The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Golden Touch April 7, 2014

We’ve been crazy-busy lately, but in spite of that, we both have enjoyed something of a golden touch this past week, starting, of course, with Elihu’s wonderful performances as King Midas in his class’s annual play. (Many times he made sure I knew its true title was The Masque of Midas, with a ‘q’ and not a k.) I cannot relate to you how robust a performance he gave, how clear were his lines, how his understanding of their meaning (in spite of the flowery, archaic language) translated so easily through his speech and gesture… His voice was as crisp, bold and commanding as was his character; his body moved so much like royalty too… I personally loved the part where he admits the fickle nature of humans, and concedes how quickly we forget the small miracles of the everyday. As he eats a grape (which previously his spell prevented him from tasting) he admits that in spite of the lesson he’s learned through having – and then losing – his golden touch, even now the precious fruit was losing its ‘ambrosial taste’. And beyond that, Midas expected that in very little time he would revert to his old ways and completely forget the lessons he had only just learned… I loved the way Midas – and Elihu too, in his understanding and appreciation for the meaning of his lines – had the clarity to recognize that through his human ways he would likely in the end lose the ability to recognize the true value in the everyday. This was a kid who got it, and who conveyed it. The whole cast was wonderful, and many children were able to play their instruments in the production, everyone of the children sang beautifully, and a handful of them enjoyed playing some very animated and funny scenes. The play was a beautiful ensemble piece that will live long in the memories of these children, their beloved teacher, and all their proud friends and family who were there to share in the experience.

IMG_1246

Please forgive – or overlook – the donkey ears. They come out at the end, and we forgot to stash em for the photos.

IMG_1247

A fitting instrument for the king to play, I think.

Things weren’t entirely golden at the start, but we persevered, looking for that unanticipated golden ending… Had a coupla goodnews/badnews scenes of our own play out this past week. Elihu’s bass broke. I went to tune it for one of his plays, and the strings just weren’t responding. I took a closer look at the tuners, and glad my attention was there, for I saw the giant headstock just fall over forward. I caught it, thankfully, so no more damage was done. And the break itself wasn’t a clean one. Worth a look-see at the shop, but deep-down I kinda knew Elihu’s days with this instrument were over. Sad, I thought. My father had seen him first play on it. He’d learned a lot on it – we’d enjoyed making some good music together with it. But then I caught myself, and reminded myself not to get too sentimental. There will be many basses yet to come as he grows. This is a rental, and only a quarter size at that. But still. It was his first. We prepared for a good month without an instrument when good old Ed called from the shop and told us he had a new one in for us. Huh? Really? That only took like a day! Here’s the good news/bad news part. The endpin just wouldn’t come out. Had to be pounded back in when we did finally pull it out with some pliers. Nope. Wouldn’t cut it. Besides, the action felt bad, and I think it sounded like a box. We really had lucked out with that first instrument. (Glad we took down the maker’s name… may try finding him again.) This generic rental was made in Romania, and while we’re pretty sure some fine polkas likely come from this country, this instrument itself was sure not serving as the country’s best calling card. Elihu saw far more promise in his new discovery of a Bajnolele as we awaited the fate of this new rental… Last visit he had his first sit-down with a mandolin, and now this…. Perhaps his problems with these basses was helping to open doors to new adventures… Elihu’s eleventh birthday is in three weeks… He may have another instrument (or two) in his bag of tricks by then…

IMG_1150

Ed ascertains that there’ll be no easy fix here. Time for a new rental. Too bad, this one sounded and played great.

IMG_1144

So in the meantime, Elihu picks up a mandolin. Hey, they’re strung just like violins. Hey, Elihu can play a violin…


IMG_1422

Ed really helped us by getting a new rental in ASAP, only the silly end pin’s stuck. That’s ok, the thing sounded like a box anyhow. Hope the next one sounds and feels better than this. He’ll use his upright electric tomorrow in orchestra – that’ll be kind of a new adventure. Make him a rock star at school, too.!

IMG_1432While Ed tried to work on the bass, Elihu discovered a Banjolele – and now it’s Mama who knows the tuning here and can show lil man a couple tricks. Wow, this thing is fun! Hmm… this might be a lot of fun to add to the collection….

IMG_1480

The culture of fifth grade boys: a renaissance of Pokemon

IMG_1493

Thankfully jamming holds some solid interest. Drums, Wurlitzer, Melodica and Clarinet. !!

Yes, we’ve had some golden moments in the past few days; the class play, the trying out of a couple new instruments (and getting along with em just fine), a couple of long play dates with his two buddies, one of which was outdoors in the new warmth of Spring (and which also included some making of music, video gaming, Pokemon trading, trampoline hopping, woods exploring, plane flying and chicken chasing). Then there was the day we’d waited for for a long time now. We went to visit an old family member. We went to see (with our breath held and hopes not too high) our beloved goose Maximus in his new home. We’ve been told he’d keen on a certain gal, and that he’s found his place in the large flock. That we even saw him at all was a bit of a surprise to us. We’d come expecting the worst – we’d thought he’d likely be deeply embedded in his flock, that he’d turn and run the other way, aloof, wild, anything but how we’d once known him. Thankfully, he was close by when we arrived, and in spite of Elihu’s advances and Max’s slight protests, in very short order Max had allowed Elihu to pick him up. How our hearts warmed! And I got to hold my beloved Max’s sweet head in my hands and kiss his cheeks and head as I had always done. I swear that bird recognized us in his heart. I swear he knew it was us. That we were there – not just any crazy humans trying to pick him up and smooch him – but us, his first family. Elihu spent some alone time with Max, talking to him. Saying things I didn’t need to ask him about – as they were between a boy and his bird.

