Category Archives: memories

The USA By Rail

It’s been a while since I posted on this subject, but this entry is all about a journey! Specifically, Stacey and I are moving back to Seattle. I’m going there first, to find an apartment., etc., and she’s going to follow later.

After analysis, I’ve determined that rail travel is the way to go. I can carry more luggage than I can on an airplane, and the Trusty Old SUV™ won’t last on a 10-mile trip, much less one across the USA. So I’ve booked my seat on the Lake Shore Limited from here to Chicago. From there, I’ll be on the Empire Builder to Seattle.

Well, actually to Everett. It’s actually cheaper to bypass Seattle and get off in Everett than it is to get off in Seattle. Weird.

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I spent most of the day printing out train schedules and route guides before learning that the route guides are available—free—on the train. I also Googled® “rail travel USA” so I’d be aware of any “gotchas” and prepare for the ahead of time.

One of the first “gotchas” I found was that freight companies own the rails, so they have priority. An experienced rail traveler’s blog said that she usually gives an Amtrak train a 60-minute window before she considers it late.

Except for short subway rides in New York City, the last time I did any serious rail travel was in 1960. We had just returned from my dad’s 3-year assignment in Japan with the US Air Force, and he had made arrangements to pick up a new car at the Rambler factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We got off the ship (air travel was too expensive in those days) in San Francisco, took a taxi to Oakland, and got on the train to Kenosha.

All I remember about that trip (hey! it was 56 years ago!) is (1) it was long, and (2) I had a ham and cheese sandwich in Ogden, Utah.

But this trip will be well-documented. Between my laptop, my iPad (WordPress app, built-in camera), my cell phone (ditto), my Nikon Coolpix® and my Canon digital SLR, I plan on keeping a detailed account of the journey. After all, this may be my last cross-country trip, and possibly my last train ride.

Of course there’s always the possibility of a jaunt from Seattle up to Vancouver, BC…. But that will have to wait until my name change, which will lead to my getting a passport.

So according to my ticket, I’ll leave Rochester at 11 p.m., August 15, and will arrive in Chicago at 9:45 the next morning. I’ll have a layover in Chicago until 2:15 the same day, and I’ll arrive in Seattle at 8:40 a.m on the 18th. (Oh, dear…what have I gotten myself into?)

And now that that’s all settled, it’s time for all the fun things about moving. Packing. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Cleaning the apartment.

So little time, so much to do!

Robyn Jane

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Knockin’ on heaven’s door

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.
”Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” Bob Dylan

I first heard that song in 1973, when I was saw the movie “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.” It was a simple tune, and quite easy for me to learn on the guitar.

Kelly St. Clair, Jr.

Kelly was my partner in the security business we bought and renamed “T & S Security.” The “T” was for his daughter Tanya, and the “S” was for my daughter Suzzanne. They were the same age, and both of them less than a year old.

Because Kelly and I were business novices, and hadn’t exercised what we would later know as “due diligence” when we bought the business, we soon realized that it wasn’t bringing in enough income for us both to live on. So I gave up my half of the business and found work elsewhere.

We drifted apart, and I didn’t hear from Kelly for another 4 or 5 years.

I knew how much Kelly loved his daughter; he had told me many times that she was his reason for living. I, too, loved my daughter, and had hoped that the girls would grow up to be friends.

In my late twenties, the clinical depression that runs in my family manifested itself and I ended up in the hospital. My roommate? Non other than Kelly! It turned out that he had shut down the business and moved his family back to their home village of Hoonah, where he was employed as the chief of police.

Over the next two or three days we caught up, sharing stories of what we had done in the intervening years.

Finally, Kelly was discharged, and returned home.

Mama, Take This Badge Off Of Me

The next day, the head nurse, who was also a friend, told me that Kelly was dead.

It developed that when he got home, his wife, with whom he had been arguing, told him that Tanya, the light of his life and sole reason for existing, was another man’s child.

I never knew the truth of the matter; all I knew was that upon hearing the words, Kelly Frank St. Clair, Jr., the closest friend I have ever had in my life, took his .357 magnum revolver, placed the muzzle against his chest, and pulled the trigger. The hollow-point round exploded his heart, and he died instantly.

Knockin’ on heaven’s door

A few years later, I had the opportunity to visit Hoonah on an unrelated subject. Before I came home, I hiked to the cemetery and found my dear friend’s grave. I had brought my guitar, and standing over the grave, I sang the song I had learned all those years ago:

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

Bob Dylan

 

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

 

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

 

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

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Filed under epitaph, memories, suicide, trigger warning

Thanatopsis

Every Death Is Different

My parents died 32 years apart, and I’m finding it interesting how different their deaths are. Or, to be accurate, how different my reactions are.

