The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Losing Martha May 25, 2015

IMG_1392Martha Ward Carver and husband Francis Carver. He was a talented musician, and in 1947, at the age of 24,  he was the youngest ever conductor of the United States Marine Band. Martha recalled taking me to hear “Johnny Denver” at SPAC when I was young, as Frank had played flute in the orchestra. She also recalled bringing her whiskey sour along in a peanut butter jar. I love the stories that are being retold in this final chapter. People come and go, but stories live on. A consolation for our hearts as we prepare for goodbye.

______________________________________

This is a first. I’m not writing this post from my favorite chair, but rather writing this in Martha’s kitchen, while she lies in bed, waiting for me. Or Mike. Or whomever it is that will come to help her get up and going. The night nurse just left, and she went over the instructions for Martha’s care. I suppose I get it, but I’m stalling. Cuz I don’t want to go there. I know it doesn’t matter in the end, and I’m making too big a deal of it, but still… I am not looking forward to helping her with a bedpan, to wiping her, to dressing her, hoisting her and getting her to sit upright, and then, finally, into her transport chair. I don’t want to see her old lady naked body, I don’t want to feel the vulnerability of a woman who, as of this very moment, still seems as indomitable – and formidable – as an Army sergeant. I don’t want to know her as a frail, ancient woman. On some level she’s acquiesced to her current station in life – still assuring us all “she doesn’t mind a little dirt”. That the ever-present grime and dust covering every surface in her home is there by choice, and not because she’s unable to tend to it. She assures us that a wet bed is tolerable. It doesn’t phase her, she says. All this is her way of maintaining control. And control is at the heart of the present issue: death is the one thing Martha cannot control. No matter what she says or doesn’t say, I know it’s got to be on her mind these days. She may be stubborn, but she’s not stupid.

___________________________________________________

Yesterday, when I sat through my first shift with her, I watched her in the long, silent moments, and wondered what on earth she was living for now. Mike had established his vineyard there, horses were happily grazing in the fields, the barn had been lovingly maintained, and all of it would one day be home to him and his family. Her affairs were in order, both legal and personal. She was now almost completely blind, hard of hearing, and paralyzed on one side from a stroke decades ago. She could no longer walk, or even stand on her own. What on earth was keeping her here? The only reason I could come up with was fear. Martha’s been a strong atheist all her life and feels that when it’s over here, it’s all just plain over. While I’ve known atheists to feel the same and face death with no fear – I think that the opposite could easily be possible too. She might well be petrified of not existing. Either way, me personally, I don’t see that there’s necessarily anything to fear. If there’s nothing beyond this existence – then what’s the difference? What the hell would you know? You’d be gone, after all. Kinda like going under for surgery – or even simply going to sleep. You’re gone, and you don’t even know it. And if the other scenario is true – if our awareness simply moves into another plane of existence filled with eternal peace and light and populated with those who’ve died before us – then that promises to be pretty awesome. So what’s the big deal? As long as you don’t fear being relegated to a fiery, eternal hell (which as an atheist is not an option), then what have you got to lose? Whether simply ceasing to be, or floating off through the ether in complete peace and love, as I see it, you stand only to gain from the experience. Either scenario seems like a pretty good deal to me. But this is not a conversation I’m brave enough to initiate with Martha. So instead, I watch and wonder, and wait…

Today is my second day with Martha. We made the choice for hospice and home care too recently to cover all the shifts this week (she must have 24/7 care now) – and this being Memorial Day weekend the shifts didn’t fill as easily as they might have otherwise. Thank goodness my son’s finally old enough to be left alone without too much concern. I told him that I’d likely have to be here tomorrow morning too. That disappointed him. He told me that our lazy breakfasts together were “kinda what made the weekends special”. While none of us really knows how long Martha will hang in here, we’re all pretty sure she’s got enough steam in her to last at least another month (her 89th birthday is July 19th. I suspect she’ll stick it out til then). So that means I’ll be here at the farm quite a bit in the near future; it’s likely our weekend breakfasts will be on hold for a while we wait this out. Because that’s exactly what we’re doing these days: we are literally waiting for Martha to die.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this time I honestly wish she’d just go. Even since yesterday she’s slowed. Not enough to prevent her from swearing like a sailor at me this morning when I took up my post, ripping her oxygen tube out and throwing it at me with her good arm. I didn’t take it personally. I knew she was still coming to terms with the idea that someone must always be with her. “You and your mother are hell-bent on controlling me” she yelled. I didn’t respond. This can’t be easy for her. She’s still as sharp as ever, so being prisoner in her ancient, non-responsive body has truly got to suck. I had tried unsuccessfully to sit her up, so by then there was nothing to do but wait until Michael arrived to help. She continued to hiss at me, but I didn’t respond. There would have been no point to it. I sat down and began looking through a dusty copy of “Yankee Expressions” while she continued to cuss and tell me all that I’d done to annoy her. “Elizabeth, how in hell do you push my buttons so?” she asked. I paused. “It’s a talent.” I replied. “Ha! That was a very good answer!” she bellowed. I was pretty sure I heard her smile.

