Another Ordinary Day

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.    

Jane Kenyon, “Otherwise”

 

It’s really, really early, and I’m so bleary I have to check the date on my phone. I pull the loose-leaf page toward me, pick up my Pentel RSVP pen, and I write Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  Then I sit back and sip my coffee and look at the date I’ve written. It seems, somehow, significant.

Is today a special day?

I wrack my mind.  Not, I think, my parents’ anniversary–that was last week, I’m pretty sure.  Not my nephews’ birthdays–Jason’s is tomorrow, Zack’s on the 15th. I page through the ‘Dates to Remember’ section in the old address book.

I get nothin’.

May 10th: just an ordinary day.

I yawn and stretch, struggling to wake up: I am out of bed at 5 AM now, or a bit before. My workplace has gone to a four/ten-hour day schedule, and my arrival time is two hours earlier than it used to be.  So I am adjusting, and I am a little slower waking up on this ordinary morning, in this ordinary day.

It comes to me that someone else–someone I don’t even know–is up, somewhere,  too, pacing and excited. She’s wound up because for her, this is far from an ordinary day.  I can see her, suddenly: a young woman, a new graduate of a two-year school, I think, who starts her job today.  My first ‘pantyhose job,’ she’d laughed when she called to tell her mother the good news. All her other jobs have been food-service, supermarket, grease-stained jobs.  She earned this position by her return to school, by her amassing of skills. Doors she didn’t even know were there have opened in her mind.

And job doors have opened, too.  She is thrilled.

She is terrified.

Her new boss is really nice.  And she’ll have her own office–a cubicle, really, but she will bring in flowers, an inspirational sign…

Her mother has framed a photo for her office. It’s a picture of herself, aged seven years, playing “work” at the dining room table.  She has a pile of papers in front of her.  She has been scrawling nonsensical phrases across each sheet and creating stacks.

“There’s a lot of paperwork in my business,” she famously told her father, the photographer. In the photo, she’s frozen in the act of speaking to him sternly, eyebrows drawn together, right hand flung over her hand.  Pencil brandished. Her head: a mass of errant curls.

A funny, perfect photo. And her mother is both proud and aching–she is letting go so her daughter can head down a path where she can’t ever follow.

***********

Another woman awakens, somewhere else, but stays flattened in her bed, weary before the day even begins. She’s negotiating.  Give me just today, she wheedles the beast that eats her from within.  Today: I’ll take a walk, I’ll mop my floor.  I’ll pick a sprig of rosemary from the pot by the back stoop. I’ll crush it between my index fingertip and my thumb.  All day long, I’ll smell rosemary on my fingers; it will surprise me.  I’ll remember roasts and soups and sauces and planting.  I will lean into normal joys.

Give me that, will you? she asks the beast, a plain, hard question. But there’s no hint or murmur of any kind of an answer.  For the thousandth time she’ll wonder why she cannot sense the thing that grows within.

************
And somewhere else, today, a woman becomes a mother, reaching out for the squalling little bundle that, all wrapped up, they come to place in her arms.

The tiny, puckered being wails, little fists flailing. “I know you,” the new mother thinks in wonder. The momma whispers a universal calming shooosh, and the baby catches the meaning like a strong spun thread, like a lifeline. Little hands stop; head turns.  Eyes lock on to the momma’s.

There is the snick of slickly oiled metal gears sliding snugly into place.  These two are bonded now, locked together, promise shared and commitment forged.  They are joined irrevocably for what will no doubt be a crazy, crazy ride.

**************
But another woman, today, holds her husband’s hand.  They sit in soft gray chairs in a plush private office.  They watch the doctor shake her head.

This woman feels a burning brick drop to the very pit of her, drop to flatten that wasted, empty womb.

She cannot look at David.  She cannot even cry. Her mind is blear and empty, a uselessly shiny black orb, like those old magic eightball games kids once used to tell fortunes. Just one word floats to the surface, taps gently against the watery screen, demands to be read. It is despair.

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

And here is someone who doesn’t have to go to work today–who can’t, in fact, go back to that job, that world she’d inhabited for, yea, these many years.  That place into which she has poured so much energy and love: it’s closed to her now.

She’s been let go. Her professional email has been shut off, her office phone unplugged.  She has cleaned out 15 years worth of professional accumulation.  Boxes, thickly taped, surround her bed.  It’s the only place she could find to put them in her tiny house–the tiny house she has to figure out, now, how to pay for.

It’s all too much, too new, too raw, and she thinks she might as well just go on and sleep for another three hours. What the hell?  Why not stay in bed all day? 

Then the dog whimpers and the cell phone chirps and she knows, wearily, that she has to drag herself up to slog through the long and empty day.

***************
Somewhere today a hiker crests a hill and moves aside a leafy branch and gasps.  There’s glory spread out before her, a scene she will not ever forget. In this moment, her senses widely open, the reality of joy and beauty tumble strong within her.

And somewhere else a woman mindlessly cradles an injured, dirt-crusted child, trying–she doesn’t remember why it matters–to find help.  Is it so important that this child should live?  Is it even, in all of this mess, wise?  She can’t be bothered by existential questions.  She just needs to forge ahead, follow the path before her, navigate the battle zone that is her everyday.

