Memories that serve us well

The Platte River at Kearney, NE

The Platte River at Kearney, NE

Today is my sister’s 63rd birthday. I can’t say I remember the day she was born, but I have many memories of the time leading up to her birth and the momentous events in our family with her as one of us in the two or three years following.

The day our parents told my brother and me we were going to have a baby brother or sister (in that misty past we could of not, of course, know which), he and I were piled on our parents’ bed early in the morning. A wondrous and mysterious time.  And then the months of waiting—my first awareness of the passage of time. In the middle of that time we moved from Worland, WY, to Kearney, NE, it seemed to me in order for the baby to be born there.

When she was born, we already had a girl’s name chosen. I don’t remember what name we had chosen if the baby was a boy, but we knew that a sister would be named Bonnie after our next-door neighbor in Worland (perhaps my brother’s true first love), Bonnie Bailey. The Baileys were our best friends. They had a cabin at Meadowlark Lake up in the Big Horn Mountains they let us use so Dad could fish—of course before Bonnie was born. But she did see Meadowlark Lake at least once when our family went there on vacation when she was five or six years old.  I don’t know for how much of their lives our parents kept in touch with Bonnie Bailey’s parents. I think it was one of those longtime friendships that gave stability to our parents’ lives.

Meadowlark Lake reality in memory

Meadowlark Lake
reality in memory

Memories. Funny things, they. I have not seen Meadowlark Lake for perhaps 60 years, yet I know what it looks like. When I googled “images,” I knew immediately which were Meadowlark and which were some other Wyoming mountain lake erroneously labeled. Memories. How can I know that?

I’m not going to travel down the path of “Kids today don’t have the same wonderful experiences we had—they are too enmeshed in virtual reality to understand real reality.” I could. I have done so before. However, I wonder—I have no way of knowing, so even my wondering may be missing the mark. Do families today have time together doing nothing as we did? I remember distinctly walking by the water at the edge of Meadowlark Lake and simply whiling away the time. And having fish for dinner, caught and cleaned by my father and prepared by my mother. The cabin was simple. Plain. Not very comfortable, as I recall. And I was not comfortable. I did not like camping. I am not and never was the “outdoors man” type.  And we squabbled. However. . .

My sister is a cancer survivor. She is not finished with the ordeal. I don’t know how she or any other cancer survivor does it. I have a hip injury that has been a pain in my ass for three months now. The pain depresses me and makes me even grouchier than normal. I don’t know what I would do if I had a significantly debilitating condition.

Here comes my usual leap of logic, the one that I’d tell my students to avoid, as I say here often.

I have written before in greater detail than I intend to here about my experience of (shall I go all the way and say it?) the ineffable, that which I cannot explain and you could not understand if I did. The few times I have ever felt at one with that which I cannot explain were in some way connected to being (usually alone, but not always) in some beautiful place away from the noise of the city.

Our parents, Bonnie’s, and our older brother’s, and mine, made sure we had time when we were kids to do nothing. To notice. To simply be in the world. Especially in the natural world. I don’t want to make this seem idyllic or rapturous or blessed with any other “spiritual” condition. We were not a family living together in lofty awareness of anything.

But tucked away in the backs of our minds are pictures of beauty, are experiences of simply being. Being close to the world as it is without the layers of stuff we humans construct to keep us all chugging along together. My sister’s late husband was dedicated to helping others make that direct connection. And I’m pretty sure having experienced that direct connection is at least part of the explanation for my sister’s ability to go on in the face of odds that would have defeated me long ago.

Or, perhaps, that connection will serve me well someday, too.

Looking east from Worland, Wyoming

Looking east from Worland, Wyoming

“I’d like to swim in a clear blue stream. . . “

Richard Bloch

Richard Bloch

The center city of Dallas is a mystery to most Dallasites. A few decades ago the center city was decimated by “urban renewal.” What an oxymoron that turned out to be as city after city was virtually destroyed in the 1950s through the 1980s or so, usually for one of two reasons: to provide big oil companies and automobile manufacturers unending sources of profit by making cars an essential part of city living, or to provide other giants of capitalism inexpensive prime locations to build cathedrals to commerce.