Martha didn’t sleep well last night, and so she’s nodding off in her chair now. I too am finding this business of sitting around and doing nothing all day is a bit tiring, and while I’m getting good work done filing and organizing my many photographs, I’m getting sleepy too. Drives me nuts that it’s sunny and warm outside. Makes me sad that it’s a holiday weekend, and I can’t be home with my son. But I scold myself as I remember that this is the woman who taught me how to read music. This is the woman who hosted me as a child through lambing season, the woman from whom I learned about haying, gardening, about interesting words and old-fashioned kitchen implements. Certainly she instilled in me a respect for the importance of knowing ones cardinal directions. When someone at the nursing home had recently asked what our relationship was, I offered that Martha was really my second mother. “Does that sound right to you?” I’d asked her, and she’d nodded. In my family we don’t speak very easily about our intimate feelings. So this alone was pretty big. Yeah, Martha’s had a lot to do with the person I am today, so I need to be here. There will be plenty of fine Spring days to come. This is where I need to be right now.

It helps that I’ve been through this process with my father. Now I’m familiar with some of the landmarks of the end days, and I keep an eye out for signs. But no matter how aware and ready one feels, it’s still a strange waiting game. Hard to grasp that this is a process a that awaits each and every last one of us. If I could have one wish for all of my companions on the planet, it would be for a swift and dignified demise, free of fear and pain, and in the company of those whom we love. Life is not for wimps. Neither, it seems, is death.

IMG_0988Mike, Martha’s favorite person in the world, checks in to see how she’s doing. This guy has so much on his plate – a family, a new job, a vineyard – and Martha. He’s handling it all so well.

IMG_0971Martha always enjoys hearing “Simple Gifts”.

IMG_1005Martha’s hound dog Masie runs to join Elihu as he visits with the horses. I did the very same thing as a child – and the fields look very much the same now as they did back then. Even the apple tree in the field remains. There’s a poignant quality to the afternoon light over the field, but yet at the same time there’s a hopeful feeling here too. The farm existed long before all of us were here, and it will likely continue on long after we’re gone.

________________________________________________

Post Script: Elihu often enjoys hearing me read the posts aloud before I publish them; in fact he’s offered many helpful and insightful editorial suggestions over the years which I’ve used and very much appreciated. Today, however, when I read this to him, he responded angrily. He was aghast that I spoke like this about Martha. He felt strongly that I shouldn’t publish such writing. I never discount his feelings, and in fact I’m sure that if he feels like this, so too do others. So I apologize if this post is distasteful to some. I hope you’ll understand that I feel it’s imperative to write with as much honesty as possible. I also feel strongly that many of us here in the US need to learn how to talk about death far more openly and comfortably than we do at present.

 

Sunday Lull May 17, 2015

My kid is in my bed, playing on his 3DS, the volume’s up on the accompanying soundtrack which, after the nineteenth time is annoying enough, let alone the nineteen-hundredth time. He’ll mute it if I ask, but I don’t, because the music seems to add to his enjoyment of the game. This is, after all, Sunday morning. That island in the week where nothing can touch you (if you aren’t a church-goer, that is!). It’s the one day that I let the chickens out a little later, the one morning when the clock tells me it’s 6 am and my heart doesn’t tighten at the prospect of the morning rituals before me… I enjoy my bedroom’s comfy chair on weekend mornings, and although the seasonal bouquets of lilacs and lily of the valley are no longer at their fragrant peak, having them here is a rare treat, and confirms for me that we’re still in that magical and short-lived time of the year I love so well. It’s a Sunday at home in the Springtime, and Elihu and I are together, each doing something that we love to do. Things don’t get much better than this.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been given a couple of unexpected gifts which have really helped to lift my spirits too. I guess I didn’t realize that I presented to the world as being so in need – maybe living in a constant state of never-quite-enough has dulled me a bit to the fact that not all folks live like this – and that there may exist a chance that I myself might not always live this way. While it might be my goal, I’ve never been able to imagine a time when Elihu and I could live without food stamps or assistance to heat our home. I suppose the goal is to glean an income from the Studio one day, yet still, that seems so far off, I can’t quite see it. Currently, our income is most often less than our basic living expenses, with my stalwart mother stepping in to make up the difference. It’s the little things that make it impossible to get ahead – unexpected car repairs, new shoes, haircuts, even shampoo and laundry detergent – things that by themselves don’t seem too much, but when they arrive one after the other can clean out a checking account pretty quick.