And somewhere a new puppy yips, and a child laughs as the warm little being squirms to lick her face.  Somewhere a widow chews the rest of her lipstick off, reaching out to take the neatly folded flag.  Her son–God! she thinks, my son is an old man himself!–takes hold of her arm firmly.

Somewhere a step van pulls up to remove the stained furniture they can no longer pay for.

Somewhere else, in the very moment I write this, two people fall in love.

And everywhere–all over the damned place–people eat and talk and squabble.  They nudge each other away from the toaster:

Give me the butter. 

I’ve got to run.

Did you call the cable?

You gonna leave those dishes in the sink?

**********

An ordinary day, a common clay bead on a long, long string of them: the kind of bead that creates a calm setting for the ones that stand out. Those stand-out beads shout beauty and outrageous glee, or they are hammered, whimpering, into a different shape–they are uncommon, intervening, thread-changing beads that only show up on this predictable, regular string once in a very great while.

Thank God, for the common clay, I think; thank God.  Thank God for this time of calm, of dull, of same old / same old. For I know the other days will come.  There will be glowing days; there will be days that gut-smack me, bruise me in their grasp, threaten to suck the singing from my soul.

Some day, the poet tells us, someday it will be different.  And I pick my pen back up to write, and I think: God willing, today will be a ‘same day,’ and I will take the time to live in and appreciate it.

Today’s May 10th, I write, an ordinary day.

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The Lord Be Thankit

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

The last work day of the week before Christmas, and I bolt out of bed at 6:22 AM, not really awake, but up and moving, anyway. My autopilot lights before my thinking brain engages.  A dream slithers away, down the mental drainpipe, irretrievable, but for some reason, a refrain of Robert Burns’s grace-poem frolics through my head:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it…

I stumble into the bathroom, avoiding the sight of the oversized pallid troll doll in the mirror and begin the transformation to respectable professional lady of a certain age.  The process takes longer with each passing year; the results grow noticeably less perky. But I can smell the coffee brewing downstairs–Mark, God bless him, has the machine gurgling along for me already.  The dog sighs audibly in the next room, snuggled in the warm spot I left behind.  When I finally emerge, girded for the day, she will heave herself out of the bed, which I am then allowed to make.  She’ll hoof it down the carpeted stairs to meet the Dad, who will let her outside and then stand watch on the stoop as she greets the morn by piddling.

It seems like an aftermath day: we had our division holiday gathering yesterday.  We gathered in the classroom in the new building that has the comfortable chairs–padded, comfy chairs, on wheels.  Jim, our boss, had rolled them into little pods, sprinkled the swinging desktops with foil packets of Ghiradelli peppermint bark.  Linda and Jaime and Terry quietly loaded up a rolling cart at 11:30; they toted the tablecloths and the bread, the tableware and the crockpots, up on the elevator.  They laid out a feast.

Appointments over, phone calls made, work-errands done, I joined the little throng walking into a modern day Fezziwig’s–drifting in on floating scents: oxtail and vegetarian potato and Italian wedding soups, a bubbling pot of spicy chili.  Plates and bowls of crusty bread and mounds of butter; crisp and savory salads; cheesecakes and ice cream desserts; cookies and cake and candy.

Music played; people milled–a mellow, respectful crowd, the gentle people from IT, we female middle managers.  We waited for Nancy; when she rushed in, Jim dropped the flag: the feast was on.  Voices rose and fell and bodies sorted themselves into clusters to eat and talk and then get up to fill another bowl.

I was lucky enough to sit with Ron and Cindi. Ron talked about an oceanography class he’s taking, and his eyes lit up and his fascination shimmered.  He is three courses away from his bachelors degree; you can see him on fire with the learning.  It reminded Cindi, I could see, of the rigorous high school program her daughter has just entered. She told us about a project the kids are doing, one that requires them to think rather than memorize, to hypothesize and analyze rather than merely extol.  There was the over-banquet and the under-banquet–the food Ron and Cindi enjoyed almost absent-mindedly while they talked about that feast of thought and ideas and discovery, a feast where all is new and exciting.

We hae meat and we can eat…

Jaime, peaked under her skillful make-up, wandered thoughtfully, making sure everyone had a drink, a filled dish, a piece of chocolate to cleanse a palate.  Jaime had been out sick the day before with a virulent stomach flu; her four year old twins brought it home from preschool.  The twins are new to the preschool world, and every vagrant virus finds a welcome home in them.

“My healthy babies!” Jaime laments, and by the time she’s done caring for them, staying up late, getting up early, mopping up and laundering, she is run ragged and an easy target herself.

“I feel better,” she assured us, but she wasn’t really chowing down.

Some hae meat that canna eat…

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

We had cast about for an after-lunch activity, something not silly or sweet enough to make our teeth hurt, and we thought about the facility next door, a mysterious place that shelters adults with all manners of disabilities.  Close neighbors, we have just begun to talk: how can this little community college and this haven for grown people with autism, with Down’s syndrome, with traumatic brain injury and other challenges–how can we work together?

