If I believed spirits walked the land

samandalex_200Morgan and I are planning a camping trip on our fragment of abandoned orchard in Moultonborough.

Both my sons are exceptional and they fill my heart with happiness.  I emphasize my love for them both so Alex doesn’t read anything into our not inviting him to join us.

We three have good, hard, simple, strong memories of this tiny spot in New Hampshire.  A lot of memories for the little amount of time we spent there.

People who have orchards write about them — indexJane Brox for one.  It would be hard to capture the struggle and resolve of working an orchard and the struggle and release of letting it go better than she has, and I’m not going to try. Rereading her books now, after putting our remaining 2.65 acres with apple trees up for sale, has rekindled memories and given words to many feelings never expressed.

Buying this orchard was really a crazy thing for us to do.  My husband Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was feeling good after his bone marrow transplant and wanted to spend his last years working for himself, with me, at home.  He wanted a bed and breakfast.  We looked at other b&b’s but kept coming back to the first one we visited — Olde Orchard Inn.

I’m not sure what he hoped for at this point in his life, but I like to think he found it.

On move-in day we stepped into the kitchen and the house gave me a warm, firm hug as if it were waiting for us for a long time. That feeling never wavered, even when I was alone in it day after night after day in the coldest of winters, with the snow piled high over my head, and the wind wailing outside the bedrooms windows.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe land took a little longer to get to know, but after our first harvest we knew we had chosen wisely.  It was hard work, but there was constant reward.  I still wonder about the people who lived and worked there before us and what they left behind.  If I believed in spirits or fairy godmothers or guardian angels I might be able to explain it better.

There were two or three innkeeper/owners before us.  But before them there were only the Young’s, the Larson’s, the Brown’s, and the Abenaki’s.

White settlers drove the Abenakis from their land around Lake Winnipesaukee in the second half of the 17th Century.

Larson era brick house (1)We know that Batchelder Brown bought 50 acres from the colorful General Jonathan Moulton in 1783 for 5 pounds.  General Moulton received a large tract of land as a reward for his successes in the American Revolution and sold parcels to Brown and others who served under him.  The Browns bought abutting property in 1791 and 1803 and members of their large family lived there for over 150 years.   One of the Brown men made bricks from clay by the stream, and built the brick addition when the family outgrew the original center chimney wood structure.  Mildred Carter (a Brown through a second marriage) married Peter O. Larson.  They bought the home and land from the Browns, planted the orchard, and gave it the name Homestead Farm. They shipped apples all over the country and sold them at a farm stand on Route 25.

The Youngs, who bought the farm from the Larsons in 1968, perhaps like my family, loved the land too much. Kate Young Caley writes beautifully of her love for the farm in her memoir.  Unfortunately as I read reviews of her book, this part of her story seems overlooked and unappreciated.

At some point lands were sold off, and houses were built on Orchard Drive.  Homestead Farm became Olde Orchard Inn in 1987.  I’m not sure of all the owners but one of them, was the town building inspector, and that may account for why the tiny bathrooms in some of the guest rooms and a good deal of the wiring look like they couldn’t have passed code!

We bought the land from the Senners who ran the inn for several years.  Grandma Mary, who would ride in the bucket of the large tractor and pick the apples high on the trees, was sad to go.

admin-ajax.phpPeople with connections to the land would visit. A Brown descendent sat down in the old kitchen and and spent some moments in the past.  Two Larson women visited and told me that as children on very cold nights they would sleep on blankets on top of brick ovens behind the central fireplace. These pilgrims would walk the orchard and visit the family cemetery.  We all agreed that there was something special about the house and land.  Guests would ask me about ghosts and tell me they felt a presence. One couple came back to renew their wedding vows because they felt the orchard a spiritual place.

100_0674The 1790 house came with a barn built even earlier, and over 500 trees on twelve acres. We spent our first months there fixing pipes and moving snow and figuring out how to keep warm. But once spring arrived the apple trees exploded with a flowery welcome.

We learned how to care for the orchard by trial and error. We joined Beginner Farmers and went to workshops at the Carroll County Extension.  We tried our best to figure out which apple was which, when to prune, how to keep the apples crisp for as long into the winter as we could.

hat rack treesThe orchard was rather comical. The trees had buzz cuts. Old huge trees were mixed in with newer, younger, smaller  hybrids. Some were espaliered but neglected. Others had grown so many suckers and water sprouts they reminded me of banyan trees.  We found cherries (the birds always got them before us), pears, and a few peaches scattered throughout. The pears did very well, perhaps because there weren’t enough of them to attract their own pests and diseases. The peaches withered away.