Lately I’ve been keeping track of these expenses and trying to nail down where my money goes and why it is I can’t seem to get enough… And one of these recent gifts was membership into a program which helps to get such control over money. The timing of this gift was perfect. Just as I’d been making columns, listing my costs and my income and beginning to use cash only instead of debit cards, this arrived. A woman I’d known from another lifetime as a kid in my hometown had gotten this program for me with the provision that I follow it for the next ninety days. I am so there. Can’t say I’m not a bit nervous – I still haven’t gotten those new gigs nailed down yet, so I’m still short on the income side. That means spending still less, and when you already live so modestly, it’s hard to know how to do that. Reduced my cable to basic, my garbage removal to once a month, trying to unplug the power supplies around the house, turn things off… Still, it’s daunting, this idea of breaking even, let alone of saving.

And then there was the second miracle gift – a person with whom I have some musician friends in common gave me an unexpected gift of cash, which has allowed me to put a little away, as well as pay the electric bill left over from a too-long winter. How did these things happen? Hard to understand, and for me, hard to actually accept the help. I waffled over the offers for a while, before I realized that if I were in a position to help someone else, I’d do it. And my grandmother used to tell me that the best way to receive a gift is to simply say ‘thank you’ – and mean it. I did, and I do. And I’ll be living my gratitude for these acts of kindness by continuing to push up and out of my situation. I’ve got lists, plans and goals. Sometimes I don’t think I’ve made much progress in my time here, but then I’ll look back over the past six years here and realize that a whole lot has happened. And although the steps are tiny, they are forward-moving, and after a while, baby steps actually do get you somewhere else.

Monday morning will come soon enough, and I mean to meet it with enthusiasm and hope. I often say to my kid that this is not a planet for wimps. And me, sometimes I feel mighty wimpy. So I’ll use this lull in my life to recharge and regroup. Church or not – what a blessing is a Sunday morning.

 

Mid May Day May 12, 2015

At this time of year we’re accustomed to things happening fast – holidays, end-of-year projects and performances, graduations (and for us birthdays too), but this year life seems to be happening faster than it has in Springs past. The rapid change in our climate – from forty degree days to ninety degree days – has played a part for sure. Trees have leafed out almost instantly; apple trees – which have in the past enjoyed lingering blossoms for many days, even sometimes more than a week – are now opening and shedding petals inside of two days on account of the intense and sudden heat. Our daffodils were here and gone in a few short days. This year there were very few cool days to sustain all of the new blooms. Just this evening it’s cooled off, but a passing shower has caused a few more blossoms to fall before they might have otherwise. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but what the hell. I am. Cuz me, I love Spring. In particular, I cherish those first few weeks of lovely, temperate air and not-too-cool nights. That rich, perfumed air that glides soothingly across the body… It’s the way I might imagine heaven to feel… Not sure if it’s just my age and my demographic’s propensity to exaggerate the glory of years gone by – or if it really is true that things seem different this year. I dunno, I can’t help but feel that this Spring we were jilted. After such a protracted and snow-covered winter I’d like a little time to shift gears, ya know? Jumping from Norway to Vietnam in the space of a few days is just a bit too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m savoring it all. I spent a good half hour today outside just smelling the passing breeze and marveling over the intense colors. I cut lilacs and lily of the valley and apple blossoms and filled my house with them.

I’ve opened all the windows and doors in hopes of transmitting these delights to every dark, dusty corner of my winter-weary home. Finally our furnace can take a well-deserved break, and we can begin to re-learn what it is to attune ourselves to the chores that wait for us on the outside…

IMG_9728Kid’s been playing a lot these days. He loves this instrument. Proud Mama.

IMG_9784His bass gets just as much love. I shouldn’t brag about this – but is was kinda cute to see him twirling his bass on stage – and then coordinating a few more with classmate Fiona. I suppose that sort of thing isn’t encouraged in the classical world. !

IMG_9855A nice shot of mom and Elihu after the concert. Apparently, someone was making goofy bunny ears just above my head. !!

