The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cozy Home For Now November 13, 2013

Been a sweet evening here. Elihu, in spite of now talking like Daffy Duck with his newly-installed palate expander, has been giving freely of ‘I love you, Mommy’s and other lovely expressions of affection and warmth all afternoon and into the evening. As I had my hands busy with making our first loaf of true, unbleached whole wheat flour bread, I’d sent him out to collect the eggs and shut in the birds. There was one bird still staying close to Mama’s apron strings: Julius Caesar, while having been returned to the flock in good health after living in our kitchen for eight days (post an accidental eight day fast/prison term underneath an overturned milk crate), has discovered his ranking among roosters dropped from the top to the bottom of the very-real pecking order. A survivor, he stays acres apart from them all day so as to avoid further injury, and likely eats very little. I took him in today, as I heard him pecking at the door for some respite. He was smart enough to know which door offered the warmth and home-made food, and that was enough for me. I was ‘awwwing’ all over him like he was a lil baby. (Elihu wasn’t so sentimental or soft as I.) Made him a protein-laden supper, gave him time to get warm, then had Elihu personally take him out and place him on a safe spot on the roosting bars. Gotta keep him safe, relatively happy – and fattened up a tad more if we’re to do him in next week. !!

After Elihu came back inside, he was clapping his hands together and remarking how bitingly cold it had all of a sudden  become. And after pausing to warm his hands over the electric heater, he turned to me and said, ” you know, I really love our home. Another pause. Some quiet. And then… ‘It really is home, isn’t it? A bit more pause… It’s just such a cozy cottage. And I love living here. ” Then he walked off and left me alone in the kitchen, kneading bread, smiling the smile of a mother content. A bath followed, a making of his bed with fresh sheets, (all of this progress interspersed with short references to Cole Porter’s “What A Nice Municipal Park”, a ‘B’ side if ever there were one) a call to grandma which was lighthearted and full of some promising news (yay! a nurse that mom approves of is coming by to do a little look-see!!! Soon dad will have a little TLC from an honest-to-goodness caregiver!!! Now we may all breathe out….) We recounted a story of our recent visit with a childhood classmate of mine and her family in town for a job interview, we told of our lovely day, and how the boys all enjoyed hanging with each other (in spite of a dramatic and comedic end to our visit), and caught grandma up on a variety of things. While she may not have thought he sounded drunk while talking thru his palate expander, his Grandpa Riaz asked if Scotch or Vodka was his poison….

I look forward to playing piano for a new eurythmist soon and will be slowly adding more music to the binder. Of course there’s the requisite Christmas music to re-acquaint myself with again. All good. No worries. Finally, two months in and I think I have the hang of my routine. Kinda. There’s a lot of coming and going in each day. Lots going on. Out of the driveway, in the driveway, each time with my eyes drinking in the lovely woods and fields around us. The views that will soon change. So when my kid tells me with joy that this is his home, and that it feels comforting to be here… he reminds me of how lucky we are… and I am right there with him. Yeah, we’re lucky.

And true, it won’t always be thus. Daily we’re steeling our hearts for those first, shocking events in the field just beyond. And then I suppose as a result, we’re clinging even more tightly to what it is that we love in our own, very modest home. We’ll soon have a bit less privacy, a bit less nature, a bit less peace, less true darkness at night. But we gotta keep reminding ourselves that we’re still lucky, no matter what. And since we can’t fight it, we may as well go forth in love and happy expectation. One never knows…. do one?

 

Bird Boy Back October 23, 2013

“That’s not a Goldfinch.” Elihu knew what he was talking about, but yet I doubted him. Although the tiny bird was mostly an olive-ish brown, it had a yellow patch at the base of its back, and I, as a mere casual observer of birds, thought it to be a Goldfinch already changed into its drab coat for winter. But Elihu knew better.

