I woke up this morning in a Hilton hotel in Bakersfield, California. Hazel and I drove here last night for my cousin Peter’s memorial, which is today. Peter was my oldest cousin on my dad’s side and I never knew him as well as I wish I did. After my mom died, his family came to live with us for a year to help my dad through that terrible time, but I don’t remember those toddler days and, if I did, my memories would surely be of Peter’s younger brother, Christopher, who was still a baby like me and who grew into my childhood playmate; or his sister, Kathleen, whom I worshipped throughout my childhood and who has since become one of my best friends. Mostly when I think of childhood memories of Peter, I think of him as a super-cool teenager driving a yellow VW bug, music playing, him smiling, wrapped up in a golden glow of light. He was ten years older than me and, growing up, he represented the future. Watching him was like catching a glimpse of what it would be like to be sixteen, driving my own car; to disappear into the mysterious worlds of college and jobs. Our age difference lost its meaning as we got older; his oldest daughter and Hazel were born the same year, but our paths have crossed less than I wish they would have these last many years. He went on to have two more children, bright sparks of fun whenever they’d join us for family reunions. On those visits, too rare as they were, being in Peter’s company was always something to treasure. Peter was a deeply kind human being, generous and funny, a teller of great stories. I will miss him. It’s not quite real to me that he’s gone, that I’ll never again hear the distinctive lilt of his tone calling me, “Jinny.” So here we are in Bakersfield for his memorial; that last rite that helps the rest of us turn what seems impossible into accepted reality.
And I needed to swim. As a backup, Hazel agreed to stop at the Bulb on our way back into town, whatever the time. But given the 5.5 hours it took us to get here, I wasn’t that keen on that idea. What if we didn’t get back until 10pm? So, when I saw our hotel had a pool, I rejoiced. Yet…when I stood there looking at it this morning at 6:30, I started to have doubts.
Tiny and uninspiring, I really wasn’t feeling it. But, I knew the worry about where to swim would hang over my head all day if I didn’t just go. And what if we got back to Berkeley at 10 pm? Swimming at the Albany Bulb in the predawn darkness…sure! But 10 o’clock at night? That doesn’t sound nearly so good.
So, I stripped off my sweats and stepped in. It was cold! That made things more interesting; I could still get a cold water swim in! Slipping into the water was too easy for it to be an actual cold water swim (maybe it was 60?), but it was fresh and cool and somehow the pool seemed less dingy for its chilly temperature. I could imagine it was a fresh pond instead of a crappy hotel pool. I swam back and forth and in circles. Definitely not my most rigorous swim, but it gave me some quiet moments to think about the day ahead; to think about my kind and loving cousin who left this world too soon.