IMG_9741A lot happened that evening –  it was my birthday, and Elihu had two gigs; before he played with his school orchestra at Zankel Music Center, he had a short job playing his djembe for a gallery opening for an exhibit of portraits shot by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson, who accompanied local Karen Flewelling on a recent trip to Madagascar as she visited villages, dug wells and bought livestock for the locals through her project “Drilling for Hope”. Elihu donated his drumming as well as a part of his egg sales from his own small business called “Eggs of Hope”. This is the note he wrote to Karen.

IMG_9920A few days later we made preparations for a Mothers’ Day supper at our house… we collected fiddleheads by the side of the road. (At the exhibit Elihu had mentioned in passing how ‘good the fiddlehead hors d’oevres were’ – when I asked where on earth he’d gotten them, he told me they were being passed out at the gallery. He took one, because, after all, ‘he wasn’t getting paid for the gig’. ! That’s thinking like a musician.

IMG_9915These are just a bit too opened up, but will do.

IMG_9929A big harvest.

IMG_9934Later on we had a very casual supper. But it was fun. Mom and I had martinis and we all just kind gnoshed our way through a meal, trying bits of this and that. (We ended up having roast lamb the next night!) Yes, that’s a baby chick Elihu’s holding. Until recently they were still in the living room, but thankfully now they’ve moved out. Still living under heat lamps, but on their way to becoming self-sustaining chickens.

IMG_9937For mother’s day my mom gave me a vegetable spiral cutter (an essential tool I’ve come to think!) and I gave her a retro-designed portable record player with built-in speakers. Man, I might have to borrow that thing.

IMG_9939
Grabbed the first LP on my shelf downstairs… Heartbreaking to see how the mildew has consumed them… This was fun stuff. If you want to hear what super old-school Hollywood sounds like, check out Tallulah Bankhead. Wow.

IMG_9597One can never have enough flowers. Another thoughtful gift from a student.

IMG_9086Earlier, on May Day, we’d brought Martha a May Basket of live flowers – on the condition that we take them back again after they went by, so that we could plant the bulbs in our garden. Yes, she’s still with us. But we’re getting closer to the end for sure.

Elihu sang for some of the nursing home residents.

IMG_9156Now we’re downtown at Congress Park, the place Elihu has been catching ducks for half his life. Much of the park is currently under construction, so there were far fewer ducks than usual. Nevertheless, my little birdman got his drake for the day.

IMG_9210Which is cooler, the Lamborghini in the park or Elihu’s awesome new shiny Pokemon card? It’s a tie.

IMG_9177Elihu got back into busking after a long hiatus.

IMG_9192We ran into magician Steven Brundage, another regular on Broadway. He too was into Pokemon cards as a kid, and so he did some card tricks with Elihu’s deck. So much fun.

IMG_9197We see the trick about as up close as anyone can – and he still totally had us. Mind-blowing, really. He has his own standard repertoire which he executes flawlessly. Steve told us there’s a saying about magicians: An amateur has hundreds of tricks he can do OK, a professional has just a few he can do really well. He also attributed time spent in prep as a big part of the success of a trick. Please don’t tell me though, I still want to believe. !

This kid had the good fortune to have a video go viral this past year; since then he’s made appearances on a bunch of national shows (Good Morning America among them) and happily his career has enjoyed a boost as a result. Such a sweet young man, we’re so glad for him.

IMG_8724The short-lived daffodils. So lovely.

IMG_8732Notice how little green there was just a week ago.

IMG_0232And look how different just a week later!

IMG_9001We’ve had a frenzy of activity on the feeder in these busy days of nest-building and family-making. This is a grackle – notice the yellow eye, the iridescent blue head and brown body. They’re about blue jay sized.

IMG_9858We’ve only had goldfinches a time or two before. Lucky!

IMG_8653More exciting still was this male cardinal, who was soon followed by his mate. We’ve seen maybe one in our almost seven years here.

IMG_8911But this was an absolute first. A friggin red-winged blackbird on our feeder! And he made his ‘Kwong ka reee’ sound too – right there in front of us! A major event in this household!

IMG_0071Our beautiful ornamental apple tree. It’s splitting down the middle and is likely not long for this world, so we enjoy it all the more. (That’s Austin, our goofy guinea fowl in the foreground. Our comic relief around the joint.)

IMG_0109This is the fruit-bearing apple tree further down the hill.

IMG_0111The house as seen from the white-blossomed tree.

IMG_0034On Sunday the tree was covered in buds…

IMG_0103…by today they were at their peak, then a rain began to break the blossoms apart, and the breeze sent them flying like confetti through the air…

IMG_0124

My West Coast friends may have become desensitized to the arresting quality of this color, having the bougainvilla bloom all year round as they do. But for us Yankees, this vibrant coral is a virtual shock to our system. Boo-yah!  The flowering quince is back!