I’d found the bird earlier that day, freshly dead, just beneath the laundry room window as I filled the chickens’ water buckets. Poor thing had crashed headlong into the glass and fallen, instantly dead, onto the ground just below. It was still slightly warm and still very supple. Couldn’t have been long ago, as it was morning and had likely happened since the sun had risen. This would be a good take for my kid – he loves to have a real bird to draw. So I brought it in, put it on a plate and left it on the table. Later when we got home from the airport, it was a treat to have this prize waiting for him. Immediately he began his inspection, wings out to admire the fan of feathers, a complete turning over to scrutinize the subject from every angle, a check with his mother to confirm its coloring. He then brought it straight to his desk to begin sketching it. “So if it’s not a Goldfinch, then just what is it?” I asked him, somewhat defiantly. I’m thinking, ‘yeah, kid, there aren’t a whole lotta other options. You just can’t see color – so you don’t understand.’  He didn’t miss a beat. “It’s a Yellow Rumped Warbler”. “What?” I asked, still unbelieving. After all, we’d complied a list of all the birds we’d ever seen or heard, dead or alive, here on our property. And this was not one I’d ever seen or heard before. “Look it up” he said, unphased by my lack of support. He continued to draw. So I grabbed a couple of field guides, a pair of dollar store reading glasses and laid down on his bed. I’ll be damned if the kid wasn’t absolutely right. “WHAT?!” I screamed when I saw the photo. “A Yellow Rumped Warbler?? I’ve never even heard of one, let alone seen one!” Elihu laughed. “How on earth would you know this?” I asked him, still not completely understanding how he could possibly have come to this conclusion. I know the kid was reading David Attenborough’s books and field guides cover-to-cover at six, I knew that he’d memorized every specimen in his two audio bird books, yeah, I knew all this. I realized that through his motivation to look up birds without my help he’d learned how to count, learned to look up three digit page numbers on his own at a very young age… but how was it that I, alongside him for so much of this process, had not learned about a fairly common backyard bird? Maybe this was more the issue here for me and my frail middle-aged ego; my kid had me beat. He knew exactly what he was talking about – and I didn’t.

He continued to laugh at me, and continued his drawing. “Remember the bird that got stuck in Martha’s music room?” I thought back – he was about seven then. I nodded. “That was a Yellow Rumped Warbler.” There was a pause. Elihu wanted to help me out a bit. “Remember the black on him?” And yes, I did kinda. It was very contrasty, very obvious. And I do remember that even back then it was a bird I professed not to know. “Mommy, that was a male Yellow Rumped Warbler.” I checked my field guide once more. Man, this kid was good. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I, my dear, am amazed at your skill.” He finished his drawing, complete with the beautiful detailed triangular patches of black on the top of the breast, something we’d not have known about had we not had the bird in hand. He had a huge smile on his face the rest of the evening as I continued to muse over my own inability to remember this bird and sulked ever so slightly. I wasn’t so pleased with myself, but my pride and joy at his success and happiness more than made up for it.

Last night, before we went to bed, Elihu offered to close the chickens in. He always does a head count. I’ve long given up on this task; I’m satisfied just to be done with my chores for the day and choose instead to tell em I love em all and close the latch. He came back, announcing that Julius Caesar was missing. This seemed highly improbable, as he was the young rooster emerging as the most royal pain in the ass of the whole flock. Mounting all the ladies and fighting the other cocks all day long, it didn’t seem like he’d be the first to succumb to wildlife. I grabbed a flashlight and went out to check for myself while Elihu got ready for bed. Sure enough, I counted only 29 chickens, and didn’t see the big white fella anywhere. I made a cursory check in the trees and around the coop, but saw not a thing. He would’ve stood out, his bright white body and huge, arching tail. I felt a slight sadness at his absence, and noted to myself that it was a selfish one: he was one delicious young bird we wouldn’t be enjoying on our table. Rats. I went inside and confirmed the news. “Darn” Elihu said. I began to comfort him when he stopped me – “I’m not sad, Mommy, it’s just that we didn’t get to enjoy him, someone else did!” We had a little laugh together, and were warmed at the thought of another creature sleeping full and happy this night, and so we let it go. After all, we still have another five roos that promise to be just as tender and delicious.

Birds in every form, enjoyed and appreciated in every way possible. And all thanks to one young boy who sure knows his birds.

