Tuesday, October 19, 2010

People That Matter

What was that about a cacophony of mindless nastiness permeating everything in this election year? Sorry, didn't hear a thing. October was spent going to high school and college reunions, a tour of Midwest poet friends, a Guided by Voices reunion, and otherwise re-connecting with the ones that matter in this world. As for nonsensical nonpersons, forgive me if I have no time.

Let's begin by thanking the beneficence of the government of India for banning a conference at which I was going to speak, thereby allowing me to attend my 35th high school reunion in Grand Ledge, MI. My wonderful sister Lisa, and her husband Pat and son Alex, opened their home to us, reminding me how thankful I was to not have any dysfunctional siblings.

We did all those marvelously dorky things like attend the homecoming parade with Winky the Comet, go to the homecoming football game, stop at Gwen McLean's for a post-victory bonfire, you get the picture.

While the Midwest can seem a parochial place when you're far away, I not only remembered what a beautiful place I came from, but how the people in mid-Michigan are much more empathetic and kind than some stereotypes would suggest. I care about these folks as much as I did in the late 1970s.

People That
Matter: My sister Lisa

le That Matter: Chico Rivera and Gwen McLean

On Saturday, Oct. 9, we hiked the Ledges trail and then went for a long spin to Dansville, where Don and Ruth Mowry keep a beautiful farm on one of the oldest roads in Michigan. Ruth is a poet, photographer, and tireless MSU English advisor who's been a friend since I was a wee sprout, and her husband Don is an elementary school teacher and former keeper of exotic chickens. Spending a couple hours with them reminded me why I like them so very much.

People That Matter: Ruth and Don Mowry

Some people dread high school reunions, particularly that post-25th era when we all turn visibly older and our bones creak something fierce. It's all too easy to ask "what did I ever have in common with these people?" In my case, I found plenty in common - Tom and Lori Cox were there, along with a universe of friends I still care about very deeply. Carol and I got gussied up right nice for this event:

People That Matter: Lori and Tom Cox

If I was to share the dozens of pictures and stories from 1975 classmates, you'd be bored silly and I'd overtask Blogger. Suffice it to say that no one went away sad, no fights were broken up, just a lot of hugs and silly stories. On Sunday, my nephew Alex and I went to the color tour at the Island Park, where a couple sang Cheryl Wheeler's "When Fall Comes to New England," with "Grand Ledge" substituted at the appropriate place:

Sunday night, former Surf City denizens Marilyn Basel and Sam Mills met us at Beggars Banquet for tales of present glories, "Burning Desires" and all, so much better than tales of past glories. Lee Upton and Rosa Maria Arenas were missed, but present in some fashion nonetheless:

People That Matter: Marilyn Basel and Sam Mills

(Did I mention, Marilyn followed us to Grand Ledge to spend a day wandering trails, visiting the Ledges Playhouse, and finding the necessary pince-nez so she could convince the world she was Amy Lowell, back for a second round? She certainly had me convinced.)

I had forgotten about the Popeye Rock, playing chicken on the train trestle (though Paul Baribeau should have kept that memory front and center), and what fun it was to hang out with the John Peakes - Richard Thomsen crew at Fitzgerald Park. Marilyn saw everything with new eyes, and shared special likes and dislikes with Carol at Lamb's Gate Antiques and Sweet Linda's.

The next stop on the way back involved an 18-hour stopover in Minneapolis. Andy Scheiber, a regular reader and singer at Jocundry's/Seed&Stamen/Invitation events, now heads the English Department at St. Thomas College in Minneapolis. Better yet, he's married to my high school English teacher, Mary Lou Sabin. They retain every passion they had when they lived in Lansing, and when they taught in China, which made dinner with Andy and Mary Lou so special.

People That Matter: Andy Scheiber and Mary Lou Sabin

Tuesday in Minneapolis concluded with the First Avenue stop of the reunited Guided by Voices, where I met poet and Iowa State University Librarian Extraordinaire Dan Coffey (oops, also new dad), and his friend Matt O'Neal, for a round of yo-hos for 21st-century bard Robert Pollard, chief kicker of his band of elves (that's Dan and Matt in the audience). Very brief sleep, and a flight home to Colorado Springs.

(But wait, there's more! - There's always more.) I got a day's rest, then it was time to drive to Omaha, where I was slated to speak at a peace conference with Mike Moore, former editor of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Tim Rinne fed us beers and Greek food before the Saturday conference, where the surprise was seeing Conor Oberst and Saddle Creek Records win the Peacemaker of the Year Award, and getting to meet Conor's parents, as their son was on tour yet again. But the biggest surprise awaited us at the place I was staying, good friend Frances Mendenhall's house, where her post-conference garden party turned into an engagement announcement with Alan V. (wish I could spell his last name).

People That Matter - Alan and Frances in their
Omaha-sustainable home.

The point here is not to assemble an exhaustive travelogue of my October vacation, but to gather a great big circle of the remarkable friends I've made over 30 years or so. This could have been an opportunity for final goodbyes in the event of an unexpected mid-season cancellation - it has already been a life more abundant than I could have dreamed - but I have a feeling this was merely a hello, to bring everyone close for another three or four decades to come, and to remember daily how much I love the folks that matter.

If you're feeling disheartened and exhausted with the invective and negativity around you, remember that these people don't matter. You matter. And this song is about you. And there are many verses left to sing.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Ohh, it was soo wonderful to spend hours with you and Carol. I can't believe how that time flew, and way too soon you were off to get ready for the reunion. Our farm is blessed now, and I hope you'll come back.

It was fun also here to reminisce about the ledges, the walk, the train trestle, et.al.

I'm glad your entire visit was so wonderful, and I missed being there with you at Beggar's and meeting Marilyn and Sam in person.

"Hi" to Carol!