IMG_0128Found this mini-tree of a wasp’s nest on a wintered-over tarp. Minute and amazing.

IMG_0214Driving down our long driveway Elihu took in all the scents of a newly-growing forest just after a rain. Aah..

IMG_0181At home we picked some of my all-time, no-question-about-it favorite flower, the lily of the valley, and Elihu assembled them carefully in a tiny vase.

IMG_0175His arrangement on the left, Thumbs Up in the background on the right.

IMG_0138A look at our house from across the bridge.

IMG_0247A similar view with the bleeding heart by the setting sun’s light. Next week this time things will look different still.

IMG_0054How we like to spend a few moments each day. We’re very fond of just doing nothing in particular – and doing it together.

 

Fifty One Finished May 6, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older,Pics,Waldorf Life — wingmother @ 10:53 pm

Some folks with an eye on the more esoteric spiritual news of the world may be aware that 2015 promises to be a year of remarkable and sometimes heretofore unexperienced opportunities. As I reflect on a very important year of growth and new possibilities in my own life, I can’t help but wonder if this might be true. Many readers and friends no doubt will think this all bunk; that things happen as they will, actions bring about consequences and it’s as simple as that. But me, I believe there is something to this 2015 being a year of unprecedented possibilities. This is the last day of my 51st year, and just recently, I had something of a minor revelation…

Recently, I was in the garage, swearing under my breath as I sorted out all the chick-raising paraphernalia that needs to be unearthed once a year, cleaned and brought into the house in order to temporarily house these fuzzy newborns in our living room. My eyes landed on an old licence plate nailed to the wall; one of the last mementos I’d kept from my growing up in Wilmette, Illinois. My father had chosen the plate – long before chosen numbers were considered vanity plates (or required extra fees). The plate read “ELI 51″, a reference to both Elias Clark, a mentor of his from college, and also a nod to Elihu Yale (the philanthropist and fellow who paid for Yale’s first building, hence the name of the institution itself). Rather than choosing his graduating year, dad had for some reason opted to memorialize his freshman year there. As my eyes landed on the plate, I had a thought. I was 51. It too, was my freshman year – the year in which I’d begun to rebuild my father’s Studio. The year in which so very many things were beginning anew – from career, to my duties as a parent, my social life, even my health. My name, of course, was also referenced on the plate. And if I took 2015 – and made a simple reversal of the numbers, it revealed my current age in this transformative year. I’d tossed so many of our old license plates – yet had saved this one. And now, it seemed almost a sign of confirmation. This, my 51st year, had been huge in many ways. Wish I’d realized it sooner, but better late than never, I suppose.

I grabbed the plate off the garage wall and brought it in the house. For some reason, it lived on my kitchen table for a few days while I began to ponder more deeply just exactly what 2015 – and my 51st year – had brought me. For one, it was my first year without my father. And second, it was the year in which I began to address the reconstruction of his Studio in earnest. At first glance, it might not seem like such a great year; events began to appear just when I stared to despair that this was all a horrible misjudgment of mine to think I was equipped to take on such a project. Panic attacks resurfaced with a vengeance, I began to put on weight, and there was less money coming in than ever before…. yet still, other things began to happen which offered some hope that maybe, maybe things weren’t as terrifying as they seemed at first glance. My 51st year has been a strange and internally turbulent time, but no matter, it’s been a time of growth. It’s been the first year in my nearly seven years here – since my surprise divorce, and the intense heartbreak and betrayal that came with it (not to mention the cross-country move and separation from friends and places I loved so well) that I’ve begun to feel as if there might actually be a happy future yet ahead of me.

Tonight I played piano for the eighth grade play. We wrapped up an intense month of rehearsals and performances. I’m so very proud of all the kids, in awe of their teacher who directed and produced the whole affair, and very relieved it’s over. It leaves me tonite feeling happy, satisfied and full of inspiration for all the creative experiences yet to come in the years ahead here in Greenfield.

All that being said, I’m not going to pretend I’m down with this aging stuff; I’m more than disappointed that age is beginning to show itself in my body, and I’m a bit pissed off that my neck is starting to look like someone else’s. But all in all, there’s so much more to be equally jazzed about, so tonite I’m not quite as nostalgic and backward-looking as I usually am on the eve of a birthday. I’m over the symbolic half century mark, and my days of youthful beauty (and that certain power that comes with it) are behind me now, but it doesn’t sting quite so much. There’s so very much to look forward to, and I’m grateful to the stars for all the opportunity ahead.

