The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Guest, Host July 26, 2012

Can’t remember taking such a long time between posts til now. Life has been a flurry of activity this past week. Elihu and I have been the guests of others as we traveled, and now we ourselves have house guests. After we returned from our most recent trip, we had a day to unpack, do laundry and get our house ready for visitors; a mother and daughter have come here from Paris to stay for a couple of weeks. The young girl is almost six, and she and Elihu are fast friends. Both are precocious and as I like to say, ‘fully loaded’ children. As soon as we picked them up at the train station and got them into the back seat, they chattered away nonstop on the drive home. Yesterday they passed several hours in our little pond catching frogs and then spent a few hours inside playing with good old-fashioned toys. I was happy to see them on the living room floor creating a world of  their own with plastic animals, toy cars and blocks. My heart is happy to report that not one video monitor of any sort has been involved in their play. Currently this is a true Waldorf home indeed. The mother herself is in the final stretch of Waldorf training in France, and her daughter starts Waldorf school this fall, and of course, young Master Elihu is very much looking forward to his first, full year beginning this September. A week ago he asked me when school started; he told me he could hardly wait. !

I await my turn in the bathroom now, so finally I have some time to write. I’m not used to having two more people here; it takes much longer to get the troops mobilized. Our guests are staying in Elihu’s room – and while it’s not a problem for us in any way, it does require one slow down and make space for others, as well as modify one’s usual routine. I planned ahead, taking clothes from his drawers and keeping them in my room, so we’re fine, but we’re four folks in a small space, something I readily admit I’m not usually great with. Probably why I don’t enjoy being on the road with a band. Not a lot of personal space. And I’m accustomed to quite a lot of it. (I wouldn’t fare well in urban Japan.) Yet even though we both love our quiet, this little injection of human energy in our tiny home is actually quite nice.

I can’t possibly report on all the magical events of our last trip, but I’ll try to recall some highlights…

We enjoyed a comfortable stay with a family in New Jersey. It was a treat to have meals made and to be relieved of the daily chores of home and farm. Elihu and the two kids had a fabulous time together. We went to the pool where Elihu, emboldened by the presence of the other two kids, was finally able to go in water without any assistance (floatie or human), we went to a zoo, we held birds, and Elihu got some dedicated boy time while I was whisked away to a hair salon for a new ‘do with the girls.

I ran into a woman I’d known from grade school years back in Wilmette, Illinois while walking along the sidewalk of a tiny, oceanside town in New Jersey. Haven’t seen her in over twenty years and a thousand miles, and yet here we both were. Crazy. And in this same town – where my mother herself spent part of her ninth summer – Elihu finally learned what the ocean was in earnest. The waves were so big we were told by the lifeguards not to go in beyond our knees – but the temptation was too great for most of us, and soon we were riding waves the size of which I haven’t seen in years. Elihu, who’d started his visit by vehemently declaring he would get nowhere near the surf, was now mesmerized. By the salt, the ceaseless churning, the way the sand sucked out from beneath his feet when the waves retreated – the whole thing. He ended the day a most enthusiastic convert. I was thrilled that he finally knew. It really is one of my life’s most cherished experiences, and my heart rested happy knowing that Elihu now knew it for himself. I love our little corner of the world, but if I could live near an ocean, I would.

Finally, we made a pilgrimage to Passaic, New Jersey to see the neighborhood in which my father had grown up. Elihu and I were invited inside a home in my father’s old neighborhood (very nearly identical to dad’s, only in reverse; dad’s house was razed in the 80s to make way for a twenty story apartment building) so that Elihu might see how his grandfather had lived when he was a boy. A different time to be sure; there had been a button on the floor in the dining room on which the lady of the house could step, thereby ringing a bell in the kitchen to alert ‘cook’ to come and clear. The woman who lived there recounted how when they’d first moved in, her children had run around the furniture-less house and had made the bell ring so much that it finally expired. Just as well; grand home though it may still be, long gone are the days when cook brings in the next course. (My mother loves to tease my father about growing up with the dining room button – she likes to joke that hers must be broken.) After generously showing us around the first floor of the house, our kind hostess showed us to the grand front door through which we exited. We walked slowly down the steps, trying to imagine ourselves some seventy five years ago on this same spot. Elihu was greatly impressed by the house, and he wondered aloud, almost in tears of frustration (no exaggeration) what this neighborhood must have looked like in his grandfather’s time. We tried to imagine the towering elm trees, the ‘old-timey’ cars moving more slowly down the avenue, we tried to cover our hands over the tall apartment buildings that had begun to take over… we did our very best to try and conjure the scene. It was just what Elihu needed. He’s begun to feel a bit of apprehension at his grandfather’s diminishing condition, and he wants to know all he can about how he grew up. This was a fine end to our trip.

So now I’m home, my head not really able to linger over the images and experiences of the past few weeks. Things keep chugging along, requiring my attention and presence. Tomorrow Fareed arrives to pick Elihu up for the remainder of the summer. He’ll stay over one night (never was this house so full!) and then he and Elihu will leave on the train on Saturday. Our guests will remain for another week, and after they leave, when the last of the summer flurry is over, I will finally enjoy a little time alone before the year starts in again.

 

Leg Two Begins July 21, 2012

It’s the night before our trip. Got Elihu to bed just after nine – and that is amazing. Especially in that he hasn’t been asleep any time before 1 am these past two weeks…

The sounds I hear comfort me. They are the sounds of being home, a place I love to be. The faint ticking of a clock, the purr of a small fan, the laundry gently tumbling around inside the drum, punctuated by the muffled thudding sounds of tennis balls I added to keep towels and blankets light and fluffy. But the anticipation I’m feeling gives the peaceful evening a certain sort of edge. Tomorrow we’re going away again.

