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Saturday, June 10, 2006

The graduate

Jasper and I went to Utah this last week to watch my youngest sibling, Marisa, graduate from high school. This is a big deal for every graduate and their family, but it was an especially gratifying experience for us because it's been such a long, hard road for Marisa and my mother.

Marisa is severely disabled from cerebral palsy. Disability rights were brand new when Marisa started school, and my mother was a pioneer in her efforts to enroll her daughter in the mainstream kindergarten in Colorado. I was in college by then, but I still remember what a battle it was to have Marisa included rather than shunted off into one of those one-size-fits-all handicapped schools. She faced less resistance when my family moved to Utah. Still, it takes a lot of support to educate a young woman who cannot walk or feed herself, much less hold a pencil or a book. Many dedicated and compassionate people have helped Marisa overcome her challenges and expand her mind.

Marisa was not the only disabled student the school embraced; one of the speakers at her commencement was an autistic boy (his shoulders piled with honors braids) who expressed his gratitude toward his fellow students for accepting him. One of my sister's best friends, a blind girl, was also one of the graduates. Following the ceremony Marisa was flocked by well-wishers, students, and teachers who congratulated her.

I was tremendously proud -- and humbled -- to see Marisa graduate from high school. She makes me want to try harder... at everything.

Marisa's graduation also occasioned a family reunion. I have two brothers and a niece who live in Utah near my mother. My sister and her son flew in from Denver. And my 86-year-old grandmother and my uncle Al (who brought me some kicky chili powder from San Antonio) flew in from Texas. My siblings and I have finally matured to the point where we can genuinely enjoy each other's company (well, most of us). Maybe those of you with large, loud, families filled with outsized personalities know what I'm talking about. I was especially happy to spend time with my sister, Angelica. She's just 18 months younger than I am and our friendship has been hard-won. I think that's why I love her so much now.

Mom had the brilliant idea of setting up a sandbox in a large tub on a low table. She also filled a wading pool in the back yard -- and that was all we needed to entertain Jasper for those few days. We spent a lot of time on the shady back patio watching Jasper and his cousin, Maya, putter around with the sand and water. Once Jasper adapted to his new environment it was so relaxing, especially with Mom's blossoming garden around us. I can't believe the gigantic, profuse blooms that grow in Utah. It must be all that sun.

Grandma told amazing stories about her childhood. It's better when Grandma does the talking and we listen. She recently lost or damaged her hearing aid and hasn't replaced it, so we had to yell in order for her to hear us. Finally my mother was so exasperated she said, "MOM, WHY DON'T YOU TELL YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY THAT YOU NEED A NEW HEARING AID?" Grandma just waved her off and said, "oh, I'm just letting myself go little by little." Mom's eyes about bugged out as she went into "BUT YOU'RE MAKING US YELL ALL THE TIME!"

As for cooking, I made toast and tea. Mom made some chicken pibil from a jar that was still pretty tasty, and another night we grilled a ton of shrimp with vegetables. Mom likes to keep things simple when there's a lot of us to feed.

Two days earlier we spent the weekend with Lane's wonderful parents in Ogden. There, also, I was astonished by my surroundings. Ogden sits at the foot of two mountains and the view is spectacular. I can't believe everyone there gets to look at that view every day.

I coerced Bob and Mary into taking Jasper, his newlywed cousin Kate, and her husband, Justin up to Kirt's in North Ogden. Kirt's is an old-fashioned drive-in that serves the best onion rings, fry sauce, and malted milk shakes I've ever had. It's one of Lane and my favorite Utah eating establishments. I wish I had a digital photo of the place so you could see how cute it is. Scroll down on this site and you'll see it.

While in Utah I finally visited the famed Beehive Tea Room, where my brother, Gabe works. The whole family went there for lunch, which was fun but also nerve-wrecking. Salt Lake City likes to maintain a strict dichotomy between its adult spaces and its kid-friendly spaces. And while the tea room does have a kids' menu I think the kids they have in mind are quiet little girls in decorous dresses, not my nap-deprived, rambunctious two-year-old. Someday I will write an essay on children and public spaces in the west...

Anyway, the place is adorable and lunch was good. I had a lovely, herby lavender tea and tasted their delectable homemade ginger scones. Jasper's peanut butter sandwich came not only crustless, but cut into sweet little flower shapes. And the chocolate cake was a knockout.

Last but not least, I finally got to meet Shauna and her beautiful son and daughter. We met through blogs when she was trying to track down Lane -- they went to high school together and now she's organizing their 20th high school reunion. We should all be lucky enough to look as great as Shauna will at the reunion! She is also warm, wise, and a lot of fun.

We had lunch at the Red Rock Brewing Company (don't you love that Latina front and center on their website? Yeah, la raza!), where I enjoyed a scrumptious wild mushroom pizza with thyme and caramelized onions. The kids' meals were no slouch, either. Jasper's spaghetti had a pretty decent red sauce, if a bit on the sweet side. The place is large and open so I didn't feel to guilty about Jasper's brief screaming-for-fun concert (unlike on the airplane, where I told him the flight attendants would separate us and put in in time out at the back if he didn't stop). Then we goofed around at the Gallivan Center while I gave my poor uncle completely inaccurate directions to pick me up -- sorry about that, Al!

Alas, I neglected to bring my camera, so no pictures of Marisa's graduation, scenic Kirt's, or grilled shrimp for this blog. However, Shauna had the good sense to bring a camera.

Upon our return I got the little lamb sheared for the long, humid summer. Well, it's time to head back into the kitchen.


Margo, darling said...

Welcome back! I've missed your voice this past week and was wondering where you were. Lovely story about the graduation--I'm so glad everyone came and made it a big, extended party. Exactly what Marisa and your mom deserved.

lindsey said...

I loved reading about your trip. Especially about your sister.

I always get a little nervous about returning to the "Promised Land" for our once a year obligatory trip to see family. But, I think if I stop by Kirt's--which I never knew about--I'll be able to make it. Even I am a little excited now. Glad you're back!

shaunamama said...

Oh, Adriana!! How I wish we had had a few more hours during your trip so you could have told me about how wonderful the graduation was! I'm so thrilled for your sister. She has so much to be proud of, and I'm so glad that you were able to be there for her HUGE day! What a beautiful, beautiful story! I'm so glad your trip was so full and fulfilling, too!

Again, I had a marvelous time and I look forward to the next visit. I'm taking the family to Kirt's this week, for sure!

Jasper's haircut is darling, by the way.

Angelica said...

I had a great time with you and I really enjoyed playing with Jasper. He is such an amazing young man. We love you dearly. You mean so much to me.
Angelica (your sister)

Writermama said...

Oh, your little sister sounds amazing! That photo of hre is beautiful. What a journey she has been on, and I'm glad you were there to cheer her on.

And so glad you went to the Beehive Tea Room! You know, my friend's girl, a toddler at the time, broke a charming ceramic monkey lamp there. Of course, my friend offered to pay for it immediately, but the Beehive Tea Room graciously refused to let her. I love that place, hope to have my birthday party there in July.