My first knowledge of urban “renewal” was the system of freeways built barely north of the center of Kansas City, MO, that divided the city in half and destroyed the perfectly functional streetcar system. Streetcars did not run on gasoline. Their replacement was the ubiquitous automobile and the system of diesel powered buses built largely by General Motors. The collateral damage was the destruction of a swath of buildings (mostly homes) about a half mile wide.  I understood urban “renewal” because my family spent time in Kansas City, KS, with my grandparents when we were kids (in the 50s). I remember the day my dad and my uncle gathered all us kids up for a trip by streetcar from Kansas City, KS, “overtown” to Kansas City, MO, and all the way out to the end of the line beyond Swope Park, so we would experience the streetcar before its immanent destruction.

One manifestation of this craze for destruction in the guise of “renewal” in Dallas is—as in most cities—a system of freeways (I-35E, I-30, I-635, the Central Expressway, the Dallas North Tollway, I-45, and many others). Most of these freeways are named for dead white men, captains of industry and politics—Woodall Rogers, R.L. Thornton, Tom Landry, Lyndon B. Johnson, Julius Schepps, Leslie and John M. Stemmons, and George H.W. Bush (still with us). A section of the Central Expressway is about to be re-named for George W. Bush (also still with us).

The other manifestation of the destruction-in-the-guise-of-“renewal” craze in Dallas is an unseemly number of huge empty spaces

(conveniently made into ugly parking lots) where block after block of two-and-three-story apartment and retail business buildings used to be.

Hidden among the concrete of the freeway (free? built at the cost of humane living, I’d say) system and the unsightly and bizarre patchwork of emptiness are many lovely and inviting “urban spaces”—parks and monuments, and even buildings.

Yesterday I joined the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center. Of all of the options available to me for exercise, it seems to be the best. I must do water walking to get some of the cardio exercise I need so desperately but have been unable (unwilling?) to do since I injured my hip almost three months ago. The center is just south of Baylor Hospital on Washington Street.

Richard Bloch (alternate spelling, Block), one of the brothers who founded H&R Block, grew up in Kansas City. Bloch was a cancer survivor. He beat cancer twice and died from heart failure when he was 78. His wife, Annette, is still living. The Blochs, in order to provide education and care for cancer patients and survivors, founded the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation.

On several occasions, I have walked past a small park in Dallas built on land that was cleared for urban “renewal” sometime during that craze. The park is the Richard and Annette Cancer Survivors Park. It is at the corner of Bryan and Pearl Streets, a few blocks from the Myerson Symphony Center and the Arts District and across the street from the Plaza of the Americas. I discovered recently it is one of 24 such parks in cities around the country. (See a description of the parks.)

Do I need to make the obvious connection between the destruction of “urban renewal” and the beauty of Richard and Annette Bloch’s  real renewal of this space?

I awoke this morning with swimming and cancer on my mind. Both are immediate concerns of mine (no, I do not have cancer).

Last Sunday walking to the opera at the Winspear Opera House in the Arts District, I stopped and took pictures of the Richard and Annette Cancer Survivors Park as I have meant to do in the past. I found the pictures today, and prepared this one to upload here.

Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors' Park, Dallas

Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors’ Park, Dallas

 Thinking about cancer survivors, and about my foray into swimming, and about – oh, about so much that is bittersweet, so much that is overwhelmingly sad juxtaposed with so much that is joyful in my life, I was reminded of my favorite song from the Fantastics. Melancholy and joy at the same time.

I’d like to swim in a clear blue stream
Where the water is icy cold.
Then go to town
In a golden gown,
And have my fortune told.
Just once, Just once,
Just once before I’m old.

I’d like to be not evil,
But a little worldly wise.
To be the kind of girl designed
To be kissed upon the eyes.

I’d like to dance till two o’clock,
Or sometimes dance till dawn,
Or if the band could stand it,
Just go on and on and on
Just once, Just once,
Before the chance is gone!

I’d like to waste a week or two
And never do a chore.
To wear my hair unfastened
So it billows to the floor.
To do the things I’ve dreamed about
But never done before!
Perhaps I’m bad, or wild, or mad,
With lots of grief in store,
But I want much more than keeping house!
Much more! Much more! Much more!