I had a little time between pick ups this afternoon, so I ducked in to a Home Goods near campus while I waited for T. This is always dangerous. In fact we have a brand new Home Goods much closer that opened last month and I’ve been avoiding it since I don’t want to spend more money right now.
Of course, they are all set up for Christmas. Yes, they had a few tables that still had Thanksgiving related merchandise, but most of rest of the halls were fully decked (seriously, you know how hard it is to get past another person’s cart in an aisle because that place is so stuff with stuff?). It made me think about how often recently I’ve seen people complaining about others decorating for Christmas already when we haven’t had Thanksgiving yet.
Yet, wandering around amid the festive tchotchkes, the trees painted with faux snow, and the holiday dishes and linens, I didn’t feel annoyed or rushed, I felt happy. Now, I’m not going to be one of those super-early decorators, but I am on their side. These are dark times, and for those of us who are uplifted by whatever the season means to them, bringing out the spirit early offers a little reprieve. There’s a feeling of nesting that goes along with that, and the revisiting of family traditions with ornaments that may have an origin story.
I didn’t buy much this afternoon. I really don’t have room for any more decorations. By the way, it always amazes me that the smallest houses seem to have the most lawn ornaments for any holiday – where do they put them when they are not on display? I bought a new tablecloth and napkins, a gesture of hope that we’ll be having more family dinners this winter. I sort of want to dig out the Christmas dishes, but I probably won’t.
Last year I was part of a discussion with some women about when the Christmas / holiday decorations come down. Several took everything down the day after Christmas, others waited until after the New Year or the 12th Day of Christmas (Epiphany). In my house the tree comes down the weekend after Epiphany, the lights outside will come down slowly through the winter. Several years ago a local wrote to the paper asking people in the area to leave their holiday lights out through February so that there would be light through the dark hours of winter. As someone for whom the first three months of the year feel interminable, I signed on right away.
A few weeks ago, I got a Facebook invite to a new group of people from my old hometown. Unlike similar groups I have joined in the past that were started by town historians or gentrifying newcomers, this one was started by someone who had been in my circle of friends in high school. Its membership is mostly my peers – or at least within a ten year window whether older or younger.
For the first week or so, as the group continued to grow, I scrolled through updates from people with whom I had once been friendly but hadn’t thought about in 25 years. It was interesting to see what people looked like now that we were all in our 50s. How many had stayed in the area? How many had moved on?
There were several threads about elementary school and middle school (I wasn’t a full-time resident there yet), various teachers; the good, the bad, the funny, and the creepy. Much reminiscing about parties I was never allowed to attend (did no one else have parental supervision in high school?). There was a whole thread about people who had passed away since high school (so many, OMG!). Some I knew about, most I didn’t.
I wasn’t contributing very much, just reading. As days went by I started to realize that I was feeling very unsettled by all this revisiting of our youth. I’m still not entirely sure why. My post-high school experience felt very different from many of the other participants, perhaps, in part, because I left.
I loved my high school experience and most of the people in it, but I’ve always said that I’m glad I’m not living where I grew up because I’m not the same person I was when I was 17. Yet, although I only lived there year-round through high school, it is more “home” to me than the place I’ve lived for the last 28 years. There’s a pull that never leaves, I guess.
I felt it last year when I went back for my uncle’s funeral. My grandparents lived in the next town and we spent a lot of time there with cousins. My uncle was the last person to be buried in the family plot that holds my grandparents and a couple of my grandfather’s brothers. After the service and some time spent with my cousins I drove around both Branford and Guilford for the first time in over a decade. For reasons that have more to do with family history, I think the sadness I was feeling was about lost opportunity.
One thing I do like about this new group is how much they support one another. 30 + years seems to have erased the clique and class differences and people are banding together to do things like raise money for a veteran’s remembrance effort and a local business owner who just underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. If I had more cash available, I’d send some their way too.
Do you live where you grew up, or do you go back to visit?
If you are a writer, you may know November as National Novel Writing Month. Every year I see notification of this effort, and I think – – well, maybe I should try this. This year I actually have a project but I am still in the research phase.
It also happens to be National Blog Posting Month. This was an effort begun by Eden Kennedy, and revived by Asha Dornfest, both longtime bloggers and writers. The goal is to post every day for the month of November, though the “rules” are much looser than that this time around.
I’m going to participate because I need the motivation, and I may do something that I haven’t done much of before: planning. This afternoon, I’m going to sit down and list the various things I might want to write about or share.