IMG_9521Kinda crazy that I carried this thing with me tonight, but here it is. Last night of Elizabeth being 51.

IMG_9593From my dear, sweet piano student Virginia, who sang beautifully tonight. She got me flowers! So humbled.

IMG_9589Here she is, this wonderful soul.

IMG_9594I love love love flowers. The kindest gift, given in love.

IMG_9524He came nine days before the 7th, but I still consider this child my best birthday gift ever.

 

Party Time May 4, 2015

It’s the season for birthday parties again here at the Hillhouse. Elihu turned twelve on the 28th of April, and I will be turning 52 on the seventh of May. For all intents and purposes, he and I are forty years apart. This is the one week we like to joke that ‘we’re not the same age’. (I had him nine days shy of my fortieth birthday. That was not a great birthday – I was fat, unkempt and exhausted. I remember bursting into tears that day, and my mother, whom I was so lucky to have there for that first, whirlwind week, responded by laughing. She assured me it wasn’t so bad. Turned out, it wasn’t.)

And here we are, more than a decade later, Elihu embarking on his thirteenth year. He’s lived here now for more than half his life, and we’ve established a nice groove of traditions too. He simply can’t wait for his birthday party each year; days before the event I’ll find him staring off into space and when I ask him what he’s thinking of, he tells me it’s his party. Each year he hopes it’ll be the biggest, funnest party yet, and each year he his seems to get his wish. Just one week ago, while we didn’t have the sun and warmth of today, we had a house filled to the rafters with folks of all ages, coming and going, music and laughter upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside…. And, of course, we had a most delicious cake, which sported a menacing Pokemon character that greatly impressed all the sixth grade boys present.

The night before his party I myself had a night of partying which is quite uncharacteristic of my current life. The credit union where I bank was throwing a party for its members – and having never been to the local casino and track before (crazy, right?) I decided I’d go. They even gave us some cash for gaming, so I tried my luck. Result? I lost all that I bet, then won it all back. I cashed out where I started! Ha! In my world I’d call that winning.

For many folks the holidays – from November to early January – are their busiest months. But not so for us – in addition to birthdays and mother’s day (not such a biggie here) come end-of-year plays, recitals and projects, and all of that makes Spring the most heavily-committed time of year. For me personally, Halloween and Birthday party season are the big landmarks on our calendar. Each year after I successfully navigate the logistics of a busy Spring, I experience a great flush of relief, because for us, life is truly at its best when it’s at its simplest. While I love a good party, enjoy the company of my friends, and of course I cherish the memories we make – the two of us just being at home after it’s all over and done – that’s my favorite party time of all.

IMG_8064At the Harness Track. Not to be confused with the historic flat track that Saratoga Springs is famous for.

IMG_8065These guys race with carts and drivers – and these horses run with a different gate than the horses at the flat track. The course is also a lot shorter (I like that you can see the whole thing without needing binoculars). That’s about all I know. The place is about eight miles as the crow flies from my house, and we can see the incredibly bright lights from our perch on the hill. It used to annoy me, but I’m used to it now.

IMG_8058This is the room where it’s all about the runners. Monitors line the walls, keeping patrons up on all the many other races taking place in different parts of the country. No slot machines here. Folks I saw were mostly bleary-eyed and drinking coffee as they studied pages of sheets filled with data and stats and start times. This part didn’t really scream ‘fun’ to me. (But for some, this is the culture. This is why they’re in Saratoga.) Immediately after taking this shot I was approached by a security guy who asked me please not to film or record the patrons. He leaned in close to me, lowered his voice and took a certain pleasure in explaining why; “You see, some of the men might not be here with their wives. And some of these women might be out with someone other than their husband. Ya get what I mean?” he nodded, conspiratorially, as I slowly began to nod my head with the revelation. Gotcha. So this is how the other half lives. And so close to home. Who knew?

IMG_8072I’m about to eat at the huge restaurant that overlooks the track.

IMG_8076The view from my table. This is pretty exciting. I can see how people can get caught up in it.

IMG_8078There they go…

IMG_8118…and here I go, off for my first-ever night of gambling. (If ten dollars in counts as gambling, that is.)

IMG_8097Slot machine stupor fills the hall – as does a harmonically resonant Bb above middle C, the result of a constant dinging and humming from thousands of machines. Talk about the stuff of panic! Shoulda brought ear plugs.

IMG_8124I have ‘Zero valuable points’. Love it.

