Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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There and Back Again

This afternoon we went up to the Phoenix area, Gilbert to be specific, to see our family friends the Jenkins, their three daughters, and all but one of their grandchildren. Since we knew them back in Pennsylvania -- their middle daughter Amy was my grade-school classmate, her younger sister Becca my sister Miriam's inseparable pre-school companion, and the eldest Mary Beth my babysitter -- this reunion was a big deal. We had a great time. It was wonderful to think that Skylar might have a sense of family in Arizona that goes beyond our own rather limited domestic life. I wish we could have hooked up with them sooner, since they all live in the state, but it is only recently that Skylar can handle the drive there and back and be expected cope with a potentially overwhelming number of unfamiliar faces.

On the way up, I accompanied my parents in their rental car. The drive from Catalina to Florence to Apache Junction -- we took the old route instead of I-10 -- was as pretty as it ever will be, startlingly green and full of gorgeous wildflowers. I amused myself by snapping photos, of my parents, the landscape, and the blurred-to-abstraction interior of my mouth.

I usually regard the voyage to the Phoenician realm as a chore to be accomplished as rapidly as possible, but actually could have taken it slower this afternoon.

I drove back with Kim and Skylar, who had made the trip separately. For most of the return Skylar watched Stuart Little on our cigarette lighter-powered TV/VCR while Kim and I discussed feminism, "men of that demographic," and the concept of ideological interpellation. I love talking to her about that sort of thing, invariably learning more than I impart.

Once the film ended, however, I had the task of keeping Skylar entertained. I gave her five of her grab-bag candies from AJ's and then asked her which one was her favorite. "I liked the chocolate egg best." I asked her whether she had also eaten the foil, then informed her that there are Indian candies that come wrapped in silver or gold leaf that is meant to be eaten along with the sweets they clothe. "What is gold made out of?," Skylar wondered.

I started to explain what an element was, then made a detour to talk about the two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms in a molecule of water. I attempted, in my scientifically challenged way, to describe water's power as a solvent -- "That's why, when we burn something on the bottom of the pan, we soak it in water." -- in terms of its molecular properties. Eventually, after a number of hard questions from the Bean, I ended up explaining that pure gold consists entirely off gold atoms while steel is a combination off several different kinds.

By the time we were nearing our house, the conversation had drifted to musings on the impermanence of objects. I told Skylar how some atoms break off of a substance every time you touch it. She wanted to know whether we perceive the loss of matter in, say, a silver spoon that has been polished over and over and over. I told her that one typically doesn't notice that sort of decay in a single lifespan, but that it would be possible -- imagine washing the same silverware 24/7 -- under the right circumstances. As our very sleepy girl headed for bed, she was still firing off questions about everything from molecular structure to house-cleaning. I'm surprised she didn't reprise her, "God is made out of atoms," argument.

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