We came up with a surprising number of ways.  Now we would begin the process of learning about each other, probing the mysteries.  We walked over, a varied (if not motley) group, and we were warmly met by Sheila, our first contact.  She introduced us to Erik, who’d help give us the tour.  Erik is a handsome guy with dark curly hair and a baseball hat pushed back on his head. He was happy to see us, happy to be in the role of host.  He told us about the job he holds in a retail store; he barely needs any coaching anymore, and soon will just be working, all on his own. Just like anyone, he said.

We traveled through a maze of offices, where people waved as they talked on phones, and looked up from paperwork or gift-wrapping; the halls were bright with artwork and noisy with chat and laughter.  We saw a group of people working to finish one final order from a corporate sponsor.

“No more piecework,” said Sheila firmly.  She explained that they are moving toward a person-centered philosophy.  Strong in the knowledge that folks with handicaps have gifts and talents, they are daring to ask their clients, “What would you like to do?”

Sheila said it’s hard for the older folks to even think about it; piecework is all they’ve ever known.  They’re puzzled by choices, puzzled at being asked to dream.  They spent a long time learning the close-walled limits of their conditions, and now to have those walls shifted away feels threatening.

Some hae meat but canna eat…

We saw artists at work; I admired a truly vibrant picture of a rustic pig on a green background.  It’s a painting I’d hang proudly in my kitchen.  I will watch for it at the First Friday Art Walk, when these folks sell their wares.

We saw people, mostly young men, absorbed in computer work.  One, securely locked in a world bounded by headphones, belted out whatever song played into his ears.  He was unfazed by grinning staff and strangers. He waved us on with one hand, his singing uninterrupted.

We saw people, mostly middle-aged women, knitting and crocheting.

Toward the end of the tour, we filed through a room called the Beauty Cube.  A beautician sat with a tableful of women; they had curled and plaited and ribboned their hair; now they were working on nails.  A tiny sprite of a woman sat patiently as the beautician painted her nails and then adorned each with a glittery star.  Sheila told us that was Natalie, who is vice-president of People First.  A younger woman wandered over, hearing that; she was Naomi, and she is the president.

“Tell us about People First,” I prompted.  “What do you do?”

Naomi and Natalie looked at each and shrugged.

“Run meetings,” said Naomi.

“Help people,” said Natalie.

We were just about to leave when a young woman swiveled around, extended plump arms and said, “Hug?”

I reached down and hugged her and she hugged back, patting my back, sharing true comfort.  I straightened  and she grinned at me, and as we filed out, she began chanting. “I got a HUG now; I got a HUG now…”

We hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.

It was an anticlimax, after that trip, to head back to offices, to email and details and tiny, trivial crises. And now this day feels like an unnecessary add-on; what can we do that makes sense after that?

*************
But the day rolls on to be surprisingly rich. Our work group gathers and we tackle assessment challenges.  Pathways that were murky clear; we all catch fire and work swiftly, efficiently. Later, a  new adjunct comes in and a textured and interesting conversation unfolds as we enter his application vita into our new online system.

At lunch, I make sure my son James has his clothes all organized, has hair combed and shoes presentable.  He has a job interview at 4:00; his job coach will collect him at 3:30.  Oh, he wants to work, and oh, he is excited about this opportunity.

I am not positive it’s the right opportunity; I am not sure they’ll see his potential.  My mom-gut twists with apprehension, but I am proud of his spirit, and I tell him so. He hugs me and grins.

Back at work, the afternoon melts away; a student from years ago surfaces, pulling a new husband behind her.  He is gentle, she is vibrant.  She talks about journalism; they dream of moving to Boston.

I send emails thanking adjuncts who completed a training, got their grades in on time;  almost immediately pinging responses flood in.  Mike calls to say he’ll take the last course that needs to be staffed and I happy-dance around my office. He’s a great teacher. It’s a meaty course.  We can start the weekend unhindered.

I finish up a database, get a text from James saying the interview went well; he’ll hear on Monday whether they’d like to see him for a second round.  I say goodbye to Jim-the-boss, and Jaime, and, in the car, before I head out to the office supply store to pick up a gift I’d bought online, I check my phone.

There is a message from Sandee, a forever friend on her way to see a new grandson. And, warmed by her joy, I remember the gathering tomorrow, and I text Kathie to see if she knows whether Keith and Cynthia can join us.

She responds quickly.  She thinks they’ll be there, Kathie says, but she and Dan won’t make it.  Their nephew died and the memorial is tomorrow in Cincinnati.  Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was 33.  He was a boy, really.  Kathie texts a picture of him with his cat, thoughtful; then another of him with his wife, ignited by love.

********************
I think of Sandee on her way to see that baby.  I think of Dan and Kathie, on their way to grieve and comfort.

And then, of course, it begins to snow, the first real snow of the season, blowing and swirling, beautiful and treacherous, festive in the extreme, and I am overwhelmed by it all–by the loss and by the treasure, by the joy and by the closed doors, by reunions and partings, by potential unleashed and potential locked up. What is it about this season that reveals it all, every single possibility, sends them, hurls them, into our midst?

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

I run my errands and I hide my presents, and the boyos and I cook up a wonderful Friday night stirfry, and then I begin, finally to bake my Christmas cookies–late this year; late, as always.  I putter and I pray for Dan and Kathie and that bright extinguished light; I pray for that beautiful young wife and her empty arms.  I pray for Sandee, arrived by now, and surely with her arms full of a giggling baby. I pray for James and jobs and colleagues and neighbors and people on roads coated and slick with snow.  I pray for disabled adults, that it’s not to late to teach them hoping skills.