 

El-Ih-Who? April 4, 2013

Yes, I realize that I have given my son a name that requires a little bit of splainin. And I admit, that even after I’d chosen it, I myself didn’t know how it was spelled, or where exactly it came from… Apart from the basic phonetics and the fact that it was a Yaley name that had lived in the lore of my family as long as I could remember (dad both graduated from and taught at the school – class of ’48) – apart from those two things, I really didn’t know the full implications of the name or its history until much later. To set the record straight – my son’s name is pronounced “EL ih hyoo”.  Try as we have to come up with clever rhymes to help remember his name, there aren’t any good ones. “Tell a few” is one. “Smell a pew” is another (yeeps!). And I realize this pronunciation isn’t very intuitive. I myself might guess it to be “el I hoo” if I didn’t know otherwise. And if you speak another language (as Elihu’s grandpa Riaz and grandma Nelly), then you’ll likely never say it the same way we native English speakers from North America do. The diphthong of the ‘hyoo’ sound isn’t easy for some. So much for a low-maintenance, internationally-friendly name.

I’ve never been too comfortable with name choices that called attention to themselves too strongly, but I think I’ve kinda blown it there. I had hoped to subtly distinguish myself from the fashionable, mildly radical choices that began to appear ten years ago… girls named Poppy, Scarlet or Ruby, or boys with names all ending in some sort of ‘un‘ sound, a phenomenon which makes a first name sound more like a sur name; Cason, Mason, Braden, Bryson… I was skittish around Skylars and Ravens, Tuckers and Morgans… Naming a child is a difficult business; you must figure out how to stay ahead of the curve, how to offer your child something that will serve him both as well on the playground as in the boardroom…  My personal goal was to set my child apart from the flock yet somehow stay within the wider scope of what would be culturally accepted. A tall order. And it was one I simply did not have the solution for til almost a week after my son was born.

“Isn’t that illegal?” people would ask in a surprised tone when I told them my newborn son had no name. At first I hesitated. I didn’t think so, but was it? I hadn’t ever heard of an unnamed baby before… But then I remembered once hearing about some native Americans that didn’t name a baby until weeks after the child was born – not until the baby’s emerging personality became evident. And some Indonesian people waited to name their newborns too (plus these folks didn’t allow the baby to even touch the floor for the first few months of its life)… There were clearly many ways to do this. And certainly this was no small matter. The name we gave our son would help to define him to the world. I was not going to allow myself to be rushed in such an important matter.

So why didn’t I have a name ready for him? Because, of course, I was positive that I was having a girl! Fareed and I opted for a surprise, and surprised we were. When Fareed announced it was a boy, I told him that that was impossible; after all, we didn’t have a boy’s name picked out! Elihu was to have been Eva, with the classic, European pronunciation of “Ava”. International, good for traveling and would require very little explanation. We had wanted a name that would work well in either of Fareed’s parent’s cultures. So when Elihu arrived, I was completely stumped. A boy?? So not my plan.

Surprisingly, I had not been worried about finding a name for our son. I just kept whispering to my infant child over and over “You’ll let us know when it’s the right one, I know you will”… and I just simply waited.  It was a warm May morning and I was in bed nursing him when it came to me. “Eli” popped into my head, but I knew that still wasn’t quite it. I remembered mom and dad referencing ‘old Eli’ – the nickname for Elihu Yale, the philanthropist whose gift made possible the first structure of the campus – and I remembered that Eli had been short for something… what was it again? I’d heard it many times but hadn’t paid much attention. But I remember it had sounded elegant, old-world like… I called my mother at once, learned the name from her, and in my heart it was settled. I had no idea how the name was spelled, but I loved the sound… EL ih hyoo… It sounded like a Lord, like a Knight, like a gallant young man… And he could be an Eli. Yes. That was an easy name! That might travel as easily as Eva… Yet he would have a fine, proper name to fall back on should he wish. I called Fareed immediately with my idea, but he thought Eli sounded like something from the Beverly Hillbillies. I had to agree with him. Our culture didn’t wholly support Elis yet. No Eli Mannings then. Instead, Eli was still an elderly Jewish widower who lived in the apartment building across the street. But I was willing. After all, our names would share the biblical root of “El”. My father would have a legacy to honor his beloved alma mater, and our son could dress the name up or down as he chose. What was not to like? When Fareed asked me what the full name was and I told him, he liked it instantly. Yes, he really liked it. This was exciting. Did our child really have a name? Only five minutes before he had been my dearest baby boy (this is what I called him that first week of his life), and now here he was. He was Elihu. (I remember whispering to him again that I knew he’d tell us; I hadn’t been worried).

