I'm having a hard time making out this chronology. I _think_
When Penny and I got married, we did something unthinkably offensive to both families: we insisted that our first Christmas would be spent in our own apartment.
Penny's family (Mother Jaq and Grandmother Ruby) punished our despicable treason by going to Hawaii the next Christmas, and telling us that since we didn't value family we would have to find our own entertainment for Christmas. Of course, Penny's uncle had died, that year, of a difficult influenza that just took him right down (it was 1982, and yes, he lived in a fabulously furnished closet.)
But the whole point, hinted and whispered around by OTHER family co-aggressors, was that Grandma Ruby was SOOOOO hurt by our failure to appear at EVERY holiday, that we had BETRAYYYYED them. Yeah.
My answer was, "Sorry, haven't finished paying my college loans, so not going into debt to join you in Hawaii, please have a wonderful time. We'll spend the holiday with MY family, and perhaps we can get together next year." This ignored the 'beneficent largesse' that Grandma Ruby would have bestowed on us if ONLY we had begged her to take us along. We knew it was there, and we knew just what it would have cost us in terms of human dignity.
Riposte, thrust. It worked, too, by the next year.
Anyway, we came through Spokane, three days before Christmas of 1982, and stayed in a hotel on the way instead of driving all the way to Montana. I foolishly didn't recognize Penny's wedding-night nightgown (I only saw it for 10 minutes, darnit, and with my glasses off!) and we had both gained 10-20 pounds... it didn't fit her well at all. I couldn't POSSIBLY have done anything stupider than to recognize that fact. I know this because I did recognize that fact, and ... well, sometimes my guy-pragmatics was not in synch with her gal-romantics AT ALL. That was one of the harder lessons to learn, for both of us.
The next day, the entire parking lot was blanketed in snow. Heavy, thick, sloppy snow. We were driving a rather beat-up VW Beetle. No chains. She freaked. Wanted to turn around, except that there was snow all the way back to Tri-Cities, and definitely all the way to Yakima and Seattle.
So we pressed on. In 1982, the freeway had not been routed around Wallace, Idaho.
We ended up hitting relatively dry freeway at Fourth of July Pass, and dry, packed snow all through Kellogg. Then, being winter, it Got Dark Suddenly. We had gone slowly through a lot of the stuff, but didn't put chains on because, well, dry road. Here we were, wandering through the snow-packed streets of Wallace, then up Lookout Pass. We were going forward because we couldn't go back, really.
The road was packed snow and packed snow. No trucks. No other vehicles. We came up behind a sanding truck, and Penny relaxed for the first time, as there it was, our traction. And then at the top of the hill (which is also the border between Idaho and Montana) ... it TURNED OFF and we were left to go down the Montana side.
Fortunately, there were seven-foot-deep drifts on either side of the road, so we wouldn't be likely to go OFF it. We went down carefully, as the cold and wet were making even the thermal furnace of the VW engine ineffective at keeping the window clear. We were passed by a scattering of cars, all going WAY too fast for the road conditions (based on their slightly skidding out in the curves.)
And when we got to St Regis, there was a gas station open, and we filled up and got coffee and used the rest rooms and Penny felt OK about continuing, because the roads on this side were dry. We got to Mom's place in Polson around 6PM.
This was also the year that Penny discovered that to my Mom, FAMILY UBER ALLEZ and GRANDCHILDREN SQUEE. This was, by the way, a point of bitterness for her forever after that; Gail, whom Mom considered to be slightly smarter than dirt, had married Casey two weeks before Penny and I got married in 1981. Theirs was a Necessary Marriage; Gail's fertility with Casey was astonishing, as, every EVERY time they got together after one of their MANY prolonged fights, Gail got pregnant.
(The last time, Penny and I were in the other room, and they disappeared into Casey's room for what had to be no more than three minutes, came out all snuggly and cooing, and nine months later, their last kid together was born.) Gail has been infertile with every other one of her myriad swains.
Anyway. Back to 1982. Casey and Gail were living in the base housing (Casey was in the Air Force) in Great Falls, near Malmstrom Air Force Base. This was still during the Cold War, the Reagan Phase, and there were still ICBMs in the silos in the area. They still had multiple nuclear warheads. Casey was a Silo Guard, and spent four or five days in a row, living in a silo, though I don't think he was one of the Guys With Keys. This would be Tyler's second Christmas; I'm not sure whether Johnny had been born yet, or if he was still pending.
Mom wanted to take Christmas Presents over to Great Falls. From Polson.