I’m also really interested in hearing from other participants who still have blogs. I’ve been blogging off and on since 2005. I didn’t get to go to a lot of the early BlogHers so I sort of missed out on that part of the relationship building. My current contact with other bloggers of that era is now mostly from following them on Instagram. Many of them have moved on to other projects, just as BlogHer has moved on from what it once was. I miss the long form writing, the humorous episodes, the frank treatment of life’s difficult experiences.
Will, I be able to post every day? Probably not, I’m a slow writer, but I’m going to try to do as much as I can. This is going to force me to think of things to write about, and that’s not a bad thing.
One of the nicer things about the cooler weather is that it gets me in the mood to cook. There’s currently a chicken and barley soup simmering on the stove. It started with a roast chicken over the weekend, from which I also made chicken broth, pot pie, and this soup.
There is a half-bushel bag of apples on the counter waiting to be made into apple pies and applesauce to go with the pork roast I am planning for next weekend.
I’m still trying to see as much of the sun as possible. The light is currently filtered through the yellows and reds of the autumn leaves; those still on the trees and those spilled on the ground. It gives the deceptive impression of warmth, but requires a sweater to enjoy. A passing deer blends into the landscape and can barely be seen save for the waving of his white tail. The dog, barking for blood, alerts us to her presence. The deer looks toward the noise, but remains unbothered.
It rained and stormed this week and the wind was quite serious. For all the downed limbs and local power outages, I’m surprised there aren’t fewer bare branches. We’re into November now and with so few evergreens in the yard, it will be quite bleak by the end of the month.
My days are divided between chauffeuring the boys to their various schools, jobs, and friends and trying to write. When I can, I travel via the beach roads on the southern side of the island where the marshes meet the pavement, and there’s a good chance to spot wildlife from the car. In the summer there are often stark, white egrets or an occasional heron fishing among the grasses. In the winters you are more likely to see hawks perched on bare limbs closer to the road. This area is a winter harbor for many birds. There have been snowy owl sightings; sadly, never by me.
Even in the tight grip of winter, the marsh is a place I love. More than the sandy beach or the rocky point, it reminds me of the hardy New Englander that I always imagined myself to be. In the warmer months, it sings with the constant song of frogs, insects, and the chippering of red winged blackbirds. Colder months bring forbidding wind and frozen pools among the waving brown grasses. There is a lonely romanticism to it, as if you might expect to see the figure of a man in a pea coat and bog boots tramping through with his collar turned up and a spaniel at his side. The word that comes to mind as I pass through is “sere.” I looked it up the other day and was surprised to find that it was not a color, but a state of wither. Maybe it’s not an accident that the old Aerosmith tune begins with the sound of the winds.
It was one of those moments when I wished I could get a picture. I was driving and alone in the car, so that would have been unsafe, and in any case, impossible to get a good angle.
There was a bright red MAGA hat sitting on the highway this morning, in between lanes of traffic. It had not yet been crushed; cars were avoiding it as one might try not to run over a dead squirrel or a large piece of tire from an 18-wheeler.
I live in Massachusetts. We don’t see a lot of MAGA hats. Trump bumperstickers and banners, occasionally, but few hats. Some months ago, on the highway, a car beeped at my husband and me as it passed, and the driver waved a sign made from a Trump sticker. Our reaction was probably not was he was going for. We laughed at him and figured he was reacting to the Elizabeth Warren sticker still on our car from the early days of her first Senate campaign. Way to own the Libs, dude!
The MAGA hat on the highway was the kind of randomness I love, like seeing a soccer ball up against the Jersey barriers or a single shoe on the road. How did they get there? In my old home town, a lone demonstrator spent the better part of an afternoon on the town Green holding a large sign that read “The Wrecking Ball LOST!” What was the story behind that?
More than likely, the reality of the hat was that it simply blew unnoticed out of the back of someone’s pickup truck. Maybe its owner will miss it, maybe not. But I like to imagine there’s more to the story.
Picture two people in a truck. Perhaps they argued about the impact of Trump’s tariffs on the construction industry, their livelihood. In a fit of frustration, one snatches the hat from the other’s head and throws it out the window to the road below.
Or perhaps a daughter stole it from her father, whom she lost months ago to the treachery of FOX News. This small act of rebellion won’t bring her father back, but as she tosses the hat gleefully on to the highway, she imagines her father spending half a day looking for it instead of watching TV; a temporary victory.
