Sunday in the Park
January 13, 2007
Like so many folks this time of year, my weekend days mean nothing, except another day of work. Whereas a random Thursday will turn out to be my day off and a day, if not of rest, then at least of catching up. Which is why, you may see your favorite ski area worker, bus driver or waitress at the grocery or the movie in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Do not look askew at them. Bow to them. It is their Sabbath, after all.
This week I had such a random day off and I used it to do those things others think little of, in their regular, predictable, Old Testament-stick-to-the-chiseled-in-stone-pattern of days. I went to the dry cleaners and the eye doctor and the bank. Then I decided to take myself to lunch. But I realized after searching my car, which is filled with catalogues and half-opened mail and half-eaten food that I had nothing, really, to read. So I popped into a bookstore and I looked around. I walked past the new releases — I don’t really know why — and found myself in the stacks of classics. The storm outside maybe? And off the shelf jumped a book I knew, somehow, it was time to read. Truth be told, I have often feigned the fact I have never read this work, this major work When it comes up in conversation, I praise the author and nod and never let on I have not read this seminal novel of the West, of my West. So I walked to the counter and plopped the paperback down. That, and some ridiculously priced honey.
Don’t be too harsh, you of the, fresh-roast, ground-heavy, cream, two-sugars world. I have never learned to drink your brew. Never. I have no taste for coffee. Ah, but tea. The genteel beverage. I have spent my entire life sipping and straining and getting the perfect pot just right. At this point in my life, I figure I can put fine honey in my drink of choice. And that jar will last me months, much longer than say, the modest bottle of wine I could buy for about the same amount.
Once ensconced in a restaurant outside of Park City, where the obligation to be responsive and civil to other diners goes down considerably, I cracked the cover and right away I knew the book had found me. You mean to tell me, I can hear my best reader friend exclaiming right about now, you have NEVER read "Angle of Repose?" And so, I confess, my lack of edification. Still, as I keep telling my adult children, other than being, say, a prima ballerina or a musical child prodigy, it is never too late for most anything you want to do or be. Which is why, I plan this very year, to look into a plan to complete my college education.
But I digress.
The waitress was ever so polite, not wanting to disturb my trip back in time to a West just after the Civil War, cross-referenced with the 1970s. I sipped tea and stayed in my booth and one hour turned into two before I took my leave. By the end of the night I read close to 200 pages of the nearly 600-page book. When Stegner describes Grass Valley and Nevada City of the 1970s I smile. It was just a little over an hour from my home in Tahoe City to those places and in the ’70s I went there often. I led a kind of double life in those days. Owner of a children’s clothing store and single parent by week, every other weekend, when my ex-husband took the kids, I became someone else for a few hours, sometimes days. A slightly less responsible person. Not exactly a happenin’ hippie, but certainly a more bohemian version of my work-a-day self.
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I know the area now is very trendy and upscale, but in the ’70s, it was rundown with old brick hotels with old brass beds and real claw-foot tubs. It was an old rediscovered mining town and so foreign to my suburban Bay Area upbringing that I loved going there and feeling like I had entered a faraway land. It was quaint and cheap and filled with little shops run by other suburban refugees. I hadn’t thought about those days in years.
Nor had I thought in a very long time, about my relatives who came to those parts, about the same time as the first characters in Stegner’s book. My great grandfather who came from Ireland and took the only job he was offered, a beat cop on the Barbary Coast. I know nothing of his wife, except her name was Emma and she had exquisite taste, based on the two items I have of hers which survived the first San Francisco earthquake a blue-and-white earthenware pitcher and a delicate china pot, hand-painted with Chinese-looking flowers.
My grandfather, the one who ended up being a major league baseball player, was one of their two sons. The other son, traveled the world and worked for Dutch Boy paints, whose upside-down paint can, held by a young boy with a bad haircut in short pants, poured over the globe I remember from one of those wonderful outdoor billboards of the ’50s. William and Prentis, such formal names those boys had. Meanwhile, over in Colorado, my maternal great-grandparents, who came over from Ireland as well, worked as ranchers. They had nine children, my grandmother Regina was the last. Her mother died giving birth to her. I have a sepia-toned photo of her father and stepmother looking grimly into the camera in front of a tiny-looking house — especially when I consider the nine children — and I am always struck by the fabulous hollyhocks growing up the walls. I imagine they are a shout of color against white cottage walls.
Stegner’s book is taking me not only back in time in his world but mine as well. It is a comforting journey, this juxtaposition of novel and knowing. Next week we will become engrossed in stories told on film. For nearly two weeks we will become lost, on occasion, in dark theaters and will see and hear things that may resonate with some primal part of us. And we need to remember, when the going gets goofy, and the traffic actually becomes traffic, and the lines are long and the shelves are empty, that the festival is about more than the stellar people du jour watching and grousing. It is really all about the stories, which, with a little scratching we all have and love to hear, on any day, no matter how your workdays and rest days fall, enjoy whichever you find yourself having, this Sunday in the Park