Got the chicken sitter booked. The suitcase is laid out in my room on the floor, just about packed with our stuff. Preparations are much smoother this time around. Got it together much easier tonite than this time a couple weeks ago. I’d been a bit out of practice before, but I got it back. Yeah, I remember how to do this. Plus I’m working on keeping it simple. I remember the days when I had to pack for months overseas – and that I had to be able to carry it too. So I learned how to bring less. (For the most part I don’t end up wearing every outfit I’ve brought with me. Do you?) On long trips I hand wash favorites. On short trips I just wear em a bunch of times with simple air-outs in between (making sure to keep my body oft-refreshed to prevent a funk from developing.) I like traveling light, and this will be such a trip. It’s short, our belongings few. Not lots to wear. Not much reason to fret.

What does, however, end up making packing so challenging this time are the ‘extra curriculars’. In this case: phone, phone charger, camera, extra chargeable batteries, battery charger, laptop, charger for laptop, DS game, Diji too, rc helicopters and their various charging cables too. Djemebe and tip jar, just in case. Plastic bucket for pond or sea life. Oh, and books – the ones we’ll read at night and the ones that’ll be read to us as we drive. This isn’t over-the-top crazy, but it requires a skosh of organizational ability. At the very least the project requires a captian, a GC, a head chef; someone to bring all departments together in a shared game plan. And we know who that is, don’t we? I will do the best I can, facing the possible slight dissatisfaction of the lucky young man whose items I am packing. I’ll do it well, but he’ll usually show me how he thinks I could have done it better, sometimes working himself up into quite a lather about it. In a few minutes he’ll get over it, but halfway thru the trip he’ll panic that something’s been left behind. He go through all his things to discover it hasn’t. Good thing that, ultimately, I have a very appreciative young son. In the end – after a mini hissy fit here or there – he always thanks me for remembering his stuff and packing so thoughtfully. Whew.

So it’s now morning of, and I see the coop door has not opened as it’s supposed to. Strike one. I take my strong coffee with me to investigate. Never did fix the nesting boxes – I toss a couple milk crates, sideways onto the floor. That’ll work for now. I spend some time with the timer til it appears to be back on track. Then I spend a half hour going over everything, loading bins, filling water barrels. I take my coffee cup back to the kitchen for a refill, and no sooner have I come back out the door than there is a red hen, just feet away, looking up at me expectantly. “What?!” I holler. I’m packed, I’m showered, I’m ready. All to do is get the kid up and dressed and we’re outta here. Now this??

I stay calm, I don’t let myself get dramatic about it – cuz I so very easily could – after all, what fun is being human if you can’t let yourself get swept up in the melodrama of it all once in a while? Not this morning. Gotta fix it. So I sit down with my cup of coffee in a nearby lawn chair and wait. And watch. Soon I see that one of the young Auracanas is out too. And he’s poking around trying to get back in. Now here comes old floppy comb – she’s one of the first to jump ship. I see her eyein’ a spot of fence. Mm-hmm. Think we got our breach. Yup. Some wire’s been pushed out enough for a bird to squeeze out of – but not back in. The lone hen on the outside walks past me and I lean over and snatch her up. Can’t deny that I give her a quick kiss on her head and thank her for all the wonderful eggs she gives us before I heave her over the top of the fence where she flutters back down and joins her flock. I corner the young Auracana and fling him back too. I find a lawnchair and a piece of lumber and nestle them alongside the breach. Done.

Finish my coffee inside, looking out the window to see if my fix is holding. Yup. Looking good. Get the kid up, dressed, and while I pack the car, he says his goodbyes to the frogs in our two small ponds. He does so without incident, and finally, we’re off…

Highway construction, heavy rain and alternate routes made our drive a bit longer than it might have been otherwise, but another book on tape plus my colorful monologue on the whole experience – we might call it ‘sailor in a CRV’ – these helped get us to our destination without too much undo stress.

Where are we? Well, at 2 am I am typing at my trusty and ancient G4 in a generous-sized guest room of our hosts, a family we met last summer in Saratoga who now live in West Orange, New Jersey. There is a boy one year older than Elihu, and a girl one year younger than he. The three of them have a really nice thing and play together as children should. Not all kids have such a natural groove as these three. You might even say we’ve driven 200 miles for a play date. Because after our time at the pool today, we’ll visit the wide open ocean tomorrow – zoo and aviary the next day. This time it won’t just be mom and son as usual – this time Elihu can be a full-on kid. Makes my heart happy. His too.

There’s more family to this trip than we’d even originally intended: My father grew up in nearby Passaic. My maternal grandmother was born one town over, in East Orange. My grandmother, mom and uncle Paul summered in Ocean Grove, the very town we will visit tomorrow. Not much has changed in the ocean side town; we’ll be looking upon much the same downtown streets as they did some sixty years ago. And I’ve been told to try the Breyer’s Strawberry Ice Cream. Will do.

I’ve enjoyed our recent opportunities to travel. It’s fun waking up someplace new, pulling back the shades each morning to reveal a new scene… I’m off to a peaceful sleep now, the imagined sound of the ocean luring me to my dreams…

 

Pause July 18, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:44 pm
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It was Martha’s birthday yesterday. Even Elihu had almost lost track of how old she was. Day before yesterday she was once again admitted to the hospital, and although her condition had been reported the worst yet, when we went to visit her we found her very much on top of things, sitting upright in her chair and eating lunch, a birthday card and new African violet plant on the table beside her tray.

She was 86. She had been born in the hospital in Binghamton, New York, and although it seemed more than likely it was not an air conditioned place in 1926, I had to confirm it for myself. “Was it hot?” I asked her, unable to wrap my head around giving birth in a stuffy, un-air conditioned room in the middle of July. “My birthdays have always been on one of the hottest days of the year” she announced as she lifted the fork to her mouth. I watched the lone silver bracelet dangle from her arm as she spoke. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t see Martha wearing that bangle. Guess she probably didn’t wear it while she was driving the tractor all those years ago. Maybe she wore it when she taught music at Skidmore. Where did it come from? Did her mother once wear it too? Did it sit inside the bedside table drawer at the Binghamton Hospital while her mother gave birth to her eighty-six years ago?