The best scenario though, is an epiphany on the part of the owner himself about the meanness of our times and Trump’s leading role within it. Unable to continue tolerating the deliberate and gleeful cruelty of Trump and his Wormtongue advisor Stephen Miller, he pitches the hat into oncoming traffic to be run over as Trump himself has done to so many.
P started school before Labor Day, T started last week. Since neither kid has a full driver’s license, my days are now filled with chauffeuring them to campus and to work, or at least accompanying them while they drive. This has forced me into a routine of sorts, which is not entirely a bad thing.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, T’s two classes are back to back, meaning there’s hardly enough time to make a trip back home worth the while. On those days I will probably run errands close to campus or bring my laptop to a coffee shop nearby. I tried this last week and the place I went was much noisier than I’m used to. The area around campus is very mall-centric so I think all the coffee shops will be this way. I will have to try to find something independent, off the beaten path. I enjoy working in coffee shops. Sometimes those couple of hours can be very productive in spite of the distractions.
I’m still getting used to the writer’s life. It’s a dream I’ve had for decades and understood very little. I am trying to learn the business of being a writer as well as come up with story ideas. I’m not too worried about my prose. As I tell my husband when I’m trying to convince myself I can do this. “If I knew what I was writing, I could write it very well.” For the most part, I believe that, bolstered by feedback I’ve gotten from various places where I’ve published. Of course, the competitive part of me wants not to struggle, and not to write anything that isn’t perfect and free of critique. I want that award. I want to be able to say, “this is why I never did that Ph.D. or became a middle manager; I was meant to do this instead.”
Yet, I keep half-assedly looking for, and sometimes even applying to, full time positions. Intellectually, I know that both my health and the logistics with the kids make that highly impractical, but oh, it would be so much easier than trying to slog this transition out with no guardrails. And the money would help.
In the Boston area, Wednesday, September 11 will be the last day of the year that the sun sets after 7 PM. The season is ending and autumn is on its way whether I like it or not. In a similar way, the layoff last summer, and subsequent health problems, have created a career ending situation, a change of season and a turning point of sorts, whether I like it or not. I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity, even if it doesn’t always feel like one. There are other things going into this feeling; my age, the fact that I’m almost done with my active parenting years, the way this transplant proposal feels like some kind of epic journey I have ahead of me. I don’t really want to go back to doing what I was doing. I do want the change.
On Labor Day, we had a rare opportunity, because neither of the boys were working, to go out for breakfast together. I am not a morning person, but going out for breakfast is one of my favorite things about being an adult. In spite of my hermetic ways, there is something about being greeted and settled in by the waitstaff (especially if they recognize you as a regular) that brings a comfort to the start of the day.
Whether it is an elegant petit dejeuner in Paris, or a busy diner with sturdy stone wear plates of pancakes or eggs and endless refills of cheap coffee, there’s something strangely life affirming about sharing this ritual with other people; even if they are at the next table, and not part of your group.
Though a few of our usual breakfast spots were closed for the holiday or had very long lines, on this beautiful morning, we were lucky enough to get a table on the porch of a local go-to. Along with standard breakfast fare, menus around here are sprinkled with local favorites like linguica, a Portuguese sausage, and anadama bread, thought to be brought over from Finland by the early stonecutters in the quarries here. Anadama French Toast is a popular offering.
It was nice for the four of us to have a meal together to mark the end of summer. With both boys working, time to sit down together is rare these days. Now that the kids are older and need less management, they have become pleasant companions and these meals are much more enjoyable. There much less bickering, much more storytelling and joking around.
This part of the island is an art colony, and after breakfast we strolled through the neighborhood looking at the cottages and gardens. Many of the galleries were closed for the holiday, but there was still art and creativity everywhere.
The weather here has already gotten cooler. I find myself greedily consuming the views of flowers still in bloom from the height of summer, as if the memory of them will hold me through the barren months of winter. I know it’s coming. My youngest started his classes at the high school last week, and my oldest starts his college classes on Thursday. My days are going to get busier, carting them to school and to work, or other places. Though they both have their learning permits, neither has a full license. And even if they did, we’d be short a car (or two).
I am not ready to put my sandals away. I am not ready for football, or fat socks and boots, or pumpkin spice anything. I still want to walk down to the beach or the harbor. I want to listen to the seagulls or watch the sandpipers zooming back and forth along the surf. I want to be able to breathe without the frozen air hampering me. This kills me. Ordinarily I would be eagerly awaiting the trappings of autumn every year. Chronic illness has changed that. I truly love having four seasons, but it would be easier to live in a place where it hovered around 70º all year-round.
