I spent the weekend with my very dear friends George and Janet Samuels –and except for the fact that they now share their lives with a remarkable, wonderful, enjoyable, clever, articulate and talented young man (their grown son, Mickey-Michael-Mike), they haven’t changed. George is an insightful, urban and urbane scamp and Janet has a unique way of being in the world –there’s no one quite like her – and wields an understated and edgy humour that I would bet most people fail to get. They've been loyal, supportive and accepting friends throughout all my traumas and dramas and I value them beyond measure for it: I loved them then, I love them still. An added joy was having the opportunity to get to know the adult Mickey-Michael-Mike. I knew that he was a writer and immediately asked him if I could read something he's written. He gave me a beautifully written, remarkably lucid and poignant short story that I would have loved and admired even if I hadn't known the author since he was born. I'm adding Mickey-Michael-Mike to my list of reasons to be excited about (and hopeful for) the future. On Saturday George and Janet took me to visit a number of old haunts around Concord, NH –our old stomping grounds -including Granite State Candies, one of Max’s all-time favourites places. (Hey Max! They now make their own ice cream, too!) On Sunday they took me to visit more old friends - Harry Umen and Marguerite Walsh – both artists and former co-workers. I taught with Harry (along with George) at Notre Dame College in the early 80s and then in the late 80s taught with Marguerite at New England College. Both Harry and Marg have always been intense people and intensely dedicated to their art. It was wonderful to see them and especially for Marg and I to realise that from very different experiences and perspectives, we have come to very similar places in our creative lives: Marg has always been an extremely adept and prolific painter, but finds that she is now more driven to write and (inspired by her relationship to her kids who are both adopted, as well as by the fact that she now lives in the old family home) to explore notions of ancestry, place, identity and belonging. I think we both felt somewhat amazed at the similarities of our interests. Marg promised to send me some of her writings...I hope she does.We then visited another old friend, BethAnn O’Hara and perhaps a bit of background is in order here: George, Harry, Bethann's husband, John and I worked together at Notre Dame where we became friends (actually they were already friends, I was the newcomer). They would regularly get together for fabulous feasts and I won my place in the group by offering my specialty – authentic Mexican food – which in those days was a rare find east of Texas. For a number of years, we seemed to get together almost every Friday night...and the food was always fabulous - though I can remember a sushi party that was nearly fatal: Marg got caught up in a conversation and lost her culinary focus. George and I realised - just in the nick of time - that Marg had spread the nori roll she was making with about a half-an-inch of wasabi!
Even though we haven't been together for a number of years, there’s still a deep connection and a shared history of times that were important and transformative to us all: It was during this time that Bethann and John courted and married each other (George got a JP's license and married them in the shortest ceremony on record, while I built the chuppah (traditional wedding arch) from a silk parachute and hundreds of paper flowers); and that Max was born to Ed and me (a surprise baby shower was held at Harry and Marg’s house); and that Mickey was born to George and Janet (the surprise baby shower was held at my house and apparently as Janet was arriving, 5-yr-old Max yelled out of his bedroom window, “There’s no surprise here!”; it was also during this time that Harry and Marg adopted Benny the first of their 2 children.
John died last year, but he was a lovely, thoughtful, soft-spoken and kind man and he and Bethann had a wonderful marriage. It's clear that Bethann's grief is still very tender and she's also been unwell for a number of years, yet her spirit seems indomitable. I'd forgotten how full of joy and life she is. It was wonderful to reconnect with everyone and caught up in the glow of how lovely it felt to remember, I asked George if we could drive past my old house on the way home. We did and I was dismayed to see that my beautifully wild field of sweet fern and the pear trees Max and I planted had been replaced by a neat and tidy lawn. It hurt.
The next morning, I picked up a rental car and with no clear destination, I headed off. I found myself drawn immediately back to our old house and sat out front for a while trying to understand what was drawing me there, what I was meant to do. I mourned my beautiful sweet-smelling field and it didn't feel good to be there: it was distressing to see how gentrified the place had become. I left and drove past a number of places that had been significant to our lives together: the place where Max and Ed shot off their Estes rockets, Max’s personal Toys R Us, and the Friendlies Ice Cream Shop where Max re-invented their Conehead Sundae to something all his own (their’s was a clown face made from a scoop of vanilla ice cream, decorated with M&M eyes nose and mouth, topped with hot fudge sauce, an upside down ice cream cone and whipped cream). Max being Max wanted strawberry sauce instead of hot fudge and when it arrived, the waitress looked rather shaken – the strawberry sauce took the cutesy clown conehead sundae to an entirely different level – Max’s conehead looked like the victim of an axe-murderer with red, strawberry goo dripping down the sides of it’s M&M face.
Everywhere I looked, I felt flooded with memories and the nostalgia felt sticky and unresolved. I headed east – towards the beach – feeling that I needed to stand at the edge of my ocean...the Atlantic. I stayed the night just south of Portland, Maine – at Old Orchard Beach. I thought I might spend the next day researching the Tanners who came here from Ireland in 1852.I walked the beach and stuck my toes in the (icy) water while thinking about the work I'd come here to do. I felt unprepared for the flood of nostalgia almost like the ante had been upped in some very real sense: and confronted the realisation that this work is not at all abstract, it's about us, the real us - in all our convoluted, glorious and troubled history. It became all the more clear to me that I need to do whatever I decide to do very well and with the utmost care, love, clarity and respect - not only for the dead, but for the living.
I felt suddenly moved to play with some glyph images. I picked up a small stone pointed and drew a boat with a sun-symbol and two crows in the sand.