This year, we are safe; this year we are whole; we are yearning and we are uncompleted and we are awaiting wondrous next steps.  But we are blessed to be together, and charged with giving care. This year, we can share in the banquet wholeheartedly. I flip cookies onto platters, and I feel the randomness of my good fortune.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
Some wad eat but want it
We hae meat sae we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Rugs and Work and Things That Last

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I changed the upstairs bathroom rugs last night, rolling up the long, multi-colored rag rug that provides a path away from the tub; grabbing, too, the shaggy little white rug that cradles the toes of shavers and make-up appliers leaning toward the mirror at the sink. I bundled them down the laundry chute and swiffered up the haze of baby powder that always descends upon the black tile. I pulled out a fresh set of rugs, the blue ones, the long one for the tub path, the short guy for the sink.

The blue rugs are my favorites, hand-woven from old blue jeans by Betty Lou and her church lady friends.  Almost fifteen years old, they seem indestructible–I have thrown them in the washer hundreds of times, maybe thousands; I have hung them over rope lines or draped them over pipes to dry. Umpteen sets of store-bought rugs have shed their rubbery backing and been tossed; my blue denim rugs last and last.

I use them, as I often use beloved items, thoughtlessly, taking their beautiful utility for granted.  But last night, for whatever reason, the act of spreading those rugs on the bathroom floor made me think of Betty Lou and Roscoe Village. We had moved to a new town after Mark finished law school, I was in-between full-time jobs, and I worked, for a year or two, as a historical interpreter at the little restored canal village.  I have been blessed with wonderful and challenging jobs in my working years, but never have I had another job so filled with fun and joy as working at Roscoe Village. And seldom have I met people so hard working and sincere.

I learned the real definition, at Roscoe, of “salt of the earth.”

There was Dick Hoover, a retired preacher, who taught me about the printer’s trade and about being a school marm in 1850’s Ohio.  Charley, a cabinet maker, shared secrets of the cooper’s craft, and showed me how one makes a round container from what I’d always figured to be unyielding wood.  Mary, who was 80 when I worked with her at Roscoe, had been there over 40 years; her picture as a beautiful young interpreter was printed and re-printed, to her delight, in the Village literature. And there was Betty Lou, ten years younger than Mary, who taught me the ins and the outs of 1850’s housewifery in a sleepy Ohio canal town.

I trained with college students; I was in my late forties.  I worried about finding comfortable shoes to wear that looked authentic; I worried about bundling my ornery hair into something resembling true frontier style.  The students worried about covering their new tattoos with the lacy cuffs of their gingham dresses, and whether their piercings–studs discreetly removed during work hours–would be evident to Village visitors.  They were lovely young people, hard-working, kind, and creative,but I grew closer to the elders, Dick, Charley, Mary, and especially Betty Lou.

Things were busy at the Village in the summer months; tours came through every thirty minutes, and we ushered one group out the back door as another entered the front.  Betty Lou was usually the upstairs guide in Dr. Johnson’s house; she told people about the wonder of the Doctor’s family having real, imported wallpaper, showed them how the flycatcher worked, boasted about the Johnson’s fine china, shipped all the way from Europe at quite a pretty penny.  Downstairs, I was the cook; Betty Lou would send the visitors down the steep cellar stairs to where I had a trussed chicken spinning above the open fire on a string; fat would fall into the fire; flames would hiss and spit.  The chicken’s skin crisped and crackled, and people begged to try it, but health laws forbade that.  We could share, however, the corn bread and cakes we baked in a covered cast iron dutch oven set amidst the coals.

I learn to pile coals on top to insure even baking; Betty Lou could judge temperatures and baking times if she knew the type of wood we were using.

The days flew by, and so did the summer; before we knew it, the college kids were heading back to campus, and the park slowed down.  Tours were by appointment in the fall.  The breaks in between gave us time to clean and organize, and time to talk.

I learned that Betty Lou was a skilled weaver; there was a vintage loom in the village and her deft hands worked it swiftly.  She knew how to set the woof and weave the rag strips into the warp; she fringed the ends and sent the final product to the administration building store where shoppers scarfed them up at fifteen dollars a pop.  Outside of work, though, Betty Lou and her church lady friends had their own looms.  They crafted rugs from strips of old blue jeans.  These they sold for a pittance; I bought three rugs from them for less than the cost of one rug at the store.

Betty Lou was in no danger of her hands becoming the devil’s workshop; she was always busy, at work and at home, where she sewed and gardened and canned.  She worked at the village for extras; that year she was saving for a new living room suite.  She was never idle; in the free moments, she showed me how to cradle and wash that splendid china, how to coax the dust and grit up from between the polished floor boards of the Doctor’s house, and how to oil and wrap some of the antique tools in the downstairs work room.

She was a kind, clear, patient teacher; I liked working with her, and I diligently tried to keep up with her seasoned efficiency.  We talked as we worked, and I learned about Betty Lou’s life.