In other news, I am writing again. I created a piece for Labor Day on how corporate culture and public policy (or lack thereof) is killing the so-called dignity of work. You can find it here on Medium. I’m trying out Medium as a potential platform, but I am also looking at other markets. If last winter was about recovering and getting through a devastating year career, health and family-wise, I hope this year will be much more about working and rebuilding.
I have worked in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston off and on throughout my career, but I had never been in this interesting building. Now called The Castle at Park Plaza, it was originally an armory dating back to the late 1800s. On Friday, I met friends from Connecticut here to see the Downton Abbey exhibit that featured replicas from the show (the kitchen and dining rooms), character and plot recaps, and several props and costumes.
One of the first things you see, once you’ve passed the welcome video of Mr. Carson, is the telegram that arrives informing Lord Grantham that his heirs have both died at sea aboard the Titanic. I was surprised that they went to such lengths with the props in that way. Then there was the famous Bell Board, and the replica kitchen with the table and the egg holders and other tools. A pot of cider or something was simmering on the stove, making it smell as if Mrs. Patmore was baking pies.
They also made up Mr. Carson’s pantry/office. Among the props were an old-time barometer, and this cabinet of keys. It reminded me of the house where I lived in Guilford; many of the doors had keys like this. Of course, once we kids got hold of them, few of them could be found, much less match to their respective doors. Such a shame. There were also servant bells set up in the house, that worked when we first got there, but were sadly disconnected at some point. The rang more like a door buzzer than the delicate bells of Downton..
There was also a replica dining room, with explanations of the various customs around hosting, entertaining, waiting upon the household and guests, and so on.
Much of the rest of the exhibit was costumes, including the various wedding dresses which I did not get pictures of, and several sets of hunting outfits including this one belonging to Mary. Of all the looks presented, this one was most my style. Over the years, I’ve had several things that looked a bit like this with different cuts and fits. Nix the tie, though.
Much of this was like wandering through a J. Peterman catalog in the early days of the company, or in the case of the hunting outfits, Banana Republic, before it was bought and sanitized by The Gap.
I was originally just going along “for the ride” and a chance to see friends of mine who live out of state and not near enough for me to see when I visit my mother. I really enjoyed this more than I expected to and now I find that I miss the show even though it often annoyed me with its predictability. As my friend said, “there’s some comfort in that predictability.”
There’s a Downton Abbey Movie coming out soon, and this whole experience has got me thinking about historical fiction and the writer’s ability to put themselves in another era through research. My resort project may do that, but I have to decide what era to put it in, since the real resort was visited by Mark Twain and didn’t close until the 1960s. There are several eras to choose from.
Okay, back to Downton. Since I already have enough clothes that are close enough to costumes that I don’t have anywhere to wear them, I avoided buying anything in the “gift shop” they set up for the exhibit. I would have loved a hat, but I already have several, and I really can’t buy any more blank books, though I love this one with a quote from the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley.
Almost as simply as turning a calendar page, the air of summer has changed. The humidity has lessened here somewhat and a cool breeze foreshadows the coming autumn. This is as ever, a bittersweet time for me. I need the summer warmth and ease more than I used to, and I will be sorry to see it go.
This school year will be a big one. T starts classes at the local community college in a couple of weeks. He is out of our tiny high school and into a much larger, more diverse arena. I hope that it will be good for him. P will be a Junior at the high school and starting to look at colleges as well.
I will try to make the most of my unemployed status. I have to get out of the house more this winter, and I need something new to work on. Ordinarily at this time of year, I’d be pining to take classes of my own. Of course since I am not working, no one is going to pay for me to go back to school. With all the medical bills, and tuition for T, loans for me are not an option.
I also seem to be going through something. It’s hard to tell whether it’s fatigue and depression or a true evolution, but I may be finally letting go of a career dream I’ve had for 20-plus years.
How do you know when to give up on a dream? I mean, it sounds so defeatist to say it like that, but I’m not sure that I really feel defeated anymore. I certainly did when my dream job was given to a less qualified man several years ago. It broke me. But I also knew that in the three months I had the job, I proved that I could do it and was very good at it. The hiring manager’s agenda had nothing to do with my qualifications or capabilities. I knew when I left though, that I would probably never get another shot, which is what broke my heart so completely.
That was over six years ago. When I think about it though, it still feels like yesterday in spite of since having had five years with a great manager and team, and lots of wonderful, creative challenges since. What’s different now is that I’m not sure I would apply for similar jobs anymore. I can’t yet tell if it’s because I’m tired of running up against an impenetrable wall or if I have truly moved on.
