Another guest blog by my lovely sister.
I can’t love this more. I love the topic of being neighborly, the phrase “food monogamist,” and the perfect description of what it’s like to be at Mom and James’ home. I also had the pleasure of discussing James and squirrel-eating, but forgot to write about it so I’m glad Emily did the honors.
On Day 6, I woke up at 6:45AM, only 45 minutes after James, who was clearly catching my “jetlag” feelings and sleeping in after our crazy late-night movie times! We began the day with a phone call from Mom, who was having lunch in York with her friends. As soon as I put her on speaker, James’ face lit up like the sun. As a teenager, I used to roll my eyes about those two and their flirting, but nowadays, I feel like I never would have known true love myself if not for their example. They chatted for a bit, and Mom seems to be so excited and relaxed in her travels. Afterwards, we talked about all kinds of things happening in the world. I saw that he had read the paper, and as much as my sister and I would have liked to shield him from the story about Nice while Mom was travelling in Europe, he had read the headline, so we discussed how sad it was and our feelings about the state of things. This conversation quickly led to him showing me a book, as James tends to refer often to printed-upon, drawn-upon, or written-upon paper, as opposed to shifting screens.
The book was a gift from Camp James Phase 4 counselor, my absolutely stellar stepsister, Melissa, and it is comprised of 30 letters written to Pope Francis by children from around the world and his responses to these letters. James encouraged me to read a few, as he noted how the questions the kids ask are difficult, and the Pope answered them in such simple terms, but with solid, reasonable, and wise answers. I highly recommend picking this book up if you have the chance. It will make you hopeful and make you think.
The previous day during “wine time” (a glass under the bower outside at 5pm), we had a great discussion about neighbors and what it means to be neighborly. The themes and conclusions were similar in this morning’s discussion about the state of our world and our politics. The ideas were as follows:
- We need more personal interaction for a more understanding world. Meaning, there is a benefit to getting to know our neighbors and forming communities, to travelling and familiarizing with other cultures, and also to hanging out with and having discussions with people who are not like us.
- Interaction online and by phone is not the same as face-to-face. I know this is a common theme when discussing how volatile comment threads can become, but James wouldn’t know a comment thread from a stick, as he is strictly an ink and paper dude, so it was interesting to hear him bring this up. The idea being that it is much harder to be a bigot, or a bully, or even slightly condescending if the HUMAN is looking you in the eye.
- Neighborly and community interaction can be a risk, because it is “safer” to just surround ourselves with people who are like-minded. It’s the easy way out. But, as James said, “Life is hard from the moment we are born and realize there are other people on the planet.” But, as we concluded, life is also better from the moment we are born and realize there are other people on the planet. There will ALWAYS be differences of opinion based on everyone’s different life experiences, but what makes living and negotiating life so sweet and flavorful, is developing the skill of negotiating life together with all kinds of minds.
Amy and I grew up in the Bible belt, going to church and church activities as many as five times a week. We went to church with people who were on all sides and scales of the political spectrum, but when we were all gathered there, we came together under one roof and celebrated life and our common belief in something. In doing so, we fostered a mutual respect for and a community with people who had very different views, but if we had called these people at any time, night or day, (probably still to this day!), they would have been and would be there to help us, and vice-versa. James and I concluded that if more participate in things like church, or neighborhood associations, forming a cooking group, a scuba group, or an “I love Pokemon” group – whatever the case – and create TRUE relationships (*ones that take effort*) and support systems, that people can break down some of the hate and the ugly that is happening in our world and begin to understand each-other more.
Needless to say, this chat took a good several hours; the coffee was chilly and James, who keeps to a pretty tight schedule, was even further discombobulated. I had a small tinge of guilt that Camp James was becoming a rebellion, and then I warmed my coffee. After all, how often do these moments happen?
By the way, it should also be noted, since Amy and I are so used to it by now, that coffee at Mom & James’ house is kind of a “thing”. Mom and James LOVE coffee, and the morning coffee ritual is probably the one thing that has never missed a day of their marriage.
