I awoke this morning in Vancouver, Washington, in a big, soft bed with a line from a song in my head: “We take so much for granted when so much comes free.”
It’s a great song, “Falling in Love in America,” written by someone I’m proud to call a friend. But then, Antsy McClain calls all his fans “friends.” He’s the lead singer guy of the Trailer Park Troubadours, and he and the Troubs played their first gig in Portland last night at a charming old refurbished theater called the Alberta Rose. They rocked the joint, even if they didn’t pack it (“the Trailer Park what?” said the polyester-clad Antsy onstage, resplendent in a blue plaid sport coat and two-tone shoes). And yes, Portlanders didn’t know the Troubs before 8 p.m. July 22, but some of them did by 11 p.m., lemme tell ya. And they were laughing on their way out the door.
Antsy does this–puts smiles in our hearts every time he takes the stage with songs both goofy and touching–from the opening “One Less Trailer Here in Pine View Heights” to, yes, “Falling in Love in America,” which he calls his “love song to America.” That it is. And you can’t not love a guy who sings about and lives by the Aluminum Rule: Thou shalt enjoy the ride. Amen!
(Every so often, Antsy’ll shout out during the show, “Gimme a big amen!” And the crowd–even the newbies–always responds, “AMEN!”)
And I didn’t know how much I needed that “amen” and those goofy and touching songs until last night. It’s been a year of change and loss, and the grief of so much of that has just hit me… now that I’m finally on vacation, now that I’ve allowed someone I love to drag me out of town for the seventeen days. (Thanks, Dickie!) We’re driving north to two places we love–Lake Crescent, Wash., and Victoria, B.C.–where I wrote and researched much of a novel that is now done and is looking for a home publisher. We will visit friends along the way, like Antsy and his lovely wife Polly Esther and their Troubs buddies last night. And I’m amused to note that this surprises me: I didn’t know how much I needed this break from my regular life.
When I sit and think about all that’s happened in the last six months, I’m a little surprised. Not that I didn’t feel it as it was happening–I did. But the cumulative effect of so much change stuns me.
I was lying in bed this morning as a screamingly lovely sunny day blossoms outside, and I made a list:
• I broke my left foot in February in the little trailer where I teach, moving too quickly (me?) from one room to another. Klutzy me fell off my clogs–stupid clogs–and I spent 12 weeks in a knee-high boot, part of it on a kneelie-wheelie scootin’ around, trying to be patient with healing.
• A dear friend from my second newspaper job, Brian Hamlin, died six months after a diagnosis of stomach cancer. He was the light and heart of The Reporter newsroom in Vacaville, known for leaving funny notes and, for some reason, rubber rats on people’s desks. He mentored more young journalists than anyone I know.
• My BFF picked up and decamped from Sacramento, moving herself and husband and two daughters to Bainbridge Island. After two years of illness that has had her in bed much of the time, this is a great move for the newer, healthier Georgann.
• I spent time sitting in a chemo suite and going to some of her radiation treatments with another dear friend, a woman who has been a second mother to me, diagnosed early this year with lung cancer. Ruth Rita did not lose her hair until the very end of the ordeal, which, I think, is a testament to her tenacity.
• I finished up a 17-year stretch of advising a literary journal I created at the college where I teach. Next year, a new advisor will help a new group of students create Susurrus, which means “a light whispering or rustling sounds; a murmur.”
• Another friend, Judy Parke, who has battled breast cancer for the past five years, died in early July. It had spread to her liver and bones and brain, and she fought that disease with a ferocity I have not often seen. We sat together during some of her infusions in a hospital chemo suite, me writing in a journal as she talked story to me, both of us drinking her favorite peppermint tea. She used every means she could find in traditional and alternative medicine to keep herself alive, and she did it for five years. Judy will always be, to me, the poster girl for metastasized breast cancer.
In all those difficulties there were blessings, of course: I did not have to have surgery or so much as a cast on my broken foot. It has healed nicely, thank you, and it reminded me how lucky I am to be, as I often tell doctors, chronically healthy. I was fortunate to visit Brian a few times before he made it home to be with his family in his last days. I had one of the best Susurrus classes EVER and fabulous assistance from a volunteer writing coach (thanks, Katie!), a terrific designer (bravo, Laura!) and a fine manuscript wrangler (mahalo, April!). I have spent more time with my BFF in and out of Sacramento since she moved (we’ll see her tomorrow on her new island, in fact). Ruth Rita has finished her treatments and is home resting and recovering.
And I was fortunate to be with my friend Judy in the last two weeks of her life, holding her hand, stroking her forehead and temples, singing to her. One of those songs was “Scrapbook,” an Antsy McClain tune, as a matter of fact, with the memorable line: “I won’t cry because it’s over; I’ll smile because it was.”
That’s where I am today… smiling because it was. Every so often a student will write in a journal or a paper something about “taking things for granite.” It always makes me smile–me, the girl who grew up in a place called Granite Bay. It’s become a metaphor to me for the rock that underpinned my early years, the spine-stiffener that holds me up, even when I forget it’s there.
It is my mantra for this trip–and beyond, I hope. It’s the kind of thing that Antsy McClain might put in a song.
Indeed he did: “We take so much for granted when so much comes free.”
Thanks for the reminder, the music, the lifting of my spirit last night, Antsy. I’m not takin’ stuff for granite. I am beyond grateful for my lucky, lovely life; for people who love me and take good care of me; for the good friends and great experiences that have added up to the me who is typing this now in the big, soft bed.
Gimme a big amen!
(Thanks to R.D. Schmidt for the new photos! He rocks!)