This summer, I took a trip to Oklahoma to see someone I needed to reunite with even though we had not yet ever met: Jennifer. I had been connected to her online for years, and had been reading her blog for even longer. I left my 20th high school reunion in the New Mexico desert for the singing of cicadas and the sound of the wailing trains passing through Oklahoma City - for the feel of the summer humidity and heat on my skin in a way that I had not felt in a very long time.
Jennifer and I both spent a good portion of our nomadic childhoods on Route 66 and in the cities and towns that are dotted along that highway. I have always felt such a connection to her through her stories, partly because we grew up in the same generation, and part of that is because we were in the same places growing up - New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, many of the Midwest and Southwest states.
I took a snapshot of this wall that is in the Albuquerque airport on my way to Oklahoma City see her....
Some nights, while Generation X sleeps, Jennifer is up, collecting and archiving the photos of our generation before they disappear forever, putting together the story of our generation, so that it won't be forgotten. In looking through these photos online, she has found at least one picture of herself from her childhood that she had never before seen. Someday, I hope she finds some retro photo of both her and I standing right near to each other in line at some roadside Tastee Freeze or Dairy Queen when we were very young. I am convinced that she and I passed each other at least once on Route 66 or some similar highway as kids. Whether we glanced at each other through the back window of a car on the road, or whether we were shopping at the same souvenir shop, I have always had this feeling I had seen her somewhere before - decades ago - and most likely for only a fleeting second. Maybe the yellow NM license plate on the wall of the airport is sending some cryptic message that means the two of us saw each other in 1980 on the road somewhere in New Mexico?
One evening at her house, we sat down to a sturdy wooden dining table heavy laden with all the colors of Fiestaware, and with skewers of grilled vegetables and burgers fresh from the grill that her husband Robert had barbecued for us. It reminded me of summer meals I ate as a child with family in Texas - it was profoundly meaningful to share a meal with her family, to see everyone in real life that I had only seen in digital pictures for years. The cool of the air conditioner fought back against the humid summer heat outside. The sun came in to puddle up onto the wood floors of her lovely house. I did not photograph the table or the house because it was too beautiful - it was more important for me to just be in the moment. I told myself I would photograph my own Fiestaware when I got home to tell the story.
I first ate on Fiestaware when I was a kid - it was at the home of my after-school babysitter, a lady who was from the last Lost Generation, who had lived through the Great Depression, The Dust Bowl. Fiestaware came about during the Great Depression - all the bright colors were meant to cheer people up. While families often try to pass on the same china patterns through the generations, the reason I put these on my wedding registry years ago was so that I could share the same pattern of dishes with women from many generations even beyond my own family - it is a symbol of all the people who I would feed from my table who I had not yet met, of the connection we have to people who have had the same life experiences to us, whether we ever meet them or not. Both Jennifer and I are quintessential Generation Xers - we know what it's like to live through a dust bowl of our own - to come of age and continue to live on the timeline of history during an extended Crisis - when everything is turned upside down and the wells are found empty.
I was anticipating my visit to see Jennifer as the worst drought in California history kept hanging on, just as it still does. One evening after packing my bags, it was hot and my back was aching fiercely, so I slept on the floor. In the middle of the night, I felt an earthquake quite unlike anything I'd ever felt. I could feel the house go over a wave of sorts as the plates of the earth shifted. My arm was up against the wall and my back was on the wood floor so my bones could feel the movement of the structure of the 1970s house that we live in. I could feel the framing of the house move like the skeletal structure of a whale move as it slowly goes over a large wave in the ocean. The movement was subtle enough that I knew everyone around was okay, but I wondered for a moment if any of my Fiestaware was going to slide off the kitchen shelf before I fell back asleep. One afternoon a few days later in Oklahoma City while laying on the bed to rest my tired back I felt a sharp jolt as if someone had rammed a car into Jennifer's guesthouse. I jumped up and ran in a sort of panic as the ground was moving. It was another earthquake. The shamrock green Fiestaware cup and saucer Jennifer had left for me on the counter sat calmly in its place.