The folks who took Max in have taken other sad creatures in to live with them. They’re angels who are giving a handful of God’s creatures a better experience on this planet. Good people, good work they do. And we’re eternally grateful that they were able to give our Max a wonderful, full-goose life here on their side of the mountain. My goodness, they even have a pond! Heaven on earth! I think of that tiny pond I’d made here last summer – and remember Maximus doing his ‘up tails all’ move in that tiny triangle of water… Such joy he radiated, and yet in such tiny confines. Can you imagine the goose-joy he’ll feel when finally in a real pond for the very first time? We hope that we can be there to witness it… we hear that when they pull that winter fencing back and open the pond to all the critters of the farm for the first time each Spring – it’s a BIG deal  – an event of sorts. The birds all know and wait at the edge…. Like patrons at a concert waiting to stake out their spot on the lawn… The geese all hang about, nearly frantic to get on that glorious water… The fence goes back and the geese go forth…. A golden moment for sure.

 

IMG_1434Now it’s off to visit Maximus in his new home

IMG_1439

Elihu spotted him right away.

IMG_1441

And had him in his arms just about within seconds.

IMG_1445

After an ‘enforced’ smooching (I got to kiss him too), Max regards us from a distance.

Probably the very most important thing we did this weekend was to stock our incubator. These twenty-four eggs are worth their weight in gold to us… Each year we put them in the machine such that they’ll hatch out the day of Elihu’s birthday party. I can hardly believe it, but this will be our fifth year doing it. It has truly become a tradition on his birthday. What a lovely way to remember his childhood birthdays, too… We were given eggs from our friends at Elihu Farm (I know, right?) and also from Max’s new family. We added some of our own, and between all three sources hope for a good hatch out in twenty-one days. Ya never know. The sound of the small, table-top incubator clicking along, day and night is for us a sound of Spring. From within those tiny machine noises comes a certain kind of hope, of excitement for the future. It gives us a refreshed sense of happiness and possibility…. So much potential, so much unknown…. such a metaphor for life itself.

IMG_1405

Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm. She kindly gave us some (hopefully) fertile eggs to raise up a new flock.

IMG_1466

 Here they are today going into the incubator. They’ll hatch in 21 days.

Ah, such a hopeful time of year. Snow still lingers, but each day there’s less and less of the stuff. Just today Elihu and I both heard some Redwing blackbirds (haven’t seen one yet – that will have me pulling over to the side of the road for sure). This morning the air was absolutely filled with the sounds of nearly a dozen new arrivals – all of whom were heard for the first time today! It’s as if some threshold has been crossed now. How do they do it? we shake our heads in wonder each year, but more unimaginable still is that they all seem to arrive at once. We don’t even try to understand. In this world of 24/7 illumination and patches of untouched nature so few and far between, it breaks our hearts to attempt to comprehend their task. So all we can do is revel in their return and let them know how much we love them, how glad we are to see them. “They really are like family, aren’t they?” Elihu asks me each year as we lean on our elbows and watch the visitors on our platform feeder. “Yes, they are”, I always answer.

IMG_1369

Elihu has loved and consulted his audio bird books for half his life now. They come out again this time of year.

IMG_1366

One of our many daily visitors

IMG_1399My mother hates these sneaky cowbirds, but hey, they can’t help how they’re engineered….

IMG_1391

 The most precious gold of all in our world is the brand-new Spring plumage on our little goldfinch friends…

 

Frogs’ Legs and Helicopters May 4, 2012

A week has nearly elapsed since Elihu’s ninth birthday and the whole week has been a veritable whirlwind. Right now we two are still straddling two worlds; Elihu attends Waldorf, yet tomorrow he will and I will be performing at his former school’s talent show. I have had my hands full running the production and haven’t had a moment to spare. After a too-late bedtime I sit, sleepy at my computer, wondering how possibly to catch up.

His proper birthday was last Saturday. The birthday angel had left some lovely gifts as he slept, and he awoke to a kitchen table filled with flying contraptions, plus a few bird-related items for good measure. (This month the bills will have to wait, our priorities were elsewhere.) What a lovely day it was, sunny and just warm enough to try a few outdoor flights. With so many new toys to become familiar with, the day was passed with me sleepily watching him from the couch as he learned the intricacies of each one. A couple of our chicks hatched that day too, which added to the delight of the day. The soundtrack of that afternoon was the constant peeping of the baby chicks and the whirring of helicopter blades.

