October 13th, 2017
“The traveling monkey” have you ever heard this expression? In my family it means an itch that starts in your back and moves around as you attempt to scratch the itch, like a, well, traveling monkey. Sometimes I think I am a traveling monkey. My uncle Ned, my father’s brother use to tell stories of a gypsy woman in our family making him a traveling man. I think it had more to do with his trauma, sensitive nature, alcoholism, and inability to put up with people’s shit. The last letter he ever wrote me, he was in the full throes of dementia in a rest home, it said in very beautiful print, the kind my father had, the old catholic school calligraphy, it said simply, “I Love You”. He was an earth traveler like I am, though my journey is an euphoric dream compared to his experience being outdoors, unloved and born poor, dirt poor in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father gone soon after his birth, the last of four living children, he was born just after the tragic death of the red headed brother Robbie, who died from growing too fast at two. Mary Katherine my grandmother was distraught, poor and had only been in America since she was three. At eighteen months her mother was dead at their sheep farm in Donegal Ireland, it was never clear what she had died from. But it made quite an impact on Mary Katherine. She was kept from the journey to America on the sheep farm by her uncle Ned and his wife until just after her third birthday when she was to have gained enough immunity for the journey. Her father and the older siblings had been in America since shortly after her mother’s death, but her father could not care for an infant alone. Ned was her mother’s brother. She always spoke of him and the farm and returning to Donegal and the holy land once more. She never did. So when Ned arrived, her uncle Ned had been writing letters to her over the years. She spoke proudly of being able to afford a portrait of the infant Edward “Ned” to send to her uncle in Ireland.
Even though my uncle Ned’s life was fraught with danger and disharmony, I remember him smiling. I remember him enjoying drinking his tea more than I had ever seen anyone love any kind of beverage ever. I am sure this is where my love of tea comes from. Tea with lots of honey, lots and lots of honey.
On the road I drink a lot of tea. I now see how comforting it must have been this ritual in such an unsure world. I was recently driving with my husband through the worst fires in California’s history. The stories of my great grandfather’s about the dust bowl came to mind as Ilooked out at the smoke thicker than fog. The winds that come to whip the smoke around you like fire from the dragon's mouth are called “The Diablos”. I turn up the Miguel Bose, sip my warm cup of Earl Grey with lots of local honey and drink in the moment. I let the tears fall, because I know by the sound of the winds it's gonna be bad, real bad. People are gonna be trapped, I send prayers and hold images of the people I love who are in the hardest hit areas, I think of how little there is already for them, and now this.. But then I take a sip. Slow my breathing. I scratch my husband's head, and marvel at how he drives through it all with the determination I have seen him use to do so many things. I take a sip, I remind myself I am a traveling monkey, I am a sailor's daughter, I can navigate this…..