Monday, August 23, 2010

For Tom

Tom is my "agent provocateur" and the other day he wondered out loud about why I don't post any of my work here on this blog.

I thought what I posted here was some of my work, but he meant—quite specifically—things I've published and sections of the memoir I'm working on.

So here's a little something for him. It's actually a section I'm debating whether or not to include in the memoir. If you're so inspired, let me know what you think.

All This Lovely Stillness

This house is so quiet. It is full of the rhythms of calm habits, of a certain messy order designed to make things possible. Walls of muted colors, furniture chosen for its clean-lined simplicity or a certain funky charm, the beds piled with pillows and topped with comforters that live up to their name. Here the only disruption comes in the form of play—two cats (what were we thinking?) tumbling and batting and leaping up.

All this lovely stillness. I can’t believe it is mine.

Yet there is something completely familiar to this. Look carefully and the past asserts itself in small ways. Leather chairs in the living room, almost like those in the house on Covewood Drive. White linen curtains in the master bedroom, longer than those in my parents’ room, but still…white linen. The importance of coffee first thing in the morning, throughout the day. Even those things hidden from sight are placed where they have always been placed—the milk goes on the right top shelf of the refrigerator, every day dishes are stored in the cabinet above the dishwasher, the broiler pan lives on the top rack of the oven. A teakettle stays on the right rear burner of the stove, “where it belongs.”

There are even relics carried through all the years of chaos, brought along in every move, just waiting waiting waiting to be placed in specific spots. My portrait, the one I sat for when I was five, wearing that dress of polished cotton bought just for the occasion. The leather jewelry cases, hand-tooled, gold-embossed, are on my dresser and still hold the mysterious Mason’s pin, the coral necklace and earrings, the carved lapis necklace, my great-great-grandmother’s gold pocket watch. A photo of the farmhouse in Illinois, sepia-toned. My grandmother’s wedding crystal is in the cabinet, her silver in a felt-lined drawer; I use them for dinner parties and holidays and, sometimes, just to feel their history, at lunchtime when I eat alone.

All of my pots and pans and skillets hang from a rack, out in plain sight, but tucked inside a cabinet there is a single small Revereware pot, its copper bottom mottled, handle faded to a dusty charcoal—the perfect size for heating a can of Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup to be eaten right out of the pot with a round soup spoon I have to search for every time. My father’s pot, his spoon, a certain comfort in the ritual of standing at the counter repeating his habit. On a shelf at the back of my closet is where I keep his last blue-plaid bathrobe; soft, full of holes, the belt frayed.

There is nothing of my mother here in this house. No talismans, no objects, not even a photo on display. Nothing.

That is a lie, of course. Everything here refers to my mother. Particularly the quiet. The echo of her insists on this quiet. I insist on this calm stillness. I want it. I need it to give me, finally, the chance to heal that still-raw wound inflicted by the loss of her, that endless incremental losing. I miss my mother, my irreplaceable beloved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Plan B

So now comes rain—a blessing, surely, though the timing of it is maddening. After a steady diet of sunny Sundays today I wake to a sodden landscape and realize I have to seriously consider instituting Plan B.

The dinner for 14 may actually have to be served inside. Good thing we bought that pop-up shelter. Good thing I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge for those tables to set up inside that shelter. Good thing Neil spent hours coaxing the parched yard look "presentable."

I've checked my weather site, noted the green bars predicting rainfall for the hours between 3 p.m. and midnight (oh, if they are right it will rain!), watched the radar stagger through the spectrum of orange (heavy) to blue (light). "Damn," I think. "And damn."

Good thing we had the foresight to buy a dining table that expands into the living room to accommodate a crowd. Good thing the living room has so little furniture in it.

Good thing life has taught me to always have a Plan B (and C and D).

And this: the point is not the perfection of the setting. The point is to gather together 14 for a celebration of all the unpredictable joy Life delivers.