Woven Thaws

fro·zen

(frō′zən)

v.

Past participle of freeze.

adj.

1. Made into, covered with, or surrounded by ice.

2. Very cold: the frozen North.

3. Preserved by freezing: frozen meat.

4.a. Rendered immobile: frozen in their tracks with fear…

 (from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/frozen)

**********************************

She sits at the dining room table, sits with her calendar open, spread out before her, with her arms at her sides.

There’s a pen on the table. She lets it be there; she doesn’t reach out to touch it. She doesn’t lift it to make one mark on the calendar.

There are things she needs to do, but, “I CAN’T,” she thinks.

And the quiet house settles around her. It is a long time before she moves.

********

We are packed up and ready to go right on time: 10 a.m. It’s a six-hour drive; By the time we stop for lunch, make potty stops, get gas as needed, we figure our ETA at 6:30 or so.

The ground is dry; the snow is gone. It is, maybe, forty degrees.

As we pile into the car, Mark asks, “Do you want to bring your winter coat?”

“Nah,” I say. “It’ll be warmer there.”

He opens his mouth as if to comment, then closes it again. We slam the trunk shut, put the snack bag in the back seat with Jim and all of his electronic paraphernalia, slide our travel folder into the passenger door pocket. Mark gets behind the wheel, and we all snug our doors closed.

***************

These are the projects she has started:

  • She bought the paint for the living room, a bold new color. She bought ceiling paint, too, and pans and rollers and brushes and drop cloths. They have been sitting behind her reading chair for almost a year.
  • She has a quilt in progress, pieces cut out. They are tucked into a box she keeps in the TV room. She moves it to vacuum. It sports a fine layer of dust.
  • She has a big bolt of material in a cupboard. It is the perfect material for curtains for the front porch. She bought it on vacation two years ago.
  • She has a tottering stack of books to be read; she ignores that unwieldy tower and flips through glossy magazines instead.
  • She needs to do a report for a board she belongs to. She needs to prep for a volunteer teaching opportunity she should never have signed up for.
  • She talks about learning to make pasta and knitting some infinity scarves and, she says, she’d like to learn to use oil paints.

But all these things—materials and tools and ideas—all of these things just SIT.

***************

We drive south, but the weather goes northern. West Virginia whips snow at us. Virginia shrouds us in thick clouds of fog.

Mark looks at my thin jacket, and wisely, does not say a thing.

We cross into North Carolina. We are greeted by a billboard with a stick man and a stick woman arranged in an equation. They add up to a marriage, the sign tells us.

We look at each other and roll our eyes.

The wedding we’ll attend tomorrow, a celebration of love for a beloved nephew and godson, doesn’t quite meet that paradigm.

I think of the cruelty of people who judge, and I shiver from more than the cold.

*************

These are the things she is worrying about, in no discernible order:

  • She is worried that people with disabilities suffer cruelty and mockery.
  • She is worried that ice is melting, melting irreparably, while deliberately ignorant leaders pretend that global warming is a scam.
  • She is worried about her sick friend.
  • She is worried about her own mortality.
  • She worries about guns in public places.
  • She worries that she owes people letters.
  • She worries about tender young people sent off to war.
  • She is worried that, when she gets up to talk in public places, people think she is an idiot.
  • She is worried that she IS an idiot.
  • She worries that she worries too much.
  • She worries that she does not know how to stop worrying.

************

The weather lightens, but the traffic does not. There are miles and miles of construction-constricted lanes as we head into the city. Our arrival coincides with rush hour. We creep.

The fifteen miles to our exit take an hour. Then, though, Siri chirpily takes us on a quick zig and a sharp zag, and we are there: in a quiet cul-de-sac neighborhood of neat brick bungalows. We find ours; the keypad entry works great. We drag bags in and collapse on the comfortable couch.

Jim gets the bedroom with the queen bed; Mark and I have a king. We tote bags, stash bathroom stuff, eat the last of the Fritos. We stretch and we thoroughly check out the place: I plug my laptop in on a table in a little study that probably once was a tiny dining room. Mark takes his book out onto an enclosed sunporch. Jim likes the fact that the comfortable leather couch is longer than he is and that it faces a large screen TV.

We search on-line (the Wi-Fi is GREAT) and find a supermarket within a five-minute drive. For dinner we buy cold cuts and Kaiser rolls, cheese, salad, and chips. We get oatmeal bread and eggs for breakfast; we buy some Oreo knockoffs and some ice cream novelties.

We rummage in the cupboards for plates, and we eat a relaxed throw-it-together dinner.

************

Her house grows cluttered and messy and it bothers her, but she can’t quite make herself care enough to clean it.

She doesn’t see any point in ironing a shirt that is just going to get rumpled.

There are some things she just MUST do, but she does them begrudgingly. She does them with bad grace.

**************

In the morning I walk the neighborhood. Tiny brick bungalows, nicely kept, line the street. There is a park in the green space of the cul de sac; it is too rainy to sit on the bench, but not to explore the little free library that stands proudly under a tree. I have come loaded with books to read, so I browse only out of curiosity: Liane Moriarity, John Le Carre, some YA dystopias and gently used picture books. A biography or two. A gardening book and a chef’s memoir. Everyone, I think, could find something here to read.

