Monday, July 14, 2008

We're always connected by underground wires

So last fall semester, somewhere between the hellacious work schedule, the weekly school- and major-related crises, the joys and sorrows of wedding planning, and the hormonal tinkering of birth control, a portion of my soul seceded from the union. A lot of my favorite qualities about myself went away, and a lot of qualities that I tried so hard to grow out of in high school came back. Bet you didn't know that I was a very tense, anxious, controlling child; I saw the school counselor regularly for my anxieties. (I also took a speech therapy class because I couldn't say my R's.) Well after that and certain experiences with high school friends, I decided that chill, natural, and accepting were very good things to be, so I tried to be that. (Hey CJ, bet you didn't know you were my hero in that respect, eh?) And from the last half of high school through the first half of college, I was at a good place. I liked myself, even. I took a voluntary test for some psychology grad students to get some extra credit, and they told me I was the most relaxed person they'd tested. But all of that seemed to go down the tubes last fall. So...I'm sorry.

We just got back from Alabama on Wednesday. It may have been the best trip yet. I was more aware of the people there - their stories and troubles - probably because I was aware that this was our last time for a long time. We asked questions. We brought our camera, which is a little grainy, but we borrowed a camera-mount mic, so at least the sound will be good. Andy and I wanted to make a little personal documentary about my grandparents. They have an amazing story, and upon a little digging we found nuggets of hard times that kids never imagine for their grandparents. When I asked my grandma if she'd be willing to be interviewed on camera, she said, "Oh, there are some things I won't share. My lips are sealed. You'd hear a different story from [Grandpa], too. He thinks that a lot of things were fine when they weren't." My grandmother was baptized a few years after they got married in 1952. Having witnessed how religion can rift a family apart, they had made a promise not to join any church without the other. But grandma did, which grandpa resented. His antagonism increased when, at 17, my mother married in the temple and he couldn't attend. Still, he had my grandma take the children (and there are seven of them) to church so at least they would all be united. For over forty years, she stayed active and taught the gospel to her children, and then grandchildren, alone.

My uncle, their youngest son, has in his patriarchal blessing that he would baptize his father. And 6 years ago, he did. "Once [Grandma] stopped nagging, I started listening," grandpa told us. He read the Book of Mormon all the way through (which my grandmother hasn't done yet) and knew, logically, that it was true. He struggled with the faith part for a while, but "[Grandma] gave me the best advice anyone could have given me, and that was to take it one step at a time." They were sealed in the temple to each other and four of their children the next year.

They now have 38 grandchildren (7 returned missionaries among those, with more to come) and 15 great grandchildren.

Our itinerary was, by necessity, the most inconvenient thing possible. We arrived on the Fourth of July itself just in time to buy some fireworks and join the party at the lake. Everybody else was gone by 4 o'clock Tuesday, and we weren't flying out until noon the next day, so it was just me, Andy, and my grandparents for a while. This was when we chose to film, when we had them alone. We interviewed them for an hour, maybe an hour and a half. And what footage it was. Not visually exciting, perhaps, but they opened up. It's amazing what a camera can do to people. They then took us to dinner at a little greasy, delicious Mexican place. We didn't have much to say: we had just milked their life story out of them, and there are only so many "How is school?" and "What's next for you?" questions they can ask us. Can you see the four of us there? We're bound by blood, by marriage, by the amazing experience we just had filming, and we didn't have a thing to say. They had more to say to the golf friend they ran into at the gas station than they did to us. But they've lived! We're young and virile and intelligent! We're connected! It was so surreal to me. So past-present-future, so huge and tiny. Over the course of filming, my grandmother said, "After 56 years of marriage, we learned that we're completely incompatible. But we love each other!" And that's what replayed in my mind as the couple at the end of their family, the end of their lives, sat silently opposite this couple, at the birth of a new family. They told us about their children - which ones made stupid choices, which ones they would have picked different spouses for was it their place, which ones left the church when. They weren't even sentimental about it, or mournful or self-conscious. A lot of the grandkids are getting married soon, and new babies are coming soon, and they're still so happy about it they cry, even at the end of that, even though all marriages are hard and all children break your heart sometimes. Each of their children raised their kids very differently (from the spectrum of money-out-my-ears to, literally, I-drink-my-own-goat's-milk) yet they all, for the most part, grew up to be good, solid, balanced people. Isn't that amazing?

After the restaurant, we went back to the house where we watched Vin Diesel's The Pacifier (because it's one of their favorites).

They drove us to the airport the next morning, where again there was little to say but a few words about a local novelty here and there and a little politicin', where the gap between our college-student, midwestern views and their southern, old-fashioned mindset became apparent, even if we didn't necessarily disagree. We got to the airport, said goodbye, and that was that.

In case you were interested, we did go to the waterfalls this year. We didn't last year, but this year, though the water was too low to jump from the top itself, we still jumped from the big rock in the middle, and we took pictures of the couples kissing in front of the falls (or in the little cave behind it that was just the right size for two cuddling people). We jetskiied, we spied turtles, our toenails turned yellow, we bought surplus fireworks on the 5th and lit the sky nigh impressively, we might very well have killed that 17-year-old SNES for good, we had five kinds of cake and one dreamy kind of pie and about a dozen cartons of ice cream, we played spoons and cards and "Psychiatrist," I caught two fireflies for Andy, we cooked ground beef and forgot to drain off the fat, we watched the Game Show Network, we swam and swam. I also lost my cell phone.

It was fantastic.

2 reason(s) to click here:

Ashley said...

This is beautiful.

Erin said...

That sounds incredible. I'm so glad you did that, it's so important to get stories from people while you can. Amazing.