Sunday, March 13, 2011

Unnamed Madonnas-Chapter Four

Chapter Four
“Per me si va…."

At the hotel I asked the night desk for a key to my room. He was new, he said in Italian, and promptly called the manager. He asked me questions about how long we were staying and  told me not to worry, that with Easter vacation and so many tourists around,  my husband would eventually make his way back to the hotel. He added that he had a cousin in the police, and would ask him to help out. His English wasn't very good, and that's the jest of what I understood would happen.
I thanked him and made my way to my room. I planned on staying up, waiting and watching television. I must have fallen asleep as my dreams were erratic and I was in a sweat when that phone call came.

We were both, Steve and I, back at the tiny cottage on the Pacific coast that was our home away from home.  The place, Arizona Beach, was  the name Steve’s grandfather had penned when the place flooded right after he had planted his first crop and saw it flooded after a week long winter storm.
 “I wish we had moved to Arizona!” Millie, his wife, had shouted,  her husband’s foolishness of choosing to cultivate  at the surf line, instead of up above on the bluff. 
He bought the other hundred acres, and built her a permanent place on the bluff. The first cabin got swept away and became driftwood just before the windows were installed on the house on the bluff.
We had bought the place when it came for sale, a decade after his mother died. The place was  overrun by vines, thick brush, streams and forest right at the doorstep. A  creek on the side of the property had become a major waterway, run unspoiled to the ocean. We had saved a good amount of money every year, never taking any vacation, just so we could buy the property. We  spent days cutting the outgrowth around the cottage, collecting wood and building fires every night for cooking and heating water.  Time had stood still here. We had no cell connection, no electricity. This place was at the edge of the world.
Steve’s little  sister, Denise,  her husband and their two little boys  joined us every Christmas down  from Alaska where her husband Ronnie made a living as a fisherman.  After Christmas, they drove  to Mexico until the fishing resumed in Alaska, about six months in each place,  all of them  living like that for years. homeschooling the boys when they got old enough to go to school.
At Christmas, the  place was stressed under the burden of six people. The four adults worked the whole time cleaning the place and taming the woods and the pastures.
  Denise’s husband lost his life right on that river,  the second Christmas there. 
Steve,  Ronnie and the boys all fished together. On that day, Steve had some pick-ups to make and couldn’t spend time fishing.  He dropped Ronnie and the boat at the river’s bank and took the boys with him to the store to pick up supplies, waiting for the sun to shine before exposing them to the cold river.   
By the time he got back, the accident had already happened.
We left Denise and the boys at the cottage that winter, making sure they had lots of canned food, lots of wood, and a new generator. 
That first winter, Steve drove up from L.A.  every month, worrying about those boys, trying to convince Denise to move in with us, and get herself a job and settled in. She wouldn't hear of it.  She insisted she could handle things all by herself and he needn't fuss so much about her.
Ten years later, Steve and I finally had  a baby. Once Ryan was on the scene, I expected to change our usual routine of spending Christmas and summers at the cottage.   We kept going to the homestead as though nothing had happened.  Steve took his nephews to forage for mushrooms after a rain storm, set crab traps, harvest clams and mussels.  He felt responsible for the boys, and had a lot of fathering to do when we were there.    

Many winters, storm after storm downed trees and littered streets and highways, disrupting traffic and daily routines.  Tired and cold, and worried, we kept the fire going and kept ourselves busy. One of these days, I thought, we will be unable to return to our normal lives. The highway will be washed out to sea, and we will surely perish.
Each year, we took books and fishing poles, utility knives, traps, shovels, boots, anything that was needed to make Denise’s and the boys’ lives easier.  We spent days building a Christmas village, making structures like the ones my mother and I had made in Italy and through my childhood in Montana. The village was a recreation of Bethlehem, the manger and Jesus and his family in the middle of the village, shepherds and townspeople attending to their chores.  The boys and I made the figurines out of clay in the summer months; at Christmas time, we added new structures, a silver ribbon to represent a river; a clump of moss to represent a plateau; a shoebox turned on its side and painted brown all over, with wood sticks glued on, to represent the stable.   
On Christmas Eve, we lit candles, sang carols and told stories until the boys fell asleep and the grownups began to yawn too. 
 Finally,  Denise married her boss at the hardware store, and decided to move  to Florida when he  got a  position in Miami. Steve  insisted on paying their air fare from Miami,  so everyone could still return to the cottage at Christmas. 
We took the same picture every year: the boys and Denise sitting in front, Steve and I standing in the back. The heating oil delivery person arrived in time to take those pictures every year. 
When the phone rang, we were all standing in front of that Christmas tree in Oregon.




  1. i feel like I'm traveling the world - thank you for another good read :) PS, anything u read on my blog would you please let me know if there are grammatical or spelling errors i didnt catch - these stupid fake tips make me prone to mispellings :)

  2. You left me hanging....wondering what the phone call would bring!

  3. Ohhhhh, what a cliffhanger! Drats!

  4. great back story, rosaria. i want to live in there! sounds like my kind of living.

    (one thing though, i think you wrote that it was on the edge of civilization without even cell service. there'd have been none then anyway, wouldn't there have? or maybe i read wrongly?)