Laughter

Pandemic notwithstanding, the car I’m selling needs to be inspected. Since who the heck wants to talk through masks, I call the mechanic where I’ve left this car for a week or so. What’s a week, anyway?

The soft-spoken mechanic, who’s been undercharging me for years, quietly explains what needs to be done. Then he asks me, What do you think of that? Is that okay?

I’m leaning over the back deck railings, staring into the tangle of wild raspberry canes. I answer, What I think is it’s 2020, and I don’t like any of this.

He busts out laughing. I hate to say it, Brett, but we’re so fucked. This has only been going on since March.

I know. What’s going to happen in November?

I’m laughing so hard at this point; there’s so nothing funny about any of this — pretty much nothing funny about 2020 at all — but we keep laughing and laughing.

Then I say, It’s just a car. Fix it. I’ll sell it. That’s small potatoes.

And — it’s still Vermont July — with a creamy half-moon and endless cucumbers.

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.

— Issa

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Photo by Molly S.

Where We Are

On a gorgeous Friday afternoon, my 15-year-old and I are outside the Vermont Department of Libraries, to pick up a sneeze guard and hand sanitizer for my library. The building’s locked (of course), but we’re allowed into the vestibule of this beautiful building that once was the town’s high school.

The Department’s employee who helps us is like all the state library’s employees — utterly helpful — and a bag of children’s books has been included, too, to add to my library collection or give away. I imagine on the employee job application is a box — Are you a decent person?

There’s been some snafus in the pickup, and I’ve been texting the woman who arranged for these free drop-offs around the state. By then, my daughter and I are at our next errand. She’s in the driver’s seat, and we’re in the parking lot of a wood stove store.

The woman apologies for the confusion, and I text back not to worry. She writes that elevator problems were not in the plan. Then, laughing, I text that 2020 and Covid were doubtlessly not in her plans, either.

Haha, she writes back, nor were distributing sneeze guards and hand sanitizer in my career plans, either.

While I’m laughing and texting, my daughter has cracked open one of the half-gallon bottles of sanitizer and says, Hey, this is the good stuff!

The July day is stunning beautiful — not too hot, but the perfect day for swimming. There’s plenty of good things I’m happy about this day: I’m employed. I’m (nearly) finished with another draft of my book and about to hand that in. My 15-year-old is ecstatic to have the car keys in her hand.

Here’s what’s also happening.

I’m in this parking lot because I’m looking to solve a chimney problem in my house and heat again with wood. In the early mornings, reading the news, like so many other people, I worry about the country descending into chaos. My 21-year-old reads the same news and asks me what it means. What’s happening?

Like everyone else, I don’t know. I’ve never lived through times like these. But I do know human history is filled with times of uncertainty and movement and hardship. I’m doing everything I can to get us through the winter, as best as possible.

Part of getting through the winter is loving these summer days now, knitting deeper the ties around me — and that includes these bits of texting with a woman I haven’t yet met. The levity doesn’t diminish what’s happening, but collectively lightens the load. My daughter, rubbing that great sanitizer into her palms, asks if I’m going to laugh and text all afternoon. I might.

You’re rocking the distribution of plexiglass, I write.

She answers me, Thank you!

Then I put on my mask and head into the store.

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Somewhere In December…

We’re all home at 3, the youngest just home from school, the oldest finished with exams and lying on the couch with her cat who eyes me warily. What now? that cat seems to say. As if the cat himself is out of sorts with the weather.

Are any of us made to live so far north? I insist we pull on boots, go outside. The sun slips down over the mountain before four.

Then — here’s the thing — we’re talking about not much at all, and the younger daughter says something about the cat that’s not shall I say kid appropriate, and I just laugh. I mean, I really laugh. I’m not entirely sure she knows why I’m laughing. The other day she asked if I was intended to hang little white Christmas lights in the “residential quarters.” I did, and I do.

But just thinking about it makes me laugh again. Why not?

Like a wheat grain that breaks open in
the ground, then grows, then gets
harvested, then crushed in the mill for
flour, then baked, then crushed again
between teeth to become a person’s
deepest understanding…

There is no end to any of this.

— Rumi

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Sign of Spring: Honda Takes Flight

A pale blue Honda Civic, circa 1985, parked along Route 14 not far from our house, has flown that nest.

The Honda had quite the winter, parked between an apartment building and the busy highway. The car was completely buried by snow at least twice. The back window was left cracked open. Someone removed the hood and then replaced it, repeatedly. One sunny afternoon, a young man washed its rear window with steaming hot water from a kitchen garbage can.

People have moved in and out of those apartments all winter, by pickup and U-Haul. Now, the Honda.

Craigslisted? Simply ready to roll?

While winter and road salt have eaten into Vermont, here’s an old Honda, hopping back on the road — or so I’m believing.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
— From “The Pasture,” Robert Frost
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House town offices, snowy Sunday morning

A Little Faith

I left a conference in Montpelier yesterday with incredibly nice people, held in unheated rooms (boiler was kaput), and with so much lingo I actually sighed at one point. How would this ever make things even marginally better in Vermont classrooms?

A water main had broken in Montpelier. Streets were closed. Police cars flashed lights.  My favorite coffee shop was locked, lights off.

Light snow fell, just the loveliest, lightest snow. In the public library, I worked furiously on a chair in a corner. When school was out, kids began sneaking around the stacks, giggling. Finally, giving the kids some attention, I realized they were in a complicated game, playing hide and seek, trying very hard not to giggle. I listened to them for a while, the kids in their snowy jackets, wearing backpacks, and then I turned back to my work.

“People expect everything very quickly, but God doesn’t work that way.” She lets go of my hand and drops down to the floor, this squat little woman in a blue housedress and ragged terry-cloth slippers, splays her fingers, and pats the carpet.

“My faith,” she says, “is from here….”

— Sue Halpern, Migrations to Solitude: the quest for privacy in a crowded world

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The back, un-touristy side of Vermont’s capital

Garden of Eden — Er, Vermont

My 19-year-old shoots me a photo for an essay I’ve written and hands over her camera card. Scrolling through, I find this picture of her younger sister taken by my friend Jessica Ojala.

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With almost tactile precision, I remember tying my daughter’s little blue shoes, how seriously she and her friend took this photo shoot, how my little daughter ran with her short legs along the pebbled path but was so careful to stay on the paths and not tread on nursery plants.

Look at her little hand on that lichen-covered bench arm and — all around — that gorgeous garden.

Below zero this morning. The now 13-year-old sleeps with one hand on her tabby cat. Same child, different season.