Cleaning Windshields and Running Away

It’s an odd thing to write a blog.  “What’s it about?” I get asked by people who have never read it.  I usually draw a blank when that happens.

What’s it about?  Partly about me and my life.  But I want it to be more than that.  I want it to be about women’s issues, aging, families, current events, marriage, motherhood, politics.  I don’t want it to be a dreary recitation of what I do and where I go and what I think about.  I don’t want it to have a single mood.  I want it to be multifaceted and entertaining and thoughtful and unpredictable.

I want, I want, I want … Well, sometimes it works the way I want it to and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes, I can’t shift subjects and moods the way I’d ideally like to.  Sometimes, I get stuck in my life and my blog.

This post, for example.  I wanted to tell you about the big wedding we went to for our dear nephew Drew and his new wife, Louise.  I wanted to mention the toast I should have made to them, but didn’t.  If I’d been on my toes, I would have told them about the wedding I went to a few years back, when the minister told the audience that it was wonderful the bride and groom were so much in love.  But wouldn’t it be even better, he continued, if we all gathered again in another 25 or 40 years and said wasn’t it wonderful that the bride and groom were even more in love than they’d been on their wedding day?  Wouldn’t that be an even more incredible and touching event to celebrate?

I heard that sermon many years ago, and almost collapsed, sobbing, when I heard it.  I wanted to repeat it and have everybody gathered for Drew and Louise to hear it and be moved by it, as I’d been.  Widespread sobbing wouldn’t have been mandatory, but it would have been nice.  But I didn’t get around to making the toast.

At the wedding reception the next evening, I found myself dancing like a deranged cockatoo to the incredible band — waving my arms, kicking my legs, gyrating shamelessly.  There were a lot of photographers around and I’m sure they snapped some shots that could be used as blackmail if my husband or I ever decide to go into politics.  I wanted to tell a funny story about that and the red hat I was wearing.

Because, you see, a blog needs to be unpredictable and its moods need to shift relentlessly if it’s going to entertain.  Nothing worse than a blog stuck in a single, sad and mopey morass that can’t quite be cleared away.  But there my blog is and there I am.

I returned to New York for the few days we have left, naively assuming I had escaped my grief.  After all, for two days, I had gorged on great food, drunk too much, seen people I love, felt the enveloping folds of family and friends, danced badly, screamed the lyrics to songs, cried again in a church — this time for something joyous, laughed, told stories.  I had gone beyond my sadness, worked through it, moved on.

Except I hadn’t.  I find myself seeing my father’s face and recalling memories like the time he cleaned off my front windshield several years ago when I was about to drive back 300 miles after visiting him and my ailing mother.  He stayed outside in the heat, working on a collection of dead bugs and smears, till he left the windshield clear and sparkling.

This is love, I remember telling myself.  He might not be able to express himself the way I wanted him to, but my father was showing he loved me.  And grieving, I assume, is also about love.  I keep wanting to move past it in my life and my blog, but why?  I’m inclined to think it’s the most important destination any of us have.  Where am I trying to rush off to, anyway?  And why am I bothering to write if it’s not about this?

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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25 comments… add one
  • But you did say so very much right here, Ruth. Quite poignant, in fact. I’m amazed at how seamlessly you pull it all together.

  • Your blog is multifaceted, entertaining, thoughtful and unpredictable.  And, since it is also about you, I don’t suppose it could ever be dreary, though it is sometimes sad — like life.

    As for the question what is your blog about, I like to practice the word “quotidian”.  It sounds impressive, and people don’t usually ask again.

  • But grief is so unpredictable.  Hidden for a time, then popping out to whack us upside the head when least expected.  So too, the blog must be unpredictable in relating that experience.  What a nice balance to have a joyous occasion after a sad one. Such is life!
    Oh, and I love the clean windshield as an expression of love. 

  • But this is exactly what blogs are about….life and all its messy and boring and joyful and sad details.

  • Craig Link

    No good blog need be justified, I’m sure Flannery O’Connor would have said were she still around blogging. In 1974 I went to see the Astrodome levitated by the 15 year old Guru Maharaj Ji. I thought it would be a hoot, and it was, but he said this one statement among many others he made-” life is like a carburetor “. He went on to take that analogy to a wispy mystical level and it has wedged itself in my twisted bean lo these many years. Now I will add your” love is a clean windshield “.
    I’m sure Drew will read your toast  here.

  • At my age I have lost a great many loved ones.  I find that some grief goes relatively quickly, and some lingers.  It softens with time, but in many ways I cherish it.
    I agree (naturally) with everything Duchess said so well about your blog.