Because they’re truly different. I’m sure most of the differences lie in the fact that I’m not the person I was three decades ago. Then, I was much you get and had little first-hand experience with death. Know I’m older, and have lost more friends and relatives than I can easily count. So I guess the biggest change is that death is no longer the shock it used to be.

Another difference is that I had time to prepare myself for my mother’s death. She had fought cancer for so long that when she died, it wasn’t unexpected. Painful, yes. Devastatingly so. But I had had so long to prepare myself that it wasn’t a shock. And in a way, since she had been in such pain for so long, it was a relief.

It was different with my father. We had been estranged for years, only reconciling the week before his death. I knew that he had had a stroke, but I hadn’t been aware of how much his health continued to deteriorate in the following year. And unlike with my mother, I hadn’t had the opportunity to tell him all the things I wanted to say. I never got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me, and what an honor it had been to be his daughter.

And Every Death Is The Same

Sadness. Anger. Disbelief. Numbness. I felt all of these following my parents’ deaths. What I feel now, as I am writing, is a dull ache for my mother, but a sharp, stabbing pain for my father. I know that over time this pain will become the same dull ache that I feel for my mother. And I also know that it will never go away. But that’s okay; I don’t want it to go away. I want it to remind me of the two people who loved me more than anyone ever did.

Because if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is this: no matter who else they meet in their lives, no one will ever love your children as much as you, their parent, does.

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It’s The Most…SOMETHING…Time Of The Year

If it’s true, as Ol’ Possum claimed, that April is indeed the cruelest month, then the end of summer in Rochester is the most schizoid time of year. A time when you turn the heat up on your way to work, and run the air conditioner on the way home. A time when I still leave the bedroom window open at night for fresh air, but when I also add blankets to stay warm.

I turned off the bedroom fan earlier this week, and I’ll most likely put it back in the closet until next year. The one in the living room is still on, though, because the morning sun tends to keep that part of the house warm.

And I’ve started to think more and more about baking bread again. In the summer, when it’s 90ºF/32ºC, the last thing I want to do is to turn on the oven. But now that things are starting to cool off a bit (it’s only supposed to reach 63ºF/17ºC today), the thought of a nice slice of bread fresh from the oven, slathered with butter, or a warm slab of cheddar-onion-jalapeño cornbread, dripping with honey, seems more and more appetizing.

Even my wardrobe is changing. Fewer skirts and more jeans are the order of the day, and I’ve taken to wearing a shirt over my tank tops and camisoles.

When I lived in Northern California, autumn meant The Crush. No, this wasn’t some punk band, but rather the time of year when the grapes were harvested and crushed as the beginning steps of making wine in Sonoma County and Napa and Alexander Valleys. The Crush left the air redolent of crushed grapes, a heady, almost intoxicating scent that lasted for days.

Rochester has no grapes, and so no Crush. And even though we’re not that far from the Finger Lakes wine region, we’re too poor to afford the gas to get us there…even if we did fill the truck yesterday for less than $30.00–something we’ve not done in years.

But what we do have are deciduous trees, and deciduous trees mean glorious displays of color as the the leaves begin to die. And our displays in the city aren’t nearly as famous as those of, say, New Hampshire or Vermont, they certainly outshine those of Napa Valley.

A Time For Remembering

For me, the end of summer and beginning of autumn also are times for reminiscing. One of the first songs I learned on the guitar had the lines

“And now a quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last.
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you.”
John Sebastian, My Darling Be Home Soon

Now, at 65 years of age, I think I can safely say that two-thirds of my life have probably passed, and that as a trans woman, I’ve finally come to be myself at last. And I see that the time spent confused was just that: time spent confused. It wasn’t time wasted and it wasn’t (as I used to think) time spent fucked up: it just was.

I once swore I’d never make philosophy jokes, and I’ve tried to hold myself to that promise—but I Kant. If by philosophy we mean a love of knowledge, then I can honestly claim not just to be a philosopher, but to have been one for my entire life—despite my early school years and their attempts to destroy that love of knowledge.

“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none,
I can read the writing on the wall.”
Paul Simon, Kodachrome

Three Remarkable Women

If I seem to be better-educated or more well-read than other people, I credit three people in particular for instilling in me my life-long love of learning: my mother, her sister, and my 12th grade English teacher.

I rarely saw my mother relax without a book in her hand. With the benefit of hindsight (which is always 20-20) I realize that it was her favorite leisure time activity. My father, himself no intellectual slouch, once told me that my mother was the smartest person he had ever met.