It tells me a lot about the neighborhood.

Connie pushes me on. I stroll out to the connector street, weave up and down side streets tagged “no outlet,” wind across little alleys that let me explore.

There’s a parked truck that says its owner collects scrap metal. In that yard, there are wonderful sculptures: a bulbous pig made of an old metal fuel container, a rangy dog welded from all kinds of interesting scrap.

I read bumper stickers.  Some tout Trump. One says, “And we thought W was stupid!”

One yard has a palm tree wrapped with twinkle lights.

It’s eclectic, surprising. I wander past other walkers who wave and say hello.

***********

On a Wednesday, she brings in the mail and is surprised to see a handwritten letter among the bills and junk mail. She dumps the other mail onto a pile on the dining room table, takes her letter to her reading chair. She sits down and she opens the letter.

Two scrawled pages and a photo fall out.

It is from an old friend, Tina, who just became a grandma. Tina writes about the joy of that. She sends a picture of herself holding a tiny baby; Tina, that tough cookie, is grinning the goofiest, happiest grin.

“And she wanted to share that with ME,” she thinks, and it’s like the joy radiates from the pages.

That day, she sorts through the stack of junk mail and pays a few bills before she shlepps into the living room and takes an afternoon nap.

*************

While I walk, a post begins to pulse. It is not what I’d thought to write about, but its cadence and its meaning pound an insistent beat. I get my steps in—Connie is satisfied—and I turn back into the little bungalow’s driveway and type for an hour.

Then we go downtown and eat at a wonderful burger joint Jim found online. We walk historic roadways that weave between new metal and glass architecture. The sun peeks out. It is fifty degrees.

Who needs a stinkin’ winter coat?

***********

Mark and I dress for the wedding late in the afternoon; Jim settles in, sending wishes with us. The sun is seeping away as we park near the venue.

It is an unconventional ceremony. There are two grooms. The attendants are all female. The minister is a gracious, calm woman who seems to know the wedding couple well. She shares thoughts each groom has written. She talks about celebrating love. There’s an exchange of rings, an exchange of vows. Our godson is a married man.

The dinner is outrageously good; we are seated with a young couple from our old hometown. She teaches on a Native American reservation. He works with a contractor. He tells us about renovating the old Buffalo Psych Center into a fancy hotel and restaurant. He talks with no embarrassment about the ghostly presences he—and his equally strong, stoic colleagues,—felt as they stripped and rebuilt those rooms.

We reconnect with family and old friends.

Music pulses; dancers clap and hoot and gyrate. The noise, we agree, would have been too much for James.

The evening flies by and we make our way out, hugging around the hall, and we head back to our little weekend house.

*****************

When she comes home from the grocery store on Friday, she sees her elderly neighbor, Ella. Ella is standing in her doorway, clutching her bathrobe closed, peering out. She looks a little frantic.

“Not my business,” she mutters to herself, but, of course, it is. And after she puts her groceries away, she puts her coat back on and goes over to knock on the door of Ella’s house.

The elderly woman is so glad to see her. Her care-giver is late; Ella has not had breakfast. She’s really not supposed to use the stove any longer, not since she got burned.

Ella is frightened.

She takes charge. She brews a pot of tea and makes some toast. She butters the toast and sprinkles a little cinnamon sugar on top. Ella wolfs it down, drains her tea. She figures out, with Ella, how to call the care-giver. She discovers that the care-giver is delayed by a big accident on the Interstate. Things, the care-giver says, are starting to move, though.

She stays with Ella until the care-giver arrives, bustling, apologetic. Ella grips her hand with surprising strength, thanks her profusely.

She goes home and vacuums, and she thinks she really needs to stop in and visit with Ella once a week.

She writes that on her calendar.

****************

Saturday brings rain—light enough for my morning walk but pouring down by the time we meet my brother and sister-in-law and my niece and her husband and kids for lunch. They suggested a wonderful café kind of place; I have a fragrant and flavorful bowl of soup; then, feeling righteous, I eat a salted caramel brownie.

It’s too wet to tour the botanical gardens; unlike our northern gardens, these are all outside. But the rain drizzles away and we walk around a charming little town. The kids scramble over a sodden playground; the backs of their jeans are soaked, but they are undeterred. We get take-out pizza and Peruvian chicken and bring it to our little bungalow. It’s a great family visit.

Too soon, the day grinds down to an end.

******************

She gets an email from a woman that she used to work with. A bunch of us have a little lunch club, the old colleague writes. Would she join them for a monthly lunch?

She lifts her fingers to tap out her regrets, and then she thinks, “Why not?” She types, instead, “It will be great to see you,” and she throws in a load of laundry so she will have a shirt to iron.

That night, she takes the top book off the To-Be-Read stack, and she wraps herself in an afghan, and she curls up and reads.

******************

We drive home in heavy snow on Sunday, a long six hours, and the temperatures drop steadily all the way. I admit to Mark that I wish I’d brought my winter coat, and I dash around rest stops, trying to appease Connie and get my steps in.

