The Harbor

4 a.m.. Something about sitting in the dark, still needing some more sleep, but unable to do so. It sort of strips you of defenses, it opens up your soul a little bit wider. It creates a vulnerability that isn’t so apparent at mid-day.

I am sitting on the couch of a relative. She is about to turn 90 years old and her companion is 101 years old. He is quite spry, amazingly spry. Works in his garden 2 hours a day and talks about yesterday. He loves telling stories and he takes his time with them wandering wherever his thoughts takes him but eventually returning to the subject matter. It is hard to actually realize that you are engaging with a person who was born in 1921.

The oldest person I can remember being a big part of my life was my great grandmother, who cared for me briefly in Yosemite, but loved me forever. She was born in 1888 I believe, or thereabouts. She lived in the “Indian village” in the Yosemite Valley. She told me I used to love eating acorn meal (she called it mush) as a baby. This is no longer true for me.

Mixed heritage. From my father – Irish, German, with some Native American and a history of temperament issues. My grandfather, as a child, watched his father kill a man with his fists. My grandfather carried that rage, along with an incredible sense of humor and creative genius, with him throughout his life. God help the man who dared to pull out in front of him when he was driving. “I oughta ram the son of a bitch.” Dad carried on the family tradition especially when frustrated, but tried hard to control the impulses. I, too, sad to say, struggle with the same problem.

My mother – my birth mother – is still alive but dementia has set in. Our relationship was shattered when she gave me back to my father to raise, as being an 18 year old trying to support herself and a baby in Yosemite was too much. We lived in a cabin,with my great grandmother, that did not have a bathroom, at the base of El Capitan. Returning to visit my grandmother from time to time, as a little boy I would stand at the base of that big old rock and just stare up at it. We are not entirely certain who my mother’s father was as her mother lived a spirited life once leaving Yosemite and the village. She and all her siblings were taken away from my great grandmother to attend Indian boarding schools. They did have impeccable handwriting. Maybe Italian, maybe Portuguese, who knows and I guess, in a way, who cares? Miwok (Miwuk) for sure, although probably some Paiute in there too. The tribes would trade across the Sierra Nevadas. My mother and I tried to re-establish our relationship and for years we enjoyed ourselves, but eventually the demands of others and our own weaknesses, we were not able to overcome. I think of her daily with a great sadness. We shared the same sense of humor. Will her family tell me when she dies? How will I react? I try to give it all to God as I have seen many times God’s willingness to turn our heartaches into joy. I have been blessed too with a wonderful mother, some call a step mother, but I call my mother.

You see, in the early morning hours, memories and thoughts can tie up like boats in a sleepy harbor. You can walk along the pier, looking at each boat for as long as you want before moving onto the next boat. Soon, you might find yourself telling old stories, just like a 101 year old I know.