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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Bella Roma

view from Vatican cupola Rome

My parents have spent the first part of May on a European adventure: flying into Athens, cruising through part of the Mediterranean, then ending their trip in Rome.

I can’t wait to hear all their stories when they recover from the jet lag, especially since most of their destinations are places I’ve never been. But their final stop – bella Roma – was part of my first Oxford semester, long ago. And I’ve been remembering.

I flew to Rome for a late-March long weekend with my friends Jesse, Adrienne and Heather. We slept in hostel bunk beds and spent three days walking around as much of the city as we could cover together. I’d given up chocolate for Lent that year (what on earth was I thinking?!) but fortunately, I could still eat fruit gelato. And I ate as much of it as possible.

friends Rome bridge

I remember Rome in flashes and glimpses: elaborate public drinking fountains on every corner, cupping our hands to drink the fresh, cold water. Counting out brassy euro coins and colorful bills (mostly to pay for pasta and pizza). Open street markets and loud Italian that sounded almost-but-not-quite like Spanish. Tossing coins over our shoulders into the Trevi Fountain.

The green oval of the Circus Maximus, once a chariot racing stadium and now a public park. Doing a double take when we saw an elderly nun smoking a cigarette, and another when we spotted a gladiator at the Colosseum with a lip piercing. Buying T-shirts on a side street near the Vatican that said “Ciao ciao” in flowing script like the Coca-Cola logo. Nearly getting hit (so many times!) by crazy drivers on cars and Vespas. Trying my first tiramisu at a little hostaria with plaster-and-beam ceilings on our last night there.

We spent about half a day touring the Vatican, getting up early one morning to beat the crowds. (That was Adrienne’s idea, and she was right on.) I remember being awed by St. Peter’s Basilica and underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel (so crowded!). I fell in love with the elaborate, colorful, ancient maps in many of the exhibits, and I sent at least one postcard home from the Vatican’s post office.

We climbed up 500-plus steps to the top of the cupola, and that was my favorite view of all: Rome, in its entirety, spread out beneath our feet. If there’s a way to climb up and see a city from above, I will take it: see also St Mary’s church tower in Oxford, and a trip with my dad to the top of Notre-Dame.

That weekend was my first (and so far, only) taste of Italy – which didn’t capture my heart in quite the same way as Paris or Spain (or Oxford, which is still home). It ended with a frustrating coda: we took the wrong train, missed our flight and had to spend half a day (and too much money) trying to get back to Oxford.

Despite that, I loved Rome, and the smiles on our faces in my scrapbook photos bear out that truth. It’s been fun to walk down that particular memory lane again.

 

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Katie ww run selfie trail

This is what we used to say to my dad, when he came in from mowing the lawn or an afternoon walking the golf course. In West Texas, you can do both for a good chunk of the year, and while it’s often warm (or hot) enough to break a sweat, this was something different. Sometimes I could smell the lawn fertilizer or the musty scent of dried leaves, but often it was simply the outdoors: earthy, fresh, dusty, a distinct contrast to the clean interior smells of our house.

For as long as I’ve lived in Boston, I have commuted by a combination of public transit and walking, so I have to – and like to – get outside multiple times on any given day. But since I’ve become a walker and then a runner, I get outside much more often, for longer stretches, in nearly all kinds of weather and at all times of day.

Whether it’s the river trail or the Commonwealth Ave mall, or a long, rambling stroll through the streets of Cambridge, I go outside as often as I can, to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, to observe the particularities of the changing seasons. I go to move, to take breaks, to run errands, to ride a bike, to meet friends: to refresh myself by being out in the big wide world.

Of course, I often break a sweat, especially when I’m running or riding. But sometimes, when I come back inside, it’s not quite sweat I smell. It’s something different, more earthy, in my hair or on my clothes. I realized the other day what it was: sometimes I just smell like outside. And I am so happy about that.

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waves neponset summer

I keep hearing that phrase in my grandfather’s voice, these days.

To be clear, I am hearing it inside my head: Papaw died when I was 16, before I’d ever faced problems bigger than a difficult history exam or a temperamental band director.

He was my dad’s dad, a quiet man from Mississippi who spent his adult life in small-town Missouri. He was mostly deaf in one ear as a result of his time serving in Korea, and he wore plaid shirts that snapped up the front, and black-framed glasses, and baseball caps when he went golfing.

When my sister and I were young, we would try to arm-wrestle him, and though I’d push with both hands and throw all my weight against his big hand, I never managed to move it an inch. This made him throw back his head and laugh, a raspy, joyous sound that I loved to hear.

