My friend and I spent many hours drinking coffee and watching our (then) little kids play at the edge of Caspian Lake, on colder summer days moving our coffee to the front seat of the car while my daughter’s hair blew over her eyes and lips in the wind. Those little kids are all grown up now, busily figuring out their own lives.
This Saturday, while we’re swimming, my daughters have dressed in heels and dresses and gone to a wedding. Late that night, after a long drive, they return with stories not about the dress or the Inn or the cake, but with stories of people and families and whose lives have gone awry and who is kind. An aunt and uncle of the bride have traded in family participation for a cult. Another family member is wandering out west, immersed in her own story, having cut herself free from any family obligation.
In the midst of this are the young adults, all working hard, scrambling in the severe shortage of housing in Vermont, trading advice about colleges and education. Brushing our teeth, we laugh and laugh. My daughters are no longer young in the way of using sand toys at the beach, but very young at heart, ready to make the world new in their own lives and hearts.
Family, we agree, using this word as both a noun and a verb.
Midsummer. Rain. Snails in the cabbage. Blooming calendula. I wouldn’t trade these obligations for the world.
“I am so far from being a pessimist…on the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life.”
Planting rudbeckia this afternoon, my shovel hits something hard in the sandy soil. I scrape and unearth a brick and then several pieces, all in surprisingly good shape. How useful, I think.
I dig harder, wondering, who buries bricks? and then discover a drill bit, too.
With my fingers, I unearth that and ponder. I know a carpenter who worked here a number of years ago, and I wonder if the tool is his.
For a moment, my eyes sweep the perennials in the front yard — forsythia and roses and lilies and peonies — and wonder what else lies buried in all that soil.
I plant the rudbeckia, stack the bricks in the barn, and hide the drill bit in a secret place.
Oh, sweet July and all your forty shades of green. Keep on surprising me.
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families…”
In my bank account appears $250 from the IRS. I could spend this money six ways to Sunday. What I do is order more firewood. For years, the only expenses we had for firewood were chainsaws and fuel, property taxes, and the our own labor.
Living in town now, I buy firewood. There’s nothing else like the wet-sap scent of freshly cut and split wood. I buy from a man who lives in the next town over. When he delivers, we have an annual check-in about what’s happening, standing beside a great pile of split wood, talking about the weather or what’s happening in Washington or sweeter things, like his baby granddaughter.
The thing about burning wood is all the steps — tree, woodpile, glowing fire and happiness, ash that I spread in my garden.
Last night, as I turned off the lights and headed upstairs, I spied one of our cats lying on the rug before the wood stove, wistfully staring. It’s sultry July, and many days off (I hope) from kneeling before the wood stove.
Steerforth Press asked me to read the audiobook version of my book, Unstitched. I’ve never recorded a whole book before, so it’s been an intense experience to read the entire book, word by word, just a few feet from a stranger. The book blends both nonfiction and intensely personal memoir. I’m not talking about writing about memories of weeding a garden, either.
Now, in the last phase, while I’m listening to the final version, it’s a fascinatingly educational experience to hear this book I wrote read aloud to me, in my own voice.
One thing that jumped out immediately at me is that much of this book is about being a single woman with two teenage daughters, and how much I’ve figured out in my life without a man. I wouldn’t categorize this as a triumphant, let’s banish the men story (my God, I feel like I can and do whine like there’s no tomorrow), but that theme of woman threads all through this book.
The book’s title comes from the conversation between Stanciu and the father of the girl who overdosed. Looking at the church that will become a social center not just for those in recovery but for everybody in town, Stanciu remarks “everyone’s so busy working that no one seems to have time or energy to put into groups … that used to keep people connected.” He replies, “We’ve come unstitched, … We’ve got to stitch the darn thing back together.” … This is a deeply compassionate and extremely important book. Every Vermonter should read it.”
Yesterday, standing in a parking lot in the summer sun, waiting for daughter who had gone back to the car for her wallet, I started thinking how many pivotal scenes in my life have taken place in parking lots around the country, and how much just everyday living has taken place in these innocuous roadside places, too.
I remembered my father drinking kefir in a parking lot in Boulder, Colorado, and passing the bottle around to me and my siblings. Kefir was not then a common product in the New Hampshire village where we lived, and my brother and sister and I had never tried it.
With my first pregnancy, I labored in a parking lot.
In my twenties, I wrote about road trips because I took a lot of road trips, and road trips inevitably contain those fascinating moments where you step outside the car in an unknown place and look around, wondering where you are.
Now, in my early fifties, I’m sometimes in the backseat of a daughter’s car, still looking around and wondering where I am. The view is different here — I’m going to readily note that — but it’s a view worth having, nonetheless.
Happy Sunday, all.
(And, I’m still having trouble with WordPress’s updates. Send me an email, please, if you notice anything off, or have advice to give, too.)
A 13-year-old or so boy is fishing at the edge of the pond when my friend and I walk down in the evening to swim. He nicely shuffles to one side, and then we’re off.
The evening sky this summer has been especially enchanting — muted in color, pale peach sky with gentle blue.When we’re finished swimming and laughing, we stand for a moment on the weedy shore, and I point out a luna moth dipping and rising — part of the evening charm, like an Impressionist painting. Suddenly, a bird pursues the moth, then swallows it. A ragged wing falls.