August 14th, 2008


Personal: Joe and Daniele's Baby Shower; Visiting Dad; Seeing Annie

Putting life back together here in Milwaukee now that I'm back. Trying to deal with the more important emails, and then the emails that I screwed up, like not realizing there was more to scroll down to on Jenny's earlier email and thus missing the part about her car accident and subsequent surgery. Dumb me. Dummy.

The baby shower for my brother and Daniele went off without a hitch, other than my personal hitch of it being made absolutely clear to me with no denial now allowed that my digital camera was on its last legs. Lots of static, fading to weird tints of purple, and colored bars on the borders of images. I've had the thing since May of '03, and have been absolutely happy with it after doing all the research on the fab camera site The Imaging Resource, to which I'll now have to return. The Sweeneys offered me a ride down to the party, and I'd not really seen them all summer, other than Ben, after having been rained out of Ben and Becca's homecoming party back in May or June. So I sat in the back and largely caught up more with Becca, and some with everyone.

It was amazing, of course, to see Daniele about six-and-a-half months along, to just see her and Joe looking so good and healthy, and almost glowing with expectation. The elder nieces were curious, but also a bit used to the idea of pregnancy, I suppose, since they still remember Leslie pregnant with Sophia. I was hoping Leslie had invited Joe's college best friend and Best Man Chris and his family, and so I was pleased to see that they made it, too. Their daughters were now heading into fifth and second grade and played well with the girls, as well as being a hoot in and of themselves. The eldest bore the beautiful Robert Jordan name of Alanna, and the second had the creatively combined name (from "Miriam" and "Muriel," I suppose) of Miriel. Along with the three-year-old nephew they had in tow, I spoke to them briefly and this was enough, apparently, to make me an honourary uncle and gave them tacit permission to tackle me through the rest of the day. I became increasingly like a heroin addict at the sheer cuteness of Sophie, who I have, in the days since the party, just wanted to scoop up and coo over at random points throughout the days, despite her being a hundred miles away. She has been more quickly comfortable with other people than Grace and Haley were at that age, so it was cute to see her heading over to examine the presents and Daniele and Joe unwrapped them, to try to play with them herself, and to sit on Joe's lap for part of the proceedings. I feel bad, sometimes, that I've been able to see them more frequently than Joe and Daniele, with their farther drive from Cincinnati, and so I'm happy to try to take a back seat to the Event of their presence when they're able to make it up.

Strangely, I didn't think to bring up the all-important Name question, which usually I'm all over, annoying as that can be. But it seems that the current leading candidate for a name for the nephew is Nathaniel, with Kevin being the second leading contender. I'm a bigger fan of Nathaniel than ever before due to – how's this for obscure reasons to like a name? – the studies of apocalyptic literature that I've done here at Marquette, and getting to understand the importance of the figure of Nathaniel in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. So dorky.

The food was a fun set of kabobs, and there was much playing in the backyard, in the jumping castle, of baseball and of soccer. Later in the evening, after the party had died down and most of the guests had left, I took Grace and Haley around the corner to look to see if we could find the Cooper's Hawk from the other week hunting in the dead tree as we had twice seen him. The girls were hilariously (to me, at least) nonplussed to discover that the tree was missing, much less the hawk. And the girls and I walked back to the house, where they immediately reported their findings to Grandma, who was just leaving by that point. After the girls were put to bed, Dad and I stayed there talking with Joe, Daniele, Jim and Leslie until after 11, when the ladies started falling asleep. It was interesting to hear from Leslie that when she was getting Grace ready for bed that Grace was asking more "grown up" questions about me: why I didn't have a car; why I wasn't married. It's cool to watch the "complexification" of her understanding of the world as it starts.

I then went down to Sterling for a few days to visit Dad over a longer stretch of time. That ended up being very low-key, with just lots of extended conversation as well as a certain amount of sports-watching between the Cubs and the start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. We ate lots of fresh sweet corn bought off the farm trucks in the evening, just like I loved when I was growing up in Oregon, 30 miles up the Rock River, and I introduced him to the rich flavour of burgers made from ground bison. We walked some over in Sinnissippi Park in the evening, where I love the view from the Hopewell Mounds on the bluff above the wide turn in the river, where the Rock River looks more like a lake, with lilly pads growing in sections as I'd never seen further north. Dad's become a more thoughtful movie buff in recent years, and more particular and exact in the films he recommends to me, so I had brought with me a few favourites that I didn't think he had seen, just in case that might be something to do, but we ended up talking enough that we did no more than talk about what I liked about the films, rather than watch them.

