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Tuesday, January 10, 2006


My husband's face looks like weather.  I responded to that the first night I met him.  Although he was no older than the other boys I'd been dating up until then - he was 20 - he had a weathered face that revealed his childhood spent outdoors. 

In a journal I kept in high school I prophetically wrote about the man I would one day marry:

My ideal man has muscles, but not from vainly "working out" in the weight room in front of a mirror, obsessing over "symmetry" and "balancing opposing muscle groups."  This man's muscles will be side effects of his active, busy life.  He'll do things.

Bill came from a family of (unsuccessful) farmers and loggers.  He grew up watching the sky and tasting the air for the slightest hint of change, and he always could tell when a storm was coming on.  When we met he was a sailor in San Diego (I was a college student) and the consistently fair weather alternately amazed, thrilled, and bored him.  It was lovely to be able to do whatever you wanted most days but there was nothing to track and monitor, either.  He was restless.

My family, we didn't put much stock in the weather.  Why go out of your way to watch the TV weatherman say that once again, it would be "70 degrees and sunny"?  And if there was an occasional rainy or cloudy day, you could tell that by looking out the window.  Out the window, yes, because inside was where life was lived.  Inside was where the televisions were.  And books and magazines, too, but most of the time we were in front of one of the several televisions we owned. 

My childhood is peppered with television memories: Remember when Roots was on?  Not the first time, because my mother thought I might be too young to see it and so she watched it after I'd gone to bed.  But the second time.  My mother had decided that it was all right for me to watch it and just as it was starting our TV blew out.  That was before we had two TVs, or maybe we had two TVs but the main one was broken, too.  Yeah, come to think of it - the TV I was trying to watch Roots on was the secondary TV, the backup one Mom usually watched in the bedroom, so when it blew out we had no working TV.  I was brokenhearted.  I had really, really wanted to watch Roots.  I listened to it for the first few days, as if by radio, until Mom and Dad were able to get the TV fixed.  So I suddenly jumped into the story visually midstream and had to close my eyes and listen to the voices to make out who was who.

Bill is baffled by these stories.  He has no memories like this of his childhood.  Instead he has stories about falling into creeks and wandering in the woods and hunting and fishing with his older brothers.  His older brothers are the kind of men who wear long johns year-round, as well as long-sleeved flannel shirts.  It can be 90 degrees on a summer afternoon and they'll be wearing black jeans (I've never seen any of them wear shorts, ever, in 20 years) and a black T-shirt with a flannel shirt.  In deference to the heat they'll roll up their sleeves but that's as much skin as you'll ever see.  If you go back to their homes on this same sweltering afternoon you'll find glowing embers in their woodstoves from that morning's fire.  Building a fire in the woodstove is just something you do every morning, regardless of the season, because if you've ever been really, really cold you take pains to not risk that again.

I'd never been really, really cold.  There was one stretch of colder-than-normal temperatures in L.A. one December when I was in high school.  My feet were so cold I actually had a few toes go numb and I couldn't figure out why.  I didn't have any "winter shoes" and boots weren't in style during those years so it made no sense to me why all of a sudden my toes were going numb.  I didn't even recognize that as being cold.  Bill wonders why I didn't glean from the weather report that it was probably twenty degrees colder than I was used to and I laugh to think of a childhood spent checking weather reports. 

When we moved to Idaho early in our marriage we were both woefully unprepared for winters after having spent four years in San Diego.  We didn't have much money, either, because Bill was in college and I was working for $7 an hour.  That Christmas we didn't splurge on luxury items but instead showered each other with winter provisions.  Hats and scarves and gloves, all given from the heart because we each hated to see the other one shivering with cold. 

My most cherished Christmas gift ever came that year.  Bill had wanted to buy me Sorel snow boots.  "They're the best kind; no other brand will keep the snow out as well," but they were just too pricey.  When I opened my box of Sorels that morning I was speechless.  How could we have afforded them?  Bill confided shyly that as he stood there looking at them, wishing and wishing they weren't so expensive, he happened to notice that the children's Sorels were less than half the price of the adults'.  He also happened to spy a pair of children's boots that looked to be the same size as he adult size I wear.  He took the adult size and held it up to the children's size and realized that a women's size 7 is the same as a child's size 5.  Exactly the same.  He proudly watched me try them on - a perfect fit - and I never felt more loved or cared for.

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