Terroir of the Heart and Soul

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All the photographs are peeling
and colors turn to gray, he stayed
in his room with memories for days, he faced
an undertow of future’s laid to waste, embraced
by the loss of one he could not replace
-Sad Lyrics, Pearl Jam

malcolm_piggyA couple of weeks ago my father suffered a heart attack, was rushed to the hospital, and then promptly had two more of them as he was being treated. During recovery he has suffered some setbacks that have kept him on the critical list and in ICU. That being the case, I traveled home to Toledo to see how he was doing and how my mother was holding up. Things are not looking all that well, and I expect to be heading up that way again quite soon.

Going home always produces such a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand the familiarity provides comfort and a grounding sense of place, kind of a terroir of the heart or soul. On the other hand, everyone and everything in that familiar place is likely to be some combination of smaller, older, dirtier, or just not the way you remember it somehow. When home is a rustbelt city hit hard by almost a decade of bad economic policy and  bad intent, those things are all compounded many times over.

Driving down I-75 from Detroit to Toledo reminded me how enjoyable driving can be for me when I am not half lost and racing millions of homicidal Texans. The familiarity of the area let me drive anywhere I wanted without fear of getting lost and losing hours trying to get unlost. I feared no detour or side trip so I could concentrate on driving a bit too fast and maneuvering around the slower folks. It was fun. I did not even realize how much I missed driving like that.

I was not in a hurry to get anywhere, hurrying was the end and not the means, but it got me to my destination faster anyway. So many things looked exactly the same but were mixed in with so much change. It was bittersweet and a harbinger of what was to come. I was about to get to see my family, but that also meant seeing my dad in a condition that no son ever wants to see their father suffer through. I was in my hometown, but it was in bad shape. My 10 year old nephew (pictured above) would make me laugh my ass off at times when I felt like crying. In the immortal words of one of America’s greatest authors, “So it goes…”

Sitting in one place doing nothing is not one of my strong suits, so one afternoon when the walls of the hospital got a little too close I took off for one of the best wine shops in Toledo, Maumee Wines. I can easily lose over an hour perusing the shelves of a good wine store, and that is what I did. They had quite a few nice bottles, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few holes on the shelves that would have been filled back when I used to shop there.

Eventually I narrowed my choices to a few wines. There were a couple of 2005 Bordeauxs and a California Syrah. When I inquired about the Syrah the proprietor said that he did not know how it was drinking now, but he had enjoyed it last time he tried it. Then without any prompting, and as I was about to purchase the bottle, he offered it at half price. I still feel guilty, that was a damn fine bottle of wine and I stole it for $10. I took this as another sign of how bad my hometown is suffering in this sabotaged economy and I felt like a grave robber.

I may be back in Houston, but my head is somewhere else. It feels like this might be a condition that lingers for a while.