The Adult Contingent

The summer I was 19, I worked in a nursing home in Brattleboro, swing shift from 3 to 11pm, arriving at the hot and busy part of the day and leaving in the generally cool and always quiet night. Being 19 and filled with endless energy, I often worked a double shift, and left at 7 am when just about everyone else in Brattleboro was heading to work.

A few young residents lived in that nursing home – a woman crippled with arthritis, a young man irreparably injured by a drunk driver – but the older residents were there either because they had dementia or suffered an illness, or were simply old and had nowhere else to go.

One evening, my favorite little old woman rang her bell. I remember she had a small bedside lamp and a handmade quilt. When I appeared, she was polite, but she said clearly, Honey, I want a grownup.

I hurried to get the charge nurse, even though it was my job and maybe I should have stayed. I was very young, and the woman was very old – a territory wholly unfamiliar to me.

Early last Sunday, in the last push of moving, I desperately wanted the adults to arrive. I love kids and teenagers dearly, but there’s a time for adults, too. The adults arrived in force, moved us and stayed, and put our house together again, too. They ferried us down the mountain and over the river and up a hill, and took the younger daughter swimming, too.

Eternal thanks.

A camellia
dropped down into
still waters
Of a deep dark well

– Buson



In the next week, my older daughter will graduate from high school. My younger ends her elementary grades in the beloved red schoolhouse. I will sell one house and buy another; my daughters and I will move seven miles or so from one county to another, all our earthly belongings packed up in cardboard boxes and transported by friends and relatives. I will shut the door one final time on a house my former husband and I built, and metaphorically step away from that marriage. Friends from long ago are coming to visit. My daughters and I will come to know how and when sunlight enters our new house, what the water tastes like, where on the horizon the moon rises.

My daughters good-naturedly roll their eyes when I talk about houses being alive, but our house now will pass into hands better able to care for its keen needs. In the sky over our new house, graceful and eternally patient turkey vultures spread their wings in spirals of air currents. All life is change; we’re in the spin of confluence this week – and likely the next – but then I intend to have a good long summer, listening to the birdsong, swimming in Vermont’s cold lakes, and studying those vultures, our new neighbors.

Sometimes when we lose, we gain, and when we gain, we lose. Our fears and joys are bound up inextricably, pleasure in pain and pain in pleasure. Our efforts to untangle and isolate human experience can leave us confused and depressed. Happiness means choosing to be productive and optimistic, recognizing despair for the ancient parasite that it is and outsmarting it.

– Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, The Farm in the Green Mountains


Handmade Dresses

In the process of moving from one house to another, my daughters and I are turning every closet inside out. I urge the girls to pass along what they don’t want: books, outgrown clothing, costume jewelry…. and then I pack away the tiny baby dresses my mother sewed, sealing them up in a cardboard box and writing keep.

We’re three females going about our lives, moving from one house to another, and I keep reminding myself lucky, lucky, as I listen to VPR, the airwaves filled with so many people and so much upheaval, the tenor of the country and of the world uncertain, fraught.

Lucky, we are, moving not far, to a house surrounded by blooming perennials.

Here’s a fragment from a poem I found in a box, given to me by a friend, when my little girl wore those dresses.

…Even as his hands broke
the earth he worked, his heart
was fallow, asleep…
I turned and told him,
Yes. Plant. Plant everything
as if you had eternity
for you will die tomorrow.

– Arra Lynn Ross, “He Comes and Asks to Plant”


Montpelier, Vermont