Heading out for Milwaukee, he had me driving up that favourite route of mine, the gorgeous drive up Illinois Route 2 alongside the Rock River. As we stopped at the light heading into my hometown of Oregon (another stoplight! Amazing!), he casually asked me if I wanted to go by and say hello to my cousin Ann. I yelped and shouted that of course I did, having had no idea that Ann was summering in Oregon. (She having bought the house she grew up in and often spending summers out in Illinois from Boston.) We pulled up to the house, across the street from the house I'd lived in from second grade through my sophomore year of high school, and saw the car in the drive, the back door open, and a bike on the sidewalk. We knocked and called out to Annie and Stev, her son, but getting no response, walked in, finding new groceries on the table but still no response to our calls. I was getting ready to just leave a note when she pulled up in the car of a friend.

It turned out that the friend was Shari, her high school best friend who had come back from Portland, Oregon to catch Annie at home. The funny thing about that was that I had just finished telling Dad the story, as we looked around the front yard for Ann and across the street to my old home, about how I had been such a wretched child when Shari had been my babysitter. I was heading toward sixth grade, I think, and thought myself far too old and mature for a babysitter when Mom had hired her to watch me, Leslie, and Joe, who that summer had then going into third and first grade, respectively. One of Mom's favourite stories about how wretched I could be has to to with her getting a very frantic phone call at work from Shari:
Shari: (very upset) He ran out of the house, climbed up the television antenna and is sitting on the roof!
Mom: Just leave 'im up there.
So, having that story fresh in memory, I apologized to Shari, who remembered all too well what I was talking about. We all chatted for a brief bit, hearing how Stev was doing (he was out with Grandpa, my Uncle John) and how Ann's cinematographer husband Stephen was, as he breezed in and out of Illinois during their summer, but I had to get back on the road. And all too soon I was back in Milwaukee, astounding Dad with a run-through of the powers of Google Earth, where we looked up the pyramid he used to climb to every morning when he lived in Tepoztlán, Mexico. After he shared dinner with me and insisted on taking off for home, I then received some fun emails and pics from the road from Kevin as he drives from Jackson, Wyoming to the new homestead in Tulsa. So I am now settling in and getting back to the dissertation-writing, with the last of scheduled family events until November now off the calendar. But I still want to run down to my sister's and give Sophie a squeeze.
Books (Trinity College Long Room 2)

Theological Notebook: Another Interview with L'Engle That Caught My Eye

A new L'Engle thing I found, an interview from 1997, as I was reading over breakfast the introduction to The Joys of Love, L'Engle's new/old novel from 1946 that has just recently been published, and which arrived in the mail yesterday.

Listening to the Story: A Conversation with Madeleine L'Engle

I turn down the long, dirt farm road and go west, into the sun. I recognize the house, Crosswicks, from the cover sketch on one of her more than forty books. In that house in Goshen, Connecticut, Madeleine L'Engle and Hugh Franklin began to raise their family while Hugh managed a small general store and Madeleine struggled to publish the stories that came, that kept coming. When the family moved back to New York, Crosswicks remained their home for part of the year, a family gathering place.

Now Madeleine lives across the road from the family home in a bungalow built on the foundation of an old farmhouse. She welcomes me into her home with the same spirit of openness she brings to hundreds of public engagements each year--workshops, retreats, speeches. Tea is poured. Time is open. As we talk, neither of us can resist taking in the brilliant sea of grass, wildflowers, and sky outside the windows. Down the hallway, I can see that the writing desk in her room faces directly into it.

I have known her stories from childhood. As an adult, her journals and reflections on writing have inspired me--and given me plenty of space to laugh at myself. But the miracle of the whole sweep of her diverse work, from science fiction to theology, is how clearly it has reflected her vibrant and changing Christian faith.

What will the writer, the woman, the mother, the friend share from the perspective of this year in which she turns eighty? This is the story I have come to hear.

--Dee Dee Risher

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