Monday, August 29, 2016
Word of the Week - 130
On Saturday a Priority Mail package arrived from my 83-years-old stepmother. It contained a letter, some current photos of deer nibbling on everything green in her yard and an album, with this description:
"I am sending you the enclosd because the fire at Lake Nacimiento is moving west (we smell it and sometimes see the smoke) and the folks on San Simeon Road are on evacuation alert.
"This photo album of Russ from babyhood to newspaper reporter and columnist was prepared by Russ and given to me one Christmas and I have treasured it. But my feeling is that it really belongs to you and your sibs and I would feel terrible if, in the continuing drought and very long fire seasons, Cambria might be decimated and this album destroyed."
The album holds photos of my father, now gone nearly 22 years, that I'd never seen before, including the one above of a tiny fellow in a sailor-type suit, long before his naval enlistment in World War II. I wept for the words in the letter, for the pictures never seen and the faces of my brother and his son, perhaps a bit of mine, so clearly present in the serious and smiling images of my father.
As of Sunday afternoon, I have not been able to reach her by phone, will keep trying and then send off a letter in the morning if that fails. She tells of packing the car in preparation for evacuation notice, which it seems did not come. Having been through that once myself, I am familiar with the sense of unreality and terror that comes with contemplating the loss of all material goods, the notion of sanctuary and home, the always uncertain whims of weather and chance.
She mentions also, during the description of California's more than 60 million trees dead from drought and bark beetles, that the five trees she and my father planted on their hilly lot have had to be chopped down. "The two redwoods at the foot of the driveway are turning brown," she says.
That she felt the need to part prematurely with Dad's gift left me without coherent words to speak into the phone on Saturday. Thinking of her on her own having to decide just what to save if word came to flee caused me to admire, not for the first time, how capable she is, how good at figuring things out.
Loss, the contemplation thereof if we must, and the memory of it, never leave us. For too many, this will be the summer of smoke, of ash, of tears. For some, it is a small, sweet-smiling boy and a book reluctantly surrendered to keep it safe. May we be good stewards of this gift.