********************

Home skies are dark and clear when we arrive, but the streets are clogged with crunchy clunks of snow. A jagged, plow-tossed, icy snow-wall guards our driveway. Mark roars over it; the car leaps and lurches, stuck in icy snow. We look at each other.

Tomorrow, we think, and he turns off the ignition and pops the trunk, and we tote the bags and books and baggage into the house.

When we arrive it is three degrees out. As the evening wears on, the temperature sinks to seven below.

The house is warming; we turn the fire on. Then Mark goes up to check the water in the upstairs bathroom.

He stomps down the stairs. All the pipes are frozen, he says; the tub, the sink, the toilet.

**************

At lunch, she catches up on what everyone has done since retiring. And she discovers that Sara’s son, JJ, is trying to establish a house painting business. Sara gives her JJ’s card.

She dithers about it for three days, and then she calls him.

JJ is there the next week. He works quickly; he cleans up after himself, and the living room looks even better than she imagined it would. He gives her a big discount, asks if he can leave a sign on her lawn, and if she’ll pass out some of his cards to her friends.

Of course, she says, beaming.

When JJ leaves, she stands in the dining room, hands on hips. What if, she thinks, I painted one wall a deep, rich, chocolate brown?

**************

Water in the first-floor plumbing flows just fine, so Mark goes down to the basement to plan his attack. He lines a little heater up next to the pipes that go upstairs. He closes the first-floor powder room door, with the little built-in heater on high.

By bed time, the cold water is running in the tub. The upstairs toilet flushes. Mark cranks the sink faucets open; they stand mute and idle. Not a drop of water seeps.

Mark gets up to check things in the middle of the night. The tub’s hot water is restored, but still, nothing flows to the sink.

The next day, Monday, is a holiday, and Mark gets up and writes things down, sketches out lines, calculates. He moves little electric heaters, closes doors to contain warmth.

The temperature creeps up to a balmy ten.

The stubborn upstairs sink faucets are silent all day.

Late in the afternoon, Mark takes the little heater upstairs, cleans out the cabinet under the sink, shoves the heater in, and turns it on.

“I don’t know where they’re freezing,” he says. “I don’t know if this will do any good.”

A few hours later, he jerks up from his book.

“Hey!” he says. He runs upstairs, where water gushes from both faucets into the sink.

“Was it moving the heater?” I ask him.

“Hell,” he says. “I don’t know.

***********

She is watching TV one night—a program she really enjoys, about Queen Victoria—when she realizes that she has pieced eighteen squares for her quilt. She is going to take it to her friend Deirdre’s house; Deirdre is one of her old colleagues. She never knew, when they worked together, that Deirdre quilted.

She is discovering that those old colleagues are pretty interesting people.

She is discovering that her neighbor, Ella, has a rich and textured, fascinating, past. She enjoys their weekly coffee klatches.

She is still warmed, too, from the get-together she had; nothing big, just coffee and dessert on a Thursday night, but she wanted to show off her refreshed living room. Sara came, and Deirdre, and JJ and his wife. She brewed up fresh ground coffee, and she served, with ice cream, a pie she’d made. You’d have thought she’d given those people something really, really special. They acted like that pie was just the best thing they’d ever eaten.

She is remembering how good it feels to feed people, to entertain.

She is volunteering at the senior center.

Her calendar is full.

********************

Sometimes conditions are right—or wrong—and things freeze up. People freeze with indecision, with fear and sadness. Joy and creativity dwindle to a trickle, then die away entirely.

Or the weather chills, chills until surfaces grab bare fingers and crunchy ice adheres to shoes and pant legs. Pipes freeze. Water doesn’t move.

We try everything then—movement and warmth and blankets and heaters, embraces and sharing and lightening the load.

We try all of that, and time.

**********

We’ve never really sure just what flips the magic button, but always, always, things start to thaw.

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10 thoughts on “Woven Thaws

  1. Kim Allen

    You are so human!!!! And you remind us of our humanness too! Your blog reminded me of Mary Oliver., in her poem “Wild Geese”

    “You do not have to be good…..

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body live what it loves………

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,…..

    Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

    I have these lolls too, and your blog is so affirming that if we just keep staying connected to ourselves and move along, we catch a serendipitous wave of life, that helps things and people fall in our life as we need them. Gives me hope for the things on my list. Lovely weaving together the metaphors of life. And today we I leave my house for yoga, I am going to “snug my car doors”! Best to you Pam!

    1. LOVE that Mary Oliver poem…thanks for that, Kim! And from what I hear of our weather, you need to snug up as much as you can traveling in the CNY! Thanks for sharing beautiful words and thoughts….’catch a serendipitous wave if life’ is staying with me…

  2. Oh Pam – I so enjoy when I get the chance to start a Saturday morning with you. In my seat on the couch under an afghan with my first cup of coffee before getting ready to get dressed and head out with my DIL and grandies for thrift shop adventures as the cold begins to let go a bit. This was just so so delightful. I love your stories. So special. Thank you!!

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