You cannot imagine my delight when I discovered the gorgeous raspberries galore —enough to make the richest raspberry ice cream and still have plenty for muffins and kuchens. I liked them because they practically took care of themselves.

There were special moments. We were picking up drops one autumn afternoon.  The sun hit the maples just right, and we sat down and took in the colors, said how lucky we were, and stopped work for the day.

100_0770We saw bear curled up under bushes; a baby cub up in the crab apple tree outside our window.  Sleeping deer left matted ovals in the grass.  Wild turkeys strutted across the field picking up whatever goodies they could find.  Fox would jump up and dive into the snow coming up with a snack every time.

wild turkeysPepper, our dog, would walk along with us plucking dandelions off their stems without missing a beat. He would pick the apples off low hanging branches.

Our second year’s harvest was our best.  I doubt we had one apple that didn’t have a blemish or a hole, but that didn’t matter to us.

Apple Tree, written & illustrated by Peter Parnall

From Apple Tree, by Peter Parnall

The following winter Clark started to fail quickly. He continued to plow but I did the shoveling.  We drove into Boston in early spring to meet Morgan for a Red Sox game, but Clark wound up in Dana Farber.  He went home to hospice. The apple blossoms came and went and the grass grew up to my hips. One of my first mornings alone a mourning dove called to me from the top of the barn.  A weight lifted off my shoulders and Clark was now free.

Mowing took 18 man hours.  When Alex was up, they shared the work, one on the tractor, the other taking the lawnmower up close under the trees.  It was my job now and it was when I really started to love the land.  I understood why Clark gave up when he no longer could manage the mowing.

The new Woodshed -- April 2015

The new Woodshed — April 2015

It was too easy to stay put, protected and comfortable on this magical land, to be the widow at the old orchard who only went into town to buy cheese at The Olld Country Store, or walked across the street for takeout at the Woodshed.  Too easy to create my fantasy of being the crazy lady standing at the door with rifle in hand, dressed in calico and little brown boots, telling the tax collector to get off my property.  Too easy to imagine a slim handsome stranger with a cigarette in a pickup driving up and staying on as the live-in handy man.

I put the inn on the market, split off a small piece in the back orchard for myself, and sold the house to a a woman who had spent some time at the house before it was an inn and had felt the pull of the place.  She and her husband moved over from England and  immediately hung a Union Jack from the flagpole.  Batchelder might have shuddered in his grave.

winter apple treesNow these 2.65 acres are on the market. My sons and I are ambivalent. We want to enjoy the land but we live too far away.  My neighbor who lives in the former apple storage building is under the spell also.  He mows the orchard while he can.

Perhaps someone will buy the property, put up a sweet little home, care for the pears, choose a few apple trees to pamper back to health, steal a few of the raspberry plants from the inn’s property, spend a few years carving out a tree from a behemoth gone wild, and find peace.

But if it doesn’t sell, that’s okay.

So let me tell you about my tower #14: But this, but that

The narrative has been played out, and unfortunately so has the work on the house.

There are more stories:  lighting, flooring, the glorious deck railing, landscaping, decoration, the highs, the lows, the surprises, the disappointments, the could-have-done-differentlies and the-things-to consider-next-times.   But details have been slipping away  and my muse is calling me to follow.

Friends and neighbors celebrated the completion of our addition at a party on a spectacularly warm, sunny afternoon last Columbus Day weekend. We celebrated too. The tower is great. Lee and I have been in the whole house for almost a year and it is our home, comfortable like an old bathrobe.

But the poor little cottage – my sweet cozy nest on the river – needs TLC. The walls in the cottage need spackle and paint. They always did, even before we opened up the second floor and buffed up the skeleton.  Now after groaning and creaking with the added weight, the walls are crying for help.

I knew this would happen.  I’ve been here before.

I like many of the design concepts the previous owners incorporated into the cottage:  the trim-less windows, the curve where the ceiling meets the walls, and the mirrors on the sliding doors to the bathroom.  They’d look great in a coffee table book.  Perhaps that’s where they belong.

Lee has nothing good to say about them. He sees the workmanship; I see the look.  The edges around the windows keep chipping and tape is popping up all over. The rounded angle at the ceiling line was beyond the ability of the drywall man. The mirrors on the bathroom sliding doors are very, very heavy and they push the confines of the door housing. One of them only opens all the way at certain times of the year.