I pressed her for more details. All she knew about the day of her birth, besides that it was very hot, was that as her father turned to walk away down the hall from the delivery room the doctor had shouted after him to come back – and asked if he would mind helping. So he did. “I don’t know why the men weren’t allowed in the delivery rooms back then, but they weren’t. This was unusual” she informed us. Yes, I thought, this seemed like it would have been around the time when men – except the doctors of the patients themselves – were first officially shunned from the birthing rooms. (My mother told me that the ob/gyn doc who delivered me wasn’t even allowed in the room for the birth of his own child because he was a man! Absolutely insane.) So her dad had helped deliver her. This was something. And I wanted something – because I was increasingly aware that I needed to start collecting all the personal history I could from her now, while she was still very much the Martha I knew. It’s easy to think it will always be thus, but one day she will turn the corner. One day she will be too weak to talk. One day she will die. Impossible to imagine right now, seeing her here like this, very much in control of her world. But she’ll die too. We all will. Yup. We’re all headed there eventually. But you never really believe it. Not until it happens.

This morning I’d decided to call my cousin, the one whom I’d hoped to visit in Philly soon. I felt a little foolish that I’d blogged about going to see him when I hadn’t actually spoken to him in a long time. I also knew that it was just an outline of a hoped-for intinerary – and that the visit might not happen. But in a flash of unmeditated inspiration, I simply picked up the phone and dialed his number.

I got his wife, whom I’d never met nor spoken to before, but within minutes I was being briefed on the recent and surprise decline of my other cousins’s health. She told me of her husband’s sister, my cousin, who lived in Florida with her 86 year old mother, my aunt. About a month ago she’d had a stroke. (I made a quick inventory: I thought to myself she wasn’t much older than me – but then again, I realized once more, I’m older than I think I am. Old enough to have a stroke it seems.) Today she was close to death. My cousin’s wife and I stayed on the phone for almost an hour while she recounted for me the events of the past month. In contrast, I pictured Martha, a long, good life behind her and death well-earned but yet not arriving, sitting in her chair, her silver bracelet dangling from her arm. None of it seemed fair.

My cousin, at the time of our speaking, was failing fast after four weeks of a crazy, unforseen downward spiral. Her skin was now mottled, her lips blue, her kidneys had failed, her blood pressure was a shadow of its former self. As we spoke, another level of my awareness was marveling at the strangeness of it all: one minute my long-lost cousins are distant family, living only in dim memories from my youngest years, the next minute I’m witness to family intimacies I’ve hardly earned in my years of absence. But I stayed on the phone, listening, giving this in-charge yet nonetheless distraught woman my audience, my witness. A small voice inside told me just to listen. She’d been through more than I understood these past few weeks, and somehow, by marriage alone, yes, but somehow – she was my family. I had to be there. So I listened, dumbstruck as she recounted for me how my cousin had gone from a viable person to a dying waif inside of mere weeks.

We discussed whether my own 86 year old aunt should be there to witness her daughter’s passing or not. My vote was yes, unquestionably. My cousins’s wife, an ICU nurse for many years, was inclined to vote no. She advised that people look pretty horrible in those final moments – that they look much better after being cleaned up at the mortuary later on. But I still thought to myself – if Elihu were dying, it would be my deepest desire to be there, holding his hand, telling him I loved him and giving him my blessings to go. We talked, she talked, I interjected here and there, but mostly I listened. I tried to understand what her husband, my cousin, could possibly be feeling right now. I tried to imagine if Andrew were dying. My baby brother? I might begin to understand, yet it was different. He and I had hardly a civil relationship. My cousins knew each other as adults, as people. I tried to imagine relating to his heartbreak – but from where I sat I really couldn’t. I was beginning to feel I wasn’t relevant in this moment, and sensed our conversation was coming to its natural close when I heard the woman’s cell phone ring. She answered it while I, witnessing from the home phone in her other hand, listened.

I was standing in the kitchen hall when I heard her voice repeat the words she’d just been told. The clear, strong and in-command nurse I’d just been speaking to for the past hour evaporated, and a heartbroken woman responded in her place…”She’s passed?” she questioned in a weak, broken voice. My cousin had just died.

I don’t remember how I concluded the conversation – but I almost wished I could have simply hung up. I felt a bit like a voyeur now. They had serious heartbreak to deal with here. I had to go, but how? What do you say? I think I ended up saying something lame like “hang in there” – but what I’d really wanted to say was “I love you”. True, I didn’t know this woman at all really, but that seemed irrelevant. I wanted to hand over my love to her, to comfort her, to help in some way. My cousin had just died, while we were speaking, in fact, and yet my heart wasn’t broken, hers was. The only thing that would help now was the passage of time, and the return of far-flung family members. True, I was family, but I had no role in this event save to offer my love and support from afar.

Mid-summer, mid-life I sit here, wondering at it all. This is such a friggin hard planet to live on. Wealth and poverty sit side-by-side, death comes too early for some, too late for others. My father has no reason to get out of bed; simply living is a chore he does not need or even want, yet he goes on. Living. My cousin dies while her mother holds her hand and watches her go. How is any of this just? I keep to my belief that it all happens as it’s supposed to – while my more agnostic friends will smile and shake their heads at me – and yet it doesn’t make this crap easier to swallow. It doesn’t feel right, regardless of whether there are lessons here or not. Regardless of whether God is actively challenging our faith or not. Some find comfort believing everything is simply a scientific event with no moral, spiritual or ethical motivation behind it. Some find comfort in just the opposite way of thinking. Right now I’m apt to say none of it really matters.

This life is a hard one, and that we know. Nobody would argue that. It takes a lot of resolve, a good sense of humor and some common sense to make it through. That, and a moment every now and again to pause and reflect, to the best of our limited ability, on the wonder of it all.

 

Overwhelm July 17, 2012

I don’t know when ‘overwhelm’ became a noun, but it’s probably a useful thing. I could just as easily say “I feel overwhelmed”, but I will defer to the cultural climate of the day and say instead “I feel overwhelm”. I’m not besieged with some clinical sort of ADD, but I may as well be today. I am faced with the post-vacation, post-big dump project of sorting all the detritus of our trip and putting it away.

