If only we’d signed up at the library early on to have our checkout history saved – we’d have been able to re-create the impressive list of all the fantastic journeys that Elihu and I have shared. From the time he was five, when we moved here, til the time he decided that he’d rather read the stories for himself (just over a year ago – I milked it, believe me!) we have covered impressive territory – from stand-alone chapter books to six-book series, we have journeyed to so many far-away places that we can hardly recall them all. But thankfully, some details do remain – and today we found ourselves (it’s not just my flabby recall at play here!) struggling to piece together the scenarios we’d once lived in our own chapter book adventures here at the Hillhouse, as the memories now spread across so many years.
Today, after Elihu’s tuba lesson, we were both pooped. It was a mid-day lull in which we could summon no energy for anything that needed doing. No school writing assignment could be written, no chickens could be fed, no aquarium could be cleaned, no laundry could be put away, and there wan’t enough oomph to make lunch, either. And so we pulled the curtains in the living room closed, and retired to the generously-sized, L-shaped couch. We each found our spot, adjusted the pillows, split up the throw blankets and settled in.
Although we were both too pooped to actually do anything, we, as it turned out (will you really be all that surprised?), had plenty of energy to talk. And so we passed the next thirty minutes like two bunkmates at summer camp, stalling after lights out. We spent our lounging time exchanging long, thoughtful pauses between funny remembrances and tangential offerings.
We reflected on our seven and a half years here. Having just had a conversation the morning before about adolescence and all that would come with that new era, it seemed we two were in something of a reflective mood these days – taking inventory of the past, and sizing up the fast-coming future. “I’m just looking at this room in a new way” Elihu said. “You never really notice places when you’re there all the time. But look at those windows – they’re huge! People must really notice them when they come here for the first time, ya think? Look at the instruments here. Accordion, tabla, tuba, harpsichord. Wow. Imagine seeing all this when you walk in. To us, it’s just our house. But it is pretty amazing.” He paused for a bit. I was about to say something when he spoke again…”I like the way it looks through new eyes.” Yeah, I also liked this room a lot. It’s cozy, it’s tidy (mostly) and in spite of how many objects live inside it, the room does not feel the least bit cluttered or overwhelmed. In fact, it has the opposite feeling: the room feels welcoming and cozy. Peaceful. Perfect for two homebodies who are feeling pooped for no particular reason and need a generous couch on which to ruminate and stall a little longer.
“Think of all the birds we’ve had here that seemed normal.” Pause. “Like ‘no-big-deal’ normal” Elihu added after a few moments of silence. Yeah. Come to think of it, we had had a lot of different types of birds through the years. I thought back to the different phases of his bird life – of our bird life. I had always followed Elihu’s lead in his love of all birds – and thinking back on it, I wonder if I would have done so now. Did I jump on board so easily because I was still in shock at even being ‘out here’ to begin with? Or did I just feel I had nothing to lose? Cuz I really don’t think I had the slightest clue as to the adventures that were to ensue after bringing our new avian friends home… Really, from parakeets to parrots, homing pigeons to golden pheasants, button quail to barnyard geese and a hundred chickens in between, man, we’d seen a lot of feathered friends here. And the thing was – we remembered them far better than we remembered all of those fantastic books that we’d read. We remembered the unique qualities of every bird, we recalled every adventure, every mishap and every lesson learned. And we recalled how lucky we were even to have had those memories at all… I mean, how many people have been fortunate enough to call out to a homing pigeon named King Louis to come and join them for a stroll?
“When you’re in ’em, you don’t even realize it”, Elihu said. “It’s not like you actually realize you’re in the ‘duck’ chapter or the ‘goose’ chapter. It’s just what you’re doing. You don’t think of it like that.” I agreed with him, and told him that I’d written a post on this idea a few months back. And that I’d been thinking of addressing it again, because it seemed we were on the precipice of another new chapter. He was nearing the end of his true boyhood; this April he would be a teenager. And as we’d discussed the day before, lots of things were going to change. “You’re going to be a teenager!” I said, hoping for an emotional response from him. “How does that feel?” I asked, waiting for a revelation, but instead he answered, “I’m not really that worked up about it. “I guess I was, about four months ago or so, but now, now that I’ve had time to think about it and adjust, I guess I just kinda know it’s coming. I mean I can’t change that, so why should I freak out about it? It’s coming, so I should just look forward to it, I think”. Mentally I was scribbling notes as fast as I could – trying to capture this moment, hold it, remember it for always. After all, I’d been so careless about remembering so many things in the past. This moment I was bound and determined to remember…
Eventually we did get to our individual tasks of the day; he to his writing, me to my cooking and cleaning, muttering to myself all the while as I pulled out pots and pans and began to chop onions for the umpteenth time in a week… Grumbling all the while about how I didn’t understand how anyone could possibly need to eat again so soon – as we had only just finished eating a few hours ago… And then promptly scolding myself for even thinking such a thing, much less lamenting out loud… Round and round I went from complaint to apology, hearing Studs Terkel in my head all the while, and how he had spoken of the old Eastern European mamas in their babushkas, going about their household chores while audibly lamenting their plight in life… Sheesh. My current chapter would most likely reflect something in the domestic arena. Some days it certainly felt as if this was all that I ever did. !
In spite of my errant mutterings, lunch was as pleasant as our respite on the couch. As has been the remainder of the day. Now I sit in my chair, and it being a weekend (tomorrow is a holiday on account of Martin Luther King day), we are in our casual, unrushed mode – which can push bedtime back to a very late hour, which makes the start of the new school week a challenge. I shan’t let us stay up much later, but as Elihu is fully engrossed in another chapter of his book, and I am still musing over the recent chapters of our very own edition, it’ll be a while yet before either one of us is asleep. As I think back on our time here, it’s clear that I can’t recall it all – but I can recall moments and highlights, paragraphs here and there – just enough to demonstrate how very far we’ve come in our seven year journey.
“I guess I’d call this the ‘tuba chapter’ if I had to give it a name” Elihu’d said when I asked him how he thought of his current life. “And the early ones, maybe they were the bird chapters?” I asked. “Naw” he said, and paused. “They’ll all be bird chapters.” (I guess what I’d add to that is that the past years have been about flight and aviation as much as they’ve been about birds.) Although Elihu’s been wanting to play bass and tuba since he was tiny, it’s only been recently that he was even big enough to play either. So gradually, he’s moving from one love into another. I can begin to see the general direction in which our story will grow – no specifics, of course, because that’s at the very essence of life – the details, detours and adventures we can never anticipate! Good Lord, if we could know what was coming in the next chapter, I wonder if we’d jump out of bed or hide under the covers? Thankfully, we haven’t a clue as to what’s ahead, so there’s nothing to be done but turn the page and see how it all works out…
The early years were also about Brody, our Senegal parrot (who chewed all the woodwork in the kitchen and needed as much attention as a toddler. He now lives with an elderly bachelor in Schenectady who actually relishes such a needy companion.)
This was also the chapter of grandpa; Elihu will only remember his grandfather as an elderly man. Thankfully, they had some nice moments together, like this one in the park, where Elihu shows off a duck he caught (one of literally dozens he’d caught over the years.)
This is our life now; the final few paragraphs of the first, chock-full chapter – or perhaps, more aptly, the first book in a series. (Note the indoor glasses; a perfect halfway darkness for seeing in bright interior light. This was the missing puzzle piece for reading music.)
In real life chapters don’t always begin or end in one single event. But one can still feel the gradual ending of one era and the emergence of another. And these days, things are beginning to shift. A young boy still lives here, but a young man will be taking his place before long. Our book will have a new chapter very soon…