Her husband had been a miner in West Virginia, as had the men on both sides of their families.  Many died young of the black lung; some were lost in explosions and nightmarish cave-ins.  They decided, early on, it was no life for their boys, and they vowed, early on, to get clear of the mining life.  Their house was owned by the mine; the store in town was, too. If a family bought all their stuff from the store, there was never quite enough money; they fell into debt to their employers, and each year’s passage indebted them a little bit more.

Betty Lou’s husband was handy; he fixed up an old truck that someone gave him for a song, and they drove into the city to buy their groceries.  They only bought what they couldn’t grow or raise or catch themselves.  Her husband got permission to run plumbing to their house; they were the first in their coal-mining village to have indoor plumbing and hot water in a claw foot tub, a luxury for which their neighbors envied them no end.

But the thing that really incited envy was their television set, which they scrimped and saved to buy.  Betty Lou’s man ran the wiring and fixed the antenna, and they were so proud to be able to offer Betty Lou’s aging mother the treat of watching TV.  Betty Lou’s mama always watched the fights on Friday nights; she loved a good fight.  The family would gather round the television, and prickles would run up and down their backs.  We’re being watched, Betty Lou would think, and sure enough, when she turned around, she would see faces at every window, avidly watching the flickering screen.

Despite such luxuries, they lived very frugally, and before the children came of working age, they had moved to Ohio. Betty Lou’s husband got work, and the kids were enrolled in school.  They all graduated high school, Betty Lou said, something that would not have happened in their mining town back home.

Sometimes we would talk as we worked, sometimes as we took our lunch in the ‘modern’ kitchen.  The doctor’s house had been a residence until the sixties; a main floor kitchen had been added.  When the Foundation acquired the house, it made no changes. The kitchen table with its tubular metal legs, the vinyl covered chairs, and the stove and refrigerator, were splendid in their 1950’s glory.  A microwave had been added for employee convenience, but everything else,–the speckled linoleum, the cabinets with their wooden cutout trim,–was just as it had been went the last tenants left.

There was a feel about the doctor’s house, a depth, a layer,–something that made goose bumps prickle, especially when I was upstairs alone.  The doctor and his wife had been abolitionists, and their home was a well-known stop on the Underground Railroad.  There was a story of an escaped mother with a sick baby; some people said the baby died in the mother’s arms while they were hidden. To cry out would have been to reveal them both, along with the people who sheltered them, and so the grieving mother held the body of her dead infant while searchers trod the floors above her.  The doctor, the story went, was inconsolable over the loss, over the fact that he couldn’t save that baby.  The baby’s mother could not be comforted.  The tiny body could not even have a proper burial without risking exposure.

Sometimes it seemed I would hear things there; sometimes there were furtive movements–mice, maybe?–glimpsed from the corner of my eye. One day I confessed to Betty Lou that the place spooked me, just a little, and she said they’d all felt it.  It was real, she said; and she said, too, that sorrow was hard to purge.

She told me then about her own sorrow.  After saving and sacrificing so they could move north, move away from the danger of early death for their boys, Betty Lou lost her daughter, who would have been just about my age, in a senseless crash.  It was in the last days of the girl’s senior year of high school; she’d forgotten something she needed at home and got permission, at about ten in the morning, to drive home and get it. She was a careful driver, she had a friend with her; they were not distracted or flighty or under any kind of influence.  But a semi truck swerved, crossed into their lane; the girls, just like that, were gone.

“Oh,” I said, helplessly, “oh, Betty Lou,” and I couldn’t think of anything to add. We sat, eyes welling, for a moment, and then she said, Well, it couldn’t be helped. She talked a little about the kindness of friends, family, and strangers, and then another tour group came in the door and we sprang to our stations, resumed our personnas. The subject never again emerged.

Betty Lou enjoyed life, worked hard, and gave substantially, and it would not be an exaggeration to admit that I revered her.  Life moved on; another job beckoned, and I left the employ–and the joy–of the Village.  I tried to go back at least once a year, though, taking visitors to see the old canal town, reconnecting with Dick, Mary, Charley, and Betty Lou.

And then another move took us seventy further miles away; the trip to the village was no longer an easy indulgence.  Life filled up; time went on, and suddenly my time at Roscoe was five, and then seven, years ago.

I saw Dick at an event, and asked about my old colleagues.  He told me with great sadness that he’d buried Charley just that past winter.

That chance meeting was five years ago, and I am a little afraid, now, to go back and inquire. Mary–she’d be 92 or so, I think; Betty Lou, in her eighties.  Should I ask the questions whose answers I don’t want to hear? I push away that thought and plunge into the busyness of daily life, until a moment like last night’s, when a touch, an action, bring lovely memories back.

Someone remarked, the other day at work, that we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families. Work has become our new neighborhood; it’s where we find our friends, get our support.  I am lucky now, and I have been lucky in the past, to work with wonderful caring people, people of integrity and creativity, passion and compassion–people who have visions of making things better and who believe our small contributions can help.  I have had wonderful mentors in all my professional roles; some of those mentors have become lifelong friends.

My time at Roscoe Village was an interlude, a veering off the path, and I thank God for that special, unexpected time, and for the blessing of the wonderful people I had the honor to work with.  I spread my denim rugs on my swept bathroom floor, I feel them with my bare feet, tucking and untucking the nubby, firm, ridged fabric with my toes.  I will go back–perhaps this Fall,–and I will see if any familiar faces remain.  But time passes; I can accept that now.

