Sunday, July 5, 2009

how the Fourth went

I wish I could say more about how well Mom did during her time at Cove Point (Lusby, Maryland), but in truth, I spent most of my time as far away from the party as possible.

The long-time friend who invited Mom to the beach house party, whom we've known since my childhood as "Miss Lee ajumma," had invited several guests, starting with her three daughters. Two of them are married; one of the two has a cute little son who is just starting to toddle around. The youngest daughter has a significant other; all the relevant men were in attendance, along with the second daughter's aforementioned son, Ziggy. Ajumma had invited two other Korean ladies (friends? relatives?), as well as a neighbor from northern Virginia. With my parents and me there as well (Sean arrived later in the day, driving separately), it was quite literally a full house.

Mom seemed to be in good hands with Dad and the other guests. Almost as soon as I had arrived, Ajumma's eldest daughter told me about a lighthouse located a short walk away; I immediately set out for it, and ended up spending a few hours seated on crumbled seashells, staring out at the horizon and acquiring a lovely sunburn-- one the likes of which I hadn't had since stopping the walk.

Why the antisocial behavior? Well, I've never been one for parties, and I was feeling even less celebratory yesterday, given current family circumstances. I don't begrudge anyone else their merrymaking, but it just wasn't for me. Also, as an introvert, I've never relished the thought of going somewhere to meet a group of largely unfamiliar people. Even Ajumma and her family, despite being longtime friends, are at best a peripheral part of my life: over the past few decades, I've seen them only once every few years. As far as I was concerned, my main purpose was to drive the parents to the party and back home. If I'd had my druthers, I'd have been home alone, clearing my head, not traveling and attempting to look happy for others' benefit.

So sitting at the beach for a few hours (we arrived a bit after 2PM; I didn't make my way back to the beach house until after 6) was my compromise, my way of satisfying my own needs and of not stepping on other people's toes. I was the designated chauffeur and I didn't want to be a party pooper for the other guests, but at the same time, I've never enjoyed small talk and simply wasn't in the mood for interaction. Quietly separating myself from the proceedings seemed to be the best choice, which is what brought me to the very tip of Cove Point.

Had I been more of a beachgoer, I would have realized that even sitting by oneself on a patch of sand is no guarantee of solitude. In Korea, such a strategy might work, because most Koreans will leave strangers alone (unless they're looking for a free English conversation session), but in America, strangers often say "hi" out of the blue. I ended up meeting eight dogs and their various owners. One gent, Eric, stood and talked with me about various topics, including religion, for a while. Eric is retired from the US Air Force and now lives in the Cove Point/Lusby area with his wife, working as a contractor for the Navy. He told me that he was "on a quest" of sorts, having been raised Catholic but having dropped out of the fold.

I mentioned my background in religious studies, and my specific interest in Buddhism and issues related to religious diversity. "Do you think the Buddhists are on to something?" Eric asked. I told him that there was a lot in Buddhism that I found both interesting and enriching. Eric told me about his own research into the life and thought of Gandhi, whom he saw as a good example for us to follow. "Religion is about living life for others," Eric said.

While we were conversing, Eric suddenly stopped in mid-thought and exclaimed, "Hey-- a shark tooth!" He reached down, grabbed the tooth, and handed it to me. "It's a fossil, probably millions of years old," he noted. Then he added: "If you believe that sort of thing." It turns out that Eric has Christian friends who are young-earth creationists, i.e., they probably believe the earth was created in 4004 BC and that dinosaurs were destroyed in the Deluge. I consider this garbage, and told Eric I had no trouble with the existence of fossils dating back millions of years. Eric seemed reassured that he was talking to someone rational.

Eric's dogs, a beautiful black border collie named Sam and a 15-year-old cocker spaniel named Abby, were the first to greet me. Sam got to me first, sniffing me out as I sat cross-legged while facing the water. Abby ambled up soon after. Later on, a dog named Baxter bounded over to me. Baxter was a jowly boxer who lunged for my plastic water bottle and began to chew it into a mangled mess, covering me with drool as I played fetch with him. Baxter wasn't Eric's dog, but Eric and his dogs knew Baxter well. The boxer's family showed up a few minutes later, and we talked briefly.

Sean arrived around 4PM, ate a mess of kalbi (marinated Korean short ribs), then wandered along the beach to where I was. He and I retreated to the sea wall close to the Cove Point lighthouse. While we talked, yet another dog-walking family came our way-- this time with five dogs. One of the most fascinating dogs turned out to be a cross between a basset hound and a Labrador-- a "bassador," according to the mom in the group. When I first saw the long-bodied, stubby-legged, large-headed dog, my first thought was that it looked like a giant dachshund, or a dachshund that had been crossed with a Corgi. It was a bizarre sight, but the dog moved with the the un-self-conscious nonchalance of a being that doesn't know it's the product of two very different worlds.

Sean wandered back to the beach house, leaving me alone with my thoughts. As the afternoon crept onward, I began to realize that the number of biting flies was on the increase, so I eventually started back toward the beach house, too. I met some partiers along the way, including Dad, who turned around and walked back to the house with me.

By the time I returned to the festivities, it was about 6:15, and I hadn't eaten. I sat in the house's porch, staring out at the water and the bayside flâneurs. Sean settled into the chair next to mine; we talked a bit, and then the porch began to fill with all the guests I hadn't spoken with. They all turned out to be great people; I regret not having been more talkative, but they seemed fine with my initial taciturnity. I generally talked when I was asked direct questions about my experiences living in Korea and walking in the Pacific Northwest, but by the time I had become a bit more animated, it was time for us to leave (Sean had left earlier to meet up with another group of friends). In the meantime, I learned a bit about my interlocutors, and a good bit about what life is like in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town I've enjoyed visiting, but which I barely know at all. I also found out that the fossilized shark tooth I'd received from Eric was a dime a dozen: there was an eroding cliff face down the coast that was releasing shark's teeth into the water; they were regularly washing up on the shore, and people picked them up all the time. So much for my diabolical plan to sell the tooth on eBay for $5000.

Dad did Mom's PICC line antibiotic treatment promptly at 8PM; he's been great about doing that, and about taking care of Mom's dressings. According to Sean, Mom had spent time both on the beach house's living room couch and at table, listening to the conversation happening around her. Mom looked happy when I saw her, a huge plate of fruit in front of her. I never did eat any kalbi, but did grab some kimbap and a few cherries. It a shame I didn't take advantage of the hostess's largesse: I'd heard that she'd bought thirty pounds of kalbi, which meant well more than two pounds of meat per person.

Around 8:25, we said our final goodbyes to the younger generation and started for home. Ajumma and the other ajummas had left earlier.

As we drove home, Dad turned to Mom and asked her if she'd had a good time. Mom nodded, tired but happy. My own mood throughout the day mattered little; the important thing was that Mom had had fun. From what I saw of her, she seemed thrilled to be in that animated, multigenerational swirl of family and friends.


No comments: