At Large in Ballard: The paper anniversary
Over the years I’ve confessed to a slight obsession with anniversaries. Especially for the first year after a major life change I feel like I’m caught in the rip tide the life guards warn about when swimming; the more you fight it the deadlier it is. Just swim parallel to the shore and eventually you’ll escape it, they counsel. That’s how I feel about anniversaries, whether of my daughter’s birth or a friend’s death, swim with it.
Ever since my dad’s stroke three weeks ago I’ve had trouble concentrating on much beyond reading about brain disorders, interrupted by informing anyone in earshot of the dangerous cholesterol count of food they are eating (don’t ever consider pound cake again). I am also trying to help my colleagues plan a community event in honor of automating the Ballard Bell (just be there July 5th at 5:30 p.m. for a great party and spare me further effort). I’m so distracted I left Bartell’s with one of the shopping baskets (empty thank goodness) still hooked over my arm, and I wasn’t parked particularly close by.
In recent weeks I’ve learned yet another new vocabulary which I try to employ for cross-country coordination: compensatory motor speech strategies and the difference between contact-guard and close-guard in supervision of the patient after discharge from the rehabilitation hospital. I would rather be learning Italian, or at least Cyrillic characters along with Emily as she prepares to leave for an internship in Siberia. (Yes, Siberia). I am trying to believe it’s warm enough to put my tomato plants in the ground and re-training myself not to panic when the telephone rings.
However the significance of the last weekend of June 2011 has me in its grip and I’m trying to just swim with until it spits me out again. Too much has happened since the Sunset Hill wedding last year. I would love to be able to relive last year’s wedding weekend again, although I don’t think I could treasure it any more than I did then.
At Sunset Hill Park I sometimes look at the space that was filled with guests and umbrellas, the trunk of the tree where I accidentally left shoes overnight. Most days it is simply a destination on the walk, not a pilgrimage to a moment in time. There was a mudslide over the winter at the westernmost point, which is now blocked by caution tape, proving all around that even the ground beneath our feet is not to be taken for granted.
When I look at the wedding photos it’s almost impossible to find any record of my friend Bob Johnson, despite the fact that he was a nearly 300-pound, 6’1” man wearing a Hawaiian shirt. His wife had only four days left before retirement, after 33 years of service with King County. They planned to retire to her native Thailand, but it was there that a doctor diagnosed Bob’s pancreatic cancer. When I first told Bob that Martin and I had set a date he said, “There is a God.” I miss him every day.
As a Ballard event the wedding week was everything we’d dreamed, from a Friday night reception at Anthony’s through strangers watching from their yards as child violinists led the procession of people, Bella Umbrellas and pedi-cabs down 34th Avenue NW. A few days later my father watched for the Holland America cruise ship to appear off Magnolia, carrying his sister and brother-in-law towards Alaska.
Throughout the subsequent year I’ve made new friends as usual, particularly since the Ballard Writers event in October sparked a collaboration that leads, as ever, back to the bell. “I wish I’d known you last year so I could have invited you to the wedding,” I keep saying, even though it is already so many events in the past. There has been Bertha’s Birthday party to launch the bell project, and there will the celebration event on July 5th, although too late for Bertha Davis to see the completed work.
I could have used less change this last year; fewer losses at home and abroad, as they say. Next week I’ll be writing about a couple that sought change – with a capital C. I didn’t seek change; it found me. I look back a year ago to the day when the sun finally shone on a wedding at Sunset Hill Park that just happened to be ours, and other than inviting everyone else that I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I would make sure I had a photograph of Bob Johnson and that I’d gathered our combined families in one place for at least a minute. I would try to memorize what my father said when switched from a toast to a joke at the reception.
The first anniversary is almost over but for this weekend I am going to keep swimming with the current, wherever it takes me, to wherever it spits me out.