Friday, July 29, 2005

The House on the Mountain, Part III: View from the Next Hill, 2005

Or, The Forrresters’ Annual Picnic and Other Miracles

Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

Two weeks ago, we were back in Molson again, this time on a family-obligation mission: to give almost-five-year-old Mermaid Girl a chance to visit with Nana Skatermom and Grandpa Skaterdad. (Renaissance Woman sometimes speculates that Skatermom, despite her affably chit-chatty front, is really psychic. She was definitely on the money, though about twenty years prescient, when she worried about Skaterboy knocking RW up.) They’ve met her before, on visits to Skaterboy in Vancouver and to us in Seattle, but this was her first ever visit to their house in Molson, Where Mama and Uncle Skaterboy Lived When They Were Teenagers.

We camped in our van at a real campsite this time, about twenty miles out of town (the same campground, incidentally, where Renaissance Family stayed when they first arrived some 20 years ago), but drove in to town every day to visit. Skaterfolks—Nana, Grandpa, Aunt Cady, and 12-year-old Cousin Carrie--overwhelmed Mermaid Girl with attention and presents. They took her to the park and pushed her on the swings. They photographed her coasting along the waterfront on her pink scooter, an early birthday present. Carrie insisted (to our gape-mouthed silence and MG’s voluble delight) on bequeathing MG her old Brratz dolls, complete with several changes of skimpy outfits.

So it was that RW’s 43rd birthday found us guests of Skaterparents at the Forrrester’s Picnic and Salmon Bake (Forresters is sort of like the Elks Club), calling out to Mermaid Girl to be safe in the lake, balancing paper plates on our laps, gobbling yummy salmon and macaroni salad and Nanaimo Bars and ambrosia with pink marshmallows in it while chatting with the assembled Forrresters about people RW had known in high school. Skatermom nonchalantly and cheerfully introduced Mermaid Girl as her granddaughter and RW and me as Mermaid Girl’s parents, and no one made a peep about it, at least not in our presence.

RW kept gazing around her, at the pillars of Molson society and the salmon and the kids splashing in the lake, saying things like “Never. Never in a million years would I ever have imagined twenty years ago that I’d be here. At the Forrester’s picnic! In Molson!”

Back at the Skaterhouse, Nana showed us her photo albums, which fill multiple shelves in the laundry room. There were RW and Skaterboy and their friend Jennie, laughing and throwing soapsuds at each other in the very kitchen where Nana had just made dinner for us. There was 4-year-old Skaterboy, posing next to a cherub-faced blond infant who looked uncannily like Mermaid Girl in her baby pictures: his little sister Cady.

And then there was the album lying open on top of the dryer. Nana Skatermom casually waved at it, as she was heading back to the kitchen to stir something: “You can take a look at that if you want. I made albums for all the grandkids. I need to do something with the old school photos, anyway, you know?”

The album had Mermaid Girl’s name on the spine. I paged through it, and there were color printouts of dozens of photos from the website RW has maintained of her since she was born: her hospital photos. Cutesy pictures from her infancy. Photos from her previous visits with Nana and Grandpa Skaterboy, of course, and several of her with Skaterboy himself, but more, too: Her adoption-day photo, with the judge smiling genially behind his desk. Pictures of MG with my dad, with my mom, with me and RW smiling goofily at her. A shot of her with my whole extended family, on her first trip to New York. All carefully captioned: “Mermaid Girl and her Grandpa Booland.” “Mermaid Girl on Elswhere’s [female] cousin’s [female] partner, Dina’s lap.” “Mermaid Girl at Passover,” “Mermaid Girl at RW and Elswhere’s wedding in Vancouver.”

I stood at the dryer and leafed through that album for a long time, thinking about love, about family, about the improbabilities and bonds and crazy alliances that had led me to this place, this room. And thinking about how this woman’s ordinary and innocuous love spread to all of us: her gay son’s biological child; his weirdo hippie friend from high school and me, her Jewish lesbian lover; my own family and their lovers, whom she’s never even met, who live in places she’s never been and who will never come to Molson, but who are here in this album, in the laundry room, and will be here in twenty, thirty, maybe forty years when Carrie and MG’s kids leaf through to gawk at the funny clothes people wore back then at the turn of the millennium.