The first day back it was nearly 90 degrees in our little house, the humidity was just as high, but I was too. High on our success, high on the fact that we’d pulled it off and returned home safely. Like a robot I waded through laundry – that from before our trip and that from after – sheets towels, clothes, the gamut. And I’d sorted paper from stuff, toiletries from mementos, books from books on tape. All table space has been occupied the past two days with endless piles. Now… to put it all away.

My birds needed food this morning. Six a.m. I lay in bed, still tired, but my mind swimming with things to be done. The chickens were hungry and depended on me. As if sleepwalking, I rose from my bed and went to the car. Gone are the days when I can carry a 40 pound bag of feed to the bins – now I must drive them. I discover both the feed bin and lid have been covered in fresh, goopy chicken poop. Really? I douse them as best I can in the water left from Max’s pond. I do my best to get things squared away. The shell collection from the Cape gets unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the car and I use that bin for the bird’s calcium. Mental note to transfer it later to the correct bin. Mental note to fill water bins, replace nesting box perch. Ich. It’s this little shit that zaps me of my forward movement. I am ready for bed and I haven’t been up ten minutes.

I can’t complain – I mean, how can I? You, my friends, have just made this amazing trip possible. There’s no way I could have gone without your help. I am a lucky, cared-for woman. And yet, in moments like this, I’m tending toward a smidgen of self pity. I mean how can one person deal with all this? My son needs something to do – and it’s just me. Not only am I pooped at the thought of all yet before me, but then I have to tend to him on top of it all. I wish he had a friend. In the end it really is just the two of us, and there’s so much grownup work to be done. Guess it’s another day for the great babysitter of YouTube.

See, I have other things besides just the crap to put away. (Btw – the laundry’s done, yes, and most of it folded – but put away? Hardly…) I was the unlucky recipient of some little surprises while I was away which I need to deal with as well: I’d bought us some ice cream cones the day before we left – before the donation money had cleared and was safely in my account – and that little charge of $4.50 caused an overdraft that cost me $25. Guess I should be glad it wasn’t $35 as it usually is with my credit union. Then a few more hit too after that – my chiropractor deposited the check I’d asked them to hold for a week – and boom. Another fee. Ok. Guess that’s ok. Keep your chin up, I tell myself. It’s just money.

Then there’s the ticket thing. So there I am, literally seven blocks from the Holland tunnel, following the car ahead of me through a green light when it stops in front of me. I try to inch forward as much as possible, for the cars on either side of me slid through with no problem. My lane’s not moving. Oh well. I inch forward as best I can and watch as the commuters snake through between our bumpers. Ugh. I notice the truck I’d asked for directions that was next to me seconds before is now halfway up the next block. That’s ok. We’ll be out of here in minutes. Then there’s a tapping on my window. It’s a young cop. I roll down the window. “Can’t block the box”, he says. ?? The only other use for the word ‘box’ I know of is an off-color reference to a certain part of a woman’s body, and instantly my mind races back to the 80s on the west side of Chicago. (Anyone remember the south side’s ‘Copherbox’ II Lounge??) I look at him quizzically. He repeats. “You can’t block the box.” I finally get his meaning. “I’m not trying to block the intersection” I offer. “I’m trying to get through. The lanes on either side of me did, I naturally thought I would too. This is not intentional.” I’m not sassy. I’m not even pleading. A passerby, carrying a large light fixture under his arm, stops to assist me. The cop asks if the man is ‘trying to tell him how to do his job’ and tells him to move on. I try to convey my thanks to the man as he leaves. The young cop has already written my ticket and points some beepie thing at the sticker on my windshield. My heart sinks. “How much?” I ask. “You can read the ticket,” he tells me, then adds how lucky I am that he didn’t put any points on my record. (This business of points in New York is still new to me.) Thanks for the big favor, I think. He leaves me with this floppy scrap of paper that will cost me $115. My heart sinks again. But I will not let it get to me; we’re almost out of the city.

Or not. It literally took us three and one quarter hours to get to and through the tunnel. Seriously. Now – now – I’ve seen everything. And I’m proud of us – we didn’t fight, we didn’t get cranky, and thankfully neither one of us had to pee. Rather than let it ruin us, we stayed merry, listening a second time to a book on tape, playing the alphabet game (Inside the car, that is. Elihu can’t see the signs outside. Clever, huh.) and doing our best to keep things light. Our family mantra is that everything happens as it is supposed to. Hours later a heron flew over our car. “See Mommy, this is why we had to get stuck in traffic! To see this heron!” Lemons into a sweet, summery beverage indeed. Good boy.

Ok. So we’re home. Then I check the mail. I’d forgotten about the speeding ticket I’d gotten last month on the way to pick Fareed up at the airport. (Don’t those just bother you? Everyone is going ten over – but you get pulled over. Sheesh.) There’s another $150 shot. Man, I’m working hard just to stay afloat, then this. Will there be a second leg to our trip? Will we get to Philadelphia at all? Doesn’t look it from here. I try to set it aside emotionally, and I wonder deep down what the hell it is that I’m supposed to learn from this. Seriously, I must have some deep-seated, karmically installed money issues. Keep goin, I think to myself. Although I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in years, the Aerosoles catalogue has a particular sting this time. Can’t even rationalize fantasizing about getting a pair. I don’t even bother to find the recycling bin. Into the trash it goes.

So I guess that brings me to this moment, as I sit in my chair, wondering if I might be able to lie down again for a few minutes before the kid wakes up. The piles are everywhere. I can’t help but wonder how everyone else does it. Families with more than one kid – how is it possible? I can understand how my childless friends deal with physical crap – I managed my own for years. Daunting before and after a gig (women have not only gear and charts to deal with – but makeup and clothes and jewelry – that adds a whole nother layer to the potential chaos) but I could still stay on top of it. But right now I think I’ve lost it. Unless I can find Elihu a playdate I don’t know where I’ll get the resolve.

Wait. I remembered something. When we stopped at the convenient store our first day back I got one of those little energy shot thingees. Yes. Yes? Was that what fueled my insane initial cleanup? I think so… Seems like it. Wow, and I’d never had one before. Can’t make it a crutch, but sounds good right now. I begin to see some possibility here. Ok. Kid’s still out. I think I know what I need to do… I need to overwhelm my overwhelm. Back in five minutes. I’ll let you know…

 

Homecoming July 16, 2012

I awoke Saturday morning, in my own bed, to the internal soundtrack of a searing Steve Lukather guitar solo, floating atop a lush bed of strings and majestic french horns, the music rising, rising, rising, lifting my soul far above the clouds into the expanse of sky… My own personal and deeply subconscious interpretation – albeit embarrassingly corny – of the bliss I felt at being home, at the triumphant conclusion of an epic journey.

I laughed when I realized the music I’d chosen. I laughed because my bed felt so good. I laughed because it felt so good to be home. I laughed because I felt I had more than come home; I had made it. Whatever that meant. And all that it meant. I’d put eight hundred miles on the car, introduced my son to the ocean, met long-lost relatives, visited the first house I’d ever lived in, rediscovered New York City. And made it back home. Not one hen lost in our absence. All was truly well. We’d been successful – and in ways we’d never even dreamed of. I lay in bed, thinking about home. What it was, how it felt, how I now identified it, how important it was to me.

On our trip folks would naturally ask me where I was from – and I was never quick with an answer. Initially my inclination was to say ‘Chicago’, but as that wasn’t quite true, and that answering so would require a little back story, I would hesitatingly offer that I was from “upstate New York”, and feel a little disappointed in my more truthful answer. Being from Chicago seemed to define who I was – what the better part of my life experiences had been to this point – but as things stood right now, I was in fact not from Chicago anymore. I thought of Army brats and how they usually chose to answer that question. “Oh, I grew up all over”. That would be that. But I didn’t grow up all over, and furthermore I was now a country gal and should probably represent myself as such. Throughout my trip I was given many opportunities to get used to the idea that yes, I was indeed from “about three hours north, in the country, just outside of Saratoga Springs.” If my questioner would look at me for more information I might add: “It’s equidistant to Montreal and New York.” And if another beat followed, I might add “I have chickens.” Ok. I could feel a small amount of pride in that I suppose, but as I didn’t feel it completed the picture accurately, mostly I’d close the conversation by saying that “in my last life I was a musician in Chicago”. That seemed to bring it all up to date with the most amount of truth.

When I first opened the door to our house upon returning, I was hit with the scent of our home. This is something I think all travelers notice first after a long journey. The smell that is unique to their home. I can almost recall the particular ways in which my other homes smelled, the emotional memories that those scents retrieved for me, but had no idea what a fresh return would tell me about this particular house. What hit my nostrils first was a slight smell of, well, ‘funk’. The air told me that this was a summer camp in need of a good airing out. It smelled like a house used only seasonally; a slight hint of must, a shadow of damp linoleum… When I told this to my mom, she agreed that she too had noticed that my house had a particular smell. Not even bad really, just kind of different. She’d wondered if after all my improvements (removal of linoleum and shag carpet, new floors and paint) it might not change the scent. But it didn’t. It smells like a 70s house. Must be in the bones. Cuz I clean it, I maintain it, I open the windows and use fans to keep the inside air fresh. “So this is what my house smells like” I thought to myself upon returning. Crazy. Sometimes visitors have told me it reminds them of a cabin… guess this is at the root of it. Ah well, 70s, slightly funky cabin though it may be, it’s home. My own personal epicenter. Didn’t feel it a week ago, but I felt it for sure now.

We hit the ground running on our first day back as we had a wedding to attend – an early one too, the ceremony was at noon. Elihu kept saying that he was excited as it was his “very first wedding”. (Maybe not entirely true – I was sure he’d been to others, but as a very young one he had likely been playing with his Thomas trains while things had been going on.) But for this wedding – of two people who live just down the road from us and whom we’ve grown to love very much these past few years – he would truly be present. When I told him that it this wedding was significant in another way – that they, as women, were only allowed very recently by law to even marry each other at all – he responded that that sounded ‘hard to believe’ and then added that nobody should be allowed to tell you who you can’t marry. Amazing how things have changed. And how deeply pleased I was that in my son’s eyes it wasn’t even an issue in the first place. As the father of one of the women said that day, “We live in interesting times”. Inspiring times, too.

I mention this wedding because it too was a symbol for me of home. As I met guests from different parts of the country, even from different countries, I began to feel a growing certainty of my being from this place, this small country town. The wedding was at the couple’s home which they had decorated with brilliantly colored gerber daisies and hundreds of brightly colored oragami cranes. The place looked simply stunning. The joy, the love, the sense of family was deeply felt by everyone there. I couldn’t think of a better occasion on which to return home. For me the event helped me feel more deeply my own sense of center. My own family lives here, I now have friends here, I now have a new life here – and for my son it’s really the only home he’s ever known.  In some way, both trip and wedding helped confirm for me that this place really is the center of our physical world; this is where we come from.

For the past four years I’ve had a flower on the antenna of my car. It is a subdued green, now weathered and frayed from thousands of miles on the move. I put it there before I left Chicago as a symbol of hope for the future and cheer for my aching, uncertain heart. (It also makes my run-of-the-mill gold Honda CRV much easier to locate in large parking lots.) I’ve many times thought of replacing it with something that might symbolize the future I’m moving into. I’d bought a bright, deep orange artificial gerber daisy months with the intention of affixing it to my antenna, but it never felt the right time. I realize my putting this much thought into such a thing – simply doing such a thing – may seem a bit immature (admitting it here in print makes me doubly self-conscious of that), but strangely, having that flower go before me in the world as I drive about has helped me to feel lighter. As if while all this heavy shit was going on I was still able to convey a certain lightheartedness in the world.

After leaving the party last night well past dark and then getting up this morning to go back over and help with the cleanup, it hit me. I spotted an orange oragami crane on my dashboard, a memento of the wedding. I remembered the colorful gerber daisies, the cheer they gave to the party. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I remembered the flower I’d bought months ago. I ran inside, found it, and with hardly more than one swipe with a knife brought the ratty, old flower down. In minutes the new one was up. I felt somehow refreshed. My whole spirit had been renewed; in the trip, in the wedding of friends, in the discovery of home.

