The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Bye Bye July August 1, 2013

In much of the Western world August is the month of vacations and holidays. In Europe folks head to Mediterranean coasts and leave signs in windows telling all that they’re gone for the month. People there fairly expect it. But here in the states there is no one favorite summer month for vacation. In fact, it seems that much of the country favors a spring getaway to a trip in muggy mid-summer. (I can remember classmates returning from mid-winter and spring breaks with those telltale ski goggle suntan lines while I secretly felt sorry for myself that I had never had the privilege.) I myself come from a family that never once took an honest-to-good vacation. Since my father was a musician, the family accompanied him to some lovely places where he performed, but it was not quite the same. Ditto with my ex husband.

Our family did, however, spend the summers in our tiny country cottage here in Greenfield Center, New York, as my mother and father were busy hosting their long-running Festival of Baroque Music. While my youth’s memories are colored by the sounds of early music and the scents of freshly mowed fields, I cannot say that as a child I necessarily looked forward to that particular time each year, nor did I realize at the time how rare and lovely the experience was. To me as a child it was just plain hot, muggy and buggy. And there was little to do.

Some years I headed for New Hampshire, where I spent two weeks in an overnight camp that both my mother and grandmother had attended. (While I enjoyed it once I got there, I remember feeling a low-grade dread growing in my stomach as the trip approached.) In our tiny house we had a black and white tv that got only three channels; we seldom watched it much during the day anyhow, as my mother’s constant refrain was “it’s too nice a day to be in the house – go outside!” In retrospect I can realize how lovely and innocent my summers were, but as I was experiencing them I just remember thinking mainly this: July is hot, long and boring. As a kid I never really did like July.

But here I am today on the final evening of the month, and my feeling about this time of year has changed. It’s fascinating to me that I feel so differently about July as a fifty year old woman. Today I relished the gorgeous day, the blue sky and puffy white clouds. The breeze was exquisite, my progress on the house encouraging, and my plans for the future invigorating. As I sat in my chair admiring my freshly painted house – plus my windswept view – I just kept thinking about how lucky I was. I loved this spot, I loved my home, and was beginning to finally love my life.

This year July had been a great month. And, it occurred to me, although it really had been just visiting my old neighborhood, I did even manage to take a trip to Chicago. And I suppose that constitutes a vacation. After all, it was refreshing and very enjoyable. So yeah, I guess it counts. That makes my July a success for the books: a proper vacation, some kid-free time to do some fixes on the house, and a few moments alone in the fresh air with a good book. The garden’s going well, the house is tidy and no one needs me right now. Yes, this has been a very good month for me.

August is just icing on the cake. I feel like the next two weeks before Elihu comes home are the most supreme gift. Will use every minute, will savor every summer breeze. Soon enough I’ll need to prepare for the upcoming school year; gotta get ready for my fall classes and start thinking about lesson plans… So August won’t be all mine. But still, I got it good. Financially summers are always very tight because I don’t have any private students – that means no income. But the time itself – that is just so precious. I wait all year for the time to open up so that I can finally get to that list of projects. This year I got a lot of em done. And that feels very good.

July also marks my one year anniversary as a divorced woman. Another milestone, another step towards this new life we’re making for ourselves here in upstate New York. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got here, and what on earth I’m doing sharing my property with forty chickens and a goose, but sometimes it feels like the best fit ever. Especially on a fine summer day. Thanks, July, I’ve enjoyed you immensely. See you again next year…

 

Heat Exchange July 19, 2013

Hoo-kay. This is that one week that happens each year in which I begin to think that just maybe I shoulda got myself an air conditioner… Each year, though, I ride it out along with millions of other human beings, and I thank God for my super cool (albeit musty smelling) basement. Usually I can take the heat. Never lasts too terribly long. And even on the hottest of days, it can feel bearable outside as the breezes blow by. The other day, in fact, I gardened in jungle-like conditions, but found that I was enjoying myself. Even marveled at how I was chugging along. (I’m expanding our little pond and putting in a perennial garden. Being such a nature boy, lil man will likely flip when he comes home and sees it all. And I’m going to stock the pond with fish, too.)

I keep checking my indoor/outdoor thermometer, marveling at the phenomenon which happens only at this time of year: the great heat exchange. The time of year when each day it becomes much hotter inside than out. It’s interesting to watch how the two numbers move towards – and then pass – each other. This poorly-insulated 70s ranch quickly becomes a hot box as the day goes on, and it can take hours beyond nightfall until it falls again to comfortable temps. And by comfortable, I mean like 85. And the humidity? Let’s just say that even paper doesn’t behave as it should in moisture like this. It bends in a suspicious way when I hold it, and if I should try and tear it, the fibers reluctantly let go of each other in seeming slow-motion, leaving behind a fuzzy edge.

Another temperature-related fact of life in this latitude (I find Chicago’s weather just about the same, although a tad less humid) is the enormous range of temperatures that we experience in a calendar year. From a nose hair-freezing 40 below to around 100 above, it’s really impressive. And while a bit annoying in those extreme moments, it does sort of give one a feeling of resilience and dare I say pride in one’s ability to continue on in spite of the ‘hardship’. Neighbors raise a hand in greeting across a field, and the feeling of solidarity grows. We are soldiering on; tending to our daily chores (although sometimes with less vigor or thoroughness) and just keeping up with things in general – in spite of the intense heat. “Can you imagine what it was like 200 years ago?” we ask each other incredulously. At least we can jump in an air-conditioned car or pass a few hours at the mall if we really need relief. I think of those folks whose jobs keep them outside on such days (not to mention the horses! Oh those poor creatures running in Saratoga!) and feel great sympathy. And I know that a good part of the world lives in tropical heat and without the benefit of air conditioning. So I know I don’t have it bad. But still.

I won’t be leaving this musty basement for a while yet. My computer’s here, I’ve got a couch, a crappy old tv and tons of filing to do. So I’m ok. For now, I’m going to exchange floors until my indoor/outdoor thermometer shows me some more encouraging numbers.

In an unrelated Post Script: Today I have been divorced one whole year. Didn’t actually learn that I was divorced until months after the fact (pro bono representation, whatcha gonna do?) so can’t say it feels like a landmark really. Yet it is. And I can report that these days I am feeling good about things. It’s taken til the age of 50 and over five years’ distance between me and my married life for me to finally feel free, hopeful…. and dare I say, happy! Plus it’s my dear friend Randy’s birthday too. So happy day to us both, old friend!