My daughters and I drove north over snowy roads to have dinner with friends who were staying for a few days at a house built by a ship captain in the 1800s. The house is on exquisitely beautiful Lake Willoughby, deep into what I consider “way out there” in Vermont — but that’s all in one’s perspective, isn’t it?

I would have walked around that three-story house for a day and a half, just looking at room upon room, like an enormous treasure or jewel box. Fortunately, my friends know me and were nonplussed when I rubbed my hands over the peacock tails in the downstairs wallpaper. My teenager sprawled before the fireplace and said, We’re not leaving.

An oak table spanned the length of a long room that must have originally been a veranda. At dinner, the kids filled their plates and sat in a row on one side. I walked around the table and sat with my back to the wall of windows. It’s December and darn cold, and the kids, being kids, had likely sized up the draft on that side and chosen the warmer one. Or maybe they just wanted to be closer to the berry pies…

My friend’s elderly father sat beside me, and, after precisely cutting his meat, said very pleasantly, A bit of air conditioning tonight, isn’t there?

Driving home in the dark, around Runaway Pond, through the Bend, past dairy farms hazily illuminated by the moon darting in and out of scudding clouds, I thought of all the stories that house must contain, how all our lives are clumsily packed sieves of so much jumbled living — radiant happiness, crushing misery, sometimes dullness, aching and unmet desire — and then the levity of that sweet sentence rose again into my thinking.

One terrible thing about divorce is losing the person who holds the other half of your shared secrets. That highway north was studded with memories from the very earliest days of my marriage. Driving north, I passed those places and said nothing, knowing the only way to continue is to create.

So when my daughters asked why I was laughing as I drove those final miles home, I told them I aspire to have that gentleman’s light grace when I’m a little old lady, with — God willing — many more miles traveled.

I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.

— Holden Caulfield


Daughter at work, home, Hardwick, Vermont

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