Modern Marvels

Natalia came over this morning for sticky buns and coffee. It’s my mom’s recipe—pour a stick of butter, a small bag of slivered almonds, a cup of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of cinammon over 20 frozen Rhoades dinner rolls, and leave them out overnight to rise—and we ate them with juicy, perfect sliced peaches from the western slope. Lexi wandered around feeding single pieces of kibble to Quincy in-tow, and Natalia fiddled with my sewing machine table. She asked me for some thread, but I don’t own any. She discovered a light switch that sends a melted butter glow into the inside of the table. Then we walked around the neighborhood and looked at the house she wants to buy—a sea-foam green beauty on 1st, with original brass hinges in the doorways and two fireplaces. It is nice to walk alongside someone and feel them fluttering with similar dreams. We peeked in above the eye-level windowsills. We talked about where she grew up—pulling peaches and pears from trees, eating tart cherries and wild currants grown alongside a cold river clean enough for washing clothes. Natalia wanted an afternoon of tea and Russian chocolates, so we went to get some at the Russian store in East Denver.  She goes there every week, but still chooses everything with careful scrutiny, leaning over the candy bins, and reading the labels before choosing each one she’ll purchase. Natalia is scrupulous about coupons and food prices. She believes in saving money and in bite-sized daily indulgences. After a brief exchange in Russian with the man behind the meat counter, she obtained her one selfish allowance for the week—a stout $14.99 jar of pink caviar.

While Lexi smooshed bags of raw almonds under her small hands, Natalia found one more thing—two tall cans of Kvass—her favorite drink growing up. In the hot car, we cracked one open and assessed it. Like beer. Like cold chocolate. Like coke without the feeling across the tongue of unshakeable sweetness. I wonder why every good thing feels like a revelation, why they don’t sell this stuff at American stores.

Outside, a blonde boy with wide-set Eastern European eyes approached me and started speaking Russian. Natalia interceded and spoke with him for a moment about the protestant CD’s he was pushing. I could listen to them all day, to be in this other-world within my own world, to roll the foreign words around in my head with all the images Natalia has given me of an older life—a life of more consideration where food might be scarce and a girl learns to ride a bike on the only bicycle that exists in her village.

Later, after Natalia has dropped me off and the house is quiet without Lexi’s maybes (Maybe I could have another sticky bun? Maybe I could draw houses and trees? Maybe I could walk Quincy all by myself?) I walk around the Denver Art Museum’s Marvelous Mud Exhibit with girls I have grown up with, here in this city, mentored by priests and dips in the road perfect for soaring over in our mom’s minivans and later in our own cars on Friday nights when there’s nothing to do but we feel we are made for everything. Sometimes I wonder what I am missing, looking back, looking at these girls who contain my past and send all my grade school sentiments unspooling into my present.

At the exhibit, there are cookie cutter clay puzzles put together on the floor that clink together like wine glasses when you walk on them; a strange peace from molded antlers strung between pickle-shaped lights; a room of red with foxes in flight, and there are these quotes on the wall from artists, that I feel were stolen from my psyche:

“I want to give people a place to let language and purpose slip away and to allow the senses to frolic.” –Martha Russo

“I want things I make, even though invited, to be as real and believable as any other familiar object in the everyday.” –Annabeth Rosen

“How is it that we have nostalgia for places we have never visited?” –Kim Dickey