This is how things work here.
Oliver´s been at our house for a week or so, helping out with pilgrims and housework, as well as helping out at Bruno´s albergue. Ollie´s a camino hospitalero of long experience. The dogs love him, he´s tried and true. I was finishing a manuscript, he was free, and we have a room where he can sleep.Everyone is happy.
Work started on our remodeling/rebuilding project. Dust everywhere, but pilgrims coming out of the woodwork. Ollie and Paddy dealt with pilgs, I finished the book.
We went to San Anton de Castrojeriz to check on things. Ollie is going to be host there in the months to come. Fred came along. He donated many bucketloads of donkey doo for the garden, from his projects in Carrion de los Condes. He brings along Tess, a California pilgrim who makes beautiful portraits from trash washed up on beaches. I commission a portrait of me, a Queen of Camino Trash, out of pure vanity, because I really cannot afford portraits these days...
My friend Marta in Madrid wants to help furnish the new apartamento at the Peaceable. She has a huge and wonderful historic house in the middle of Madrid, full of beautiful things. Me and Oliver drove dwn on Thursday. Tess the artists needs to get home to California, so she comes along. We stay at Marta´s house.
I realize I have left my handbag, ID, telephone, and cash at Peaceable. (what an idiot!)
I use Tess´s telephone to call Paddy and Fred. Fred goes to Peaceable, gets the handbag, drives to Madrid (where he was going on Friday anyway)Leaves messages with Marta that he´s arrived, very late...
Meantime, Ollie and Tess spend a long afternoon in Madrid, seeing the sights. I have no money to go to the big Van der Weyden show at the Prado, so I fall asleep and snooze for hours. Marta deals with realtors, corporate coachees, and emails.. I dunno. I was asleep!
I wake up and chat with two very flash ladies who want to put Marta´s wonderful house in a magazine of Euro Executive Listings. I am reminded of how lucky I am to know Marta!
And then two ladies and a little boy from the neighborhood, here to visit Monty the Dog. We give them beer, wine, Sunny Deelite or dog biscuits, depending on specie. Finally they go, and me and Marta open the Rueda.
Tess arrives. Then Oliver, with a Madrilena peregrina he met a month or so ago... she showed him over the city all afternoon! We all sit on the terrace, and dear Marta feeds everyone on pinchos of hummus, crackers, apricots, corn chips, salsa, sliced turkey breast, tapanade... way beyond the call of duty. She makes up beds for all of us strangers, she fields phone calls.
Fred calls. He´s in town, he has my bag, he´s a couple of blocks away in a bar. It´s late.
Me and Marta clear off a bed for Tess, put on sheets and eiderdown, hope it´s enough. The wind is up.
Me and Ollie walk up to Las Portazgos en Nino Jesus, to meet Fred and Carmen. (Carmen lives right across the street.) Fred´s got my bag, God bless him... he´s saved the weekend! We have a vino on the terraza, he shows me the latest guitar, made for a maestro in Holland. The shallac is not quite set, but the instument glows from within as I touch the grain, smell the wood... and from the next table rises a young man.
A student of classical guitar, from Caceres, in Extremadura. He asks if he might. He sits down and touches the guitar. He tunes it. He clutches and strokes and caresses... Por favor?
I tell him, after my long day of foolishness and Lambrusco: I do not want to hear this guitar. I want to hear you, Carlos. I want to hear your heart in this guitar.
And that is what happens there, in the patio on Nino Jesus. He puts his heart in there, and people go quiet, and he sings, and the guitar... it is only a baby, but it more than sings.
It is beautiful, and it is midnight. And after a bit of Falla and a bit of Montoya, he sings a song that´s been speaking to me since the birds of passage returned to Moratinos this year, since I started going into my own back yard after midnight to look up into the stars, hearing birds sing in the dark...
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting
for this moment to arrive.
Anodyne, yes. But beautiful. At least 50 people stopped to hear and enjoy.
Real life is made of this.
People find these things on the camino, and marvel at them. But they are here all round the bigger, greater world, too.
We just have to open our hearts, and our homes, and our minds.
Even in days that start out so stressful..
We are only waiting for these moments to arrive.
Friday, 8 May 2015
No one will be offended if I say that Barbara was my favorite cousin.
She wasn’t just a cousin to me. She was a role model. Having known Barbara when I was growing up is a major reason I became a successful adult.
When I was very small, she was the cool teen-ager with big blonde hair. She took me for thrilling horse rides, hanging on behind her on her big Arab horses.
When I was an awkward, horse-crazy, lonely adolescent, Barbara lived in the little house up on Gravel Bar hill, where our grandparents once lived. She had horses, chickens, ducks, a mule, and fabulous Afghan dogs. Animals loved her, they trusted her as one of their own kind. Barbara made me welcome at her house. She showed me how to handle and groom and ride the horses, feed the chickens, scythe down the high grass. She showed me how to butcher a duck, how to weld metal, how to pour a beer into a glass, how to shift a Jeep into 4-wheel drive, and how hold down a goat who didn’t want to ride in the back of a Jeep.
Hers is the only bathroom I ever visited that had an injured swan living in the bathtub.
Barbara knew how to do everything. She didn’t wait for help to arrive. She didn’t worry about her hair or fingernails. She showed me the best way to get something done is to do it yourself.
She didn’t stay at home. She went out into the woods and had adventures. She dug for hidden treasures in Cook Forest. She helped Bobby Dale relocate his rattlesnake collection. She took apart engines. She dug out springs and shifted boulders and strung electric fences uphill and down, through dense woods. She put roofs on houses. She knew how to drive a steamroller!
Barb had more than her share of suffering and bad choices, but she somehow made the most of it, she kept a positive attitude. She took care of her mother, her daughter, her family, with an endless generosity. She worked hard. She earned every damn thing she ever had.
She wasn’t too proud to dig in and get dirty and get the job done. And she taught me that. It’s because of Barbara’s example that I am the person I am now.
My cousin Barbara was my hero. She still is. I know she’s not gone very far away, and I will see her again sometime soon. She told me so, the last time I saw her, when I held her hands in mine and told her goodbye. Her lovely, strong hands, a little calloused.
Hands a lot like mine.
My cousin Barbara Burns died last week at her home in rural Pennsylvania.
This will be read on Saturday at her memorial service.