Mother Blue

I photo. I take day trips. I lightsaber battle. I analyze the stuffing out of myself.

Month: July, 2011

Lost and Found, Part 1: Father’s Day

Navigating my way.

I had to use the GPS to find my cousin’s funeral. The same roads where I once “cut my teeth” as a young driver were now all a little suspect, within my memory, at least. Kennedy Street or Grant Avenue? Kennedy Street or Grant Avenue? I have always interchanged the names of those two roads for as long as I can remember.

The monotoned electronic commands (and my severely atrophied muscle memory) signaled me to the correct street. Dressed in my Sunday best, I pulled into the empty parking lot and exited my car. The neighborhood always had it’s quaint charm harkened back from another era, but was never the very safest one for as long as I knew it. It is another casualty of the steel mill industry. Because of this, I expected a slight uneasiness when I arrived. But today was vastly different from anything I had anticipated. I exited the car into nothing, literally no one. The streets were dead, quiet, like a ghost town. I have never seen Duquesne in such a state. I used to pass by people all the time when I was growing up there. People driving their cars, people entering the tiny little grocery store, complete with a butcher that always resembled Sam from the Brady Bunch to my young eyes, the local pharmacy complete with soda fountain and a wall of black and white images documenting the town’s history. But after a decade’s absence, all was silent and askew. Burnt out buildings and abandoned businesses aligned part of my route as I turned towards my destination.

Moving towards home

Quick photo while driving across the bridge

I walked towards the stairs of the funeral home. I could hear my heels click on the brick surface of the road and echo off the leftover buildings. I felt nervous. It felt like a a nuclear holocaust had engulfed the town. I reached for the door. Locked! I slumped to the stairs calling my sister. The newspaper obituary had listed the times wrong.

The funeral home welcome mat

The brick road out front

Irritated, I hung up the phone and headed out. I ventured towards my old street. I don’t know what I was looking for but I wanted to find some reason to be in town on that day. I wanted to find something else other than the nothing I was given in that moment. I parked along side the neighbor’s house on 4th Street. I sat in my car for what felt like forever. I eventually got out to take some pics but was extremely timid about my approach. Now I regret not snapping a few more. The street was more active than any other spot in the town, but I felt a disconnect. I felt like an outsider. I was no longer on what was once my turf. I became distracted by the happenings in the church across the street.

I got back in my car and tried to decipher what was going on. I smelled food grilling. My need to pee overrode everything in that moment. I walked over to the tables and chairs that were set up on the parish lawn and asked what was going on. A burger benefit for the church was the reply. I began asking questions about my old neighborhood and in particular my old neighbor who was the priest at that particular church. I was told they were away, then the kindly gentleman cooking the burgers invited me to eat. I promised I would eat if I could use their restroom.

Burgerfest at the church across the street

As I gathered my burger and chips, they engaged me in small talk, asked me my last name, and asked me about my house across the street. Of course after being away for 17 years, a last name means very little to most town dwellers who never knew you. As the pleasantries ended, I found an empty table and began to eat my church cooked burger and store bought Lays potato chips. I was keenly aware of the irony of that moment, sitting at a table placed on the lawn of my father’s old Lutheran parish, on the day before father’s day, facing my old residence. Chewing and staring, chewing and staring, chewing and staring at this place that was once so familiar but now lies there askew, worn, and even more disconnected to me than I had ever imagined. A place that my grandfather built right after the second world war. A place that housed several generations of our clan and hosted numerous family get togethers, backyard BBQs and family picnics. In that moment, I felt so very small. I lost any sense I ever felt of belonging to that place, to the people, and to anything else resembling “home”. I imagined this as my final family picnic, laying to rest the ghosts of all who used to inhabit that space.

Old house number.

On the car ride back, I set Little River Band to play on repeat. I was looking for something that resembled WJAS radio to suit the distance, my melancholy, and to take me back to other memories. (“Reminiscing” was always a little too hokey for my taste, especially in this moment.) But the sound of the opening piano chord of “Lady” always takes me back inside the old Pizza Hut my family would frequent. I can still feel the texture of those tacky vinyl checkered tablecloths and see those tiny jukeboxes filled with soft hits of the 70s and 80s that sat on every table. Bad lyrics and melodic chorus crescendos always bring me back home.

I returned to the funeral home the next day with a new found sense of something but I was not sure of what.

continued next week: Lost and Found, Part 2: Belonging

One last photo before I leave.

Returning. Preview for next week.


Rocks for Sale

Connor. (cell phone camera)

While running some errands in our neighborhood, I spotted a very modest roadside table. The sign on the front read ROCK SALE. I just had to stop.

Jack shrieked with excitement when he realized that not only were there rocks on sale, but that the crafty businessman behind this enterprise was one of his schoolmates. The modest collection of rocks, bobbles and gems barely filled the surface of the table, but the caliper of rocks on display seemed carefully chosen and collected throughout this particular seven-year old’s lifetime.

Thumbs up as we drove away. The 1940's paper boy hat was the perfect touch. (cell phone camera)

We met Connor on the second day of school. He was running late, his hair was wet, and he was racing to get in line for the bus. He had lumbered through the neighbor’s front lawn to get to his destination while screaming something to the effect of “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!” His ornery face made me chuckle to myself. I liked him instantly.

Connor waved us towards his table of trinkets. As I pulled over, he was chanting about his wares like a professional Carnival Barker. “Rocks for Sale! Get your rocks here! Only 25 cents!” According to his mom, this venture was all his idea.

