Heart State

I attribute it to the Air Force upbringing, a nomadic sweep through childhood, that makes me overly sentimental about ordinary things. Last night, in order to pick up my youngest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I had to take 494. When I realized this and was merging into the considerable end-of-day traffic, my heart sort of softened and I recognized this as affection. I was on a road I have been on before.

Waiting at baggage claim, I was replaying so many other airport arrivals and departures, times my parents picked me up, times I had to put a vulnerable child on a flight I disagreed with, flights with my two daughters, both under five. Strandings, goofing in the terminal, worried hugs, saying hello, saying goodbye. When my daughter was visible coming down the wide hall, I broke into an exaggerated wave and slow-motion run toward her, arms outstretched. I think we all deserve a major motion picture greeting once in awhile.

Magpie and I nestled right in at my aunt and uncle’s place, our second home in Minnesota, and got to meet the new grandbaby and watch him wave his arms around, still not fully under his control. We began the process of telling about our life situations, hearing about theirs, and just breathing the same air-space as these loved ones.

Looking through their magazines makes me feel I understand them better, as I page through ads for Pema Chodron workshops and articles titled “Always Beginner’s Mind,” “Natural Wonders,” or “The Middle Way of Stress.” Making coffee spawns my uncle’s stories about winning a coffee bean grading contest on a roasting tour, and an education about the desirability of uniform-sized beans. Even the discussion of dog training here is among people who have known the same dogs, Chet’s dogs, Jerry’s dog, methods we used before we were enlightened. These are the people who know the dogs I have known.

Yesterday I watched Jeopardy with my Uncle Mick and Aunt Jeanne, and saw photos of their great-granddaughter Lucy. This morning I woke up in a luxurious bed with my Aunt Jo half-asleep next to me, her hand on my arm. Today I split an order of Joe’s Eggs at the Good Earth with my cousin Tess, a place I shared meals decades ago with her parents. When she talks about her growth, I see it from the standpoint of having known her as a child, from having smoked Dutch Masters with her we smuggled out of our dad’s supplies when we were not quite teenagers, from the vantage point of being post both of our divorces. When she talks about the development of healthy boundaries, of the ability to stand up for herself, I know how far from her original nature this actually is, and can applaud her like few others can. Even so, more than the words, it is her beautiful face, a freckled face I have loved for fifty years, surrounded with that gleaming black hair, the frame for eyes full of Tess-light, that I have come to see.

Tomorrow we drive further north to my cousin Connie’s place where she is hosting Thanksgiving. The guest list has grown over the last few weeks, as more and more relatives have opted in, being drawn to one another as though a tender net that was long-ago cast over us is drawing its strings and gathering us close again. So much of my life I have felt torn about where to be for the holidays, some years wanting the magic of my own Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood with my husband and children and our visiting Iowa family, other times wishing I had the means to go to Florida when I knew my dad’s lifespan was growing short, and always a memory of these Minnesota holidays—including the forbidden but inevitable food fights with my cousins—surrounded by men and women and children and now babies all descended from or adopted into or married into the same Irish and Norwegian line, my line.

On the way tomorrow we’ll pass marshes and sloughs, groves of hardwood forest, beaver dams and migrating birds, and watch for deer at the edges of the day. This is the landscape my child eye learned on, the one that matches the grooves in my limbic system deep in the core of my brain, and it never ceases to be a comfort to me, a place I understand, a place that hasn’t always understood me, but has held my place for me anyway, a chair with my name on it, a name familiar in the mouth. I’m a little lost, a little wind-swept, a little hard to understand these days. But I’m with the Madigan family, in Minnesota, the state where the letter O feels different in my mouth, and all is well.

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