Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Triumvirate

I am beginning to think of this as the summer of travel. Last month’s two-week trip to Pennsylvania and Washington State was the first of three such trips planned between now and October. For someone who can happily go for years without leaving the state of Alaska, that is a lot of travel.

Next up is a trip to the Deep South. In July, Dutch and I plan to spend two weeks visiting relatives from both sides of my family in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. My grandmother will celebrate her 94th birthday on July 7th, and we plan to be there for it. Despite the fact that I have known Dutch for almost my entire life (since age three, at any rate), she has never met him. I know she will adore him, as much as he will adore her.

Grandmother is about as fit and spry as any 94-year-old could be. She lives alone and drives her new Cadillac anywhere she wants to go. Last year my Auntie stopped by to visit unexpectedly and found her standing on the dining room table, changing the light bulbs in the chandelier that hangs over it. She had climbed up with a stool and a chair, and couldn’t understand why Auntie was so upset to see her up there.

“I don’t need coddling, I can take care of myself,” was what she said about it.

Seven years ago, in her late eighties, she was a regular volunteer at the old folks’ home in the small town where she lives. She went out every week to visit the oldsters, read to them, wheel them around in the sunshine, etc. The patients were mostly in their seventies. When the management learned she was at least ten years older than the patients, they asked her to stop coming, because they said it was embarrassing to the patients to be helped by someone older than they were. I would think she would inspire more than embarrass them.

Grandmother is definitely the matriarch of the family. I think of her and her two daughters, Mother and Auntie, as “The Triumvirate.” They are definitely a powerful trio of women.

Grandmother married Granddaddy back in the mid-1920s, when she was fourteen years old and he was sixteen. They both came from tough hillbilly stock of the remote Appalachian section of eastern Tennessee, and survived the Great Depression of the 1930s as hard-working, dirt-poor farmers, raising their three children on what little bounty they could scratch from the land.

Then, in the 1940s, oil was discovered on Granddaddy’s land, and the family’s fortunes changed considerably. It was almost a Beverly Hillbillies scenario, though they never moved to California. They did leave the remote and mountainous section of Appalachia where their families had lived for generations, and bought a house and a hardware/furniture store in a small town in south central Kentucky. Granddaddy went from being a farmer to being a merchant, and Grandmother had indoor plumbing for the first time in her life.

Their three children grew up and produced seven grandchildren, of which I was the first. Those grandchildren have produced seven great-grandchildren, of which my niece was the first. She is now 22; the rest of the “greats” are still small children. As she is not married or planning to have children any time soon, there are no “double-greats” in the immediate future.

Granddaddy passed away twenty-five years ago, from the chronic lung disease brought on by his life-long habit of smoking 2 packs per day of unfiltered Pall Malls. Their only son, my Uncle Dan, died about ten years ago, of leukemia. That left The Triumvirate in charge of the family.

There is usually some type of family gathering for Grandmother’s birthday each year, but I am too far away to attend regularly. The last time I was able to make it was for her 90th. Common sense tells me that despite her current good health, she can’t have that many more birthdays left; maybe a dozen if we are really lucky. I will work hard to be there for as many of them as I can.

While Dutch and I are down there, we plan to visit some of Dad’s family also. He was born, and grew up, in Birmingham, and most of his family has remained in the vicinity. Both of my paternal grandparents died many years ago, but Dad’s sister and brother (Uncle Bob of last summer’s Fishing the Kisaralik posts) are still in Alabama, along with their five children and six grandchildren. There was a rift in the family some years back, and I have not seen most of these cousins for over thirty years. I decided it was time to change that, and am working toward a big 4th of July celebration that includes a family healing and reunion. Wish me luck at pulling it off, OK?

The final bit of travel this summer will be a two-week trip to Montana in September. I plan to visit my friend Susan (who spent a week with me here in Alaska last March, and about whom I blogged here, here, and here). That trip feels like a long way off just yet, and plans are still forming.

In the meantime, I have three weeks sandwiched between the first two trips, and a lot to get done in that time. I am back to work on my regular schedule, and my hip is mostly doing OK. I had forgotten how much I enjoy seeing patients while I was on medical leave. It is good to be back in clinic.

With nearly 20 hours a day of sunlight now, all things green are growing like mad. The grass seems to gain two or three inches per day, and needs weed-whacking at least weekly (we don’t own a lawn mower; you can’t mow the tundra). And we have yet to get our boat in the river. The trailer it is sitting on has a flat tire (brand new last summer…grrrrrrr) and if we can’t get it to hold air long enough to launch the boat, we’ll have to hire a fork-loader to set the whole boat/trailer unit on a flatbed and haul it to the river. Once launched, the boat will remain in the water for the summer, and we’ll dock it at the city’s floating piers in the small boat harbor.

Meanwhile, the salmon are arriving in ever-increasing numbers. We were gifted a beautiful red (sockeye) salmon by one of Dutch’s work crew this past week—our first fresh salmon! It was absolutely yummy, grilled over charcoal and served with fresh corn on the cob, salad and bread. This morning one of Dutch’s foremen stopped by with a small king (Chinook) salmon he had just pulled from the river, so more salmon-y goodness is in the immediate future. It makes my palms itch to get out there and start fishing. Ah, June… I love summer.

Photo by Uncle Al of The Triumvirate: Auntie, Grandmother, Mother on the beach in Florida about ten years ago.


Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Wow; salmon fresh out of the river. It must be orders of magnitude more flavorful than its pathetic, shrink-wrapped lower-48 counterpart.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 4:51:00 AM  
Blogger TBTAM said...

What a great picture!

Sounds like a wonderful trip!

Sunday, June 17, 2007 5:24:00 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

I really enjoyed reading about your grandmother...I am of hillbilly stock myself. I think sometimes that that kind of raising makes independent women.
She sounds like someone I would love to know. Really enjoy her while you have her!

Sunday, June 17, 2007 6:57:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

#1 Dino--you are right about that. No comparison. My favorite trick is to take the small Weber grill on the boat with us. I gut and fillet the fish when it comes out of the river and put it right on the hot coals. Doesn't get any fresher that that!

tbtam--thanks. I really love that picture. I come from a long line of great legs!

Rose--I agree, hillbilly women tend to be strong and independant. I'm proud of that heritage.

Thanks, all, for commenting.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Body Soul Spirit said...

I love hearing about elderly people who are strong and independent. What a great story! All the best in your summer travels.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger Wil said...

Per usual, a great post. I loved your description of your grandmother. :)

One question -- is there no one there who knows how to patch a tube? Or, if tubeless, insert a plug into the tire?

I realize there isn't loads of work for mechanics, but really...

Monday, June 18, 2007 5:10:00 PM  
Blogger health watch center said...

Hello Tundra,

Wow beautiful ladies with lovely smile and my advanced 94th birthday wishes to Grandma. Once again an interesting post with great picture.

Self Help Zone

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 4:40:00 AM  

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