The Tree

Mom & me, next to the tree (December 1967).

I hunted through the cabinets where I’ve stored the old family photos to find this one this morning. It’s probably my favorite Christmas picture.

There are so many things about this picture that I’m haunted by, my mother chief among them. She’s barely 23 here — quite mature, by the standards of the time, to have had her first baby, and yet I can never see this picture without focusing on how unbelievably young she is. I want so badly to reach back through the image and help.

I also can’t help but focus on how tired she looks: I’m about to be four months old, and it looks like it’s been a pretty eventful four months. Her wrists are so delicate, and her skin is so pale. And yet for all that superficial fragility, she would hold everything together a few years down the road, when it all must have seemed like it was falling apart.

Youth aside, exhaustion aside, in this picture is my most intense connection to my mother. But for a slightly different nose, the girl holding the baby could perfectly well be me. My life, just starting in this picture, could have circled around to this point with no effort at all.

So much of the path I’ve taken — that she helped me take — has been different, and yet it all for me starts here, in the open-mouthed wonder of it all. How did they get this thing in here? And what for?

Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

Astro-Sonic

A much-beloved aunt and uncle of mine who live not too far away from here, in a lovely suburban split-level they moved into — what? 45 years ago? — are preparing to move to an assisted living facility a bit further away. My uncle being an engineer, once by trade and still by temperament, even this long into his retirement, there is zero doubt that this move will take place with anything other than scientific precision. At least if he has anything to say about it.

Of course, one of the things about this stage of life is that one has a decreasing amount to say about it, or perhaps just as much to say, but what one says seems to have a diminishing effect. The facility my aunt and uncle will be moving into is currently at capacity; they’re waiting for an apartment to open. And while I hope for their sake that one opens soon, one hesitates to wish for the precipitating cause of such an opening.

Nevertheless, the waiting is difficult for everyone, not least my uncle, who is a man of Plans and Preparations. As a result, he’s trying to take care of what details he can now, so that the drill team can go into motion as soon as the word of that vacancy is received.

Those details include giving away as many of the belongings that they won’t be taking with them as they can. And hence my part in the story.

Since I was a small child, I loved their stereo. Its hi-fidelity stereophonic sound seemed to me then to be the peak of musical sophistication. By my early twenties, when its audio technology had become thoroughly outdated, I had fallen in love with the cabinet, with the era that turned technology into furniture you might want to have around even after the gizmos it housed had fallen into disrepair.

The turntable has long since stopped turning, and one speaker has a fairly serious buzz. Aside from that, however, it’s still lovely, and capable of producing some remarkably good sound. And so when my aunt and uncle asked me if I wanted it, along with their modest collection of LPs, I said absolutely.

What I did not realize at the time was the challenge that would be posed to The Ways Things Are Done Around Here by trying to get one piece of furniture moved from a house 30 miles away and into my apartment. And then there was the matter of my imminent departure, which meant that I had a two-week period to get the thing taken care of, lest I leave my uncle unduly stressed about the possibility that the apartment would open up and they would need to move into it before I returned home.

After more calls and emails than I care to go into, what finally did the trick was yesterday’s rain, and the fact that my landlord has a family handyman (yes, really) who was painting his house out on Long Island, but whose work was prohibited by the weather. So he and his subordinate ran out, picked up the cabinet, and moved it in for me. The entire thing was done in a matter of two hours.

So I came home yesterday evening to this, the Magnavox Astro-Sonic Hi-Fidelity Stereo:

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good spot for it; right now it’s sort of crammed along the wall next to my dining room table. If I were able to stand back far enough from it to take a proper picture, it would look something like this, except without the small handles on the far right and left “drawers” (which are of course not drawers at all), and with slightly different legs and trim

The actual workings of the stereo are still as gorgeous as ever:

And my uncle, ever the engineer, preserved not one but two all but pristine copies of the documentation it came with:

(I’ve posted the full brochure to Flickr, if you’re curious.)

I’m touched beyond belief to have this gorgeous thing in my apartment, both for its extraordinary coolness and for the bit of my aunt and uncle I’ll now get to have with me as long as possible.

A project for August: get the electronics restored to their Astro-Sonic glory.

The News from Baton Rouge

I talked to my mother a little while ago, and the news from post-Gustav Baton Rouge (which only Josh and The Advocate seem to be reporting on at all) is not good: much of the city could be without electricity for as long as four weeks, with temperatures in the 90s, enormous lines for gas and basic supplies, and of course the usual incidents of price-gouging going on.

