Thursday, June 19, 2008

From the Archives: Of Manzanita Trees (Fall 2001)

My teachers taught me the authors of the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, and the Connecticut Compromise. They taught me absolutes: the Pythagorean Theorem, and then they taught me the theory of relativity. They taught me the entropy of the universe, the mechanics of grammar, and the death of a star. They taught me of men that build bridges, and they taught me of men that burned them.

My mother taught me to hook mealworms in one blow; she taught me to wait and watch for the silver flash of a rainbow trout's belly. She taught me that the bark of the manzanita tree is always cool, like chilled red glass, even in summer. She taught me how to make sourdough bread in the hot August afternoons: knead it soft and smooth, not too little and not too much, and to always save a remnant of the yeast. That way you can always start again. She taught me the meaning of grace and the best reasons to cry.

My great-grandmother, her clawed hands veined and arthritic, taught me in her straining voice how quickly life passes, like daylight fleeing from the mountains. She told me about Sol, five years dead now, who after the war wanted to hide under tables at the wail of a siren on the street. She taught me what it means to get a job because you look less Jewish than your sister, and what it means to go dancing during a funeral. She taught me what it means to be old, always remembering with envy the faces of the dead and the hours of the past, always alone. She taught me what it means to be young.

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