Then there was the whole Grand Canyon thing.
On the way back from California, the long, dust-bitten journey slouching toward Pennsylvania, my parents decided we should stop at some natural wonders along the way. Death Valley. Joshua Tree. The Painted Desert. My mother maintained a hawk-like vigilance as she continually scanned the landmark scenery through the car window. She wore sunglasses, very dark green ones. Wearing glasses always caused her to hold her mouth funny, as if that were completely essential to keeping the glasses in place. Every so often her hand shot out and grazed my father’s arm. “Stop the car!”
The words came out with palpable enthusiasm; but it was, nonetheless, a command. The second the car came to a full stop – amid a great spray of gravel and dust – my mother leapt out the door. She stood by the car, with her hands planted on her hips and her feet wide apart, surveying the scene. Around her neck hung her still camera; wrapped tightly around her wrist was the thin, worn shoelace cord of her wind-up 8mm movie camera.
It seemed to take her a minute to remember that the other three of us were there. She swung the top half of her body around and looked at my brother and me still sitting in the back seat as if our folly could not be grasped. We shuffled along behind her dutifully, slowly, willful in our disinterest.
My father stayed by the car. He lit a cigarette, and smoked it as if it was a great chore, but one that must be done.
My mother knew a lot about a lot, which of course made me suspicious. How can you go to all these different places, and the same one person knows so much stuff about all the trees, and the flowers, and the cactuseses, and the birds, and on and on, every single place you go. Plus, my father staying by the car and not even coming along to see these great sights added considerably to my suspicion. If this stuff was so wondrous and important, why would he want to stay by the car and miss it!
Way before we got to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty sure my mother was just making stuff up. So by the time she was making exuberant wide gestures while talking about time, and a river, and layers of rock, and millions of years, millions and millions of years — I just felt sad and confused. My neighbor Patsy had already told me about the whole world being made in just seven short days, well six really, cause God took
one day off to rest. She had learned this at church, and this story was from God himself. They said so at church, a Presbyterian one, but my other neighbor Carrie was an actual Catholic; and Carrie confirmed
this was, without question, the truth.
I felt a little better when my brother and I were allowed to feed some peanuts to the chipmunks that were running around everywhere. I was scared they would bite me, but they didn’t, and their teeny little claws felt creepy and good all at the same time when they crawled into my hand to get the nut. I had to keep very, very still. I felt like there were my personal friends.
But back in the car, as we drove away from the Grand Canyon, there was a whirl going on inside of me. Kind of like when you make those whirly paintings at carnivals, the ones where you squirt bright, beautiful colors from ketchup bottles, and then the whole thing spins around, and you think it’s going to be so so pretty; but it’s a mess. An ugly, dark mess.
Why would my own mother tell such whoppers?