This involved her, me, and Penny, who bowed to her persuasion and to my "I'd like to go if you don't mind coming," ... Mom was going to go, anyway, whether we did or not, and that would mean No Christmas At Home, which would make the whole thing kind of stupid.
So Mom got us into her more Montana-worthy car, along with presents in the trunk, and we headed out, and as with all trips in Montana in winter where you depart later than dawn, arriving After Dark. The snow storm which we had experienced had hit Great Falls, and had melted slightly, so the entire town was coated in ICE. Studded tires, however, and careful driving, and we arrived and were given sleeping quarters in the upstairs room. On the floor. With two blankets apiece.
Even huddled together with four blankets, we were freezing, and Penny took advantage of the opportunity to say mean things about Santa getting lost, and reminding me that we could have been in Hawaii, had we chosen to suck up.
That was one of the more special trips.
We did have others. The Thanksgiving trip where I got the 24hr flu and spent the day after Thanksgiving vomiting into a bucket, then Penny caught it on the way home and we couldn't afford to stop at a hotel in Ritzville, so we stopped on the way along the road so she could vomit onto the roadside, then went home via the Yakima route, coming out at Maryhill, which was exquisitely beautiful. She was, oddly, feeling much better by then. We blamed it on food poisoning after a while.
There was the summer trip where we went on a day trip to Glacier Park, bemoaning that the glaciers were disappearing, then we went on a camping trip: Grandma, Mom, George, Mitch, Me, Penny, at Gem Mountain, panning for emeralds and rubies and garnets.
We had another trip, where we prepared by having the tires balanced, and in a moment of genius, the guy who filled them KNOCKED OFF one of the balance weights. We arrived in Montana without event, but when we started to leave, using a short-cut through Paradise Valley, the damaged tire blew out. Paradise Valley may have phone and power lines through it now, but it didn't then. Oh, and the spare was worthless too. We got rescued, eventually, with help from a nice lady who drove us to St. Regis.
And the last trip with the Comet (her uncle's bequest, which Grandma Ruby held onto until it had been ruined by Patty and Patrick, who drove it into the ground, without giving it anything like proper care for Redding summers)... when I hit black ice in Post Falls, about 10 miles from where I am writing this, and hit the retaining wall at something like 70 miles per hour. We spun around. Twice. We ended up being delivered to a different hotel than the Red Lion which we were trying to reach so we could have a romantic dinner together... REALLY a rotten culmination, though we did end up with a rental car (a Beretta) which was kind of nice to drive.
By the way, these other trips aren't in any kind of order. And that's the end of the recollection.
While I was driving here, I had some odd thoughts about the word 'marriage' and its use in Alchemy.
Marriage is the term given to the creation of a new substance by the mixing of two purified substances, whereby something entirely new comes out as a result.
Alchemy was both a physical and a spiritual art; in the meta-view, God performs an alchemic transformation when two people are married. They become one flesh, and their spirits mingle at that interface, changing in the way that metals alloy. They engage the alchemic processes on one another, burning away, grinding, purifying, melting, precipitating something new.
If they have children, the children are in some respects like the many useful results of alchemic processes, though they are not in and of themselves the pure product. A child is not the philosopher's stone, nor the elixir of youth, nor the immortality pill, but they can be a sort of immortality and continuation for the bodies.
So, what does it mean when God takes someone away?
When someone dies to this earth and is, in that place outside Time and Space, reconstituted to a new, perfect body, does that death then separate them wholly from the union? (Yes, I know that for some docrines, that interpretation of the afterlife is heretical, but I don't see the conflict myself; what 'happens' outside time can be referenced from any point within time, and making a new Creation of necessity means that it doesn't partake of the same sequentiality as the old.)
The one left behind, what's happening there? Clearly they remain at least partly changed - they cannot return to what they were; people cannot un-grow and un-change, except by destroying what they've become, and at the cost of years.
Is the hollowing out then some kind of a new alchemy?
At the end of that chain of zen musing, I realized that, once again, this pain will happen for me whether I carry it or not, and when the 'christian' radio sang about 'laying burdens down' I thought of Corrie Ten Boom's recognition that she, in being persecuted and attacked for her religion, in being incarcerated, she was being given the gift of sharing in the suffering of Christ, that she could become closer to Him in this thing, and I realized again that this is an echo of how God is hurt by our turning from Him to sin, in the first place.
And then, I filled the car with gasoline in Ritzville, and because the station had gone out of range, turned on the only station I could get to come in clearly: Country Music.
And was blindsided again by music. Nothing quite like a country music howl to make the heart howl in response, and nothing like a love song that echoes with a love that can never again be expressed in this world to rip away the quiet and calm.