  • Winston Link

    Because, you see, a blog needs to be unpredictable and its moods need to shift relentlessly if it’s going to entertain.
    But Ruth, your style of seemingly effortless transitions have taken your readership through much ground in this one post.  It’s as if you baptize your transitions with WD-40.  And any of the various surfaces you’ve touched in this one post can be revisited again on future posts– at any length, any mood, highlighting a different facet.  I know we’d all welcome a post returning to a certain red hat.  A personal weblog is kind of a free-form novel.  There is no burden– or restraint– of a plot device.  Yet, page by page, post by post, more is learned of the central character.

  • You write about life, which is multifaceted in all the ways mentioned. And you make us remember, and feel, and look at things differently. I seems that, through your grief, you are integrating your father into your life in a new and beautiful way.  Thank you for sharing this.

  • I like that your blog is an honest look at your life and what you’re thinking and feeling. And it is a lovely image to think of your father polishing your windshield like that.

  • As always, a complex narrative thread. I love your blog and wish you the very best in this mishmash of love/grief/change.

  • Cindy A Link

    Feels like grief is kind of like love.  We don’t really know what makes it come and go and what makes it razor sharp or butter dull.  Or how long it will hang around. 

  • I loved the image of your dad, cleaning the windshield.  When we lose someone, that person stays with us for months, in our minds.  There’s no reason to hurry grief.  It still happens to me years after my parents passed away, in bits and spurts, like that memory of your dad expressing love on a hot day in Texas.

  • Grief takes time. There is no rush. You are right. Write where your passion lies.

  • Whatever you write, I always read it hungrily. You have a gift, Ruth.

    Lovely story about the windshield…

    Hugs to you.

  • It takes a deft mind to meld all of that together. I’d read posts you’d written on watching grass grow for the beautiful style.

  • Even though it seems messy to you it’s cohesive and poignant to me. I relate.

  • Steve Link

    I have, MANY TIMES, cleaned my daughter’s windshield before she left Buda to return to Austin or Keller or Irving.  She’s married now, and I still clean it before she and my son-in-law leave for their home.  I do it for the same reason your father did.  I wonder if she sees it as a sign of love.  I know her well; I bet she does.  It’s just a visible (pun intended) footnote to the words “Precious cargo!” they hear from me as they back out of the drive.

    Your dad was my kind of guy. 

  • This post is music to my ears, especially how a blog can be unpredictable to be entertaining. Yours is a fresh voice not mired in the search for a so-called “niche,” although I guess there’s a place for that. I also like how you weave fun and grief into the same post. I can relate, I have a lot of fun with my own blog (including music videos) about everything from hiking 2,663 miles to jumping out of cakes to my Blogmistress Amber falling into Facebook!

  • Grief is all consuming — even in the face of good times, as you so eloquently show in this post. It’s really okay to accept it and let it take you where you need to go right now.
    You will find a way to live more comfortably with it, in your own way and in your own time and there’s no need to feel rushed, as you say, by anything or anyone.

  • That made me cry. I’m not over my grief either.

  • I want, I want, I want … Well, sometimes it works the way I want it to and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes, I can’t shift subjects and moods the way I’d ideally like to.  Sometimes, I get stuck in my life and my blog.

    Blogs are funny animals, aren’t they? They definitely seem to take on a life of their own, and like children, they grow in directions we tried very hard to keep them away from. They’re still our babies, just different than we expected. I guess the things about blogs is that we don’t have to love them despite their trespasses. 😉

  • Ruth, I honestly believe you could recite your laundry list here and we’d all be enthralled. You have a rare and wonderful way with words.
    It’s been 20+ years since my father died and, although I have difficulty bringing his face clearly to mind now, I can still be flooded with grief and/or memories when I see or hear something that reminds me of him. From reading your blog, I have the impression that you and I had quite similar relationships with our fathers. I think perhaps they have left us with so many unasked and unanswered questions, that there will always be grief. But it becomes bearable.

  • Ruth, I enjoy what you write here, even when it’s filled with grief. Blogs take on a life of their own. Keep following the path.

  • Ruth, I identify with your experience and I hope things soon get easier.

  • “I want it to be about women’s issues, aging, families, current events, marriage, motherhood, politics.” But it is. How can you NOT see that, with your fabulous word crafting and amazing story telling????????? Yes, I know you hate that kind of shameless display of punctuation. But it was very much called for in this instance. 🙂

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