Sometimes it is as if the very plates of the earth below us have to shift so that we can get to the next place in life that we are supposed to be. And we see there is good in that. Some days though, we feel fear as we brace ourselves against the next natural disaster, and it seems that the droughts will go on forever, and we wonder why it has to be that way.
Jennifer was given her name for some reason much larger than she may have ever knew - maybe because it is the most popular name for the women of our generation, maybe because she knows the suffering of all the Jennifers. She has been through a lot in this life - so much I know that she could empathize with any person of our generation. She has gained a lot of wisdom through the hardships of life, and through her story she looks for redemption, and creates beauty of it all. She reaches many other Jennifers through her story - many other Gen Xers. She is a natural born storyteller, and when she speaks, light fills the room. She knows what it is like to have the foundations of life moved below her, yet she uses her difficulties to pass on hope. Sometimes when I look at people's lives who have had a large amount of suffering, it makes me think of the suffering of saints.
Both Jennifer and I write about, and are fascinated with history, and generations, and generational theory - the generational turnings of history. Every four generations, at least in the Western World, there is what is called a Lost Generation - the last one were those who came of age during World War I. The current one is Generation X. We grew up in a time when children were valued the least in modern history, yet we are now known as the best parents in modern history. At Jennifer's house, I watched as she took care of each little detail of her kids' lives, how she entered each present moment with them. Maybe each Lost Generation is the ultimate salt of the earth....
There are these extraordinary moments I have shared with Jennifer over the years, these things that have happened that are far too coincidental to be a coincidence, that have been seemingly cosmic, divine. There are too many moments to name, and many of these moments would be almost impossible to describe, though there are a few that I can share with you....
One of those moments was in 2012, when right around the same time, both of us found an almost identical, newly hatched, little blue egg shell laying in the grass - for me it was in Oregon, for her it was in Oklahoma, and we both saw a delicate beauty in it and photographed it.
There was another time when we both had similar experiences of experiencing God's presence on baseball fields...and we both stopped to take pictures of the moment - the list goes on and on and goes back further and further in time....
There were moments when, around the same time of our lives - for her it was in the summer of 1978, and for me it was in the summer of 1979 - when we each stopped and watched fireflies glowing on a warm evening, ascending and descending, and each of us experienced a juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy going on in our lives as young Gen Xers as we stared at the fireflies.
The last night I was with Jennifer in Oklahoma City, we went out, and when we got back to her house we were standing in the driveway. I could not believe my eyes when I noticed that there were fireflies lit up, encircling us, with their peaceful glow. The beginning of our journeys as Gen Xers began with memories of fireflies, and our visit ended with fireflies as well. The fireflies left us as quickly as they came - they were on their way somewhere, they stopped and encircled us briefly and then left. It was just like how Jennifer and I probably crossed each other's paths on Route 66 as kids - only briefly, and on the way to somewhere else.
I never really thought that I would call someone in this life a soul mate, as I had never really found anyone who can operate on the same wavelength as I do, who can see the human experience the way I do. Until I found Jennifer, I had never found anyone who can hold humor, and tragedy, the presence of God, and the weight of the pain of a generation all in one moment, yet she can, she is Jennifer.
Thank you, Jennifer, for letting me come see you, for letting me be in your presence. After all these years of reading your writing, it was so good to hear your storytelling in person, and to hear your infectious laugh. After all these years of exchanging digital words, it was so good to give you a hug, and to break bread with you, and to sip coffee from your shamrock-green Fiestaware cup. You are kind, generous, and full of profound beauty. You are Jen X. You are encircled with Light.
|Photo Credit: Jennifer McCollum|
If you follow this blog because you love reading about Generation X, you will love Jennifer's blog, too: Are you there, God? It's me Generation X
(c) 2015 - Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved