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.

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

#66

My birthday was at the end of March.  One of my dog-walking neighbor pals had her birthday last week, and yesterday we had a birthday lunch with a third dog-walking neighbor who celebrates hers later in April.

It seems like it has been my birthday for quite a while.  Because it has been such a happy experience, I have wanted to write about it.  Until today tho, I hadn’t found the way, hadn’t the time, and hadn’t wanted to bore people.   But if it isn’t on paper it will fade from memory.

charles lloydMy celebration began two weeks before the big day when my sons treated Lee and me to dinner in the city.  That was a whirlwind trip – we saw them Thursday.  We attended Charles Lloyd’s 75th Birthday concert at the Temple of Dendur in the MMoA on Friday, after a few hours of frustratingly looking for each other among the exhibits.  We topped Friday evening off with a drink at Duane Park in their new digs in the Bowery.  We’ll go back for a late night Saturday dinner when we can meet up with my son, a piano player in the band. We met recently acquired friends (the female half of which was celebrating her 70th birthday) for lunch on Saturday and then drove up to Rosendale for a party that night.  Even a meter maid gave me a present.  We spent the next two days catching up on sleep.

Most of that activity was not related in any way to my birthday but usurping the purpose and fun of these events for my own hurt no one and gave me great joy.  I enjoy joy.

Lee doesn’t believe in birthdays, so I don’t fuss about his.   I’m 99% sure, however, that this is all talk, as I am sure it is for most of those who belittle birthday celebrations and Valentine’s Day.  He certainly got into the spirit of mine this year.

When I suggested going up to Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, where we had spent a wonderful night when were “courting,” he said do it.  We weren’t the only guests in the inn this time, the cat no longer prowled the halls, and we were visiting New Hampshire at its worst.  Mud season really does make for dreary landscape.  We had so much fun that we’ll go again.

chutters

We spent one day in Littleton, stopping at Chutters.  My husband Clark and I had scoped out the store as an alternative business venture back when we were looking for our retirement b&b.  It screamed out to us:  “You will regret this.  I am more work than any b&b!”  Chutters has lost its old time general store atmosphere, but the famous candy counter is still there. The store-as-it-once-was probably did prove to be too much work.

IMG_0744As we started our walk on the main street, a carved chair in the window of The Art Works caught Lee’s eye.  We went in – what else do you do when you have nothing to do?  Lee admired the workmanship that had gone into the chair and we asked its history.  The owner’s sister had found the chair on the side of the road, restored it to its former glory.  I sat in it and we left.

We continued down the street, popped into a few more shops, had lunch, and then Lee took me to buy my birthday present – a new old handsomely carved, caned, and pillowed chair to go in front of my new old desk which I had found on the side of the road while walking the dog.  A matched set.

The next morning we left for Concord.  We were hoping to find Dan Dustin, New Hampshire’s colorful and uniquely talented wooden spoon maker.   First stop – The League of NH Craftsmen.  Happily Suzie, the executive director, was in.  I had organized the League’s archives and image collections.  Susie gave me a hug and gave us a whirlwind tour of the new gallery, education facility and headquarters.   The League should be so proud that people believe in it and have demonstrated their support by helping to provide it with this crisp, comfortable home.  Long live the League and its annual craft fair!

IMG_0746Dan is a member of the League. They called him, we talked, and we were off to his studio/home.  Lee knew him from his craftsmen’s fair days.  I knew of him through the League.  He showed us his “gallery” of hand crafted treasures bought and bartered for.  Each had its own intriguing history.  His enthusiasm for his collection helped me put Lee’s clutter into perspective.  Lee and he shared craft fair gossip.  We left with four gorgeous “spoons found in nature” that we will use as door pulls in our Spoon Cottage addition, and Dan had an unexpectedly good day.

The next morning we were off to Mass MOCA.  We traveled down Route 2, which turned out to be the scenic leg of the trip.   I seemed to see my life go by as I remembered different drives down that road – fitting for a birthday vacation.  The best views were of little clumps of windmills, stark against the blue sky.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

Not knowing what we would find at the museum, we wandered around looking at   installations and art  — some creative and interesting, but some not.  Then we entered a room lined with large packing cases and encountered Xu Bing’s Phoenix, a masterpiece with a fascinating story attached to it.  At least one of the two homeless birds is scheduled to roost in at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York in October.  If it does, be sure to visit.  Can you imagine?  From factory to Gothic revival.  It will be a whole new experience. I’ll be there.

Xu Bing Phoenx : Art Evans: Globe

I like to treat myself kindly on my birthday, especially those years when nobody else does.  Sometimes I even buy birthday cards for myself.  I used to think they were for friends but recently I noticed the ones that spoke to me have been accumulating in a box.

As years go by I’ll remember #66 as one of the finest, that is, if I can remember to read about it here.

You can’t have too many extra virgins

Lee moved into his new man cave in January.  His old cave, which was his studio/office/storage facility/private space while we planned and built the addition on my, now our home, was in our friends’ house around the corner. He moved there in October 2011 so that we didn’t have to go across the river and through the woods to be with each other anymore.

One of Lee's cabinets filled with spices and sauces

One of Lee’s cabinets filled with spices and sauces

When I met Lee three years ago he was in the middle of moving  from his home for over twenty years.  His wife Caroline had died and his son had established his own life.   He no longer wanted to be in a rambling empty house and he had recently  renovated a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian on a quiet but main street, in walking distance to all one could need — almost.    One gathers lots of stuff in 60 plus years, and a lot of memories.  He had filled his apartment with pottery and art and cool hand made things that he and his wife and son had created or bartered for.  It was a very personal and comfortable space.  We became the old couple who walked their big dogs through town.

Soon he made his second move, to his man cave around the corner.  He minimized again, tossing some more, and moving large items into the barn he had built as the pottery studio at his old home.

*

Like Lee I’ve minimized several times. Even so, my home is still filled with furniture, dinnerware, blankets, and more that belonged to my parents and grandparents.  I lived on the same street as my mother’s family, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins my own age who were playmates always near. We all spent summers together in a big house at the shore. Last year I broke the flowered pitcher that used to sit on my grandmother’s coffee table and I cried.  I know the story behind every item that came from my family, or at least I once did.

Since my husband Clark was an only child, when his mother died, a moving van brought all of the contents of his parents’ house to our door.  I still have much of it, and value it as a tangible connection for my sons to their father.

My sons Morgan and Alex saw my family and Clark’s family most likely two or three times a year, and once Clark’s folks moved to Florida, and the boys got involved in school and their own friends, perhaps once a year.   We got together with grandparents for holidays and birthdays when they boys were young and the adults were healthy, and gatherings were always warm and fun.  It was a different kind of family experience than mine.

I wear a wedding band from Clark’s family.  I think it belonged to his grandmother – but which one?  Morgan and Alex  don’t know that my mom’s mother embroidered the raggy pillowcases in my linen closet when she was sick with cancer.  They don’t know which dinner set belonged to my mom and which to Clark’s, or that the little scissors in the cup on my desk was the one my father kept in the middle drawer of his dresser, the only scissors in our house we could always find.  They will recognize none of the people in the old photographs in the boxes of albums I have in the closet.   I know so few in the boxes from Clark’s family.  Sometimes my boys tell me stories that I passed on to them about people and things, and I look at them in wonderment.  Did I tell them that?   Is the story true?

*

Now that Lee has moved for a third time, into his new space on the first floor of the tower addition, he has picked through all he owns in the world after 66 years one more time.  I IMG_0721don’t think he is as sentimental as I.  Perhaps he is, but when thinking about it he is definitely more practical and efficient.  He gets through it.  I move on, but am never done.

His new space is a bit crowded and disorganized, and there are lots of unopened boxes and stuff piled under the staircase, but it looks great, is comfortable and cozy, and he’s enjoying it a lot.  It will most likely stay that way until we’ve moved into the upper floors and all of our possessions mingle and spread evenly through the entire house.  Then we’ll put pictures on the walls and sculpture on the shelves.

We did however integrate most of our kitchens. We’ve gone through the pots and pans and the dishes and glasses and mugs and mostly decided what to keep in the kitchen, what to store, and what to toss, although I haven’t yet made the plunge and tossed it.

The other evening we went through the spices and sauces.  After combining jars and containers and throwing away items that had date stamps all the way back to 1998, we found we had:

IMG_0724Four

  • bottles of apple cider vinegar, as well as rice and balsamic
  • canisters of sea salt, but no kosher or iodized
  • jars of molasses

Three

  • extra virgin olive oils
  • black bean sauces
  • vanilla extracts
  • baking powders

Two

  • crushed red peppers
  • Lea and Perrins
  • IMG_0719oyster sauces
  • Hoisin sauces
  • oreganos
  • whole cloves
  • herbs de province
  • basils
  • sesame seeds
  • mustards
  • cumin
  • black pepper
  • black beans
  • sesame oils

We had singles of lots of common and uncommon treats, the most interesting of which are:

  • Big O’s $787,000,000,000 Stimulus Sauce (contains no pork)
  • Kotterin Mirin – did you know you only have to walk 11 minutes to burn off the 40 calories per serving of this sweet cooking seasoning?  It is for glazes and sukiyaki.  It has only 15 mg of sodium per tablespoon serving, but corn syrup is the first ingredient on the list.    Funny thing – I just tried opening it see what it smelled like.  It is still sealed.  I didn’t open it.  Maybe it’s a toss.

IMG_0716

  • Tiger Lily Buds – which he never has used, but how can one throw out something with such a sweet name.  It may have to go though because I’ve looked at them on line and they are a different color than ours.  Ours may be from Caroline’s mother’s kitchen which would make them at least twenty years old.  Would Lee’s son want shriveled up flower buds from his grandmother’s kitchen, when he can just walk into a shop in Chinatown and buy them fresh?
  • My favorite of all – Red Boat Fish Sauce.  It is 100% First Press Extra Virgin ca cam (black anchovy) and sea salt.

Not wanting to take any responsibility or show any interest in what he considered a no-brainer project, Lee left the decisions of what to keep and what to throw away to me.  We now have three cabinets full of sauces and spices as well as those in the refrigerator.

The only thing he did say as he flew out of the kitchen to hide in his man cave was “You can’t have two many extra virgins.”

So let me tell you about my tower #8: It dropped from outer space

20120326_100810Framing came next, but writing about it was difficult.  Seven weeks have passed since My Tower #7

I had very little memory and no photos of the first and second floors going up.  Lee thankfully had pictures on his phone, including some additional shots of the foundation going in.

This image of the first floor with the post for the spiral staircase corner gave me a jolt.  I had walked past it each day as it was going up, but had forgotten what it looked like, even seeing it.  After about three weeks looking at the photo and focusing on the time, only bits and pieces of my thoughts re-emerged.  I remembered avoiding the tower, and feeling awkward even entering it.

20120410_165404

My first thought looking at the photo was that positioning the addition at an angle worked.  A few days later I remembered coming to that same that same conclusion back in the spring.

Second floor bath looking north

Second floor bath looking north

I remembered how some days it seemed extremely small, and others large.

This was late April 2012.  Why were the memories of that part of the construction so buried?  So much of my life is like that – no memories, jumbled memories, happy memories of things that didn’t happen.  Was there something going on that was troubling?

Checking my email from that time, everything seemed under control.  In March I had moved my mom to a new assisted living, this one in New Jersey, which was a four-hour  ride round trip.  Most likely I was nervous about how she would do, and trying my darnedest to remain calm about my new commute, but right away she did fine and the drive was okay as long as I did it in the daylight, so that probably wasn’t it.   In fact, even though she remembers less and less and less, she looks happier and younger and is eating better than she has in a few years.  She also swears professionally when she is getting a shower, but once she is dried and dressed and sitting with a snack she always says a very sincere “thank you.”

Younger son Alex had just moved into one of Lee’s vacant apartments across the river.  He had no “real” job and no “real” money coming in, but at the same time he seemed unruffled and happy and it was fun having him so close.  He’d stop over to do his laundry and have dinner.  Older son Morgan had recently broken up with his girl and moved into a new large apartment in Brooklyn. He also was starting his job with The Mayor, and his new life was coming together so I don’t think that was it.

IMG_0414I had to look back to find out when my neighbor put the plastic wire fence along side my bedroom window.  But that wasn’t until June and I did work myself out of that “why me?” state fairly easily.

Perhaps I was just worrying about the possibility of things going wrong?  Annoying the builders?  Stepping on toes?  Money?  Lee and commitment?  Turning 65, which included having to make a decision about Medicare?  Could I have already started obsessing about the election?  Perhaps I was still a wreck after having been diagnosed with myopic degeneration and having already had three Avastin shots in the eye?  That could be.  Shots in the eye aren’t fun. They are not half as bad as having your ophthalmologist fire lasers at a retinal tear above a nerve, but still not fun.

I was worrying out the windows and the drainage.  I’m still worrying about the drainage, but we got through quite a few heavy rains with just a little dampness during Irene and NO water at all in the basement after the deluge earlier this week so I hope I stop worrying about that.   It was before Irene, so the Hudson flooding wasn’t yet on my mind.  I just don’t know.

Mom and the French PressPerhaps I was just tired.

We all forget things.  When my mother moved out of her house a lot of her possessions wound up at mine – including my letters and post cards to her and my father when I lived in Paris in the seventies.  Someone else could have written them.  I didn’t remember the museums, the picnics, the side trips, and the discoveries, just being lonely and in over my head.  It was good to read about having fun.  Either I walked through Paris in a fog, or I was a very creative liar.

But anyway, even though I much rather be writing about what’s going on now, this is my post on the beginning of framing.  It went up so fast, which could be why it is a blur.  In fact I do remember being Late as Usual and running out the door to drive to Jersey and not having the time to see what was going on.

We all soon realized that the second floor was higher than it needed to be and that we would now have three steps in the bridge and the bridge would be about 12 feet tall.  If I had been paying attention, perhaps I would have seen that before the two LVLs went in that would become the top of the bridge.  (I love throwing construction terms around:  laminated veneer lumber.) No way was I going to ask Dave to adjust the height.  We all thought it would look a little weird, but actually it has turned out to be okay.

20120418_153329

There.  It’s written.  Now the story can move on.

Longfellow, for instance

There’s a pile of books by my bedside.  Usually I’m reading one, sometimes two, and then there are a few books of essays, or short stories for a quick fix.  American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy with photographs by Erica Lennard has been on my table for a year or two.   It was a gift from my son Alex, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for several years, and made good use of his access to the museum’s bookstore.

At first the book frustrated me.  The images of the twenty-one homes featured are moody and often more shadowy than light.  The photographer writes in the forward that she “tried to breathe some soul and life” into the houses and to “capture with my camera fragments of what they might have seen or felt.”  My take is she put too much of her heart and soul in these photos – they are artistic, but the reader can’t see the rooms. The text often speaks of interesting details that are not in the photos.

For instance, let’s hop right to the section of Longfellow, which I read for the first time a few nights ago.  The author mentions a chair that was made from the wood of the village blacksmith’s famous chestnut tree and given as a gift to Longfellow by the children of Cambridge on his seventy-second birthday.  The caption written about the three images of his study also mentions the chair but does not point it out to the reader, and that is quite disappointing.

One of the photos of the study however, shows the desk where Longfellow stood when he wrote.  That interested me, as Hemingway (whose life filled up twelve of my working years)  also wrote standing up, and similarities between the two started popping to mind.  In fact so much in the section on Longfellow intrigued me that my excitement about discovering the man behind the poems has blotted out all the book’s annoyances.

The website of the National Museum of Horse Shoeing Tools and Hall of Honor has a page devoted to the village smithy’s chair.  It states that the tree in front of the blacksmith’s shop down the street from Longfellow’s home “fell victim to progress” when Brattle Street was widened in 1876.  The chair was made by H. Edgar Hartwell of Boston and lines from The Village Blacksmith were etched in around the seat rails.  Longfellow wrote a poem of thanks to the children of Boston and it is published on their page — wish I could show the chair to you, but click here to see.

Opening lines of Longfellow’s poems came swiftly to mind while reading about him and his home.    By the shores . . .   Listen my children . . .  This is the forest primeval. . .   Between the dark and the daylight . . .

But outside of the fact that he stayed at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where my wedding took place, I knew nothing of his life.

From the few pages of text on Longfellow in American Writers  I learned he was brilliant.  Upon graduation from Bowdoin, he accepted the position of the college’s Professor of Languages.  He went off to Europe and learned eleven to be prepared for the position.  He read profusely and he converted the ballroom of his home into his library of over fourteen thousand books.  He translated Dante’s Inferno. He incorporated his knowledge of language, history, mythology, biography, geography into poetry that was read and equally enjoyed by scholars and the servants at Queen Victoria’s castle.

He was a professional poet who knew how to promote his work.  His poetry offered a young nation a literary definition and a unifying culture.  Longfellow insisted his works be published as broadsides and in inexpensive editions as well as in leather bound volumes, so that all levels of society could have access to them.  If he lived in our day, he would most likely have been one of the first to have his works out on the internet and on ebooks.

Longfellow was an inspiration to his children.  They went on to be writers, educators, artists, travelers. He was a devoted husband, and outlived two wives.  His first wife, Mary, died during childbirth, his second, Fanny, was the first recipient of ether during childbirth in the United States.  Fanny, died tragically from burns suffered from a dropped match which lit her skirt.  She and her daughters, age five and seven, were applying sealing wax to a gift package of clipped locks of their hair.  Longfellow wrapped her in a rug, to try and save her from the flames, but she died a few days after.  Longfellow grew his beard to hide the scars left by the burns to his face.

In addition this was a poet who had fun.  Longfellow’s home hosted many a social gathering, watered by good wines from his well-stocked cellar.

Googling for some fact that has slipped my mind completely, I found this interesting item that shed an entirely new light on The Song of Hiawatha.  I quote from the Digital History website:

The HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] hearings and blacklistings discouraged Hollywood from producing politically controversial films. Fear that a motion picture dealing with the life of Hiawatha might be regarded as communist propaganda led Monogram Studio to shelve the project. As The New York Times explained: “It was Hiawatha’s efforts as a peacemaker among warring Indian tribes that gave Monogram particular concern. These it was decided might cause the picture to be regarded as a message for peace and therefore helpful to present communist designs.”

There’s so much more.  Check the Longfellow Society and the National Park Service websites for bits and pieces, and if you are like me you will be soon looking for more to read.  Mr. McClatchy tells us that Longfellow wrote letters at the large table in his study.  I thought it a good place to start, learning about him in his own words, until I discovered that there are five volumes of these letters.  I’ll have to look for something a bit more realistic.

*****

I have a memory of having a meal at Longfellow’s home in 1969.  The head of the children’s department at the Boston Public Library treated the new hires, including me, to lunch or tea after a meeting of some sort back in 1969.  But this may be something I’ve made up.

That memory reminded me of another meal — a dinner of “book” women at Dandelion in Burlington, Massachusetts.  We met a few times at different places, and once a colleague from the Kennedy Library was there.  The group didn’t gel. I was disappointed, but also relieved, when the gatherings stopped – or perhaps they went on without me.   I look back now and wonder about their purpose.  Was the initiator, whose name is a blank, hoping to start a bluestocking society?  That would have been fun if I were the person I am today back then.  But at the time, I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to feel anything but awkward at both of these two experiences, and that has been making me feel awkward even now.

