Midwest Illumination

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The day I left Iowa for Michigan did not begin auspiciously.   At five a.m., I was sitting in the hallway of the guesthouse at Scattergood School, swaddled in pajamas with a layer of sweats to protect me from the bitter cold, locked out of my room waiting until seven, when I could in good conscience find someone to unlock the door. At seven exactly, I found Thomas, the Dean of Students, who was just across the way in the kitchen of the main schoolhouse preparing breakfast potatoes. He came over quickly with keys, dressed grubbily for this wintery early morning occasion. I admired his purposeful life, which included not only directing a school but participating in all of its activities, from cooking to development. That’s the way at this rural Quaker boarding school, where community is a practice for both teachers and students and not merely a sound bite. I was anxious to get going, originally having planned for a 6 a.m. departure, but it looked like it would be closer to 8 before I got on the road.

On the way to Iowa to see my daughter Mia whose mourning for her other mother had prompted the visit, I had played sappy and upbeat jazz standards on my Ipad, songs that pierced me with both pain and sweetness, like Ella Fitzgerald singing the uplifting “Blue Sky,” and the seriously sad and beautiful “Unforgettable” by Natalie and Nat King Cole.  On the East and West coasts, the hills, valleys, and ocean provoke sighs of wonder at the spectacles. In the mid-west the flat lands allow you to project your own emotions onto the placid landscape.   In between jazz takes, I tried to pay attention to my surroundings, noticing that the blue sky I had been listening about was often overtaken by grey. I saw what I thought to be a white owl perched on a stick of a tree outlined against the wintery fields with straggly corn husks peeking up through the snow.  The trip seemed to go smoothly, punctuated only by a few pit stops where I could grab a bite, load up on gas, and move my stiff limbs. And I arrived safely at Scattergood’s rural campus with its organic farm and hearty-looking staff and young people, tucked away in the village of West Branch, tired, but not debilitated.

Whereas during the first leg of my trip, I had eagerly anticipated seeing my dear daughter, the trip home was more fraught by my anguish of leaving her once again, to return to a home still half empty. Still, I was anxious to see Regina, and I looked forward to getting back to the comforts of home, like good strong coffee, a well-heated house, and those well-worn objects and furnishings that helped me to be at ease with myself.

Despite my early morning debacle, leaving the guesthouse for the car, I caught a glimpse of a peachy patch of sun hovering against the luminous whiteness of the sky and the snow-covered hills and meadows, which seemed to augur well for the drive home.  As I made my way to a quiet stretch of highway, I called my mother. For some reason, the blank landscape had brought my lamentations to a crescendo. I loudly lamented my loss, personal inadequacies, and feelings of abandonment. She listened, only interrupting once in a while, which is a gift to a person who is mourning. Did I have the resources to walk through my life alone and help to steer my children as they muddled through their own grief?   The highway stretched ahead of me, the sun glinting off the snow and very little traffic save for a few truckers on this flat highway.  Every once in a while my mother would suggest that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea for me to be driving in such a distraught condition.  Nevertheless, she did not stop me until I had emptied myself of the worst of my distress, and I was ready to release her to more cheerful pursuits than listening to her grief-stricken daughter.

As I put down the phone, I realized that it was time to get my morning coffee. I loved Scattergood, but their lack of coffee was a serious drawback.   On my smart phone, I found what seemed to be a cool coffee shop just off the highway. I love finding my way to hipster coffee shops, featuring the latest in coffee cuisine.   At thirty-thirty Coffee Co. in Peoria, Illinois, I was greeted by a friendly bearded guy with gaudy tattoos and a deep respect for the art of coffee making.  I brought my laptop computer in to catch up on some work emails, while drinking some strong Guatemalan brew.   When I got back to the car, I checked my Ipad for navigational advice and realized that while wallowing in my grief I had veered off in the wrong direction, losing up to two hours worth of driving, meaning that my trip would turn from seven hours to nine.

I eventually made my way home just in time to take Regina out to dinner, which I had promised to do. While I unpacked and tried to settle in for the evening, I noticed that my computer was missing. This was a serious computer that had been purchased for me by my workplace.   My previous computer had been ruined by a wine spill, as we prepared for Nancy’s memorial service, so this was bad indeed.   Typically, such an event would send me into a full-scale panic, but I tried to convince myself that far worse things had happened in my life and in the world, that if I had to cough up some extra dough to get a new computer, so be it.   I had most likely left the computer at thirty-thirty Coffee. I looked them up on my desktop computer, but since it was evening now, they were closed.   Later I checked my email to find the following message: “Ms. Grant, We at thirty-thirty Coffee Co. have potentially found a lost item of yours. If you have been to our place recently and are missing an item, please contact me at this email address, or one of the numbers listed below. Hope you are well.”  After the long day, I knew that I would rest easily that night, grateful for kind people who wish the forgetful strangers who visit their shop well.

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