Thursday, January 01, 2009

Minor Hill

We spent a few hours visiting with Dechen's granny Betty Lou in a small white cottage on Minor Hill, a little community about 25 miles to the south and about as far from the Alabama border. On the way, I notice massive white pillars holding up new sections of widened roadways snaking from side to side through these green valleys. In the spirit of true pork-barrel spending, it seems every two-lane blacktop in the state is being expanded into quasi-interstate highways, regardless of local needs.

Dechen, Tenkar and I will be the only guests for dinner this afternoon. Betty Lou lives with her son Joe who was absent, house-sitting for a friend. Years ago, Granny lost her elder son to suicide and a daughter in a car accident. Dechen's mother is Betty Lou's child but refuses to visit or even return her calls on the basis of clinging to some old painful karmas that nobody understands very well. Betty Lou seems resigned to this sad state of affairs with a measure of understanding and surprisingly, no bitterness.

The kitchen is narrow and we immediately sit down to a spread of iced tea, pinto beans, green beans, corn bread, creamed corn, macaroni and mashed potatoes. She apologizes for the age and wear of the chairs, laughs about spilling the black pepper and having to rinse it out of the the macaroni and underscores how Joe loves potatoes; he virtually survives on them. We dine on fine English china produced by a certain Churchill which is usually kept in a glass cabinet made by Betty Lou's brother who has since sold all his tools. A fading color photo of Dechen as a child hangs on blond paneling bordered by two candles like a small shrine. Names of relatives dead and alive dominate the conversations. Granny compliments Tenkar on her necklace and after a closer inspection, Tenkar offers to make her one just like it. Dechen shares photos from the Grand Canyon and her sister's wedding. She mentions email and Granny says that they recently dropped their internet connection because of the monthly fee although Joe still uses the computer to store digital photos. In the background, the satellite radio station on the television plays easy-listening versions of old hits that my mother would like and chocolate pie is served.

After the meal, Granny begins going through boxes of things in the living room. She has decided to give away the Christmas dishes because 'us getting together on the holidays seems to be a thing of the past'. Chet Atkins picks out the melody line of a Carpenter's song against a background of strings. When Dechen asked about her taste in movies, Granny said she liked Gregory Peck but never cared for Cary Grant or Liz Taylor. I begin to doze on the couch, the ladies giggled and I decide to step outside to get some air and catch some of the year's last twilight. I sit on the backyard grass, recognizing our location on a ridge as tree tops stretch to the horizons under clear skies. I breathe easy and say dakini mantra while observing the display of forms and colors around me. Few cars pass. People out this way don't have any money to speak of but nobody goes hungry. Whatever there is of real poverty out here is in our heads and hearts.

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