Her sister, my Aunt Louise, is now a retired high school English teacher. Christmas and birthday gifts from her were always books or records (for you younger readers, “records” were vinyl long-playing albums). She also taught me critical thinking. I still remember the time I described someone as “fascist” and she called me out for not knowing what the word meant. So now I am always sure to look up the meaning of an unknown word, although some words were hard to look up before the advent of the Internet. Let’s face it, Webster’s New Abridged didn’t have an entry for motherfucker.

Aunt Louise was also in awe of my mother’s intellect.

So even before I was a teen, these two women instilled a lifelong love of reading.

Mrs. Alberti was one of only two teachers who actually taught me anything new in my last two years of high school. (The other was Mr. Cardwell, my Texas History instructor who told us that the real reason for the revolt at the Alamo was not liberty but the fact that Mexico had outlawed slavery, and the Anglo citizens of its northernmost territory wanted to keep theirs in bondage.) Mrs. Alberti was the only teacher I ever had who admitted she was wrong and I was right on an essay I wrote for her class.

She was also responsible for getting me assigned to an advance-placement English class my freshman year in college. Her teachings and lessons cemented my love of learning.

A Final Influence

“You gotta move
You gotta move
You gotta move, child
You gotta move
Oh, when the Lord gets ready
You gotta move”
Mississippi Fred McDowell, You Gotta Move

Over the years I have come to understand what part Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) has played in my life. While the hyperactivity has lessened over the years, as a toddler it was so bad that my mother had to put me in one of those chest-harness/leash outfits to keep me safe. It still manifests in my need to get up and walk around whenever I’m writing and need to clear my head.

The way it affects my thought processes is it allows me to make the connection from A to E without consciously being aware of B, C, and D. A professor I once had said it was like watching lightning: it travels all over the place, but finally reaches its target.

And it’s also how we started out with the end of summer and finished with ADD.

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A Woman For All Seasons

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
Oh, I’m getting older too.
”Landslide,” Stevie Nicks

So what if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just disbelieve?
”A Man For All Seasons,” Al Stewart

Here in Rochester Thursday nights mean the weekly meeting of the Genesee Valley Gender Variants. At some point in the meeting we all introduce ourselves, giving our names, our preferred pronouns, and our answer to the weekly question. Last night’s question was “What is your favorite season?”

Quite appropriate, given that we are rapidly moving from summer into autumn. Most people answered “fall,” “winter,” or “summer,” but when it came to me, I said that my favorite season was cayenne pepper.

And that’s the way I’ve pretty much been all my life: contrary, seeing the things others miss. A lot of the credit goes to my ADD, which helps me see strange connections. For example, last night I met a woman named Regina. My mind immediately flashed on “Regina=queen, queen=Elizabeth Regina.” As soon as I made that connection I blurted out “The longest-reigning English monarch in history.” I then had to explain that what I meant was that as of yesterday, September 10, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II had become the longest-reigning English monarch in history, having just eclipsed the previous record, also set by an Elizabeth—Elizabeth Tudor, more commonly known as Elizabeth I.

When I decided to update the blog this morning, my mind was still set on seasons and change. I mentioned this to my wife, who lives a short block from major road construction along Rochester’s Inner Loop, where the work generally starts (and wakes her up) at 7 in the morning. She said that had she been there, she would have answered the question, “Winter, because it means no construction.”

A standing joke in Rochester, as I’m sure it is in similar areas, as that we have two seasons in Rochester: Winter and Construction. Another joke is “You don’t like the weather in Rochester? Wait a minute.” But I first heard this in Texas, when we moved from Pawling, New York to San Antonio. And since then, I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere that didn’t have its own variation of it.

Lake Jackson, Texas, where my parents lived for many years, has its Mosquito Festival. It’s actually in Clute, but not too many people have heard of Clute, whereas Lake Jackson is better known.

Juneau, Alaska has stores where you can buy a t-shirt with Juneau, Alaska Rain Festival: January 1 – December 31” printed on it.

And in Astoria, Oregon, you can buy one that says “Astoria, OR. It’s Not The End Of The World, But You can See It From Here.”

That’s the ADD talking again. I keep having flashes of memories of the various places I’ve lived. With those memories come faces of the people I knew. Old friends, classmates, playmates, lovers. Tommy, Esther, Christine, Stephanie, Ricky….

And those memories bring the what-ifs and the if-onlys. But that way lies madness.

And so I merely sit back, detached, watching as the faces go by, remembering them all with deep affection and gratitude.

See you later.

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