I spent this summer on the road. Some of my trips, like my visit to the Ann Arbor Artfest with Darcy, were wonderful. Some of my trips were to places I would just as soon not visit again. But you never know what, or who you’ll see when you leave your home. The following are short takes on how I spent my summer vacation.
Of all the people sentenced to spend their final years at Unhappy Acres, Barbara and Scott were the hardest to visit.
Call me a glutton for punishment. Call me a masochist. It doesn’t matter. Two, three, sometimes four times a year I pop into “The Home” and visit some people who used to live in the neighborhood. The last week-end in July was one such journey.
It is funny the way character flaws are magnified with age. A middle-aged complainer becomes a world class whiner at 67. Someone who is merely over-solicitous in his fifties can be a real nudge at 75. I, for one, will be an overly judgmental S.O.B. if I live to be 70.
The fog lifted at about eight o’clock, one hour into the trip. Nine hours left. Just me and the ghosts driving to Massachusetts.
Phil and Jen were visiting my parents. I was making the long drive to pick them up. Thankfully I wasn’t alone. H.M., A.O., S.S., and even M.S. of my most recent past filled the car with memories of what was and the thoughts of what could have been, but won’t. Good thing I’ve got a Caravan. We all couldn’t have fit in my old Honda.
I’m not complaining. The ghosts are good traveling companions. They never ask me to stop the car for food or rest rooms. They let me drive as fast as I like. But, there is a price for their company.
What could I have done differently? What could we have changed? What should we have not done at all? One by one, each takes her turn in the front seat to discuss her era.
Who gets to be first? M.S. pushes her way to the front. She usually does. She is young and impulsive and in her shy, soft-spoken way always succeeded at demanding my attention. Normally I try to make her wait her turn. Procrastinating, I want to deal with the most painful last. But today’s journey is over five hundred miles, long enough to give her all the time she is due.
The insurance business has given me the opportunity to meet, and become friends with, many artists. Over the years I have come to know musicians of every style, writers, sculptors, and painters. I found Greg, a master with watercolors, to be the most expressive. The depth and honesty of Greg’s painting is arresting. I remember the first time I entered his home/studio. I stopped and stared at the canvas leaning against the wall. We discussed that picture for over fifteen minutes. One of my prized possessions is the book from a Butler American Museum of Art show that he gave me that day. That was three years ago. I remember that day for one other reason. That was the day I met Kyra, the woman who was soon to be his bride.
Darcy and I were walking along State Street. We were determined to view every single booth at this year’s Ann Arbor Artfest. The street was packed. I didn’t see the artist’s name until we were already in the booth and out of the hot sun. There was Kyra holding a cold drink. It was Greg’s unit. Greg made us feel welcome and we looked around. I hadn’t seen his new work. Not really. Not enough in one place so that I could really gauge how marriage had changed him. We talked, but a painter’s true emotions are only displayed by his brush.
Greg’s style was unchanged. The colors were still strong. His whole approach was confident. The honesty was apparent. But the subject matter was different. The darkness was gone. Yes, he had told me over the last three years how happy he was and how much he loved his wife. It took a trip to Michigan, however, to see the truth in those words.