I’m at the gas station, in the far back, where the light is out, filling diesel cans by the light of my iPhone, when an older woman pulls up and starts talking to me.
Busy, busy, she was at work that day.
As she’s waiting for me to finish, and I’m crouched in the dark, I ask what she does for work. I’m thinking nurse’s assistant. I’m dead wrong. She’s a taxi driver. She’s taken people to Chicago, to Boston, and then everywhere around the state. To the grocery store, or south to Bennington. For years, she had been a long-distance semi driver, so the taxi gig is a kind of retirement, keep-her-busy kind of gig.
I’ve never met a taxi driver in rural Vermont, as common an occupation as that might be elsewhere.
Peat moss from Canada, she tells me. By this time, she’s taken my phone and lights my way. Blustery, she tells me. But that doesn’t stop her from wiping off my cans with her rag and lifting them into the back of my car, saying my hands must be cold.
I offer to hold the light for her, but she sends me on my way. She’s left the hatch of her vehicle open, so her side of the gas pump is relatively well-lit. She knows her way around a dark gas station; she knows what she’s doing.
Last of November. I drive home to where my daughters are heating Thanksgiving leftovers in the oven.
A few drops of rain graced the very end of our walk yesterday afternoon. Later, our kitchen redolent with baking pies, rain hammered on the roof.
I hope all my readers have many, many things to celebrate. Oddly enough, on this day I’m mostly grateful to be in a place where I can be grateful. My life has not always been that way — or, more accurately perhaps, I’ve been pressed at times where I could think only from here to there, and not have the luxury of gratefulness. I know I’m not alone in that. Gratitude, it seems to me, needs not material or financial space (although those things certainly help), but the spiritual space to be simply in the here, the now.
One of the very loveliest gratitude poems is Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise. Here’s a few lines on this holiday morning.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
And, more happiness in a world with such dear creatures, my beloved hardworking cat.
On this Thanksgiving morning, a dream of our house burning wakes me. In the haze of my dream, I’m first insistent my daughters leave, their two cats found and taken to the neighbors. My laptop. Then there’s an odd pause, where I’m alone in the house, as if what next? what else?
A former sugarmaker who burned countless cords of wood on a 14′ long arch — wood stove user — and firewoman to seven enormous burn piles when I left our old house — I’m intimately familiar with the curl and lick of fire, of its wicked smartness.
I wake, happy to be in our warm house, one cat hungrily biting my bare toes, the other nuzzling my cheek, my daughters sleeping. Downstairs, a pecan pie waits, uncut, on the kitchen table.
Yesterday, I met an incredibly accomplished writer in the Hardwick diner, and here’s a snippet from our conversation over coffee and tea and the diner’s savory shredded hashbrowns.
Despite all the irritating experiences around Thanksgiving that happens when families get together, there’s also moments when we’re all sitting together and eating together and someone is telling a story, and you think how great it is that we’re all together hearing these stories together, and then living stories together….
Here’s one (not particularly recommended) way to approach a holiday meal: a couple of years ago, I had a harvest lunch/Thanksgiving meal at my daughter’s nice elementary school. Afterward, an older student read a story aloud about, naturally, the original Thanksgiving. At the end, the child read the last page, an addendum likely tacked on, of historic American dates. That’s when I should have just quietly walked out. From there on, as the girl read in her clear, sweet voice, in that sunny room filled with such decent and well-meaning people, I sat there brooding, History is a brutal business.
Last night, the too-warm winds of this too-warm November blowing grit in our eyes and mouths, my daughters and brother and I stood beneath the full moon in her radiant splendor. The moonlight flowed so rich and bright that it pooled in reflections around the house: in a pile of windows, a car’s hubcap, the neighbors’ house distantly through the leafless forest.
At times, I remind myself to assess my strengths, get a read on my bearings. There’s no quibbling history is a nasty and bloody story, but this same ethereal moon outdistances the human saga, this heavenly body present for those famous Pilgrims, and long, long, long before that, too.
Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.
– Rebecca Solnit
Montpelier, Vermont/photo by Molly S.