James makes the coffee the night before. In case you ever have the pleasure of staying the night in their home as a guest, bring earplugs, as the grinder goes off promptly at 4AM, and I swear they bought that thing in the early 1900s, because it sounds like a Zeppelin with a leak and lasts, in grumpy, sleepy time, FOREVER. When you do finally wake, this momentary disturbance is eclipsed by the amazing, way-better-than-Folgers aroma wafting through the house and the faint sound of the rustling of newspapers coming from the living room. Since we are still on this imaginary journey, you will roll out of bed groggily, pitter-pat into the kitchen, and promptly “pick out your cup” (as James puts it).
This part of the ritual is very nostalgic when we come back for a visit, because the cups are a piece of history growing up with an artist and a musician. Mom and James have a lot of amazing friends, several of whom are potters, who live in various, breathtakingly Piney-woodsy, potter-appropriate homes/workspaces throughout East Texas. Throughout the years they have purchased their entire collection of dishware from their friends and other local potters, and grew a special addiction to coffee cups, each of which are unique.
When you pick one out, if James approves of the way it feels in the hand, he will say nothing. If he LOVES the way it feels in the hand, he’ll likely point out that Dave Hendley made it special with a thumb rest and that it is one of his favorites. If you are really lucky, you can sit, sip coffee, and live vicariously through Mom and/or James telling you the story of the day they acquired said cup.
Like I said, morning coffee ritual is kind of a thing, and one of my favorite things about coming home (insert cheesy Folgers music if you dare).
Around the noon hour, I took off for a bit to have lunch with my dad and stepmom at a deli. James fended for himself in the fridge. I stopped by the store on the way home to buy him bananas, as during one of our many talks, he said that if he had only one food to eat for the rest of his life he would eat bananas. I said burritos because it’s a complete protein (?), or if I had to choose only ONE like he did, bananas and not a combo food, it would be blueberries… Or maybe chocolate… Or steak…
Let’s just hope we never have to become food monogamists.
After the bananas arrived, James reached into his pocket and pulled out his notebook, and thumbing through it, said that he had more things he needed to buy. He seemed almost panicky about this, which I truly didn’t understand, until he read the first item on the list: sketch pads. Since I am not one to deny a Camp James care package item, we hopped back in the car and went straight the art supply store, where he found buy one, get one 50% off sketch pads, and all was right with the world. After finishing these errands, James sighed and said, “Emily, you have made all my dreams come true!” and started to laugh. NEVER deny an artist his canvas.
I settled on making another one of James’ favorite things for dinner, a recipe for shrimp boil from the Trube family of Tyler, which I can’t share, because, shhh! It was delicious, and we continued our talks. Hours pass by when talking to James; such a mind on that one.
After dinner, we settled into Netflix early, since I wanted to get camp back on schedule before the next counselor came in. I rifled through titles, wondering what else would be quality enough to show James. When I told him “OH YES! We are totally watching this. It is sooo your music”, and began the documentary about the Carter Family entitled The Winding Stream, he grinned from ear to ear with the first bars of music, and told me he used to listen to the Carters on Border Radio growing up in Sabine. At one point he asked me if I had ever eaten squirrel.
Hard to believe someone so worldly, open-minded, incredibly intelligent, patient, artistic, and intuitive, used to dig around the grey buckshot in his piece of cooked squirrel by the Sabine River. Live a full life, folks, and you might be lucky enough to end up even a little like James.
The next day, we walked up the street to a garage sale where James made friends with even more neighbors, a couple of young Hispanic dudes who were just delighted to sell us a bright orange $3 hard hat and meet the man who lived in the house with a bridge around the corner. I’m not sure why James was so dead set on buying a hard hat, except probably that it was the most colorful thing at the sale, and he is an artist, so… but, here he is donning it proudly:
Afterwards, I cleaned up and prepared to hit the road and pass the Camp James torch on to my stepbrother Chris. James was so excited for the new arrival, and we talked about how rare this time together had been, how much he loved his time with Amy and Rosie, and how great it was that he was getting even more with his amazing son and daughter in the upcoming days.
All I know is that it had been a long time since I had uninterrupted, quality time like that with a family member, and I won’t take it for granted. I am already thinking of how to go back to Camp James next year, and get to see more of the world through his eyes.