I don’t ever remember hearing Papaw say “It’ll all work out” when he was alive. My mom told me, not long ago, that he used to say it, and immediately I heard it in his voice, infused with the simple, rock-solid faith that I associate with him and my Mimi. They didn’t say much about their faith, but they helped out their neighbors and served their church and raised their three sons to love God and love others.

This summer, I am searching for a new job: combing job boards and sending out applications and trying my absolute best not to panic. I don’t know what is next, and I don’t like that at all. I am a person who likes to have a plan.

There’s no magic formula to quiet my soul when the fear sets in, though I am using all the good, healthy tricks I know, like yoga and running and lots of tea. But sometimes, Papaw’s voice floats through my head, saying this one simple phrase that I never heard him say in life. And it settles me, in a way I can’t quite explain: to know that if he were alive, he would say it to me, believing that I’ll find my next right step.

I don’t know if Papaw ever had doubts or dark nights of the soul. I’m not sure how I could explain to him the work I do, how I worry, what I’m hoping to find. I don’t quite believe he’s speaking to me from beyond, not that way.

But sometimes I hear him say these four words. And it helps me believe they are true.

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k j alhambra view spain

When you say those wedding vows at eighteen, you are committing yourselves—with all that you are and all that you have—to only each other because you are young and wreathed in glory and take up all the space there is.

When you say them at thirty-five, you are signing on for something wider: a whole garden full of people to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in wheelchairs and sleepwalking and heart attacks, in arrogance and graciousness, stubbornness and forgiveness, stumbling and wisdom, in meanness and in kindness that falls like snow and shines brighter than the Dog Star.

To love and to cherish, yes. Like a tiger. A hurricane. A family. Relentlessly.

—Marisa de los Santos, The Precious One

Today we are celebrating a decade of marriage.

This passage comes from the end of de los Santos’ novel about Taisy and Willow, estranged half sisters who share a difficult father and eventually come to share much more. Taisy, who narrates the passage above, makes her wedding vows twice, to the same man. As she says, and as one might expect, the commitment has deepened and widened in the intervening 15 years.

J and I did not (quite) make our wedding vows at age 18. But we did begin dating as 20-year-olds, and at 34, we are standing on the edge of our second decade of marriage.

We knew, I think, that we were signing on for a broad and complicated commitment when we said our vows amid a crowd of people we loved, at age 24. But we did not – because nobody ever does – understand quite what the intervening years would entail.

Marriage is a joy, but it’s not always an easy one. It is a life-giving foundation, but it is neither unshakable nor unchanging. I have come, gradually, to believe that it’s more like a plant than a building. Like anything that lives, it requires tending and care. And like anything that lives, it sometimes changes in unexpected ways. Growth doesn’t always look the way you hope or assume it will. It is often surprising, and sometimes it hurts.

Because we met when we were so young, J and I have done a lot of growing up together: learning how to navigate the world as adults, especially during and after our cross-country move from Texas to Boston. In other ways, we have had to let each other grow on our own, and make space for the slightly different shapes we have taken on, even as each of our growth has informed the other’s.

We are facing (more) transition this summer, as I search for a new job and he continues to deal with changes at work. We are used to this by now, but we can’t just coast; marriage, like most things that are worthwhile, requires taking care. I am no expert on anyone’s marriage besides my own, but like Clare, another de los Santos character, I believe deeply that “at least half of love is paying attention.”

Celebrating a decade of marriage feels big, and it is. But it’s also simply waking up to another day together. It is daily and it is infinite. It is lifelong and it is right here, right now. It is doing our best to walk forward as flawed but loving human beings, trusting that our past experience and our present efforts will carry us into the future.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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alhambra garden fountains roses

Here is the thing about revisiting a place after 14 years: sometimes it feels less familiar than you expected.

I knew that much of our Spain trip, this time, would feel new. I’d never been to Sevilla, never flown straight to Madrid and then Málaga from the U.S., never been to this part of Spain with my husband. Even the neighborhood of Granada where we stayed, the steep cobblestoned streets of the Albayzín, was entirely unknown to me. I expected – even anticipated – dozens of new experiences, new memories.

But I was also expecting something else: the shock of recognition that often comes when you step back onto the ground of a place you have loved.

I am no stranger to this feeling: I’ve had it happen in London, in Washington, D.C., in Prince Edward Island and San Diego and always, always, in Oxford. I am a person who remembers, and I remembered loving Granada, on my first visit there. So I hoped, even expected, it would feel familiar.

And, at first, it didn’t.

