Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
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Monday, July 1, 2013

Measuring the time

How does one measure the time?  It has been a strange two years for me, which I am still trying to figure out.  Originally, the things I needed to sort out in my head brought me back to the foot of Telephone Canyon, and so I blogged on Laramie, and TLP, and LGBT acceptance as a way to sort them through.  Then came the shift: I have had other things on my mind, and it has led me away from blogging for awhile-- things like, do I really want to finish this Ph. D.?  Am I willing to bail on this career if it it's the only way I can go home to the Rockies?  How do I balance the dictates of a full-time career and a chronic disease, both of which tend to make ridiculous demands of my time and energy?  These questions have taken me away from the blog and elsewhere, and it was hard to justify continued academic interest in The Laramie Project when, according to my prospectus, I'm an Anglo-Saxonist.  Then I looked up to find that two years were gone. 

Life has a way of going in circles, however, and the last few months are bringing me back here.  For one, Grandpa Wolf, my last surviving grandparent, died in May.  I missed the last week of classes to fly back for his funeral in Montana and the return trip brought me back to the land I miss and the family questions I can't escape.  My nieces, who never knew Grandpa Wolf in the days of teeth and claws, were devastated to lose their great-grandfather.  I envy them a little-- they only knew him in the good times.  I still remember the broken bones, the fur and feathers. 

In a weird way, I almost feel like I understand him better now that he's gone.  I can look beyond the old man I hated in my youth and pitied in my adulthood to see at him more objectively.
Church steeples of the high plains: at Lewistown
From the old stories the locals told and the papers in his cabinet, I learned that Wolf was an "accident" baby, and after a traditional German shotgun wedding his parents hopped the border as far as Ypsilanti, North Dakota to escape the infamy.   I also learned that the US Army took my desperately claustrophobic, tractor-driving farmboy of a grandfather and made him a tank driver in the Philippine campaign in World War II.  How he survived the terror I will never know, but he never drove anything smaller than a Cadillac during my lifetime.  His mother died shortly after he was injured overseas, and so he came back from the Pacific Theater covered in scars from the napalm burns, now the main breadwinner for the two younger siblings which his teenage sister had taken under wing.

As I marked the decades between the grain silos stretching from North Dakota to Montana, the more Grandpa Wolf made sense-- he isn't excused, but at least I can fathom how he came to be the man he was.  Wolf was brought into the world as the "mistake" that led to a hardscrabble, loveless marriage between second-generation German immigrants; they came to Montana in the hopes of starting their own farm, only to discover their land wasn't arable.  During the Depression, they labored on another man's land until Grandpa Wolf lost his father when he was ten and his mother a decade later.  When the draft came calling, the Army stuffed him in the smallest hole they could find and waited for him to go crazy.  I'm fairly sure that Wolf's own father was an abuser.  Without anything else to hold onto, he slipped down the same road: insecure, obsessive-compulsive, and violent.

Grandpa Wolf's hometown,  population 125.
It doesn't end there, however. Something else has happened between those decades stretched out between the grain silos.  My mother Goose wanted to hold the reception at the senior's apartments where Wolf had lived up until last year.  I listened to the stories the old timers had about him, and I was perplexed.  This Wolf was personable, easygoing-- even sociable.  He could laugh at himself.  He actually had friends.  There was no way this man, who was once awarded a medal for "lady chasing" by one of the wags at the seniors home, was my grandfather.  Or was he?

I eventually realized that, in the decade that I swapped snow fences and sagebrush for magnolia trees, things had profoundly changed.  The last four years since he lost my Grandmother had utterly wrecked him.  He was not yet a "good" man, whatever that means; but he was trying to become one.

In the last year my mother took care of him at their home in Wyoming, as he could only eat through a gastric tube.  I would have thought that a year of taking care of the man who terrorized her as a child was my idea of hell;  My Mama Goose, however, confessed to me that she was glad she did it.  The man she buried in Lewistown, Montana was not the same one who wrecked her life, she said.  Spending all that time with him, caring for his feedings and medication, convinced her he was different.   And, while he was still far from perfect, she insisted, he was forgiven.   If it weren't for his illness, she might never have known-- and she never would have had closure.  

*      *     *

With all these things on my mind, I sat in the Casper Events Center next to my sister Sparrowhawk as I waited for my niece Kestrel to cross the stage as a certified high school graduate.  She's now eighteen and raring to fly the coop-- in fact, she reminds me so much of my sister at eighteen it's a little scary.  One of the co-valedictorians gave a fairly bland speech that made me fuzz out in boredom.  Then the second girl delivered her speech: she referenced Harvey Milk's courage and sacrifice, and the Stonewall riots, too, if I remember correctly.  My sister smirked and leaned in confidentially.  

"You see her?"  She said, indicating the orator on the stage.  "She had the worst crush on Kestrel in middle school."  This was said without disgust or discomfort, as it would have been just fifteen years ago.  It was simply a fact, one of many others as she reminisced about the other young men and women who walked over the stage-- who played games in her living room, or had their scraped knees bandaged in her kitchen, or were best friends only to grow apart in their teens. These were wistful memories for her, of happier times before the tension started and Kestrel, as beautiful and strong-willed as her mother, began to slip away. 

My sister has never been one to forget a wrong, but she has turned her powerful memory into something more useful than before: a way to mark change.  Even so, I don't know if she realizes how far she has come in the last fifteen years in her acceptance of gays and lesbians, even if her own daughter thinks she is still "back in the Stone Age."  If I use my own memory to mark the change, I can see it, too: slow, easy to miss, but still significant.   

And maybe the same can be said of a town where an eighteen-year-old lesbian graduating from Matthew Shepard's old high school can speak of Harvey Milk in front of her peers, their parents, and the Superintendent of Schools, and still walk out with both her pride and diploma in hand.  



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