One thing is screen doors. I grew up in a home where the front door was open all summer, as was the back. But both had a screen door to keep the mosquitoes and other sundry flying creatures from making residence inside. For sure, if you left that screen door open for too long, Mom would be on your ass to close that thing. It was almost as heinous a crime to linger with an open screen door in the hot Wisconsin summer as it was to lollygag with an open refrigerator door while deciding which snack (American cheese in those little plastic wraps? Braunschweiger on bread? Mom-made leftovers?) to devour. Refrigerator door lollygagging always led to the following statement from whichever parent was nearest: "Are you trying to air condition the neighborhood?".
We did not have an air conditioner, we had screen doors. An air conditioner might've been better when it was 96 degrees and darn near 100% humidity, but to this day I cannot really get used to air conditioners. Like when I go to a meeting in a warm place (Florida or Vegas) and know (after experience) I need to pack a sweater because in the dead heat of summer it is going to be 52 degrees in the windowless meeting room. When I was at a meeting in Fort Lauderdale several years ago, the beach was not even within running distance. My one free afternoon, I took a cab to the beach. The ride there took 25 minutes, and was uneventful. I walked the white sands, marveled at the entirely different universe that was Fort lauderdale compared to my home beach which is generally almost uninhabited except for seals, crabs, my dog and great white sharks. When I caught a cab back to my hotel, the cab driver was unfamiliar with the hotel, which was somewhere near some mall and which had highly efficient air conditioning. It took 90 minutes to get back, and several times along the way his GPS said "rerouting". During that ride, he told me his life story in a thick Brooklyn accent. He was pretty pissed at his teenaged son. At the time I could not relate, though now I sort of can. Anyway, he charged me only half the fare (which was still considerable) and I was just glad he did not rape me and throw me into his trunk. Guys out there-don't be shocked. I cannot think of a single woman who would not consider that possibility in such a situation.
When it was really hot in Wisconsin, the best place in the house was the basement, which is another thing California lacks. I mean there might be a basement somewhere in California, but I have never yet met one. Basements are innately creepy, but always delectably cool in the summer. My brother made his bedroom in the basement. I was not allowed down there much during those years, but sometimes would sit on the steps of death (as a physician catering to the geriatric crowd, I now know that was what these steps should've been called). There was no way those steps were built to any code, and it is amazing we all did not fall down them and die in a bloody heap at the bottom. Anyway, I would sit on the death steps and listen to my brother playing his Kiss albums when friends were over. If he found me there he got very angry, and I ran like a bat out of hell. Or maybe it was Meatloaf he was listening to on those days.
The basement held spider webs, darkness and the laundry room. We had a storage area and it was definitely crawling with vermin but sometimes in the winter you HAD to go in there to get your ice skates. My brother made a darkroom under the stairs, and he rarely let me in there either. I am concerned about those darkroom chemicals he was breathing in our haunted basement all those years ago. But last I saw he was biking around some mountain lake in California. Which is something we did not have in Wisconsin. I assume the chemicals gave him super powers to bike as he does. Maybe I should have spent more time in that dark room, like when he was not looking.
I sat on those fall-risk basement stairs with my hands over my ears when they came to take away my Dad's body. Now before then and since then I had and have seen plenty of dead people. I am not a serial killer, do not worry, rather I am a physician and it comes with the territory. Especially as a hospital physician, you get called a lot to "declare someone dead." It is an awkward moment, as usually loved ones are at the bedside grieving. I remember my Mom once saying to me "make sure I am dead before they bury me." I was probably like 10 when she said this and I will never forget it. The thing is I did NOT make sure she was dead. But I assume the doctor that declared her dead DID. It is a source of continued worry and guilt.
The other thing California does not have is proper seasons. Granted, I am not complaining. I get to run, bike and take my dogs out year round without freezing my proverbial or actual ass off. And I have become familiar with the subtleties of season change where I live: certain wildflowers bloom at certain times. The redwoods fronds pad my path with pillow softness in the fall. The ferns unfurl and tickle my legs when I run past in the summer. The birds sing in the mornings in the summer, and the frogs peep in the mornings in the late winter and spring. But in Wisconsin, there were at least two distinct seasons. It went like this:
Summer: Yesterday it was 50 degrees, today it is 90 degrees. Suck it up buttercup.
Fall: Oh man, those blood red trees are magnificent. Wait, it is 90 degrees again! Oh, never mind, it is snowing.
Winter: Cold. For at least 6 months. Which is so fun except when the snow turns brown with dirt and salt and it is April and you cannot get your back door open to let the dogs out because there is TOO MUCH SNOW.
Spring: "Professor, can we have class outside?". Three days later: summer.
I signed up for the California International Marathon in December. Can you blame me? It is a "net downhill course". The thing is I am conflicted because the North Face Endurance marathon in the Marin Headlands is in November. I won this race a few years back. It is grueling, with intense climbs. When I ran it, there was also the 50 and 100 mile races, so when people cheered me on I kept saying "Oh, I am just doing the marathon."
Who says that?
My runs lately have been lacking speed. I am not sure whether I have another marathon in me. I really want to PR (personal record) but this might be LI (literally impossible) as I am OOS (out of shape) and have an AID (autoimmune disorder). But my DOG (dog) thinks I should just run a lot to get ready for whichever race I end up doing, and take him along for the ride.
I had a dog in Wisconsin. My Dad named him Brandy because he was the color of brandy. I have never personally drank brandy but it is on my bucket list of things to do before I die. I had better not visit my childhood home and walk down the basement stairs before I have had brandy. And also I should not do so after I have had brandy. Conundrum.
My dog Brandy lived a long life, and he enjoyed walks and runs off leash because he was just that cool. One day I was running and realized he was not at my side. I looked over my shoulder and saw him about a quarter mile behind me running next to my friend's Mom. That's when I knew he was old.
Now I am my friend's Mom. My fate will be sealed when the elderly neighborhood dogs find me a compatible running companion.
Until then, I plan to be inspired by the greats. I plan to unplug my ears while sitting on the stairs of doom and face the realities of loss, aging and grief. I plan to keep the refrigerator door open for as long as I please. When I meet my parents on the Other Side, they can lecture me. I am looking forward to giving them a heavenly eye roll.
I plan to open the screen door of my heart and let it all in.
Except the gosh darn mosquitoes.
Joan Benoit Samuelson. How cool is she?