Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Joy of Racing

The Joy of Racing

Some dedicated runners never compete. Others scan upcoming events to find the perfect race. But most runners sign up for a few races each year because of tradition. They always do that particular race. Or they sign up to support a favorite cause. Runners choose an “away” race in a desirable spot so they can travel, explore a new place, and perhaps take advantage of low altitude and runner-friendly weather.
            By the time I ran my first race, a 10k sponsored by the Fort Collins Running Club at City Park in For Collins, I’d been putting in a solid one-mile training run most every morning for five years. That first race was so long ago that I no longer remember why I decided to do it.  But I remember well the sense of elation I felt afterwards. I was flying high!
            As a 40-year-old female participating in a race, I was a little bit unusual back in the mid-70s. Unusual enough that I had little competition and did well enough that I was inspired to enter another race.
            Over the years since then, I haven’t kept track of how many races I’ve run. I’d estimate the number as between 350 and 400—all of them fun, even the Duke City Half Marathon in Albuquerque where I fell flat on the pavement at mile 11.5 and finished dripping blood from my elbow.
            Yet, preparation to race is not why I run. I see competing as “the frosting on the cake,” an opportunity to confront a challenge and enjoy happy banter among friends and strangers before, during and after the event.
            It’s the act of plunking one foot down in front of the other, the act of running, that I love most. It helps me get a good start on the day or wind down at the end of one. In winter I like foul weather that forces the body’s little aches/pains/glitches to take a back seat to surviving a run without freezing. Figuring out how to maintain an upright position while running on icy roads demands some serious concentration.
            I appreciate the cool quiet of the early morning on a summer day that will soon become a sizzler. Rain is so rare in Colorado that running wet is a treat. Running into the wind is only fun when the wind changes, you turn around, or when the run is finished.
            When I run alone, paying little or no attention to pace, all sorts of ideas pop up—some fleeting and silly, others thoughts I’m convinced I would never have had without the freedom that a solitary run provides. Daydreaming and idle looking around—there’s no better time or place to do it than out on the road alone.
            Would running be as satisfying without the structure that the knowledge of an upcoming race provides?  Every runner will have their own answer to that question. For me, the answer is “yes.” There is great joy in the challenge and camaraderie of the race, but I cannot survive by only chasing the frosting. I need a whole lot of plain cake fancied up by the addition of an occasional exciting topping.

My Uncle George

George Bertram Shirley Payton died 15 years ago at age 91. My mom’s younger brother, he was the last of his generation in the Payton family. He was only down for a few days before he died, with Joanna, his wife of 30 years by his side.

He was my favorite uncle even though he lived 5,000 miles away across an ocean in a place I left for good at age 10. Yet, I always felt  in touch with this guy.

George was a mechanical kid. For a time, he had such a love affair going with his hammer that he called it his “boodle doo” and took it to bed with him every night. His skills came in handy as his dad died when he was only four. My mom loved to tell about George’s leg poking through a hole in the kitchen ceiling, the result of a little repair work he was doing in the bathroom above.

When I was three, he was part of the British Army retreating from Dunkirk during World War II. “When do you think George will be home?” my mother asked my grandmother. Before she could answer, I blurted out, “I think never,” sending my mother into a flood of tears.

“Don’t be ridiculous, she’s only a child,” granny said.

George arrived home a few days later with only a towel, a pair of pants and a pair of socks to his name. In those pants was a water-soaked 10-pound note which I kept for years. He spent the rest of the war in India and Burma. He came home with malaria and a hat that my brother and I thought was the coolest. We called it his “Burma Hat.”

In India, George’s commanding officer wasn’t much of a letter writer. He assigned George to write to his wife. George must have done a masterful job because when the war was over, he went to see Peggy and before very long she was “in a family way.” My cousin, Georgina, was nine months old before Peggy was officially divorced and she and George could marry.

An engineer by training, George was not well enough to work for several months when the war was over. He spent his time researching our family tree back to 1712, recorded it in precise printing on a huge piece of blueprint paper. I own it still, though it is in serious need of updating.

George golfed until he was 86. His pleasure in the game was only exceeded by his delight in the friends he played with. He stood by Peggy as she struggled with cancer but after her death he had a tough time pulling himself out of a depression. “I’m sending you off on a cruise to the West Indies,” Gina said. He went.

Joanna Rodriguez, a widow and travel agent from Mexico City, was aboard. By the time the cruise had ended, Joanna had agreed to visit George in England. When the visit was over, they headed back to Mexico to marry. The ceremony almost didn’t take place because George could not provide the necessary documentation—Peggy’s death certificate. “Ah, time is short, we must marry,” Joanna insisted and somehow the ceremony was performed.

Settling into a place so far from home and so culturally different cannot have been easy for Joanna but she came to love England. Making George happy was a joy for her.

