but really, and nobly, super.

There is a scene in the movie where Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the fifties and sixties TV series, sits on a train with her young daughter. The girl is the only one who sees young Clark Kent running faster than the train. The child crows about the fast runner; her father tells her to stop lying, and Neill tells her to be quiet and read her book.

“I MET her,” Mark says to Jim, and tells him about a time when Ms. Neill came to speak at our college.

“NO WAY,” says Jim, impressed.

We watch the movie through 1978 lenses, tinted by all the knowledge of today.

***************************************

And James, for some reason, plays “Winchester Cathedral,” as we’re driving in the car one night. “Oh-bodey-oh-doe,” I think automatically, and I remember.

And a vintage ad pops up online for Turkish taffy, the flavored taffy you could freeze and slap; it would crack into shareable shards. It was a longed-for treat, and not one my mother deemed worthy of purchase. I remember.

I live on the surface, marching around, all eyes and upper awareness. Now, I think, NOW is the important thing, the only thing, the building time.

And the past, of course, is past. But then the membrane stretches, and I realize the past is still right here: really, it’s all here, crowded, clunking, banging around inside of me.

All it needs is a touch, a scent, a lyric; a picture; a breeze blowing just the right way…

Then crashes into now, doors open up, and there it is, and there I am.

I step through those doors and travel a ways down that deserted road.

***************************************

And I come back refreshed, back to a world I never could have imagined, but one that somehow, by all that’s happened and all I’ve known and all the silly, mean, half-assed, risky, difficult, kind, and glorious things I’ve done, I’ve been given the tools and the peeps and the wherewithal, to navigate at will.

Time Travel Tuesday

Tow path

“I remember,” I think as I leave Columbus behind me, heading north on US 23.

I am passing places I haven’t thought about in years, not since we lived in Ada and Mark was in law school. There’s the exit for Route 30; I drove that road in all kinds of weather to get to my first college job in Ohio. I discovered the treachery of black ice on that pavement when I found myself, on a crisp winter’s day, doing high speed doughnuts in the middle of the road.

Fortunately there was no traffic; fortunately the car righted itself before leaving the blacktop. I was able to correct, to maneuver, to get the wheels pointed in the right direction, and to head home. I drove much more slowly. I did not trust that any inch of pavement, that day, was not glazed with invisible ice.

Now, almost twenty years later, on a hot summer day, my stomach clenches with the same muscular fear. Things forgotten are not necessarily things disappeared.

I remember our first trip from Ada to Mount Vernon, the town we lived in and loved for ten years. We took Route 229—I pass the turn, and I remember how strange Mount Vernon seemed: a mystery that would unravel for us slowly, revealing good and bad decisions, creating the possibilities of lifelong friendships, sculpting memories and revelations. Mount Vernon was joy and sorrow, relationship and change. Mount Vernon was knowledge gained in wonderful and challenging ways.

As my tires hum past the turns that would take me there, the emotions that Mount Vernon engendered course rapidly. I am left breathless. I pop a cough drop and take a deep inhale.

I pass the Marion exit, and I can hear the voice of one of my favorite students; I think about the night my class was displaced and had to take the final in an unfamiliar room in a completely different building. I remember how, thanks mostly to a student who had the ability to see the positive in any situation, the class took the challenge with good humor and affection. I remember how they all stayed after the exam was done, unwilling to leave the community the class had created. How they left, finally, after giving hugs, sharing email addresses, and thanking each other for the experience.

And then the landscape changes to one of places visited, not inhabited, and then, finally, to new vistas.

*************

I arrive in Grand Rapids—the Ohio one, not the Michigan one—an hour earlier than expected, but Ron, the host at the B and B, cheerfully opens the door. He gives me keys and shows me my room, tells me about local restaurants, recommends a walk on the towpath. We set a time for breakfast, and he goes back upstairs, to the apartment he shares with his wife, Kathy.

And I explore.

The building is an old flour mill, converted, Ron says, to apartments in 1953 or so. The indestructible floors—tiny slats of wood tightly spliced—were once bowling alleys. They are smooth and soft and gentle to bare feet.

Room

Two of my bedroom walls, the outer walls, are warm brick. The ceiling and the other walls are softly polished wood. The iron bedstead is covered with a quilt, and there’s a hand-stitched sampler on the wall. It’s dated 1883.

Everything is gleaming clean, and the bathroom boasts all the conveniences of 2018.

***************

I set out tomorrow’s clothes and walk next door to the pizzeria. I take my dinner to the back patio and sit in the cool breeze, munching and eating.