The daisy goes before me in the world letting folks know (at least I hope) that I’m moving through my world with a certain good humor and lightness of heart. And at the very least, the daisy ensures that my home away from home is distinct from all others; I’m never unsure as to which car is mine. And at the end of my travels, the daisy leads me back down the long driveway to the little red chicken coop and the plain white house. I may not have believed it before, but I do now. That little white house in Greenfield Center is where we come from. Just look for the daisy…

 

End of the Beginning July 13, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 10:02 am
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Although Elihu still answers “No” when asked if he might wish one day to return to New York City, my suspicion is that the seed has been planted and germinates already. It took me a 24 hour cycle to truly ‘get it’ again myself. Just now I parked my car safely in a garage (as on Friday it seems there’s no street parking to be had), and I enjoyed a moment alone in the eye of it all. A corner joint, an outside table, a coffee, a high-cholesterol breakfast sandwich and one, just one, bummed cigarette. Alone and not alone. As we’d gone to bed long after 2 am last night I know Elihu sleeps soundly a block away at our friends’ place. Finally, I am without camera, without destination, my only objective to take it all in one last time.

Private viewing of the bird house at the Bronx Zoo, feeding pigeons from the hand in Washington Square Park, front row seats at the Blue Note last night as Paquito’s guest, rooftop drum playing and merrymaking at night’s end with every tiny space in between peppered with the kinds of magic it would take chapters to convey – yesterday was a perfect New York City day.

There’s never enough time. But for now, I’m sated. And reminded, once again, that yes, there is still a big and bold world beyond our little homestead. Here’s to our safe homecoming. And here’s to many more bright and beautiful voyages beyond our driveway’s end…

 

OMGNYC July 11, 2012

Elihu tells me he’s never coming here again. I’d worried he wouldn’t get the full vibe of the place, but he got it alright. It’s a bit intense, that’s for sure, and you can’t really understand it til you’re here on the street. I’m at least satisfied that he has a new perspective on what city living really entails. This visit has indeed made an impact on him.

I cannot possibly catch up on all the nuances of our short visit, but I will use a handy list form to mention highlights of our brief 18 hours thus far in New York City.

1) rooftop dinner with old friends

2) breakfast in Little Italy

3) subway to midtown: FAO Schwartz, pigeons in Central Park, Carnegie Deli, where one of the long-standing waitresses there promises to pass my greetings on to Jackie Mason, who I hear, btw, is doing well these days. (He told me drinking lots of water and stretching daily helped him keep his busy schedule. A sage plan for longevity it seems.)

4) I called my father from the Carnegie Deli, and I heard the happiness in his voice to know that we were here. He remembered his old apartment on West 57th and I promised to have a look. (Just maybe not this time. Too much to do as always…)

5) Elihu nearly collapses in the heat and hustle of the city as we wait and wait for a train that never comes. In the end it is a young blind girl who tells us we’re on the wrong platform for the N train. We have a nice chat with her, and she tells Elihu that a cane really comes in handy and that he might want to use one some day. He would never hear that from me, so I was glad to hear her make the recommendation.

6) I pour a bath in a tub as deep as a swimming pool. I’m minutes away from a long, cool soak. Elihu is flying his helicopter and all is well.

I love New York, but it takes a certain oomph to be here. For now I’m all oomphed out.

 

Plymouth Ho! July 8, 2012

And here we are! On the north end of Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. Wareham, to be exact. Our drive went smoothly – we drove the three and a half hours straight without stopping. (A very compelling book on tape by author Gary Paulsen had us riveted and helped to pass the time.) We stopped first at the Mayflower II in Plymouth. The smell of salt sea air hit us right away as did the sound of seagulls. Before us was a vast expanse of water – it was an inspiring sight. Somehow, my child who sees little of any detail beyond twenty feet, he too felt the shift in our space – he too felt the wide-open of it all. We were someplace very different. Sadly, the tourists (of which we were embarrassed to be a part) were everywhere, and it was all but impossible to imagine the scene some four hundred years ago – let alone fifty. We had romantic images in our head which were quickly dashed when reality set in. I had some idea it might be thus, but Elihu was quite disappointed in the commercial nature of the whole affair.

Aboard the Mayflower we met guides in costume who were deeply in character (lots more prep for this gig than Tony N Tina’s Wedding – that’s for sure!) and really helped to bring us into the feeling of the historic ship. Later, we visited an historic town circa 1627 as well as a Wampanoag Indian village that also employed costumed, in-character guides. We both loved the visit. Really fascinating.

And food? Well, what does one eat when on the Cape? Why lobster and clams – the whole silly body of the clam, thank you very much. No strips here. Serendipity guided us with absolute skill as we were prompted to find a restaurant in which we not only sat directly over the water, but we had open windows at our elbows, salt sea air gently wafting in and birds upon birds above and below, skimming, scooping, diving, swooping. We saw our very first cormorant in the flesh as we did a Caspian tern and the black-headed laughing gulls. But almost more amazing was that we sat next to a young boy who, like Elihu, had loved birds since he was small and knew them all just as well. Truly, this kid was a bird boy; so said his grandma and he himself nodded in agreement. Thomas, if you should in fact read this, it makes us happy to know that there is another boy in the world who loves birds as Elihu does. We were very happy to make your acquaintance and hope one day to meet you again.

Perhaps the most important part our trip was made just an hour ago when we visited with my Uncle Paul and Aunt Sandy. I hadn’t seen them in almost twenty years – yet they looked instantly familiar. And for the first time, here before me was a person outside my immediate family with whom I shared a bloodline; his face, build and mannerisms all right here for me to see up close. This was new. In the tiny room I could study my uncle. He was a good looking man – something I found interesting that I’d never noticed before. I could see the resemblance to my mom at once. I sat there, feeling almost as if I were in a dream. The Conants and the Jacksons (my mom’s side) just don’t ‘do’ family. It had occurred to me earlier as I wove around the curving roads and struggled to get my bearings in the dark, that none of them would have made this sort of effort to see us. But in the end it didn’t matter. My uncle’d had a stroke a few years ago and I had to come and see him in person before it was too late. I felt very lucky as we bid them goodnight and made our way down the steps to our car.