IMG_8111But things are about to change…

IMG_8140Ta-da! Back where I started. Fine by me!

IMG_8141The gals from the credit union and me. Haven’t done this full-on party with the posse stuff in years…

IMG_8145A little dancing, and now what, ladies? Shots? Ok. Ya talked me into it… cheers!

IMG_8174And now for a completely different kind of party… This little fella comes out each year to mark the easy-to-miss driveway.

IMG_8178Things start out so peaceful and tidy…

IMG_8235The sixth grade boys. Elihu is so happy!

IMG_8326The cake arrives!

IMG_8334For those not in the know, that’s the Pokemon character Mega Rayquaza on the cake. (??) To use the vernacular of the sixth grade boys there present: “Sweet!”

IMG_8319A little jamming in the basement. Emma plays drums in the high school bands. She knows what she’s doing!

IMG_8298The downstairs rig.

IMG_8341The upstairs rig. ! This is a kid who has it all.

IMG_8379How lucky were we that Elihu’s class teacher, Mr. Esty came? And he brought both of his sons too!

IMG_8377Miss Jessica chills in our favorite Eames knockoff chair. Vinyl, not leather. Still gorgeous. You too, sister!

IMG_8271Outside the chickens provide entertainment.

IMG_8276Thumbs Up enjoys a smooch from classmate Norah, who is a talented skier, pianist, and bee-keeper.

IMG_8250Inside, it’s all about the newly hatched chicks.

IMG_8347Alex gets a turn.

IMG_8258For me the highlight of the day was seeing my eighty-year-old mother ride off on Chad’s four-wheeler. !!! He was incredibly generous and helped many of the kids to ride on their own too.

IMG_8228That’s neighbor Ryan on the left and my mom on the right. Can you believe he’s in kindergarten?? He’s very talented and naturally skilled at riding.

IMG_8439Cally entertains us by blowing bubbles – with her lips! You can always count on this girl to add interest to any occasion.

IMG_8358Ok, so somewhere in the world someone’s probably made a beer float, ya think? What the hell, just to be sure, let’s try one ourselves. Genesee Cream Ale and birthday cake-flavored ice cream… here goes nothing…

IMG_8361Ok mom, waddya think? That bad? Here, let me try…

IMG_8360That bad.

IMG_8433Elihu got some flying in, too (that light blue thing is his quadcopter). No day is complete without this activity in some form on another.

IMG_8380Vivianna and Norah chill on the couch. Elihu gave out little fans as party favors – a nod to his love of aviation.

IMG_8402The party’s not complete until the Carrico clan arrives!

IMG_8472All three Carrico girls made some noise at the piano while grownups chatted and Elihu got lost in his 3DS.

IMG_8496These girls know all about chickens. We got some of our current flock from them as chicks last year.

IMG_8416There was a seventy-eight year spread in ages at the party! Mom and baby Rachel.

IMG_8423Makers and fixers of anything under the sun, the Carrico men take an interest in the design of the antique rocking chair.

IMG_8500The party is officially over when this bunch goes. Goodbye, thanks for coming! We had so much fun visiting!

IMG_8161Too bad a school day followed; lil man was still wiped the next morning. Well worth it though.

A weekend of party times we won’t soon forget.

 

Preparation April 25, 2015

Such a strange mix of life and death going on here in Greenfield. Elders passing, babies expected, pets dying, chicks hatching…. And yet not for a moment does it slow. Every day life presents its obligations without fail; students must be taught, supper must be made, rehearsals must be prepared for, and dust bunnies nestled comfortably in the corners of my house grow steadily in size, reminding me that they aren’t going to vacuum themselves. The wind blew the porch door open this morning and the entire flock decided to take shelter there for a few hours, leaving generous-sized poops all over a formerly clean-swept floor. I could cry, but at least it’s a sunny day, and good for starting all over again.

Tomorrow is Elihu’s twelfth birthday party, and there’s so much to do before then. Meanwhile, Martha lies in the hospital, getting nearer to her death. She’s certainly fooled us all before, rallying from her hospital bed to her post in the farm’s kitchen, but it won’t be happening this time. We who love her have even finally conceded that she will not be dying at home as we’d all very much hoped for. It’s simply not possible; Martha is far too weak. This time there will be no rehab. A bad UTI has had her in and out of reality the last few days, and that was a shocker for all of us. We had never seen the indomitable Martha like this. Signs of fear and agitation reminded me of my dad in his final days. I knew it was mostly due to the infection, but still. We’d turned a corner.

