I generally take Sundays off, but it's Mother's Day. Sorting through old files recently, I came across a letter I wrote to my son, Christopher, back in 1991, on his 25th birthday in June. I'll take tomorrow off. Today I'm remembering again.
Happy 25th. I remember it as if it were a week or so ago. Luckily, I remember more fun experiences much better. I remember you tooling around Hyde Park in Chicago on your Big Wheel. We all called you the Mayor of Hyde Park. You knew everybody for alleys around. I remember you leaning out the window watching David Rasche and friends get shaken down by cops outside and yelling, "Fascist pig car, mommy. Fascist pig car." I remember thinking it was time for some judicious editing on the revolution-chic shit. I remember when you had to help me get the Volkswagen Bus started by holding the wheel while I pushed it down the hill and then jumped in and shoved it in first. I think a lot of that time I was trying to drive you to swimming lessons that you didn't want. I remember the infamous Vegetable Chart. I don't blame you for feeding all the veggies to Orphia. I never liked that idea either. I remember finding you by looking for Orphia. She never blabbed about the veggies.
I remember when you got lost in St. Peter and the cops picked you up and when they finally brought you home they almost sicced the child protection services on me because apparently I should have been listening to a radio station I never heard of and had apparently been ignoring the announcements. And some little kid next door or his grandmother or somebody told you your parents were hippies. Like, ugh.
I remember going to grandma and grandpa's up through Duluth on the way and then down the Mississippi on the way back and running out of money and staying at Prairie du Chien State Park. Somehow I managed to get some food or something with the gas credit card at some motel. I remember taking you and Caroline to visit sister Joan and then driving to Indiana and up through Michigan to visit Dennis and how you and I had to sing "Hush Little Baby" to keep Caroline quiet and how sick and tired we got of that song. I remember crossing Lake Michigan at night, sitting finally in the prow of the ferry squeezed in front of some sort of front thing with this other family and watching the stars and the water and finally the lights of Kewaunee.
I remember the horrible pallet mill and teaching you to drive and letting you (rather, allowing you to become) very drunk on the Fourth of July. I remember you invoking the spirit of Spock and the virtue of control to no avail. I remember what's his name and the nail gun wars. I remember letting you hitchhike to Oshkosh and your dad freaking out and me telling him I wasn't worried at all and holding my breath until you actually showed up. I remember your seventeenth birthday and you on crutches swinging up to me in the parking lot after your first Dead show saying, "Who's the guy in the bat mask?" I remember how at some much later show you told me Jerry wouldn't let me lose my purse. You were right! You remembered that miracles were to be expected here. I remember looking for you at Poplar Creek and seeing you dancing with your crutches in this purple haze of rain drops and acid and other magical particles. I remember how beautiful you were.
I remember when we drove out here together almost six years ago. I remember stopping in the tunnels going over Mount Rushmore at night watching the rock crystals blaze in the headlights. I remember the buffalo jokes. The offerings of hash and wine to the spirit of the Black Hills. Going over the passes into Yellowstone in the mini-blizzard with Barry's big bear sitting between us with my headband on his head, my sunglasses on his nose, and maps under his chin. Staying that last night of the season at the Long Lake Lodge. Driving out of Yellowstone past all the famous animals. Camping in the snow in Montana and making apple jack. The bottle of Jack Daniels stuck in the snow on the picnic table.
I remember one of our last Alpine Valley's together, when the Dead did Brokedown Palace for the encore and we stood together with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes. I remember you called it the "Happy Trails to You" of the Grateful Dead. I still think of you every time I hear it.
I'm sorry I was mean about trying to get you to pick up all the apples. I'm sorry about every time I yelled at you when you were driving me crazy. I'm sorry I ever disappointed you in anything. I'm sorry for the times I wasn't there and still can't be when you need me. I'm sorry I spent all my money taking Richard and Caroline to New Years. I'm sorry I haven't sent you anything this year. I'm sorry nothing can ever really make any of the bad times any better. But I know I probably would never have done anything differently, either.
I remember I sent you a letter on your fifteenth birthday and said you would always have a place with me if you ever needed it, that you could always come home, wherever that is at the time. That's still true. It always will be. One way or the other.
In the meantime, somewhere in my mind we are still out there together, chasing the VW down the hill or looking for the bridge over the Mississippi or watching the moon rise over Alpine.
I love you with all my heart.
Happy Birthday, son.