2014-05-29 07.02.54Lee would rather be finishing the stone walk, and he is, and he has to comply with lead paint regulations elsewhere, but most of all he wants to stop abusing his 67-year old body.

To keep us both smiling I finally decided to call our favorite painter friend to repair and paint the walls in the cottage but she seems to have disappeared.   Know someone good?

Once the painting is done the house can more or less grow old gracefully. Cold air fills the top floor of the tower when the winter winds blow down the Hudson, but the heavy quilt I thumbtack over the warped door reminds me of long winters in New Hampshire when I hung blankets on stairways to keep the heat from drafting upstairs. Baseboard moulding sits loose where it should be stained and attached, but why is that different than the curtains hemmed with safety pins? The stair treads in the cottage are well scuffed and spotty, but they are memories of running barefoot up to bed after late nights in the hot tub –  peaceful moments I had during my solo years in the cottage.

We’ll get there. Whatever needs to be done will be done – hopefully before the family gathering this August. But the rest will wait until whenever we decide to sell.

 

It wasn’t all roses

Today is Fathers Day and I had a show-stopping conversation with Morgan.  His dad, my husband, passed away in 2006, when Morgan was 22.  We were talking about choosing a partner for marriage.

Mom & Dad at JFK 1990

Morgan said a thoughtful, tender thing to me, at least that’s what I heard.   He said that he and his younger brother Alex have an idea of what a good marriage can be because of the way their parents, Clark and me, stayed together and remained committed to each other for over 25 years.  That’s the model they have in mind, and they are looking for partners with which to do the same.  But oh, my words are so clinical and cliché.  His words were so very much more human, more Morgan.

Clark and I were truly each other’s best friend, there for each other, no question.

Morgan and I spoke about other things too – work, the addition, his cats, air conditioning, July 4th weekend, the cicadas.  And then we hung up.

And then I began to worry.  

In my efforts to make sure my sons are certain that Lee does not mean more to me than their father, have I led them to believe that Clark and I had a fairy-tale marriage?  Will they be endlessly looking for fairy-tale relationships?  As a young girl I believed in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  As an older woman I believe in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  But in-between I learned that it isn’t all lovey-dovey and happy til death do we part. 

There were days during my marriage, and sometimes there were weeks or months when I wondered why or how or when.  Do I really love him?  Would I be happier with someone else?  Am I trapped?

We never fought and I can’t remember ever raising our voices at each other.  I’m pretty sure that is true.  Two of the men I dated after his death, and the one that I am living with now get to that frenetic, shouting state so quickly. 

Arguing with men, with anyone actually except my mother and a few employees (I loathe being in a supervisory position) was new to me, and very uncomfortable, and so I talked about it, trying to understand this hurtful dynamic in a relationship.  One of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been hen-pecked.  How else could he not have gotten angry with me since I was such a controlling, demanding woman?  I don’t see that. 

Clark was level-headed, calm, comforting.  When I totally crashed the computer in our bookstore, leaving us without any inventory or purchase and sales records, he treated me gently and with concern as I walked around constantly crying, mute, and in a shadow for three weeks.  Even when he was hurting with cancer, he found the way to help me through my anxiety and craziness over my mother’s violent and ugly onset of Alzheimer’s and the difficulty of getting her, her friends, and her independent living facility to accept the fact that she needed help.

Another one of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been a saint.  I don’t see that either.

Lee doesn’t analyze.  He just knows that we are both a little bit (hah) high strung, and get frustrated easily.  Of course, I think he is the provocateur, but we won’t go there.  If we’re not laughing at ourselves in an hour, we kiss and make up in the morning.   We know we’ve got a good thing going and we aren’t going to let our big fat egos and our insecurities mess it up.

Clark and I may have talked and discussed, compromised, but I don’t even remember doing that.  We just thought the same way.   We successfully owned and operated two small businesses together.  We built one house and did major improvements on two others.  I guess we were a good match.  

He wasn’t very exciting though. 

When we were courting he had a dream of sailing around the world.  This sounded like heaven to me.  After several years I realized this was definitely just a dream.  He was much too cautious, too responsible, and he had a nightmare of an experience sailing the Marion Bermuda Race in 1979.

Only once did I see him lose it.

That was right after Morgan was born.  He had recently changed jobs, and had given up smoking.  Who knows exactly what brought on the anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital and then to bed for months.  If ever I would have left him, it would have been then.  But somehow both he and I got through it.   Yes, he did get stuck when he was diagnosed, but who wouldn’t, and he soon started looking for answers.

