A wooden weather vane in the shape of a plane still sits on top of a beaten-up, wooden fence post on my dad’s old farm. My uncle, who I am named after, set up a few of them around the farm on one of his last visits.
This one is the only one that survived the Witch Creek fire that swept through the place a couple years ago, survived that and the more gradual violence of time that knocks over and crumbles the fence posts into dust and rot.
A breeze turns its wooden propeller, that was tooled in my uncle’s basement machine shop, as I walk past, on the wide path between the main house and the barn.
The farm is in good shape, and I take some substantial satisfaction in that. I cannot take credit for the rain, that has made the place green, as winter comes apace.
But most of the trees killed by the fire have been cut down and the eight acres look in general managed. Nature’s chaos is held at bay. The cattails that clogged the pond have been razed, now the silt needs to be dug out.
The fence posts and railings that no longer hold back sheep and cows are unpainted and falling but that’s OK.
Most importantly, the trees and bushes that my dad planted along the borders of the place are lush and growing and, on this day, moving about in the wind.
They had gotten so dessicated that they seemed dead but, with the repair of the water pumps, and a drip line, they have come surging back to life.
Walking past the open barn, I see paint cans and brushes, a big roll of insulation, African art (another story), and an old cabinet where some of my dad’s darkroom stuff remains, steel developing cans for negatives, reels to spool the exposed negatives in the pitch black before they are dropped into the can to slide down with the sound of stainless steel on stainless steel to the bottom where they chunk solidly.
I am taking out the empty bottles, the bones, the dirt and dust of many footsteps on the night before when we celebrated Thanksgiving with my sisters and their families and guests.
I don’t do candlelight very often, a shame really, because there is something different about light from a flame, that illuminates the faces of the guests as they talk and listen, particularly 17-year-old Cheyenne who sits behind her mother and whose dark eyes come out of the shadow.
After my mom’s death, we cleared out her apartment in a day, splitting up files – my French mother, like the French government, was focused on files and orderly paperwork – and photos, antiques, prints and paintings, cooking pans.
Nobody wanted a leopard-print bean bag that for some reason my mom hung on to over the years and insisted on plunking down in the middle of the living room wherever she lived.
But unlike the careful excavation of an archeological site where family history was held, it was more like a mad rush to get the job done.
I asked for just a moment at the end and stood in my mom’s room. It was her beat-up espadrilles that got me. But I knew it was time to go, and to let go.
One thing that I realized in clearing out the apartment was that my mom was, like my dad, fascinated with light. She had lots of little, cool, old mirrors that I had never seen, various candle holders and a gray metal cylinder with a notched top and holes drilled into the sides in the outline of an Aztec god, a curio that I had never seen used.
We used it, as it was meant to be, to hold a candle, and placed it at the center of the table for the big meal. And its little points of light helped set the scene as we discussed the state of politics in the nation, health care reform, my nephew’s libertarianism, the competence (I kid you not, this was discussed) of state court officials, the rise of China, and whether we are just in general doomed.
The discussion was both political and exposingly personal. We discussed the powerful and determining role of parents, but my nephew’s girlfriend who is from Bulgaria described to rapt attention in the circle of candle-lit faces a set of parents who were absent or cruel. And yet she is energetic, in love I would say, and doing well in school here.
It was that image, of the chairs pulled up into a rough circle around the middle of the table and the participants vying to get a word in, as the talk moved by random transition from one topic onto the next, it was that image that I retained, as I got into my car to drive back to my apartment and to every day life.
But it was an empty feeling, sort of blank, after the constant company and discussion in preparing for the dinner party, in the evening itself and the food and drink and talk of it, and in the cleaning up the next morning.
Now it was over and I had nothing to do but drive.
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