I listened to him sweet talk the lady next to me. She was very interested in the stories he had to tell about the stories the rocks he was selling. I merely asked which ones were his favorite. Gently goading us into realizing our would-be rock’s full potential, he mentioned we should paint them and turn them into something colorful, beautiful. Connor is going to make one hell of a business man someday, I thought. We carefully selected our “perfect” rocks. I was pleased with my choice. It looks like the floor from 1960s bank… or the bathroom floor of my old apartment.

My rock.

Riding home on the dashboard. (cell phone camera)

I spent the better part of the 90s collecting my own set of memorable rocks. I collected them from places that seem to note some important juncture or event in my life. Sadly, I have forgotten the significance of most of the gems that have been collecting dust for over a decade. I think that is why this sale sparked something special inside my brain. I am super excited to add Connor’s rock to my neglected collection. Time to dust off the cobwebs (both figuratively and literally) and appreciate some of my own “rock-y” memories.

This one was one of my favorites. It was from the tail end of my freshman year of college. I took the rock from Point State Park after a long walk. (It may have even been from the fountain at the Point, the memory is a little fuzzy.) I asked the people who were most important to me at the time draw something about themselves (a statement about them in that moment) and sign it. Whenever I look at it, always reminds me of family, my band of misfit old friends, first loves:

Missy, Josh "Mr. Bitter" T-shirt, Pannay's sun inscriptions. (Angle One)

Mom's signature next to mine a year before she died. (Angle Two)

April 6th, 1993, Point State Park. Faded inscription. Jeremy's Swordfish (Angle Three)

A few others that adorn my mantle:

Varying locations, movie theater parking lots, "Kari" from a rambunctious parking lot experience with a dear friend. Five dollar walkie talkies were involved.

We ran into Connor at the pool a few weeks later. I asked him how his rock sale went. He said it went OK and that he made a few dollars. He then asked me if I painted my rock yet. Surprised he had remembered his earlier statement (that may or may not have been a sly sales tactic), I told him that as of that moment I hadn’t. But as I said, Connor is a great salesman and everything he had mentioned regarding these rocks oozed in earnest to me, so this summer I think I just might be painting my version of “something on a rock.” I feel an obligation to his vision. Of course I am not naive. Of course I know his earnest tone may have been only in my perceptions and that he may have just hit the right heart string with sentimental old me, but I do like the idea of my rock becoming more colorful now that it has been released into in my care.

Twin Lakes

Me and Twin Lakes, photo by Jackie

A Thursday afternoon lesson in randomness, detours, and the contrasting forces of nature.

Amongst the myriad of different things I had on my “to do” list, one particular item of note was that I needed to trek from Pittsburgh to Latrobe to pick up the Isaac Rullo images that were selected and juried at Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival over the July 4th holiday.

Equipped with my favorite travel companion: my son, Jack, camera and liquid refreshments in tow, we headed out… and nature stepped in.

About 40 minutes into our hour-long journey to Twin Lakes Park, the weather began to change, quickly. At that moment, I had never seen clouds roll in that fast, nor had I ever seen a bolt of lightning with such force and precision so live and in person. Sparks burst and flew all over the sky and all over Route 30 (Happy 4th of July indeed). The transformer box that was attached to a utility pole on the side of the road took the shear brunt force of the bolt. It was in that particular type of slow motion that is over in an instant. It was beautiful, it was startling, and in that moment, I wished I had captured this “something” on my camera.

Visibility was becoming less and less apparent and Jack was getting more and more quiet. The road no longer seemed a safe place to be.

The massive drops of rain and wind forced us into a nearby parking lot. There were a few cars that followed my lead but not the mass exodus to safety I had expected. I guess the hearty eastbound venturers are more used to random inclement weather than this city dweller.

We sat in the parking lot listening to the rain strike the outside objects and tap feverishly on the roof of our car. I asked Jack if he was nervous. Through the rear view mirror I saw him silently mouth the word “yes”. I dug into the annals of random useless knowledge archive and explained to him the safety of being in a car during a storm as it was explained to me many years ago. Our conversation drifted from rubber tires to raindrop patterns to other wonderfully mediocre things. Those lovely “eureka” moments of saying exactly the right things to turn fear and anxiety into exploration and humor are my most precious with Jack. The clouds finally, slowly, started moving away from our little hideout.

A nervous Jack

Feeling the window temperature contrast between cold and warm, something I always loved doing since I was a child.

The leftover fireworks tent along side the car

View through the windshield.

Do we venture towards the storm, or do we head back and make this journey all over again tomorrow? We were more than half way there and it appeared the storm was drifting and dissipating in varying directions. We took a risk and ended up at our destination in a little over ten minutes.

The art was picked up and placed in my car. The sky was still fluctuating between grey matter and blue skies. I was getting ready to suggest a walk to check out the beauty of this park, but Jack had already began to run with delight towards the water. Nature did a 180, and just like that I began to run as well.

Jack running within moments after we picked up the images.

I have taken to photographing feet as of late. I guess it shows where we are, where we have gone and where we are going. Here are Jack's.

Mine on the footbridge.

The Twin Lakes Forest

Nature walk.

My reflection in the lake.

Building on Twin Lakes.

No fishing, part 1

No fishing, part 2

Boats along side the lake

Walking the bridge.


All photos by Kim Rullo (unless otherwise noted).