While I made up nursery songs for my son using his proper name, I called him Eli most of the time, and certainly out in public. I was always terribly self-conscious about his name being so different, so strangely spelled, so unusual. People have always been timid about repeating it after I tell them, and frankly I don’t blame them. It is a weird name. I knew a woman whose grandfather was named Elihu and that brought me some relief. Finally, one person to whom I owed no explanation. If only we’d lived a couple hundred years ago it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But using ‘Eli’ helped. Made it easier, for sure.

When Elihu was around four, shortly after we left Evanston, he told me that his name was not Eli, but Elihu. I was taken aback at how matter-of-factly he’d told me. He really and truly meant it. And honestly, it made me feel better to hear it from him. Somehow it gave me better resolve to use his proper name with less concern for the comfort of others. So he became a full-time Elihu at the age of four. (He’s still Eli to some family and friends, but that’s fine too.)

I don’t mean to belabor the story of my son’s name, but I find these related stories of great wonder…

First, there is the story of settler Elihu Conant. This gentleman farmer was originally from a town here in upstate New York, just some ten miles up the road from the very house from which I now write, and in the mid 1800s he moved to Dekalb, Illinois. Can you believe this? I mean, really? I have googled up and down and never found another Elihu Conant, save my son – who made nearly the exact cross-country move only in reverse some 150 years later – and this man. A quick google search will pull up a firsthand accounting of Elihu Conant’s misfortune from the Lee County Historical Society files. In the laws of the time a property owner himself was guilty of crimes committed on his lands if no evidence existed to prove otherwise. High drama between tenants resulted in a shooting and death, and Elihu as landowner was subsequently jailed for six years. After researching all I could, locating the spot of his ancient farm and finally visiting it myself (my own Elihu napping unawares in the back seat) my heart was deeply saddened to find nothing left…. nothing at all. On the very spot where once stood his home, and presumably trees, a well, some barns and outbuildings… not a one of these things remained. All that was left was an enormous, undulating field of soy bean plants stretching off into the distance. Ah well. His witness lives on in me, and now in all of you. And anyway, that particular Elihu is certainly long past his misery here…

There is another Elihu of some significance to us who once lived in here in Greenfield, too.  Martha’s fine old country home was built in the early 1800s by settler Elihu Wing. Did you get that? Elihu Wing. It almost seems there was a cosmic mix up and my son got the wrong last name. That I’ve known Elihu Wing’s home all of my life – and that my son has too – it just gives the house an even greater significance in our lives.

Then there’s the Elihu of ancient times, the young man in the book of Job who sits and patiently listens to the old timers complain that while they’ve made all the requisite sacrifices God has asked of them, they’re beginning to doubt such a God exists as He’s not responded in kind. Finally, Elihu, the youngest member present, speaks. He cites miracles of nature, the perfect organization of the seasons, the relationships between all creatures and more… all this, must be, Elihu pours from his heart, irrefutable evidence of an all-knowing, all-loving God. Suffice to say, he’s the kid at the party, and yet he’s the one with the line to the truth. Right on. I like that story.

There have been a handful of distinguished men over the past several hundred years named Elihu. Each a successful, intelligent contributor to his work. One ran for Vice President, one designed Boston’s first municipal electrical grid, one served as peace activist who opposed the slavery of his time, and one was an Italian educated artist whose works hang in the Smithsonian. For a sleeper of a name that almost no one’s ever heard of, it’s got a lot of impressive history behind it which hopefully portends the bright and happy future of one nine year old boy who, like those great men before, also answers to the name of Elihu.

 

Life So Far October 29, 2012

Dictated to me tonight. Wish we’d done more of this over the past two years, but it just never happened. So glad we got this one down…

October 29th, 2012   by Elihu Scott Conant-Haque

You know, as I look back at all the years I was in Greenfield School, I realized that although I’ve had so many experiences at other schools, I really have had most of my life there. Even though I’d had five years at other places, I really became aware of where I was at age five, so that’s why I say my “whole life” was there.