I kept waiting to turn down a side street or step into a restaurant or happen upon a square, to glimpse the roofline of a building or the sweep of a view and remember something. And at first – though, as I said, we were staying in a different location and doing new things – I didn’t feel it at all.

I’d glanced through my old photos, the week before we left. I kept remembering snippets of the time I’d spent in Granada with Kyle and Jenny, Elizabeth and Marcela. I remembered a sun-drenched hostel kitchen with saltillo tile on the floor and stacks of toast for breakfast. I remembered tapas and sangria at La Bella y La Bestia. I remembered a group trip to La Alhambra. But I couldn’t make any of it fit with the city I was seeing before me. The architecture matched, but none of it looked like anything I’d seen before.

On our second day in Granada, J and I hiked down and across the Rio Darro, up the opposite hill, to La Alhambra. We had a perfect view of this ancient Moorish palace from our apartment terrace, and I remembered it – palaces, gardens, fountains – as absolutely stunning. And it is. But most of it felt unfamiliar: the labyrinthine garden paths, the intricate tile and plasterwork in the palaces, the views from countless arched windows, the roses. (That last was definitely new: my first visit to La Alhambra was in March, so different plants were in bloom at that time of year.)

We walked on, and I snapped dozens of pictures, but felt sadder and sadder that I couldn’t remember any of it. I’m no longer that girl, twenty years old and wide-eyed, who came to Spain on a whim and a prayer, but she’s still a part of me. I wanted so badly to find some glimpse of her, and I wondered what it meant that I couldn’t.

Near the end of our tour, we walked through the Generalife gardens, which are lush this time of year: tall cedars and red nasturtiums, vivid sweet peas and green arching hedges, so many roses in every color. We wandered into one last palace courtyard, and I all but literally stopped in my tracks because it finally hit me: I was here.

alhambra garden 2004 fountains

The twin fountains on either side of a long, narrow reflecting pool; the whitewashed building at the opposite end; the light and color and feel of the place, even though (as I have said) it was long ago in a different season. I almost started crying, because it was finally true: I remember this.

Suddenly, I could glimpse my friends, or thought I could, out of the corner of my eye. Marcela, squinting into the sun and taking pictures; Elizabeth, with her backpack and sunglasses. Jenny, with her T-shirt sleeves rolled up, and Kyle, gesturing toward every view and saying, with a smile, “Qué linda, no?” (Linda means beautiful, and he was right every time.)

We lingered a few minutes and I snapped half a dozen pictures. Later I would compare them side by side with the one I’d saved from my first trip to La Alhambra, to confirm: this was the place. But I didn’t need to look at the old photo. I knew in my bones that I’d been here before.

The city did not magically unfold itself in memory after that. I only caught a few other glimpses of our first trip, mostly through smells and tastes instead of other sights. But La Alhambra was one of the reasons I fell in love with Granada, one reason I’d insisted to J that we go there this time. So it seems fitting that it was the place where past and present clicked together.

k j alhambra garden granada roses

Just for a moment, I stood in both at once: the adventure I went on as a college student and the life I’ve built as a grown and married woman. The first-time traveler, clueless and eager, and the more seasoned one who’s still searching for something in every place she goes.

I’m no longer that girl, as I said; nor should I be, after nearly a decade and a half. I’ve grown beyond her in many ways, but I still carry her with me. It felt good, and somehow right, to meet her again in a garden and a city we both loved. I breathed a bit easier for the rest of the trip, after that.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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Ever since the first time I visited Spain, I’ve wanted to go back.

That initial trip came in the middle of a spring semester in Oxford, when my classmates and I took budget flights to the Continent and spent long weekends trekking new cities. We slept in hostel bunk beds, got lost on winding streets with signage in unfamiliar languages, soaked up museums and cathedrals and new foods, and generally had the time of our lives.

spain group 2004

I spent my Spring Break that year with four friends on a ten-day jagged loop of travel that began and ended in Barcelona. We hopped down to Granada and then the south coast for a couple of nights before a train journey to Madrid, which ended prematurely when terrorists bombed several trains in the city that morning. We were still several hours away, but we were substantially delayed, and the city was in shock by the time we arrived.

To many of our loved ones, that last incident came to define the whole trip. We couldn’t get word to our parents and professors for hours, and they were, understandably, terrified. But I have fought ever since to hold on to what came before: a whole week of exploring and soaking up a vivacious, beautiful country, eating tapas and drinking sangria and wandering to our hearts’ content.

