Monday, August 22, 2011

Holes. Islands. Families.

There's a hole in my kitchen ceiling. 
A hole in the ozone layer. 
One of my favorite short stories by Alice Munro is called "Deep-Holes". 

The kitchen ceiling hole was opened up on purpose by the emergency services and restoration guys who are dealing with the aftermath of my washing machine disaster. So it's a good hole. A hole that will let the inside of my ceiling dry out and prevent the growth of mold in secret dark places. The hole in the ozone layer is not so good. Skin cancer, cataracts, the depletion of plankton are consequences of the increase in UV radiation now that the buffer of the ozone layer is thinning. 

In Alice Munro's story a geologist takes his family on a picnic to celebrate a career accomplishment. Sally, the wife, has to chase after their young sons through the pocked terrain toting a baby and a diaper bag, "She was nearly crying with exhaustion and alarm and some familiar sort of seeping rage."  Of course one of the boys falls down a hole. He breaks both his legs, but survives only to disappear years later after six months at college. A metaphorical hole. When the young man finally writes to his parents, he doesn't apologize or ask about his brother or his sister. “It seems so ridiculous to me,” he said, “that a person should be expected to lock themselves into a suit of clothes. I mean, like the suit of clothes of an engineer or doctor or geologist, and then the skin grows over it, over the clothes, I mean, and that person can’t ever get them off." A decade or so later--after the father's death--the prodigal son resurfaces. He's called Jonah (a whale's belly is a sort of  hole) now, and lives in a condemned building with a community of others who survive by begging and scavenging. Jonah agrees to see his mother, but there is no tidy resolution, and it seems unlikely, by the story's end, that Sally will see her son again. "And it was possible, too, that age could become her ally, turning her into somebody she didn’t know yet. She has seen that look of old people, now and then—clear-sighted but content, on islands of their own making."

Holes. Islands. Families.  
My phone rang all morning. First the man who loves me, then my mother, then my daughter
M. A few freeway exits away, Midwest, East Coast. Like all we wanted was to close the gaps between us. The guys called about the restoration of my ceiling, too. They'll come to close up the hole later this week. M. and I called each other back and forth a half-dozen times. Gaps in  phone coverage, and then a flat tire for her (another hole,) and what should she do about that? But the main topic of conversation was how to get my mother to my daughter C's wedding. Four generations of us at one table before there's a permanent hole in that possibility. So I'll be working on getting my mother to consider letting M. pick her up and ease her towards Maine a few hours at a time. "It's hugely important to me right now," M. said. And she said that it just seems silly to not let the people you care about know that you do. And that she's just going to put her good-will out into the world. And now I'm picturing it. Generations of us like links in a chain, holding onto one another on a rocky coast, nobody falling. 
And of course there will be me and the person I am legally restrained against mentioning--on islands of our own making.


Elizabeth said...

And weirdly enough, links are basically extremely strong holes.

From the Kitchen said...

I'm so glad you wandered over to my "place"! You've made me want to read more Alice Munro, figure out why you have a hole in your ceiling and much more. I've been sitting around pondering when, and if, I can or should make a trip to Maine and your's is the third mention of that state in my blog visiting this morning. I'm taking it as a "should"!