After all that, it seemed like an anticlimax to look for the old mountainside house again, but we tried. On our way out of town, RW looked for the side road off the main road, but ended up driving in circles around a new subdivision: this area was the middle of nowhere when she lived here, but now it’s a hot property, and development is creeping up the hill. RW was thrown by all the streets having names, and took a road that turned out to be the wrong one, but still familiar to her. “Our neighbors lived up this road!” she said. “The ones a half mile across the creek!”

We drove up anyway, past the subdivision to where it was just trees and dirt road, then pulled over and got out of the car to wander around. MG picked up stones to keep as souvenirs. I tried out my new camera on the scenery. RW stalked the side of the road, shading her brow and peering past the trees. “Look!” she said. “Over there. On the next hill over, way up there? That red roof? I think that was our house.”

It was all alone, barely visible, a small red blur more than halfway up the mountain, far away even now from any creeping subdivisions, that roof her parents put up out of who knows what—desperation, idealism, silliness, some book they’d read—just before their marriage broke up one final time. RW lived there and sat in the picture window writing in her journal by moonlight, and practiced the flute and learned to read music there, talked on the phone there with Skaterboy when Debbie up the road got done chatting with her boyfriend on the party line. She said she loved being so high up the mountainside you could see the treeless peaks across the valley, and bask in sunshine above the fog blanketing the river valley below.

If it weren’t for the house under that red roof, I would never have been to that salmon bake or stood in that laundry room last week. I never would have taken that dreamlike fogbound trip across the lake six years ago. If it weren’t for that house, Mermaid Girl wouldn’t be here.

We all looked at it reverently for a minute, shading our eyes against the sun. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was it,” Renaissance Woman said. Then the three of us got back in the car and drove down the mountain, heading West to the coast and our home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Nana Skatermom invited us to the Forrrester's Picnic, I had the queerest feeling that yes, I actually wanted to spend my 43rd birthday there, with my lesbian lover and my child and her biodad's family and all the Forrresters and their kids and restless teenagers -- and that everyone would be fine and lovely about it, as they were. It seemed like kismet, coming full circle from 1978 when Skaterboy & I were the restless teens, and nobody dared breathe a word about being gay in Molson, even to each other.
And Nana Skatermom's photo albums blew me away. In high school I doubt I even noticed her taking that picture of us goofing around her kitchen sink. I certainly paid no attention to her albums. But that and one other picture of me in her 1978 album were the only evidence, in nearly half a century of albums, that I ever flashed briefly through their lives.
I lived in Molson for two years before I met them at age 15, and knew them for only one year before I moved away. Yet Skaterboy and I remained close friends through intervening years and oceans of distance when other friends faded.
And now our lives and families are forever intertwined--thanks to Mermaid Girl. Who knows...perhaps she orchestrated all of this, up there in the sky before she was born.
If SkaterDad had taken the job up in TareUs instead of Molson...
If my parents had thrown in the towel at their second breakup instead of their third...
If the house had been just one road further over the mountain, past that creek and the school district line...
If the 70's hadn't espoused Romantic notions about the Life Bucolic...
...I would never have met SkaterBoy, and Mermaid Girl would not exist. SkaterFamily would never have embraced her so warmly and started her album, in which I finally reappear. (By the way, SkaterMom guessed Mermaid Girl's genetic origins, months before we finally revealed them. I told you, she's psychic.) And Elswhere's and my life would, of course, be vastly, inconceivably altered.
Until I was in my mid-30's I expected to have no children. Even while happily pregnant, I sometimes wondered what on earth I had done. When Mermaid Girl was born I felt transported by tornado to an alternate universe, swapped into one of my alternate lives. A much, much better life, mind you, but it still surprises me to be in it. Being karmically tied forever to Molson is just one of the astonishments of this brave new world.
- Renaissance Woman

8:58 PM  
Blogger Udge said...

What a wonderful series of posts! So moving.

Thanks to both of you for putting this down.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

sniffle..sniff. . . *honk*

damn. What an amazing, lovely story. (And what a lovely grandma. Can I have her for my kids too?)

12:42 PM  
Blogger bihari said...

What a beautiful post! Thanks for taking us on the journey with you.

It's wonderful to me how what would be contrived and too tidy and just generally too much in a novel (Skatermom's album) is absolutely glorious in real life. I love this story.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful again, this time not so much for the writing itself (though it was good) but for the amazing story of the photo album. RW's comments make me think of a Connie Willis story. Well, not just any story, but To Say Nothing of the Dog--which you all gave me just before my own wedding, by the way.


2:05 PM  

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