Last night, after Elihu’s school spring assembly, we’d gone to visit Martha. We were relieved to see her much restored to her old self. Elihu sang for her, and mom and I made small talk and related news of the day. (I’d been to see her earlier that day and enjoyed the privilege of singing her to sleep with “April Showers”.) When we left, Elihu leaned in to kiss her, and he told her he loved her. “I love you too,” she answered, and then offered “You are one unusual child.” We knew what she meant. I myself had been honored the day before – in the midst of an infection-induced episode – with the only open acknowledgement of affection I would likely ever hear from Martha… I told her I loved her, and she responded “I should hope so!” She’d also told me to ‘stop being a sissy’ and help her out of the bed. When I told her it just wasn’t possible she’d scolded me, telling me I’d better help her because she’d known me since I was ‘one young girl’. Even in her altered state, she was all Martha.

When we left her last night, she was still all Martha. When I asked how she’d felt, she admitted to me that she was tired. Very tired, all the time. On this bright and sunny morning when a new chick has begun to peep from inside its shell and a new life is ready to appear at any moment, I’m so keenly aware that just a few miles away, Martha lies in her bed, waiting for her own transformation.

IMG_7945This little gal/guy came a few days early. (Each year we time it such that the eggs in our incubator hatch on the day of Elihu’s birthday party.)

IMG_7801Mom shows Elihu the grave in which she and Andrew buried their cat only moments earlier. Ginger had to be put down without warning in the wake of a cardiovascular trauma. Such a shock. Mom doesn’t need more loss at this time. Neither does my emotionally fragile brother.

IMG_7803Little Annie, now at least sixteen, follows Elihu and Mom. We’ve all told Annie she’s not allowed to die. ! She acts like a kitten; those who don’t know her all assume she is. She’s a precious spot of joy in mom’s world.

IMG_7581Mom, Martha and Elihu, a few days before she took a turn for the worse. She was very present at the time of this photo, and very much herself. Even got a little vid of her reciting a poem she’d written years ago for a childhood friend (who died just last month. This life/death stuff is getting intense. Ich.)

Martha used to write little ditties like this for special occasions. Here’s her poem:

It was May 1st, 1922, now that you’ve come to ask it

That Mrs. James of Chatham, Mass

Got Viv in her May basket.

IMG_7898Not the selfie I’d like to see, but I had to take it.

IMG_7889Can’t remember ever holding Martha’s hand in my adult life. She even told me she was afraid. This is a woman who has never, ever shown vulnerability. I assured her things would be ok. And they will.

IMG_7902Elihu played Simple Gifts on his alto recorder. It’s her favorite song.

At first he was reluctant to play, as Martha shares a room, but he did – and see how Martha enjoys it. Glad he played.

IMG_7899And then he says goodbye and tells her he loves her.

IMG_7973Ending the night with a very fine performance by Mr. Esty’s sixth grade class at the Waldorf School’s spring assembly. They sang a song from Schoolhouse Rock about interjections. Wow! A big hit.

Here’s the performance. Worth a listen. Some may remember this from Saturday mornings long ago.

IMG_7375I’m crazy-sentimental about everything, and this turning twelve stuff has me – and my lil man too – a little nervous. This relentless marching forward of time is certainly a mixed bag. It’s easy to get nostalgic and long for earlier days, no matter what age you are, and yet there’s still so much ahead to be excited about. I think the best way to prepare for the future is simply to enjoy the present day to its fullest, for one day many years hence, these too will be the good old days.

 

Lining Up April 19, 2015

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

 

 
Luminous Muse

A working composer writes about music (all text © John Manchester 2010 unless otherwise noted)

Eli Glasman

Site of author Eli Glasman

in case i'm gone

No immediate plans.

Desperate Soil Girl

Adventures in Biodynamic Gardening in Rural Newfoundland

Up Hill House

Building a Net Positive House in Upstate New York

My Hike, 2014

I don't want to get to the end of my life and regret that I didn't do this

an eclectic eccentric

art, ceramics, fashion and interior design inspirations

mygardenmychickens

my backyard garden in holliston

Seasonsgirl

For seasons of life, the changing seasons, and the seasoning we all love to cook with.

sethsnap

Photographs from my world.

Circles in the Sand

DISTRACTED HOUSEWIFE, MOTHER, WRITER & BLOGGER, CHASING MY TAIL IN DUBAI

Little Explorer's Blog

a world of words

A Chicago Sojourn

A journey through the architecture and urban landscape of Chicago - from industrial zones to Mid-Century suburbs and all points between.

AirportsMadeSimple

Your Stories, My Stories, Our Stories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,225 other followers