Michiana Chronicles: Looking For Normal

Jan 28, 2021

Credit Ken Smith

I’m looking for normal these days, and accepting half-way normal as a good substitute. That’s how I ended up on Wednesday afternoon in South Bend’s beautiful-even-in-January Howard Park, sitting out with a friend from work for over an hour in the winter breeze. The thermometer was down around 30°. Steven and I wiped snow off the chairs and settled around the big fire pit where the tall gas flames turned this way and that. Behind us was the skating loop, below and to the west, the bend of the river. At the park’s south edge, kids on sleds slammed down the steep old railway embankment. We sipped from steamy to-go cups, and the flames, the beverages, and the conversation took the edge off. Only the cold made Wednesday afternoon in the park anything less than a person would hope for.


Excepting, of course, the lurking presence of the pandemic. The endless precautions, the narrowing of our daily options, and even some very particular sorrows were with us in the cold air. They had to be. We’d be crazy not to notice. But good conversation heads off in affirming directions of its own choosing. I especially enjoyed a line of thought Steven introduced. He asked if all these pandemic disruptions, these changes of routine, had opened up anything unexpected, any new interests or pursuits? I liked the optimism of his question—he assumed that none of us are just killing time here, even in narrow circumstances. It’s like Thoreau said, long ago: As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. I think we all kind of get that.


I had a few things to show for my time. I’ve learned how to fill and then form fresh, homemade ravioli using the rim of a shot glass. I have a growing confidence cooking those sorts of Indian dishes that commence with sizzling four or five aromatic spices in hot oil. I’ve kind of enjoyed painting a closet. I’ve been revising old poems, happy to see that I can usually spot a bad line even when I’m the one who wrote it. I’m more patient with poems than I used to be—I know that it may take a while to find a better line to replace the bad one. I’ve slowed down enough to notice that there’s more to learn about my marvelous spouse, more to cherish there, more to support. If I didn’t already love her, from slowing down I see how easily I could fall in love with her again. I have a keener appreciation for the bonds of kinship and friendship, and where exactly, and when exactly, I have failed to maintain them fervently enough.


Which reminds me: I haven’t scheduled a Zoom open house with the big extended family for a few weeks now. If you’re part of the Parsons clan, if you’re one of my thirty cousins on that side,  or any of the surviving aunts and uncles, if you know what the house at 148 Chicago looked like back in the day, if you would normally have coffee and cake in the kitchen there on the morning of Christmas Eve, if you remember great-grandma’s rocking chair and the jumpy temperment of her wild-haired matted pillow of a snoring lapdog named Cha Cha Cha, expect an invitation. We’ll be on Zoom with stories to tell. Like sitting in the winter air of Howard Park, it’s not the old normal, but it can be pretty good.

Music: "Wrong Foot Forward" by Flook