Greenfield School had been a good school. I mean, I’d been famous at the place, not that I’d had many friends. And it was true, I didn’t have many friends, though it varied; sometimes I’d have a lot, maybe for a week or two, and then they’d remember that they played sports and that they were “cool” kids, so they couldn’t hang out with me. And then it would go back to just Keithie and me, and maybe Carter. Keith is a tall boy, a fast runner (unlike me) and he plays sports. He’s an outdoorsy type, he rides motorbikes – he even has his own – and can do huge bicycle jumps. Not that I’m not cool, I am, just in my own way. I guess Keith had been the only kid in my class to realize that maybe I was cool – in my own way – and that’s why he was friends with me. Cause usually, a kid is friends with you only if you’re cool – and you have to be cool in his way.

Anyway, the years at Greenfield seemed to pass quickly, as I look back at them now, a fourth-grader going to Waldorf, with many, many friends (not that I’m popular.) Greenfield was a good school, it’s just that, I guess my eyes sort of contributed to the way I acted, I don’t know. Because the school seemed really chaotic to me, but not to others; they could deal with it. Ha, they wouldn’t have even cared even if it was chaotic for them – they would have just kept on going. But that was then. Now is now.

I guess you probably want to know more about what I’m doing at the moment than what I did a couple of years ago – though all this seems interesting to me, because it’s funny to look back on my own life now, and see all the things I never would have realized then.

At Waldorf, things are going pretty good. I mean maybe it’s not true that I’m totally loaded with friends. A friend is sort of a different thing than a classmate that really cares about you. A friend is someone who’s willing to play with you at recess rather than doing their own silly sport that you can’t understand. Now friends are nice to have, and there are two real good friends I have at Waldorf. Cora and Sophia are their names. They’re twins. They have freckles and short, rusty-colored hair. They’re both a little taller than me; Sophia’s about an inch taller and Cora is about two and a half inches taller. Mostly everyone is my class is taller than me. I’m the second shortest, next to Phoenix.

It’s a good school, this new school, Waldorf. I mean, I’ve been here for about six months, it’s not like it’s really new. I’ve mostly set into the things I have to do. They’re different from Greenfield, though there is homework. I have to do spelling. But the thing I like most about Waldorf is that it’s not as chaotic as Greenfield, it really isn’t. It’s a gentle school. And singing is a big part of the day. Since I’m a very good singer, that was obviously a nice little surprise that I didn’t know of when I first came to the school. There are many beautiful songs we sing. One we’ve been practicing especially hard on is a song called “the Goose Song”. It’s a beautiful song, with a melody and harmony part. We have a class of 22, so when we sing both parts together it sounds amazing. But it might not sound quite so amazing, because sadly, Sophia and Cora are moving soon.

Well that’s about all I have to tell you about Waldorf and Greenfield. I’m really happy to have this written down. It makes me feel good to know that somewhere in all these files, in our little Mac computer, tucked away under a little stool, in a little bedroom, in a little country cottage, where live a little boy and his mother, is a whole story of that little boy, looking back. And to know, that somewhere in that little boy, he feels happy.

 

May Day Pics May 8, 2012

Waldorf School kids dance around the maypole… complete with flowered crowns on their heads, recorders and drums playing… a delightfully anachronistic feel to the day.

Elihu in blue

Later that fine May day… glow-in-the-dark stars dry on the trampoline for use that night at the Greenfield Elementary School talent show.

Fifty stars in all. Lots of time with an X-Acto knife.

The beautiful and talented Ginley Girls sing “Sweet Child O Mine” in honor of their blue-eyed baby sister

The traditional half time chicken dance. Elihu is the pit orchestra and rim shot guy and plays along with the track. A chicken and a duck dance wing-in-wing on stage

In the vast field just beyond our house we discovered literally hundreds of these Comma Butterflies passing by… note the interesting, curvy silhouette of the wings

Orange and brown and pretty on the inside

Elihu smooches our gregarious hen, Thumbs Up

Hello, Thumbs Up!

One more surprise from the incubator

On May 7th, my 49th birthday, I realized that my childhood friend’s mother died at 49.  She seemed like a real grown-up to me back then. I don’t feel like such a grown up. Age and perspective. Interesting.

Oh, little Rose Breasted Grosbeak, we have waited to see you for lo these past three years!