I flew back to Spain for a long weekend in the winter of 2008, wandering Valencia with my friend Cole and a group of American students, drinking café con leche and eating fresh oranges and, one night, crowding into the back of a smoky bar to watch live flamenco. The following year, my husband and I took an autumn trip to the Basque country of northern Spain, where we wandered narrow streets in Pamplona and ate our weight in pintxos in San Sebastian, and tried to decipher signs written in Euskara.

Earlier this month – nearly 10 years later – we flew to Andalucía for a glorious 10-day jaunt: to Sevilla, new territory for both of us, and Granada, which I already adored. There are many stories to tell about our trip, and I’ll be sharing some of them with you this summer.

But it starts here: with Kyle saying, “Why don’t we go to Spain?” one night in Oxford, nearly a decade and a half ago. With Marcela, who’s from Honduras, acting as our chief interpreter, and Elizabeth navigating half a dozen unfamiliar cities by paper map. It starts with Jenny’s sweet smile and Kyle’s dad sense of humor, with the wide, colorful chaos of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the crisp mountain air of Granada. It starts with a hike in the hills near Órgiva, with oranges plucked from tree branches hanging over a fence, with bulky backpacks and plastic grocery sacks of fresh fruit. It starts with crusty baguettes and jamón serrano and slices of queso manchego eaten in public parks at lunchtime. It starts with card games in hostels, with hanging clean laundry to dry on pensión terraces, with glasses of sangria and inside jokes and the wonders of La Alhambra.

Since that first journey, Spain has lived in my bones, and I was absolutely thrilled to go back – again. And while we made lots of wonderful new memories, this trip was part of that larger story. It was my fourth viaje a España, but I very much hope it won’t be my last.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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pink gold texas sunset sky

I’ve been carrying Frank’s funeral program in my purse for days.

I slipped it in there at the end of his memorial service, a couple of weekends ago, in the high-ceilinged sanctuary of the church where I spent nearly every Sunday growing up. I nearly forgot about it, until I reached in a few days later to retrieve something else and my fingers brushed the paper. I saw his law firm portrait again and thought: That can’t be right.

Frank was an attorney, a father and husband, a percussionist, a dog lover, a man of faith. He and his wife, Kim, have been friends with my parents since the mid-eighties, since my sister and I were tiny. We grew up seeing them at church every week, where they worked tirelessly alongside my mom and dad, teaching Sunday school and directing events, serving in countless quiet ways. I used to baby-sit their sons and daughter, going over to their big, friendly house with its assorted dogs and cats (and, for a memorable time, a corn snake named Queenie). They have loved me, and I have loved them, nearly all my life.

When Frank went into the hospital in mid-April, none of us thought for a second that we’d be sitting at his funeral service in early May.

This is how it happens sometimes: without warning, in the middle of a full and busy spring, with school programs and work assignments and birthday parties and all the stuff of life. Kim is a preschool teacher (she taught my older nephew last year) and found herself taking days off school, both when Frank became ill and when he died. Their sons and daughter-in-law came in from Houston and North Carolina, and friends local and far-flung have rallied. And I think all of us have been wrestling with the sense of sturdy disbelief that Lindsey described in a recent post.

That day at the funeral, and the next day at church, people spoke about Frank and shared stories, funny and tender. He loved Mexican food, the spicier the better. He was a stickler for doing things well: his secretary learned years ago that there is a right and a wrong way to affix paper clips, and his kids knew he had high standards. He was a disciplined, faithful servant to his church and his community. He helped more people, in more ways, than I think any of us will ever know.

But the whole time, I was thinking about something much simpler: he was my friend.

Frank embodied discipline and duty, as his son Joey said at the funeral. (I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Joey started crying in the middle of his tribute to his dad.) He served, as so many people said, without fanfare and without ceasing. He showed up, quietly and consistently, over and over again. These things are important.

But what I will remember – what I suspect all of us will remember, too – is his warmth, his compassion, his smile.

I don’t get back to my hometown too often these days: a few times a year, for a long weekend or a few days at Christmas. I don’t have the kind of daily or weekly interaction with the folks there that I once did. But there are still places where I am sure of a welcome, and one of them is the big Sunday school room at the north end of the church. And Frank was one of the people who always welcomed me home. He always wanted to hear about Boston; he and Kim had enjoyed several trips to Nantucket. It made him happy that we shared a connection to this part of the world.

Those chats on Sunday morning, that rock-solid welcome, is what I will remember, and what I will miss the most.

We are all grieving: Frank’s family, his coworkers, his many friends, the church family he was a part of for so long. My parents are deeply sad and shaken by the loss of their friend. There are no easy words for this; I hesitated to even write these. But it feels important to mark his passing, to say: he was here and he lived and loved. And we loved him. We still do.

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