As Betty Lou says, it can’t be helped.  But I know this, now, too: the things we shared together will always, somehow, remain.

Betty Lou and Charley
Betty Lou and Charley

Summer Possibles

The door to summer opens, and letters, messages, arrive… Ah, delight: there is company coming.

They survey the guest area–a pull out couch in the living room. The room has three entries; the back two can be shuttered with louvered doors, but the large front arch, the entry by the foyer, is too big for a traditional door.  When people stay overnight, they hang a curtain there from a spring tension rod.  The dog walks underneath it and jumps onto the pulled out bed. People cut through, saying, “Oh, SORRY!” when chastised.

Sometimes the guests sleep there; sometimes they put the guests in the master and sleep there themselves.  The common space shrinks to the family room.  It’s awkward, at best.

She wonders…  They go upstairs and stand in the doorway of her little box room, which is filled with craft items and boxes, photos and gifties, frames and wrapping paper and spools of silky ribbon.  A tiny room.  A room with no door.

Could we, she speculates, hang one of those barn door hardware contraptions? He backs in to the room, looks at the doorway, pulls out a measuring tape.

He searches the internet for the hardware.

“Yarrrgh!” he says, “expensive!”  But then he locates a set for less than a third of what the big box stores charge.  He places the order.

They pack all the crafty stuff into plastic bins and move them to the basement.  The dusty curtains go down the laundry chute.  She pulls out the vacuum and sucks up dust and tiny shreds of paper.  They dismantle a heavy old wooden table and lug it, in pieces, down to join the bins.

She finds a black iron day bed for seventy dollars; he puts it together. It fits snugly into the alcove formed by the dormer window. They search the ads for deals and find a mattress on sale at a discount store.  When they arrive to pick it up, they discover everything’s on sale, and there’s an extra discount with their member card.  They buy a bucket chair, a tiny dresser, a bedside table.

He and the boy go out to the garage and clean.  In the process, they uncover an old wooden door.  They set up a workshop,—sawhorses, electric sander. He sands the door smooth, paints it a soft, shining white.  The hardware arrives and he drags it and the door upstairs, mounts the black brackets, hangs the door.  The door looks perfect.

The new guest room is a tiny, pretty, welcoming gem.

Well, it’s summer, they think.  It feels like anything is possible.

She begins walking again, at night, feeling the stretch in her legs; her IPod cranks out Leonard Cohen and she catches herself marching and singing along. She smiles at passersby–the whippet-thin running woman whose ponytail pounds from shoulder to shoulder, the acrobatic biking boys who stand to charge up a long curved hilly drive. Their payoff is the thrilling return trip, navigating the downhill curves, wind riffling their short, hot-weather hair.  They zoom out onto the sidewalk, grinning, wheel around, pedal up the energy to try it again.

She thinks at first she’s crazy to try, too tired, old, and crazy to pedal up her own energy;  but soon she is walking three miles a night.

On Tuesdays, she brings big bags of fresh, local veggies home from work; they spread them out and scrutinize. Can we eat all this? they wonder. Then they begin to see recipes everywhere they turn.  They chop and blanch and freeze; they  stir together Italian wedding soup with homemade chicken broth, fresh chopped kale, tiny orzo noodles. Instead of of meatballs, they brown Italian sausage, brought back special from western New York. It is tangy and pungent; they crumble it up into the soup, eat big bowls with crusty bread from an Italian baker, and freeze containers to take for lunch.

They grill veggies and saute them; they bake chicken with summer squash and carrots.  They make dips and pesto. New recipes: why not?  They discover new favorites.

They plant basil seeds in egg cartons on the sun porch; the seeds sprout and thrive and then two desperately hot days cook their sad little stems.  She goes out and buys established plants–basil and rosemary.  They put them in the kitchen sink garden outside the kitchen door. Why not, he says, dump that good dirt from the egg cartons into the sink?

Great idea, she agrees, and sprinkles the rich black soil around the herbs.

Within days, he notices little seedlings  sprouting.  Something tells them to let those little plants be, and the seedlings get bigger and stronger.  She spicks a leaf off, rubs it between finger and thumb, sniffs.  Basil!  All the seeds they’d thought were dead come happily back to life in the rich moist dirt, the friendly sun, protected in the ell of the house from wind and storm.

Their spaghetti sauce tastes like the sun, with fresh basil and rosemary, tomatoes picked that morning at the farm down the way. It’s summer, and the time and the possibilities–even healthy plants growing from zapped seeds–seem endless.

Wendy comes to take the guest room for its maiden flight; she deems it a cozy place to sleep and read.  They take her, all three of them, on a lazy ride down the river on the paddlewheeler Lorena.  Fanned on the upper deck by river breezes, they hungrily dig into a light and lovely lettuce salad, and they fork up prime rib that cuts like butter as they chug smoothly north for an hour. They lazily eat chocolate peanut butter pie and drink hot black coffee as the Lorena turns to head home.  Children run along the riverbanks, yelling and following them. Big tough tattooed men lean out of party barges to pump their arms in the ageless signal children send to semi drivers: HONK!  PLease HONK!

