Calendula comes from the Latin “calends” meaning “throughout the months” and became the English “calendar.” The calendula is also the word for marigold as it typically blossoms according to the calendar, either once a month or at the new moon. And it has been many months and plenty of moons since i have been back where i came from.
Bittersweet should be a description reserved for terrible confectionaries, and not the visit home. 4 days since i’ve returned from Detroit . . . such a strange thing it is to go back there now. It was once thought that placing garlands of calendula or marigold under a bed would cause the sleeping person to have prophetic dreams, but the dreams refuse to visit me in the old bed now. The house – a museum, a shrine to a deceased mother/grandmother, a storage facility for nest padding. Life in concentric, obligatory circles of work, sleep, shopping, sustenance. My mother is still deeply depressed and heartbroken over the loss of her mother more than a year ago and it really destroys me to see her like that.
My youngest sister is 12 now, 13 in December and is a masterful soccer player, a beautiful girl, and wildly sarcastic. She still thinks that strapping down her developing breasts in a sports bra built like a duct tape prison is a workable solution to putting off womanhood. Good grief – then she’ll menstruate and it will be Judy Blume all over again. She is a thoughtful, occasionally reserved girl, but quick-witted and i think, surely, a survivor type.
They told Jimmy when he was 17 he had third stage Hodgkins Lymphoma and that he would never father children after chemotherapy and radiation. He dated my sister and lived with us for a year while we were all in high school. Had his sperm samples frozen, met some not so nice girl Rhonda and now, he is expecting his second child . . . without the help of his cryogenic progeny. His voice has changed from too much cigarette smoke and his face is as weathered as the carpenter’s belt he wears at his too slender waist. Is he cured? Possibly. Is he happy? You can’t tell from his smartass tales of drinking and sex 12 times a year when he gets horny and his wife will permit. Stories of falling off roofs and friends who drank themselves to death. A kiss on the cheek before and after and he is out the door. The same whirlwind of strange energy as he ever was. Not even cancer slowed him or toned him down any.
Travis dropped by. His wife going back to grad school, possibly here in DC or Maryland. Is she pregnant too did he say? Either way, she called looking for him. He politely ate the baked brie i made even though he already had dinner and beer. He just lost his father a week or so back. Says i haven’t changed a bit, still deeply sarcastic, but in a nice way – just as he remembered.
I learned one of our friends recently drove himself to a funeral home and shot himself. Perhaps out of convenience or practicality. Perhaps he saw that episode of Six Feet Under. Perhaps it was morbid curiosity to see if he could really go through with it and what they would say in the papers. Not that he would know in any event when the light went out. They found him on a Monday morning.
On the way out of town i ran into Katrice’s mother in front of the liquor store. Her husband, the locally celebrated and revered fire chief (and drunk known to grope you at the fireman’s ball) dropped dead of a heart attack while he was quite young. Barb had Katrice’s son in tow who looked up at me and smiled mischievously. i only knew about her first daughter who had multiple surgeries and illnesses in her infancy. Katrice had to leave the father – he was actually what we call, no joke, a crack addict. She finally decided it was time after he sold the vacuum cleaner.
Michigan’s death rates continue on a downward trend – more every year than live births from what I’ve learned. Alcohol and drug addiction is high and Governor Jennifer M. Granholm has declared September as Michigan Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Depression and suicide rates are high. There are health advisories against eating some of the wild game and fish in certain areas due to environmental pollutants. Factory wokers fall out from poor work conditions and accidents. And don’t get me started on obesity . . .
i wondered as Zoey and I drove and made pit stops at rest areas for food and fuel – where do these people LIVE that work in these places? I cannot imagine driving from some outlying area to see the daily influx of road stragglers: tired, irritable, hungry, perhaps unshowered. (Pardon the sweeping judgmental stereotypical guess) but if some of them weren’t so simple, they’d probably be amazingly accomplished writers. There must be so much to tell about seeing so many different people and never having to travel far yourself to see them.
It was after midnite on one stretch of the trip. We saw a sign for a rest area that included Starbuck’s, Cinnabon, Sbarro (pizza/pasta) and McDonald’s. Well – all or some of that sounded good to us both – save the golden arches. Of course, we arrive and ALL of it is closed EXCEPT for McDeath.
“Welcome to McDonald’s, can I help you?”
“Do you know of any restaurants in the area that are open?” i politely asked the smiling, rotund creature behind the counter.
“What’s wrong with Mickey D’s?” she asked earnestly, grinning wider.
“Hasn’t she seen the damn movie?” Zoey whispered to me as we walked away.
i was very proud of myself for NOT enumerating precisely all things that are indeed WRONG with Mickey fucking D’s. We grudgingly selected some snacks from the metal coffins that dispense garbage swaddled in plastic and drop them in a dump bin from corkscrewing silver pigtails. We selected Pringles and the ever popular road food – beef jerky, which we found to be tasty but unusually tough. So much that it misaligned our teeth and set our bite out of whack for a few hours. “Tiny sour gummy spider of death?” Zoey jiggled a sugar-coated purple and red sour candy spider at me and we tried to find the best way to eat it: leg by leg and belly treat to finish? Or fat round abdomen and legs last?
On the return trip, we stopped at some place where as always, the music is horrible enough to make you want to hang yourself in the LYSOL doused, Pepto-Bismol colored, “faux-citrus mingled with old urine” scented bathrooms. But what am I talking about – we actually busted out the Macarena on the way there to see if we could stomach it. This and some “Mmmm-Bop” from Hanson sent us into fits of laughter.
This particular rest stop had the oddest open room full of copper-colored mirrors reflecting from all four walls from the floor to the enormously vaulted ceiling. Everything looked rusted and sickly and you couldn’t tell where one room ended and another began. The girl behind the counter here announced everything that each person carried with them to the counter as she rang them up. Or rather – instead of asking if that would be all, she asked if that’s what they had, as if the items might be an optical illusion.
“Is that a cinnabon?”
“Is that a coke and bagel?”
“Is that a bottled water?”
We showed up and were asked, “is that a slice of pizza?” i had the mad urge to pet my pizza lovingly and reply in my best brit accent, “Why no, this is a tiny kitten, do you mind if i eat it here, then?” I told Zoey this and we had a good laugh and remarked how glad we were that we weren’t high and trapped in this room.
i brought her back a small orange and red marigold from a vase in the bathroom and instructed her to let it dry so we could pluck the crumpled blossom, which when pulled from the stem become the seeds themselves. This was something my mother showed me. We saved them at the end of the season – snipped off their crowning heads and put them away in envelopes as seedlings for the next season.
Despite all the deaths, all the emotional hardships, my mother’s garden is still the most impressive one on the block: wild, tall, almost overgrown, but in a beautiful way. Marigolds, petunias, morning glories, double impatients, miniature rose bushes, daisies (her favorite).
Despite its beautiful, sunny appearance, the marigold remains a mythological symbol of pain and sorrow, closing its petals daily when the sun goes down. It can be meant for joy or sadness when given as a gift and is a reminder of the acceptance of both.
It’s still drying on the dashboard of my car . . .