Postcards from Charlottesville

My daughter and her friend dug into boxes of records and gleaned out The Beatles, set up the stereo and record player in our barn, and cranked up The White Album. They hung up the hammock, strung lights around the walls, and then – needing a disco ball – smashed a mirror and hot-glued shards on a soccer ball.

While I wander around the edges, moving from chore to chore – nothing egregiously awful, but edgy and dissatisfied, preoccupied with I’m thinking – the girls are in the barn, creatively busy, smiling, wanting only a break to go swimming and eat ice cream sundaes.

Later, in the dark, I go for a walk in the adjoining cemetery, familiar enough with these paths that I can walk both by the scant light and my memory. The crescent moon rises in the black sky, over the mountain ridge and our house, where I see the girls’ string of Christmas lights shining. I pause, noting the moon’s hue. Tinged amber? Faintly orange?

Then I wise up and just stand there, shivering a little in my sweater, admiring this slice of moon, autumn creeping near.

… I have been there all along and this, I suddenly and certainly know, is motherhood; this mere sufficiency, this presence. With every cry she has tutored me, in what is plain and hard: that my affection, my silly entertainments, my doting hours, the particular self I tried to bring to my care of her, have been as superfluous as my fury and despair. All that is required is for me to be there….

– Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother

My sister, Tanya Stanciu, who lives in Charlottesville sent these photos.

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Mason-Dixon

The summer my nephew was 10, my daughters and I spent a long piece of the summer with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia. We were visiting because of family illness, and so it was me and the kids and a palpable uncertainty and unhappiness, and sweltering days and nights – and, since we are this kind of family, we laughed a lot, even at things that may not have been hugely funny. The four kids and myself explored the surrounding woods and the downtown, and my nephew – a boy hungry for history and stories – offered a near nonstop commentary about his hometown’s past. My own daughters, who’ve lived in woodsy Vermont all their lives, were mystified by the sprawling historic mansions, the prolific Civil War statues, the presence of the past.

In one long ramble, my nephew mentioned the War of Northern Aggression –  a name never mentioned in my New Hampshire public schooling. He was stunned I’d never heard the term.

Really? he asked.

Really. Like that, I was ashamed, suddenly seeing this sticky and different place more foreign and infinitely more complex than I’d imagined. The statues, the big houses, my nephew’s intricate stories were but keyholes, tiny slits into a titanic past.

And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.

– Martin Luther King, Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1963

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