The captain, a quiet, white-haired gentleman in a nautical cap, grins and obliges, pulling the long loud honking foghorn over and over.  Women, waving the hands that don’t hold clinking drinks, lounge in canvas chairs carried to the water’s edge. A storm threatens, but, of course, does not materialize. It is summer, and threats subside.

Some days she walks early and late. She loves to walk by a neighbor’s gaudy flowering shrub. Its blossoms are bigger than dessert plates, pleated and pretty with clear true colors, full and grinning in the early morning sun.

At night, the flowers curl in on themselves, as if exhausted by their boisterous, flamboyant display.  They look, he says, like hand-rolled cigars.

They walk through the Gardens around the corner; they marvel at the lily pads with their waxy blooms, exuberant in the pond where the waterfall plashes.

Some Sunday nights, a loosely woven orchestra plays in the bandshell; the group struggles gamely with complicated compositions but comes out strong with John Phillip Sousa. They clap and stamp along with the crowd, a range-y crowd with children zipping in dizzyingly circles, elders whose worn and spotted hands beat time on the metal arms of their folding lawn chairs, a cluster of black clad young people, whose cool is betrayed by feet that can’t help tapping. They people-watch and imagine unconventional matches–the crisp-cut young man, the languid and pretty young Goth.  Why not?  They’d be good for each other, maybe, they agree, and it’s summer, after all–a time for taking chances. It’s a time when it’s possible the chances will bear fruit.

But there is the chance too of the evening phone call: Are you sitting down? says the well-loved voice on the other end,–or, Call me as soon as you get this, urges the message.  These events, too, sneak into summer possibles–the ones that throw them heavily onto the bench, trying hard not to believe the messenger.

But he wasn’t SICK, he says.  He was planning a visit in two weeks.

No, she argues, he was too young.

They sit outside as the sky darkens; the birds get raucous, then grow quiet. All kinds of things, they accept sadly, are possible.

They remember by planting trees that stretch skyward and strengthen; flowers burgeon and tales of life and seasons play out in front of them.  It is a time, for them, of growth and joy, but they know,–they have the sorrowful evidence–that the pedal always turns.

They get ready for a visit from their beautiful young granddaughter, standing on the brink of so many possibilities. Her gentle hands will welcome sassy Max, the neighborhood cat, settle the antsy dog into summer slumbers.  They will go to the Zoo; they will tour the Wilds.  They’ll have wonderful meals and long walks and conversations of re-discovery.

Summer rolls up its hill, hovers for a moment at the peak, and begins to descend.  There is more glamor and flash ahead, but mothers are beginning to dream of children back in school.  The ads come out–tablets for a quarter, folders for a dime.  The first leaves on the spring-flowering tree by the kitchen window turn vividly red and flutter.

On Saturday nights, they fall asleep to the strident voice and the insistent bass of the band that plays at the bar down by the river;  the chorus of young voices rise and eddy.  It is summer yet, summer with its promise and its insistent push–you dare not rest; you must keep moving. The journey is often joyful and sometimes culls forth a wrenching loss.

They will sit outside and light a fire, sipping drinks and talking softly; they will welcome visitors to that pretty little room. They have, now, years enough on the planet to know not to fight time and flail against fate; summer will wane, and autumn will blazen. They will cosset their joys and remember their losses, and even in the midst of hard-earned wisdom, feel that little leap, that firm little flicker.

It is summer; they know what they know. Yet somehow, anyway, in the cool quiet of the night, in the friendly flicker of the fire, they still believe it’s true: anything could be possible.

This Year, It All Looks New

Bedroom re-do

The Spring sun shines through the bedroom windows, through crisp, newly washed drapes.  We have painted one wall–the window wall, the wall you see when you walk up the stairs and glance in the room–a light and sunny yellow. We have moved the bed: it was facing the windows; now it’s flanked by them.

Simple moves, simple expedients, and the entire room is changed.  The very size of it feels different–lighter, brighter, roomier.  The colors–a soft sky blue, the gleaming white trim, the gently beaming yellow of the window wall,–combine with the sandy color of the carpet to suggest to me, “Beach.”

It gives me summer thoughts; it makes me smile. I grab my empty coffee mug and I thump downstairs to where Mark is gathering his gear for work.

“I can’t get over that room,” he says.  “Finally, it’s the way it SHOULD be.  Who knew?”

I agree.  “What other little changes can we make?”

We look around the dining room, a room that collects the morning sun, and that also collects the clutter: Jim’s lists and books and DVD cases; Mark’s tax papers and work documents; my books and notebooks, pens and craft stuff.  There are chargers and cords–all the paraphernalia of modern electronic life.  The Sunday New York Times, which we never quite finish reading during the week after it arrives, waits hopefully on a side chair.

I want to pull up the rug like a cartoon wizard and snap it, watch items fly up into the air and then fall smartly into their very right places.

Or watch them disappear.

I smile at Mark, who is seeing his own vision of the room.  Perfect organization may not happen as easily as in my animated fantasy, but we’ll whip this room into shape.

There’s a lesson in the simple bedroom changes, a lesson about using what I already have to make things new, that I need time to ponder and absorb. I think this might be part of it: Things change.  Bad times pass.  Spring, always and eventually, comes.  But listening, seeing, processing, and then acting, is required.