It’s a long way from Longfellow to self-doubt but somehow I made the leap.  Strange how the mind works.

Afterword to Then Again

Reading Diane Keaton’s cleverly constructed and unapologetically revealing memoir Then Again I’ve spent more time reflecting on my life and feelings than her actual story.  Friends regularly accuse me of going off on tangents.  To me, my rambles all are on track.  Some books are favorites because of where they take my thoughts. It is a surprise and often a disappointment to reread one of these favorites and discover it isn’t what I remembered.

*

I feel validated when an author states my obvious.  It’s disappointing when we’ve used the same words.

I feel pleasure when the author articulates emotions and feelings that are in my stomach and in my heart but haven’t yet been put into words by my head.

I also enjoy being struck by an opposing view when it causes me to pause and rethink.  I can handle seeing the black and white turn grey

Diane Keaton has done all three.

*

Then Again, like the Jacqueline Kennedy interviews that I wrote about in an earlier post, was a gift.  This was a gift from my older son’s girlfriend.  They just recently decided to go their separate ways.  It’s a difficult thing for a couple to do, especially a couple that worked so well together.  I’ll never know why.  Hopefully they both know why.  But that is part of the baggage this book carries for me.  Bittersweet baggage, because she is a delightful woman (and he a wonderful young man).

My other son has a new girlfriend who, and I’m not sure if this is because I just read Diane Keaton, reminds me of Diane Keaton.  I don’t know her well enough to say that their personalities are similar, but she seems to have the same presence.  She’s delightful too.

*

Diane Keaton’s mother kept 85 separate journals, and scrapbooks.  Her writing started with letters to her husband while they were separated after the war.  He was in Boston in the Navy. She was 24, in California, and had just given birth to Diane.

I kept an on-and off diary starting in high school, wrote copious letters in college, and influenced by Anaias Nin in the seventies, began years of a passionate outpouring of what I remember as drivel, whining, and moaning about the lack of exciting boys/men in my life, or their rejection of me, and my utter alone-ness.  Finally I stopped writing.  Things must have improved.

During one visit to my parents’ home, my mom brought me up to the attic and presented me with a box of things that I had left there while I spent a year in France.  Included in that box were the journals.  Oh my god, I thought.  Did my mom read these?  What would she have thought?  I didn’t open them, but brought them home.

As my children grew, however, so did my anxieties about what was actually in those journals.  If I didn’t want to read them for fear of what they contained, how would my children or my husband, react to them   One day they went out with the trash.

As an archivist by profession – this was total heresy.

Sometimes I wonder what was in those journals and if I wrote well – but never enough to regret not keeping them, even after reading about Diane Keaton’s mother’s scrapbooks.  The future has always been more important than the past to me.

*

The last chapter of Then Again is Diane Keaton’s reflection on the final chapter of her mother’s life – her death.  Like my mom, Diane Keaton’s mother had Alzheimers Disease.  We believe my father did also.  But neither of my parents have been as debilitated by the disease – at least not yet.  I can’t bear the thought of my mom curling up and shrinking away.  It could happen. Maybe we’ll be lucky and one day she will just lie down to rest on the couch as she always does in the afternoon, but not wake up.  The disease shows very little mercy.   I have not yet been able to put my emotions and feelings stirred up by this chapter into words.  Diane’s story with her mother has been no help to me.

*

I was supposed to read this book.  Diane Keaton’s mom would cut out photos and headlines from magazines and she would copy quotes from everywhere.  One day she had a cover from a New Yorker thumb tacked to her kitchen bulletin board.  It read “ Is it possible to go backwards and forwards at the same time?”  Yes it is – just as it is possible to grow younger and older at the same time.