Later on, as he got sicker and weaker with his non-Hodgkins, our life got smaller and smaller, but it was actually a dream.  We were living in a 200 year old home that smiled on us.  We hardly ever left it.  Our children were off on their own. 

It felt to me as if I was getting to know a new Clark.  We spoke of what was happening to him and what would become of me.  We were delving into places that we never had entered before. We were falling in love again. 

Perhaps I have rewritten history for myself and for my boys.  It is hard when you are juggling jobs and children to take the time to love each other.  As I look back now, which I am so lucky to be able to do, I wish we had taken more time for ourselves and were more expressive of our feelings.  At the time I was proud of our stoicism.  It seemed to me that we just understood we were with each other and we didn’t have to prove it to each other over and over.  And I think he felt the same.  We never doubted. 

We were fortunate we had a quiet, close time at the end of Clark’s life.  He made it possible.  He is the one who wanted us to buy that big, rambling house – a bear to maintain – on nine acres which needed constant mowing and care.  I wanted to say “No.  We don’t need an apple orchard.  What are you crazy?   All that spraying, all that work?”

But because I knew I had another life on the way, I would have done anything with him.  

And we did good

Dad on Mother’s Day

We did good —
he whispers to me,
out of sight and hearing from the others
at our Mothers Day dinner —
but who is that sitting next to you?

Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re here –
I smile back.

They are young men with lives —
he continues —
and they love you.

Stay, will you, so we can talk later?
And can you talk to them too?

I don’t know how —
he answers after a while —
Did I ever know how?

And I try to remember
what we spoke of back then.
The four of us at the table.
The two of us in bed.

Brothers-in-Law

My dad David and Uncles Eddie and Elliot home on leave, 9/5/1943

Several years ago my basement flooded and many of the family treasures were lost or damaged.  The days of sifting through papers were bittersweet.  My twenty-something boys came up for a long weekend to go through the boxes I had marked as “Morgan’s Life” and “Alex’s Life.” They contained drawings, writings, school papers, letters, whatever I thought precious enough to save for them when they grew up.  It was a sad and joyful weekend of hard work — emotionally and physically. My sons were amazed at how clever they were as little boys!  They told me they would love to go through the papers again, but not until the next flood.

Here’s a gem I found among my father’s papers.  It’s an undated letter from my mother’s sister’s boyfriend to my father during the war.  My mom and dad are Mil and David.  Her sisters and their beaus are Thelma and Eddie and Shirley and Elliot.  The little girl is my older sister.

______________________________________________________

Hi ya fella,

I hope this finds you well.  I am alive.

Hey, don’t call me those names.  I’m lucky if I can write a note home now and then, beside the fact that we are now not allowed to say anything.  We are busy — to make a terrific understatement.

I guess you must have heard of my good fortune – the thirty day leave.   It was like water to an old desert cat in a sand storm or land to a sailor in any kind of storm.  In short and to put it mildly, it was great.

A picture for daddy, 1943

Now comes the flattery. Dave, you are the luckiest guy in the world, that kid of yours is just a dream, she’s beautiful.  She’s got more sense than I have (maybe an insult but considering her age).  She’s so sweet you could just eat her up.  I spent half my time with her.  I just can’t put into words what I thought of her.  For the first time in my life I can truthfully say that I love a child. She’s not like the run of the mill.  She doesn’t cry and pout all the time or make a pest of herself.  In a nutshell, she’s wonderful.

I came home fully intending marriage in a year of receiving 20% sea duty pay and all I only saved about $250.  As you can see, that is nothing to boast of.  In the past few mos. in the Pac. I have saved easily that much.  I got 2nd class giving me $96 base pay & 20% plus $10 for extra service (running motion picture equip).  I save about $86 per month, I could do worse.  So we got engaged.  All of which leaves me very unhappy, because I have been kicking myself ever since for not getting married when I was home or not saving dough when I could, well no use crying over spilled perfume.

Elliot, Thelma, David, Shirley, Eddie, Mildred

Getting back to an interesting subject, everything at home is as well as could be.  I saw your family a few times and Doris quite a few, all fine.

Getting home to serenity and peacefulness is quite a shock though pleasant. I hope you can experience it soon.  I know that whenever Mil or Shirl looked at me they saw you & El, but it was beyond my control, though I wish it weren’t.  I probably caused them more grief than happiness by my very presence.  If so I’m sorry, but I just hope you get home first this time just to square things.

If possible let me know where you are now.  Take care of yourself,

Ed

Elliot, Eddie and David with the parents of the sisters, their loves, 9/5/1943