When George married, he announced his retirement from an engineering firm. He was 61.  “Being married to Joanna is going to be a full-time job,” he promised. And it was.

Once when we visited, George said he could not go out to dinner because he’d had a tooth pulled that day and would not be able to eat.

“Ah, Georgito, come along.” Jo said. “Maybe you eat a little.” When the food appeared, George tucked in like there was no tomorrow, the extraction totally forgotten.

English cars are small, so we went to the restaurant in two of them. I was in the one that George drove. On the way home he got lost and his comments about himself and the situation had us in gales of laughter. George joined in. “If you don’t stop, I’ll wet my knickers,” he said. We laughed some more.

George was famous for getting lost—in London’s Heathrow Airport and in Birmingham where he was a major stockholder in the family jewelry business. George just did not do directions.

He liked to wear a tie around his wait instead of a belt. He liked to sleep at the end of the garden in a little summer house when the temperature rose above 80 degrees.

The first time he saw me as a adult, after many years apart he said, “Oh, I expected you to look, well, matronly.”

He was an unforgettable uncle.

A flower and a whiskey bottle

On a warm afternoon this week, I set out on a walk seeking signs of spring. Instead of following a familiar route, I wandered through some neighborhoods where I found croci (Is that the plural of crocus?) struggling up from a bed of dead leaves.

Soon I left the residential area and found my way down a small dirt path to a big open field with a lake in the distance. The territory looked familiar and I knew that it would be easy to find my way home from here. I’m so good at getting lost that this was a comforting thought.

The field was brown and raggedy, with only the slightest hint of green, about what you’d expect to find in Northern Colorado in March.

Soon I came upon an old post planted firmly in the ground and adorned with a collection of what could only be called junk. The top of the post was crowned with a Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey bottle. Below it a crushed pop can had been nailed to the post alongside a rusted-out oversize tin can hanging in the breeze. A piece of fabric with a design on it, looking as if it might have been part of a hat, was attached a little lower down on the post. The whole array was encircled by a long piece of white tape marked with horizontal bars every foot or so and intermingled with strong
wire holding the whole collection together.

It was silly and artsy and unexpected, and far from a sign of spring. I liked it. It stood there welcoming all seasons.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Where are you from?

“Where are you from?”

I get asked quite often. For me, it’s not an easy question to answer. Do you mean where did I start out? Where did I live while growing up? Where is my favorite place? The list is long. One day I counted them up. Eighteen houses in way more places than people want to hear about. So I tell them Seattle, Washington.

I moved there when I was 10. I left when I was 16. That’s where I came of age. Where I got braces on my teeth. And my first kiss. And a driver’s license. And a portable radio. And life-long friends. And my first bra.

In the fall of my 16th year I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the East Coast where the kids at my new school wore Bermuda shorts and had funny accents. They played lacrosse and field hockey, games I knew nothing about.

At Queen Anne High School in Seattle I was vice president of my sophomore class. At Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia I stayed after school to catch up. And when I got home, I wrote letters to my Seattle friends. I wasn’t good at adjusting to this strange place.

We moved to Philadelphia because my dad quit his job and couldn’t find another one in Seattle. None of us wanted to move East. The people weren’t friendly. It didn’t feel to me like the City of Brotherly Love.

My dad sympathized. He allowed me to spend the summer between my junior and senior year in Seattle with a friend. Her family had a boat. We cruised the San Juan Islands and sometimes slept on the beach. That made it all the harder to go back to Philadelphia.

I have been working my way West ever since. When my dad said, “Not one dime to go to college west of the Mississippi River,” I chose Ohio. When my soon-to-be husband planned to go to law school in Ohio, I convinced him to go as far west as Boulder, Colorado. When he died, 30 some years later, I went to Seattle to lead bicycle trips for a summer, thinking I’d move back at last.

But the place had grown and changed. I had kids and grandkids and friends in Colorado. And so I came home. But there’s a part of me that says Seattle is still my place. I have old friends there, and now a grandson.

And a pile of memories.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ice on the lake

There’s nothing quite like getting your workout for the day by cruising around a frozen lake on cross-country skis. My friend and I got an early start. Single digit temperatures might have made us reconsider for a moment, but then, there was little to no wind, a brilliant sun was warming up the world, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to visit.

The sun was illuminating and reflecting the work of Jack Frost who, overnight, perhaps assisted by a breeze or currents circulating below the ice, has created a wonderland.  I don’t know how it came to be.

What I do know is that within moments we were comfortably warm and sliding along over a thin layer of sparkling snow. Soon we came upon nature’s artwork. Luckily, my friend had her camera along and pulled it out of her pocket when we paused to get a closer look.

Amazing handiwork! Before us, all across the lake, were patches of extraordinary beauty. Some of these places resembled a field of fluffy feathers, others looked more like delicate leaves shimmering in the sun.

What a way to start the day!

                                                         photo by Seraina Gessler