********

It is just before noon, and it is a treat to sit at Giacomo’s in a corner booth, checking my email, and to see Susan’s sleek black SUV pull in. She’s got the rear-view camera; I always enjoy watching her back smoothly into a parking place.  (Me, I try to find a place where I can park facing out–no backing required, arriving or leaving.)

And it’s so good to see Susan, who retired in December, and who has been on the move– down the coast, across the country, over the ocean to that mythical island state–ever since.  A lunch hour won’t give us enough time to cover everything.

I meet her at the counter. I gather up a lovely spinach salad–those healthy greens are festooned with bacon and red onion and accompanied by slices of baguette (the crust crackles and explodes; the bread inside is fresh and tender), and my loaf of take-home sliced french bread. Susan gets her soup and sandwich.  We convene to the corner booth; we commence  the necessary work-information sharing.

Then Susan talks about her grand-twins, Cleary and Will, the tiny, sweet children of Laura and Josh. Barely over a year old, they are finally on the growth chart at their pediatrician’s.  Granted, they’ve just climbed on to that chart, topping out at two and three per cent, but they’ve arrived at that comforting ‘normal’ range.  (I think of how small Jim, in the 98th percentile for length and weight, seemed as a baby, and how fragile; I try to imagine parenting such amazing little morsels of humanity.)

After a very chaotic first year of life–a year involving long hospital stays, feeding crises, surgery, care issues, and, I know, nights and days of pain and worry for their parents and grandparents,–those babies, like any other babies their age,  are walking.

The sun shines in, and Susan and I move on to talk about what we’re reading, but there’s a happy grounding to our talk. I think about those miracle babies.  And now: a new chapter in their young and exciting lives begins.

What a nice lunch.

I head back to work.

*******

New chapters and new babies are on my mind tonight after I pack up my desk, and, driving home, I wonder how things are going in Maryland. That’s where Alison is making my friend Sandee–my friend who first knew me in Grade Five, when a tiny nun half our size and twice our ferocity terrorized us both (Oh, we could tell you stories…)–a first-time grandma.

Alison and John’s baby is a boy; the delivery’s a scheduled C-section; the name will be revealed on FaceBook. That tiny boy will be a new life, of course, and he’ll create new lives for Alison and John, who become, in that twinkling when they hear his first affronted wail, Mom and Dad.  And Sandee and Don take on new personae, too–they’re suddenly Grandma and Grandpa Hulihan, and they’re parents, now, of Mama Alison and Auntie Colleen.

And, here he is!  Welcome, Matthew Philip!
And, here he is! Welcome, Matthew Philip!

********

After dinner, Jim pulls out the vacuum, I get the duster; Mark carts some extraneous office furniture out to the sun porch. I organize the dining room, the cubbies, the shelves–tackle some of that clutter.  We’re getting ready for a special visit. Mark’s Mom, Pat, arrives on Saturday. It will be her first visit to Zanesville; it will be her first Easter as a widow.  A new kind of life for Pat, too.

We will show her the wonders of our adopted homeplace–the Y Bridge, the gardens, John Glenn’s boyhood house, the restaurant built with barnwood from Agnes Moorehead’s farm.  We’ll take road trips, we’ll hit book stores (Pat, whom I met when we worked together at the Book Nook, is a voracious reader), and we’ll watch movies in the family room; we’ll cook up big meals, and we’ll visit some of our favorite funky eateries.

We’ll talk and drink coffee,  maybe play some cards, and we’ll get to know Pat in her new role. Pat, after Angelo’s death. Pat, grieving, but moving forward.

**********

Just itching to open...
Just itching to open…

The daffodils have pushed up quickly and insistently, so fast, in fact, it seems like we watched them grow in Disney stop-action.  The first tentative blooms have opened.  By Sunday–Easter Sunday,–we’ll have a Wordsworth sea of those nodding yellow heads.

After a tough, dark winter: the Spring,–a time of rejoicing, and a time of somberly marking what’s been lost to the cold, cruel season.  A time to celebrate–first cries, first steps.  Anticipated blooming. Unexpected change.

I love the contemplative time January 1st offers every year, the fillip at the end of Christmas, the beginning of a new cycle.  But this time, this season, this Eastertide, always feels to me like the real beginning.  Here we emerge–sometimes from a cozy, dark quiet; sometimes from a deep and abiding sadness; and sometimes, from a season that handed us both–into the light.

Interior growth stirs; it inches; it parallels the real and raucous blooms of spring–the first bold yellows of daffs and forsythia mellowing into the lavendars of hardy lilacs and tender violets, the many tulip hues, the bold scent of lilies.

We’re launching, now, into future.  We must go forward,–no choice–, even when that means leaving something precious behind.  But it means, too, celebrations of new life and new progress; it means embracing new roles and seeing new possibilities.

Some years those changes, those beginnings, are subtle; I have to search for them; they’re like violets shying into the uncut grass.

This year, my head spins with all the loud, proud, joyful shouts of Spring, of time’s changes, of new life. This year insists I take time and be with this. I hope I’ll be awake and brave and strong enough to take this season’s lessons all the way home to my heart.

Whatever holiday or holy day you acknowledge, whatever seasonal joys you lift your face to, I wish you all the blessings of this amazing season.