Sweet Home California
Last Monday morning while I ground up coffee beans and watched the muted 8am news in my parents' kitchen, I had a flash of déjà vu.
My fully-loaded black and purple tramping pack was by the front door, which was slightly ajar.
Beside the pack was my laptop bag and a small carry-on backpack with a scarf, my sunglasses, and my freshly-charged mp3 player resting on top.
I had already checked twice to make sure my passport(s) - both current - and bankcards were zipped up safely in the pocket lining.
Boarding pass: check. Cheap hotel reservation number, snow boots, and digits for a dodgy sounding taxi company: check, check and check.
This is what I am most thankful for tonight:
Five hours ago, my two cousins and I, who are rarely in the same country during the holidays, were dancing around my aunt's kitchen in our boots to 70s music and washing up dishes from Thanksgiving dinner.
Not quite sure how the dance party started.
Because about ten minutes before, we were, like millions of other Americans, in a food coma from over-partaking in two kinds of green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, creamed corn, turkey and my late Grandma Emily's jell-o ''sin salad'' - a 1950s-esque comfort food none of us would dream of missing out on (and it's a full year until that gets passed around the table again so, you know, you have to take at least two extra helpings to get you through to 2014).
There are three of us cousins home in California this year - Victoria, Christine and myself.
A long time ago, I was, apparently, responsible for two people eloping.
And I say apparently with bunny-eared quotation marks because I know as much as anyone, how tricky memory can be.
Truth is a slippery thing when we create the story of our lives, especially love stories.
We all need a few heroes and villains; gatekeepers and underdogs, angels in disguise and wise crones and so forth to keep us company during all the confusion.
Maybe we put our lives in gripping story form because it gives all the crazy chaos, all the senselessness, just a little bit of structure. Life is messy and erratic.
It was a germ of an idea; a seed dropping out of the sky and it fell during a long afternoon run at Tuapeka Mouth in March while listening to a good song.
The idea was watered in Southland, nourished, given California sun and now I am here, flying past fence posts in North Dakota as gas flares light up the prairie, listening to rig workers play cards, drink, and describe the oil that comes out of the ground here like honey.
I'll back up.
It started out like this: hey, how cool would it be to take a train from California to the East Coast, resume under one arm, and maybe just pick a town to live in for awhile?
And then I remember stopping, taking my earphones out - I had been listening to The Head and The Heart's ''Down in the Valley'' - and standing there, with just the sound of my own breath, looking at the brown hills around me in the afternoon sun, giving this little wheatberry in my brain a bit more room to get bigger.
A few days ago I was making turkey meatloaf in my parents' kitchen, and somewhere between cracking the eggs, throwing in parsley and thyme, and adding dried crumbs from a loaf of rosemary bread my mom had bagged and put in the freezer, I realised we didn't have any Worchester sauce in the house.
I stopped immediately and washed my hands, dried them off on the apron tied around my waist, and texted Kathleen. I knew Kathleen had Worchester sauce in her pantry, I told her. Was she home? Because I was arriving on her doorstep in about two minutes to grab some.
She texted back a moment later and said I couldn't take the whole bottle because she needed it for roasting pumpkin seeds for the party tomorrow.
That's fine, I just needed a splash, I replied.
Great, see you soon, she said.
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