We’ll see them again tomorrow. Thankfully we have no agenda here but to lay on the beach, find some sea critters and hang with the family. Right now we’re going to get into bed and continue reading a book about a young boy on a whaling ship that once moored in nearby New Bedford. And just a minute ago, as Elihu flew his rc helicopter (single blade, fixed pitch he’d want you to know) he said “life is too good to be true right now!” Yup. That’s pretty much how we’re feeling.

Happy Post Script: We heard from the young birder and his cousin tonite! (Finally someone taking me up on the “Say Hello” page entreat…) Come back and visit again, Thomas and Lucas – and please share some of your bird stories with us sometime…

 

Eve Of

What thanks can I offer to all of you who’ve made this trip possible? I see the donations come in, I breathe a little easier, and yet I don’t. I’ve been given so much help from my friends over the past three – nay, almost four – years, and I begin to feel a little as if I need soon to be doing something for others. But for now I will receive all this kindness because I know you felt inspired to help. I’ll honor that by using your help to create a journey for Elihu and me that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

The eve of the journey is a tense time for me. How do I sleep? I printed out our directions, I have my maps, my car is ready, our bags are packed. Elihu was even asleep hours ago, allowing me the time to collect my thoughts and my things in the quiet of a nighttime house. Seeing all those driving directions had me a bit intimidated. Me? Afraid of getting places? Ha!

I can remember finding my way to a boat docked in a small harbor in Portugal with little more than the name of a nearby town – no language, little money (and carrying ten pounds of white flour – staples requested by the captain. Can you imagine making it through international airports carrying ten pounds of a white powdery substance? Whew. A more innocent time it was.) Once in Indonesia, not quite sure exactly where my hotel was, I navigated lanes upon lanes of traffic in Jakarta during a monsoon rain and finally arrived there by way of a trade: my western cigarettes for a one final wild ride in a Bajai that got me there safe. I’ve done hundreds of singing telegrams and in so doing was made to find every manner of crazy out-of-the-way joint you can imagine. All long before GPS. (We did, however, had GPS on the boat, that’s where I first learned of it.) And I love maps. If I lack some good bedside reading material, a map will do. Then again, it may do too well. I might be up all night reading it, cuz I just love to think about going places.

I really shouldn’t fret about the actual ‘getting there’ part. But still, that’s the part which has me up late and unable to sleep. Man, how did we do it thirty years ago? Was it so hard? Didn’t we just take the highways, take most likely looking exit and just ask local folks where to go from there? That must have been how we did it. People have been making car trips for decades without benefit of GPS… I gotta relax. Gotta remember it’s still in me. I can do this car trip thing.

Oh, but I’ve gone off on a tangent, when what I’d wanted to do in this final homemade post was to thank all of you so much. We two are so excited, so happy. Truly we are embarking on a modern day adventure. We know where we’re going, and yet we know not. It’s the little serendipitous surprises that make it so magical. So I guess it’s the anticipation of the things I know not that has me so keyed up at this late hour.

Thanks, dear friends. And now, finally, I’m off to bed. I think I’m ready to sleep now.

 

Get Crackin’ July 7, 2012

So much yet to do. The biggest item is off the list: make sure the automatic coop door opener really works. Although I bought it last year (paid for a pricey rush delivery in fact) it sat uninstalled all year long in my garage, as I just couldn’t manage to do it myself as I’d planned. Even bought a sawsall to make the cut in the wall – really, how hard could it be? As I set out I discovered, hard enough. Maybe if I’d had more practice with the saw – which was much harder to control than I’d expected – I’d have been able to cut myself a hole into which I could then install the door. But I simply couldn’t manage it. The whole project, for as simple and straight forward as it looked was too much for me to muster on my own, and in the end I hired my brother to watch over my flock as we left town for a couple of days on divorce business. (And I gave the sawsall to a kid who mowed my 5 acre lawn in trade.)

This year, having a much larger flock and hoping to go away for a much longer time, I simply had to get it installed. When I unpacked it, we discovered chimpmunks had not only filled the entire thing with corn (the industrious little fella was dead at the bottom of his own cache) but had cut both the cord that pulled the door up as well as the wiring that told it to do so. God bless this handyman that I found at random from the local Pennysaver. He fixed it. And installed it. Then, as it began to appear a task completed, the timer got knocked to the ground by the birds on the first night, and came apart in pieces. Day two of coop preparations, four days to departure. I was beginning to panic. Lower back pain had me all but immobile, and now this. Swearing like a sailor, I wrestled the pieces back together in the obscene heat of the garage. It worked, but not quite as it should have. It took two more days until we had both a successful raising of the coop door on its own as well as a successful lowering of the door. Hooray! Right? Nope.

First night it was the new guys. The chicks – who are now just about full grown chicken size, but who eat like teenagers and don’t know the routine of the mature flock quite yet – they haven’t figured out where to go at night. At dark, when all the others are high on their roosting bars, safe for the night, the younguns are in a crowded clump on the ground, huddling for safety. How else do young ones learn but to be taught? I’d thought they’d imitate the elders, but no, apparently it’s up to Elihu and me. So, one by one, Elihu puts the little guys through the tiny open door, where I then take them and place them on a roosting bar. We are teaching them. We hope. Day one it’s forced. Day two, the timer still isn’t working right, so we miss an opportunity. Day three – complete success! Out on their own in the morning, up and safe on their roosts by nightfall! And the tidy little door shut all by itself! Houston, we have liftoff!

