Monday, February 19, 2007

Midwestern Sisters at Hoover Dam

My Mother and her sister (Aunt) Tolli are the epitome of Midwestern women. They are gracious to a fault. Solicitious of everyone they come in contact with. My dear John is always amused by my Midwestern traits and habits and I'm the watered down version of them. Trying to shepard these 70+ year old women into a car is fun to watch.
"You sit up front", Alice will say.
Tolli comes back with, "Oh no Alice, you should sit up there with your bad knees"
"Why Tolli your knees are worse than mine, you sit up front".
"No I can get in and out better from the back seat".
"But you need to sit up front to tell Emily where we are going".
"Emily doesn't need me to tell her where we are going, she never gets lost, she just makes new discoveries"
Eventually one of these wonderful gracious ladies will brush the other aside and climb slowly and painfully into the back seat. This routine, with very little variation will be repeated at every stop during our car trip and on the way back home.
In my hurry up and get there youth this kind of verbal condescending sparring would drive me nuts. But with age comes wisdom I suppose or my ever present search for beauty. And it is beautiful to listen to them. They love each other unreservedly. The bond between them is more beautiful than any painting or sculpture could be. Their's is a love strengthened by the test of years and the knowledge that they alone share the same memories. I see their comments as part of an intricate dance between the two of them. Being Midwestern and born to the familiar cadence of "you go first" I enjoy hearing the same phrases repeated with the same exact intonation each time. It's comforting really, to understand they can't not do it. It's engrained into them from the time they were very young.
However, there was one time when I found myself on the receiving end of their deferential vacillating. I had taken the sisters with me on a road trip to Arizona. The seating arrangements were set early in the trip by Aunt Tolli who turned the back seat into a mini nest of sorts and brooked no objections from Alice. On an aside note, this trip brought about a lot of firsts for me the most notable being that I heard my first cross word from my soft spoken Aunt. I'd forgotten to get gas at the last rest stop and when the warning bell pinged telling me I was down to 3 gallons Aunt Tolli got down right testy. I assured her we had plenty of gas and would get to a gas station in time. She snapped back "oh yeah, that's what Jay always used to say and then we'd get stuck on the side of the road for hours". I was impressed, I didn't think she had it in her. Unfortunately this was not the last time I heard angry stories about Uncle Jay stranding them on the side of the road. I, who have never ran out of gas, forgot again in the tiny town of Jerome, Arizona. We climbed through rugged mountains without even a place to pull over should we run out of gas when that darn warning bell pinged at us again. I believe had Aunt Tolli not been safely esconsed in her nest she might have gone upside of my head at that point. Despite the heat she made me turn off the a/c and refused to let us roll the windows down. She explained the aerodynamic drag of the open windows would over rule gravity of our car going down hill. But, back to my lovely Midwestern Sisters and how they got me.
One of the goals of our trip was to see Hoover Dam. It played a big role in their childhood as I suspect it did a lot of people from that era. They certainly heard stories from their Father and Uncles about the mighty dam and how it was going to change the lives of so many people. The sheer size of it captivated a nation. I've been to the dam several times and never lose my sense of awe for it's human accommplishment. Aunt Tolli had never seen it, and Alice had seen it once years ago. 9/11 changed the dam forever though so a lot of it was new to Alice as well. They've put a large parking garage on the Nevada side of the dam. I love this silly parking garage because they used a dye in the concrete and it's a lovely shade of orange. The parking garage is up the hill from the dam and the visitors center. I had taken a wheelchair with us on our journey, not anticipating neither woman would sit in it in deference to the other. I have some pictures from this trip which usually shows Alice pushing the empty chair while Tolli walks alongside of her with a cane. I couldn't begin to tell if either rode down to the visitors center in the chair, but I sure know who rode up! We toured the new center, and walked across the dam looking tenatively over the sides. They more so than I as vertigo plagues me and that darned thing always makes me a little sick. Nevada and Arizona are hot states. The dam sits in the middle of rock canyons with literally no vegatation on them. The heat is unmerciful during the summer and this was indeed August. The outside temperature that day hovered around 117 degrees. The heat baking off the concrete made your skin sort of crinkle up. You could feel the heat waves coming off it.
I knew the walk back up that huge hill was too much for either of them so I approached an officer and asked him if there was someway I could drive down and pick them up. I was pretty sure they had something in place to assist folks like us and sure enough they did. He told me to take them over to the other side of the road where the police cars were. I was to drive down to them and they would remove the red cones so I could drive right into the sidewalk area and help them load up.
Sounds simple, right? For the first and last time I heard my Mother and my Aunt working in tandem on a seating arrangement. It simply wouldn't do to inconvenience the officer or the other cars. They came up with another plan. I was to push one of them half way up the hill in the wheelchair. Take the first person out and sit her in the shade of the lone palm tree planted up there. I would then return to the bottom with the wheel chair and pick up the other one, push her halfway up the hill where she would swap places with the original sister. Then I would push that one up to the car and get her seated then return with the wheelchair for the other sister and push her the rest of the way up and into the car. You notice I say the words pushed up a lot here? Well that's because that is exactly what we did. They thanked the officer for his trouble, then proceeded to their assigned positions whilst I began my trek. I was so addled with the heat I never argued with them, I just pushed. By the time the last sister was in the parking garage and into the car I was almost dizzy with heat and dehydration. Oddly enough, neither one of them remembers this event as clearly as I do. If you ask them about visiting Hoover Dam, they'll tell you about it's size, the water levels, the heat, even going inside the dam..... but not one mention of my rather herculean efforts.
I think I'll write more about this trip soon. It's hard to forget getting Aunt Tolli safely into our room in Las Vegas when she turned to me with trembling voice and asked "What would I tell Jesus if he came back tonight?" I told her just tell him it's my fault, he's used to it. That seemed to satisfy her and she got ready for bed.
Wow, this post is getting to long. I'd best stop.

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