That evening we went to dinner at the local favorite restaurant called “The Wishing Well”. It was where we’d eaten the past year on his birthday, and although mom sponsored our trip there, she did not join us as the place is quite pricey and the tab might have been a bit too severe for all five of us Conants. It was a night I will always remember. As we sat at the low tables in the bar area listening to the piano player, we had drinks and he opened just a few special gifts I’d reserved for the occasion. When the waitress came to take our drink order Elihu told me to ‘go ahead and get something special’ and so I did. I enjoyed my first martini in several years (gin, straight up with olives thank you). He had taken such pride in dressing and looked to me as handsome as ever. I too had dressed up, and the two of us felt very good indeed as we sat in comfy leather chairs beneath the giant head of a taxidermed moose above the fireplace.

Elihu’s first gift was a lovely field guide of the birds of Europe and England – accompanied by some tasty caramels – sent by his sister, Brigitta, who lives outside of London. He entertained me by testing my knowledge of the birds. He covered up the names and smiled ear-to-ear as he watched me struggling for the name. He knew nearly every bird in that book. He laughed when I asked how that was possible. “I’ve been reading about them since I was four!” he laughed. Then I presented my own gifts to him. I watched as he opened the first, amazed that by the shape alone he hadn’t been able to figure out what they were. When he saw his very first, professional pair of brushes, he lit up. I have never heard that tone of his voice before as he thanked me ‘so much’. He was thrilled that he could finally “play like the real jazz drummers”! Immediately he took them out, opened up the metal fans and began playing on the table. “Like this?” he asked, as he practiced a circular movement. There wasn’t much room for me to improve on his intuitive technique; as he played he got the idea very naturally. After a bit I had to ask him to hold back, as it might be distracting to the table next to us. Thankfully he is still young enough (and yes, cute enough) that he’s easily forgiven. Plus he was actually playing along with the pianist and sounded pretty good. Our table in the dining room was still occupied and so the manager began to bring us little complimentary treats to help pass the time. First it was some asparagus and corn soup. Elihu loved it. I was so pleased to see him taste it – often he’ll pass on soup – but as it was his birthday and he was quite earnest about being grown up, he did what was polite. Turned out he dug it. As he did the escargot that followed. In fact, he like them so well I gave him my share. A sampling of crab meat then arrived just before I offered him my second gift; a treasured CD of polkas we’d once enjoyed (but which now only frustratingly skipped over the first few tracks.) He was thrilled! What joy in this mother’s heart to see her son so fully happy. (And that martini made me happy too.)

We were shown to our table, which was in a far corner of the farmhouse-turned restaurant, and there was both a crackling fire and a wall of bookshelves behind us. He pulled out an ancient cloth-bound book on aviation and amused himself with that as we waited for his much-anticipated frogs’ legs. Dinner was not too long in arriving, and soon we were eating and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I had the soft shell crab, and treasured each bite. The meal was perfect. We bagged what was left of our mashed potatoes for our chickens back home, and after paying the bill as carelessly as if it were something I did every day, we gathered our things and headed out into the night.

The next day was Sunday, the day of his birthday party. To sum up the day, I might simply say it was “off the hook” and I believe you’ll get the idea. It was a day in which his two worlds came together; there were children from his old elementary school there along with new classmates and friends from Waldorf. As usual, we invited and encouraged siblings and parents to come and stay, so before long our tiny house was filled to the rafters with bodies of all sizes. The eggs in the incubator began peeping and cracking open as planned, yet in spite of all the plans I’d had for keeping on top of the presents, they flew open at a rate I could not keep up with. Water guns (pre-loaded) were the party favors, and before the cake was out kids were running in and out of doors and everywhere outside in a great chase. The trampoline was well beyond my ‘rule of 3’ capacity, but the many adults sitting close by didn’t seem to mind. Chickens were being chased, eggs were being collected, and yes, the drums in the basement – plus an electric guitar and my wurlitzer too – were being played. And all at the same time. Our neighbor showed up with his two week old baby, wife and other young daughter; they’d ridden over in their 1925 model T. Soon he was giving party guests rides around the field in his ancient car. The day was spirited, joyful chaos. As soon as I turned my attention to someone, I was shortly pulled in another direction. I finally managed to take one moment at the top of the steps to pause. I stood there by the kitchen door just looking out at it all in wonder. Wow. Such a contrast to the way things started for us here. To see this, you’d never know the darkness in which we’d lived for those first few years. This new life was simply miraculous.

That day we met many new friends. This week Elihu’s discovered that along with friends and their generosity comes the task of letter-writing. Since he is not given homework at Waldorf these days, his homework this week has been to write thank-you notes. Not a small task, but one he sees the value of. He is well aware how blessed he is to have so many people in his life, and he himself feels compelled to let his friends know that he appreciates them. Yes, Elihu is growing up. He’s growing up to be a good young man. I am so proud of him, I am so in love with him. I am a mother with a full heart.

He’s a good kid, and he’s one tired kid, too. Tomorrow his school will hold a May day celebration in the park, and tomorrow night he will be the rim shot guy at the talent show, hitting his snare and crash cymbal after all the corny jokes. And I’ve been told there will be a lot of them. One more long day, one more long night. Then our transition is underway in earnest.

Welcome Spring! Welcome new life! Another year, another year’s adventures await…