Except for Maximus, who walks around the empty pen, waiting for us to come and talk to him. He fits through the small door just fine, but for some reason he has chosen not to follow his flock. He’d rather wait for me to come out and make my nightly check; he likes to talk to me. He gurgles and grunts low to me, follows me on my feeding and watering chores, stays ever close. “Oh Max” I cry to him in frustration. “You’re supposed to use the door too!” Maybe he needs some teaching like the little ones did. I can’t open the door or I’ll throw off its timing, so instead I open the large door with the diamond patterned window panes (Elihu called it the ‘Shirley Nelson door’ the moment he saw it cuz he said it looked ‘just like the kind of door a woman named Shirley Nelson would have in her house’.!) I pick up my soft, white goose and I carry him across the threshold, depositing him gently inside. “You must go inside with everybody else, Max” I scold. I’m happy to see the little ones have all now found their own spots on the new roosting bars. All seems well. If only the goose would go in on his own. I’m prompted to do some googling on the subject of geese and raccoons – could a raccoon, of which we have plenty, really take down my gander, attitude and all? I learn that yes, he could. So I have a goose problem still. Earlier I’d had too much testosterone in the pen, so I’d placed Bald Mountain on his own in the brooder pen for the week. Sorry, you’ll be ok big guy. It’s still a lot better than being stuck in a tiny cage for the 4H poultry show at the county fair for a week…But what to do with the goose? I’m trying to make it so that ALL my birds go in, roost and the door closes. Period. So the gal who’ll watch them has only to fill the food and water. That itself if enough of a chore. One more dilemma to solve before we go. Geez. Will we go at all? I wonder.

While I try to get every last piece of laundry folded and put away, and while I refresh my bed with a seldom-washed sheet still hot from the dryer, Elihu takes up a corner to help me make my bed as we begin to discuss the Max situation. It is clear that we cannot simply leave him outside in the pen. He will likely be gotten. The only option is our garage. Full of crap, some garbage, much of it not – in fact there are many nice things still left from my mid century life that I need to find good homes for.  But I do not want to come home in a week to find the furniture chewed on, green sloppy goose shit all over the cement floor… but what choice do we have? “Look”, Elihu begins, “it’s not a tiny garage, he’s got enough room. You just have to cover up the nice stuff and make Max his own little area. Wood shavings in that corner by the brooder pen. That’s all he needs. He’ll be fine”. Good lil man. Yes, if we doctor up that one last open bit of garage and make it his, he’ll be comfortable. Leave a fan on. He’ll be ok. And I can put up the baby gate by the door so that when our chicken sitter comes to set out food she won’t get goosed by our goose. (Sweet creature to me, to everyone else he is his master’s protector. )

All the while, my back continues to morph and shift, to become something foreign and new. I’ve had lower back episodes – one or two a year – for the past decade. I always bounced back within a week, nothing was ever any different afterward, and in fact it was all but forgotten by a month out. But this time I blew it, I guess. I went to a chiropractor. Initially , my experience was insightful and educational to a certain degree, but holy shit! That man actually did something to me! I was glad to leave my first appointment standing straight – when I’d walked in hunched over and to one side. But today it is a vastly different situation. I think I’d gladly take back my initial posture if I could get rid of this: I am now asymmetrical, my spine is twisted – as in no longer a straight line up and down – and my back sounds like jiffy pop being made on a stove… almost any movement at all and there’s a crackling sound. No pain, but the sound is new and disconcerting. And that I feel I’m a walking S is weird too. I can do stretches, breathe in deep, visualize my stretch and so forth… but nope. Nothing doin. I cannot straighten myself out. I seem to now have a new problem on top of the original one I’d come in for. !!!! I was so ready to receive this as the wholistic means of treatment and health from here forward…A practice that took into consideration the whole body, stress level,  diet, movement…but in reality it seems much more focused on simply vertabrae related ‘subluxations.’, one of which I believe the good doctor may himself have created. I know I sound a little paranoid here, but I’ve gone from a situation which though uncomfortable, was at the least, familiar, and at best, something I knew how to manage. But this popcorn popping, s – curving back is altogether new to me. What do I do with this? It’s annoying as hell! I can’t carry my bag on my left shoulder because I’m so newly outta whack. Huh? No one told men that new problems would likely pop up…. did they? Did I miss the handout?

Bed made. Kid asleep. Post slogged through, perhaps less intelligible than most, but well, it’s done. Soon I’ll update you on our itinerary. Our plans have changed so many times that to have posted updates as they occured would only confuse. This we know: I will drive us, with my new little popcorn-popping back, to the historic Mayflower II. (We’re smack in the middle of a historic kid’s book about a young boy on a whaling ship – and he speaks of my own mother’s home town, New Bedford, as if it were modern day New York City. It will be fun to see the town so described in the novel.) Yup, we’ll see the ship, then promptly ship out to visit my Uncle Paul and Aunt Sandy. Cousin Rusty seems a lot like my brother Andrew; he’s 50 and still lives at home. He slinks in and out, says very little and what he does remains mostly mystery to his family. Then there’s Janice, his younger sister and my other cousin. While younger than me, she is a grandmother. Yeeks. My paternal grandma had my dad at 45. Janice musta had hers in her late teens. Crazy. But for us, the craziest thing will be hearing ‘that accent’. We don’t often hear people who sound much different from ourselves, so it’ll be fun to be in the area and hear this local accent. Elihu will get a big kick out of it.

We have two decadent nights in Wareham, and nothing but beach and family to fill our time. Oh, and maybe a visit to the Plimouth Town Living Museum where the actors in costume speak as they did some 400 years ago, and where they don’t break character, where they serve food of the time sans utensils. That, we just might go see. Whale watching will have to wait. Money and time don’t allow it this run.

Next, our question is to return home? Or to continue west, via New Haven to New York City. My back pain will likely play a large role in this decision. We have yet to contact our NYC friends with the latest timetable, so friends, if you’re reading, please know things have been tricky. I hope that I may leave it at that and not cause hurt feelings or piss people off.  I’m also aware some may have altered plans on our account. Hope not too much. We’ll ask if you might receive us Tuesday, maybe also Wednesday night?? And Jersey friends, maybe the following two nights with you?

Little time. Lot and lots to do. I think I may even have forgotten how to pack. Hoooo – I’m woozy tired now. I’m gonna go and rest my crackin’ back so tomorrow I can start crackin’ the whip….