You’re not hearing much about this, because very few people have died, and the damage isn’t terribly picturesque, but many folks in Baton Rouge are, or will shortly be, in dire straits. The city got slammed with the worst hurricane damage it’s faced in more than 40 years. If you can help, and are at a loss for how, can I suggest a donation to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank? They’re very highly rated among local charities and their services are no doubt going to be in increasing demand, the longer the power stays off.

We’re all ecstatic, of course, that New Orleans was spared, but people in Louisiana still need your help — and they need to know that we’re paying attention…

Next Year, Miracle-Ear for Everybody!

The subject line of this post is what I muttered at my mother after several hours of hanging out with my family, each and every last member of which is suddenly deaf as a post, except for my mother, and she just doesn’t listen. Here’s a sample scene, from yesterday as I was leaving my mother’s house to go pick R. up at the airport. My part must be read in a steadily increasing volume.

***

(Favorite Aunt and Uncle are sitting together on the sofa. Enter KF, carrying bags and car keys.)

KF: Okay, Favorite Aunt, I’m leaving for the airport now. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Favorite Aunt: You’re leaving?

KF: Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Favorite Aunt: Okay, honey. See you tomorrow.

Favorite Uncle: You’re leaving?

KF: Yes. I’m going to pick R. up at the airport. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Favorite Uncle: You’re not coming back here?

KF: No, we’re going back to R.’s apartment.

Favorite Uncle: So when are we going to see you again?

KF: I’ll see you tomorrow.

Favorite Uncle: Okay, we’ll see you then.

(Exit KF, smiling through gritted teeth.)

***

It never fails. I’ll say something to my mother and Favorite Aunt will catch only part of it, but being insatiably curious she’ll ask what we’re talking about, so I’ll repeat it to her. Only she won’t hear part of it, so I’ll have to repeat it again, slightly louder. At which point Favorite Uncle, who is the deafest of the bunch, will begin to realize that something is being said that may or may not involve him, so he’ll go “what?” And I’ll say even louder and for the fourth time whatever it was that I was saying to my mother in the first place, which is inevitably either of absolutely no importance to anyone other than me or else is somewhat personal and something I’d prefer not shouting to everyone in the neighborhood.

I love my relatives dearly, and as R. would no doubt chime in here, at least they’re not certifiably crazy. But they’re all stubborn as crap, and are completely convinced that I mumble. All I want for Christmas at this point is a healthy infusion of patience.

That, and a 767 headed for Europe.

The Parents Are In The House!

My parents arrived last night, and while both of them look a little wrung-out, and both are clearly very upset about what’s happening to the state they both love, they’re doing quite well. They brought news from Baton Rouge, some of which I’ll post a bit later.

For now, just the relief for me of seeing that they’re really alright, and the relief for them, I hope, of being away from the mess for a couple of days.

The Beauty Part

Here’s the brilliant thing. And that I am saying this is not just attributable to the martini(s) earlier this evening imbibed, but said beverages no doubt don’t hurt. The brilliant thing is that my parents got their power back this morning, and were able to email me. And told me that they’re flying in tomorrow, as previously planned, downfall of Western civilization notwithstanding.

And the beauty part of this, knowing my parents, is that this means that these are not the last martinis that I’ll consume this weekend.

So: parents are alive and shortly huggable. And martinis are plentiful, and parentally sanctioned.

And a little escape, perhaps, might well be in order.

Katrina

My parents have done what they can to protect their boat, which is just on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, and have motored back up the road to Baton Rouge, where they’re busy battening down the hatches.

This is what they’re running from. (Here in motion.) It’s apparently off the charts, both in terms of size and strength. And it’s predicted to make a dead-on strike on New Orleans.

If it does, the first thing that will happen is that the city will lose power to the pumping stations that keep the Pontchartrain, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico out. The city being six feet below sea level, the water’s coming in, one way or another. It’s likely that one or more levees will fail, exacerbating the process. And NOAA is predicting a 15-foot 20- to 25-foot storm surge, followed by 20-foot 20- to 40-foot waves.

It’s long been known in Louisiana that computer models have predicted that, should New Orleans be hit dead-on with a hurricane like this one, the city could likely wind up under ten feet of water.

My thoughts are with everybody there, and with my loved ones just up the road. Here’s hoping that all of you and yours are safe.

[UPDATE, 1.14 pm: More alarming imagery here. My mother told me on the phone this morning that she thought that this storm could change the coastline of Louisiana as we know it. It’s hard, seeing this, not to think she’s right.]

[UPDATE, 2.23 pm: CNN now says computer models are suggesting that a dead-on hit of Katrina on NOLA could leave the city under 30 feet of water. Not ten. Jesus.]