**************

Canal

After dinner I take Ron’s advice and walk the towpath. It’s right behind the mill, between the canal and the Maumee River. And it’s easy to see why a canal was needed; the Maumee is shallow and pocked with little islands. The water runs quickly and erratically.

I pass a trio crouched on the grassy berm, taking cell phone photos. Look! they say, and I step off the path to see what we think is a goose egg, nestled next to a feather. Doesn’t it look like someone placed it here? asks one of the photographers. Is this an example of bad goose parenting—we look at the geese waddling rapidly down to the canal—or of human artistry?

Is that egg from Kroger?

Nestled next to the egg is a long, glossy goose feather, mostly black with touches of grey at the tips. We ponder; I walk on.

Everyone I pass smiles and greets me. The picnic pavilions have potted flowers on the sturdy metal filigree tables.

I walk until the pathway ends at a pretty little town park. A family of five, all of them in cut off jeans, white tees, and flipflops, are splashing in the river, just below a fast moving waterfall.

Dam

It would have been tough for boats to navigate this stretch of river, but the canals, when they came, opened up possibilities.

I pass a tiny dark-haired woman holding the hand of a dancing, dark-eyed child. She is speaking rapidly into a flip phone, talking in a language I don’t understand, but she catches my eye and smiles warmly.

I walk by the egg still nestled in the grass and circle back to take a shot of my own. The goose feather is gone.

Egg

The sky darkens with clouds and I hurry back to my cozy room, thinking about Ohio canals.

I pull up the Ohio History Central webpage (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ohio_and_Erie_Canal) and refresh my memory; it’s been a long time—fifteen years or so—since I worked as a historical interpreter at the little canal town of Roscoe Village. Ohio History Central reminds me that the Ohio canals started functioning in 1830, and that all parts were up and transporting by 1842.

Travel was slow—my three-hour drive, earlier that day, would have been an eighty-hour trip for a canal boat traveler. But it was cheap at $1.70 a passenger. And the canal boats thrust open the frontier; they brought goods that made frontier life possible. They pushed westward expansion.

The canals weren’t perfect; their usefulness wavered with floods and drought, and winters brought ice that caused damage. Canal maintenance was guaranteed employment.

And then the railroads came, faster and farther and carrying greater loads. The canals lasted until the late 1800’s, and then most of them subsided into pretty memories—although, the website tells, there’s a little stretch right near my new home town that still remains in use.

I put my laptop on the dresser and stretch out on the bed with my book, and I think about the unhurried ride people took on canal boats, the hoggee—the young boy, who received, maybe, $20 a month for his efforts,– and his donkeys walking the towpath, pulling the flat-bottomed boat along. Watching for obstructions or challenges.

A different life, a more strenuous, muscular life, but, in some ways, a life that included more fluid time to enjoy what’s passing by.

I fall asleep suspended in time, feeling the history of 150 years ago, feeling my family history, the story of the journey that brought us to where we are now. On Wednesday, I will drive to Bowling Green, to a little coffee shop/used book store, and meet my friend Terri. Forty-five years ago, in a different state entirely, Terri and I punched out a weekly column (“Dunkirk High Highlights”) on one of our portable Olympia typewriters. We corrected the mistakes with White-out and ballpoint pen, folded the parchmenty pages into a business sized envelope, and one of us walked it down to the Evening Observer, to run in the Saturday edition.

That June we graduated and went in separate directions, and then life’s current (and the wonders of Facebook) brought us back together decades later. Now we collaborate on writing projects again, but they are grant apps and blogposts for the domestic violence organization Terri directs.

Our visit will be a kind of time travel, too.

Maybe, I think drowsily, maybe I’ll take the back roads tomorrow, drive home through Marion to Mount Gilead to Mount Vernon, run the tires of THIS car on the roads my old Vibe knew by heart. It would be good to drive that country, to re-open those memories.

The bed is cozy, the ceiling-fan whirs, and I fall into a wonderful deep sleep.

************************

By dinnertime the next day, I am back at home. Lunch was wonderful. The trip was a re-opening, my senses aware, again, of the forces and decisions that brought history to this turning point…global and national decisions, personal and family decisions.

Sometimes it feels like, as I walk forward, the past slips off my back like a poorly tied cape—something I leave behind, cast-off and forlorn and un-needed. And then a day like yesterday comes, and I am immersed in memory and history, and I remember. The present is just a point on the continuum.

The times and the memories do not disappear; they ebb and flow through us. They create us and they bruise us and they uphold us. I cannot hold them, always, in the forefront, but I need to keep them accessible.

I need my time travel Tuesdays, occasionally, to remind me of my past.