My lifelong interest in education and education policy also seems to be fading. I was on my local school board for 12 years and I loved it. For years I would independently dig in to the weeds of education policy and try to understand, without ever having held a teaching job, what made for a great school, teacher, classroom. I certainly still have my opinions, but I have noticed that our public school policies have gotten farther and farther away from what I might have considered ideal, The testing regime still lingers, charter schools have arguably made things worse overall, and it’s not a battle I have energy for or much interest in any longer.
Part of it, I think, is my age. I’m going to be 53 at the end of the summer. Assuming I make it, I will have outlived my father. When I was a child, no one could have predicted I’d live this long. Here, I am, way past expectations. The unexpected hiatus due to layoff and health problems has felt like a significant chapter closing. It has me asking; assuming I make it through transplant and regain my strength, what do I want to do with my “Book 2?”
For years I have wanted a job that involved less desk sitting, solitary heads-down work, more meeting, consulting and collaborating. Writing, of course, is none of the latter, but it might provide me with a little more variety than an office job. When I’m healthier, I want to do more travel, and I’m hoping that the things that I research and choose to write about will facilitate that. I’ve been dabbling a little, trying to figure out what the business of writing looks like, training I did not get in college. I have submitted a short story to a publication, and I’m looking to do more. I still am better at non-fiction than fiction, but I’m working on it.
Happily, we got out of town for a few days around Independence Day. It’s been hard to even think about celebrating this country lately because we are so far from the ideals we were founded on. It would have been awfully hard to watch our town’s traditional parade and the bonfire we have instead of fireworks. It would have been hard to go through these motions, the same as every other year, as if this year the country wasn’t burning down around us.
Thankfully, this year my husband’s family had a reunion. We rented a house in Vermont for 29 people. Only one person, one of my nephews in flight school, wasn’t able to make it.
L is the oldest of six and his family is scattered all over the country. Before we had kids of our own, we did a lot of traveling to where one brother or another was stationed, but with all of our kids getting older and having schedules of their own, it’s gotten harder and harder to get everyone together.
This reunion was two years in the planning. People far more organized than me took care of all the details. We travelled from all over the country, as far as Seattle and Mississippi to be together.
There were several times during our stay that I found myself close to tears of gratitude for having become a part of this family and that they were so loving and accepting. L and I have been married over 25 years and every so often it strikes me how lucky I am and how lucky our kids are to be a part of this clan. I can remember at one point sitting with many of them around the table thinking that this was the large, extended family I had always hoped for – the one for which I wrote stories played out in my childhood dollhouses. Here they were, in real life. I was surrounded by them.
There were twenty-nine of us and four dogs. Many of my nieces and nephews are now adults, starting lives of their own, scattered across even more states. One recently became a captain in the Air Force, another just bought a house and is expecting a child in November. One landed a killer first job in the office of her Senator. Two are starting college in the Fall.
There were old home movies that my sister-in-law had converted from the original film reels. I had heard about these, but never saw them. Apparently I somehow missed the ritual of showing them to each new significant other. L was never thrilled about them, so I didn’t pursue it back then. The clips went back to L’s first Christmases. Each new clip brought the next child, and through it all, my Mother-in-law was smiling. That, I think is what struck me the most.
For the most part, on that weekend, I forgot all about the politics of the day. I mean, we had a short conversation about my old bumpersticker and whether it meant that I was supporting Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential bid (currently, I’m team Kamala, though I love them both), but I was able to read, nap, talk to people about their lives, and mostly stay off Twitter. We watched Wimbledon matches instead of the news.
We talked about going to see Ludlow’s fireworks. There’s just something magical about fireworks (not to mention, my eighteen year old son discovered he could buy them in Vermont; they are illegal in Massachusetts). When we looked into it, we realized we could see the show from the house we were in. It was wonderful because the little ones could watch in their pajamas and head off the bed when they were done.
We played games, several folks took hikes to the nearby river. There was cake. My youngest nephew, aged seven, followed my youngest son, seventeen, everywhere. P is not crazy about little kids, but he was remarkably patient.
My only complaint was the heat. Since the house is mainly rented by skiers in the winter, there was no air conditioning. There were a couple of nights I ended up sleeping downstairs on the couch because it was cooler. The heat may or may not have contributed to the short battle I had with Afib while I was there. I was a little embarrassed to be such a wreck in front of everybody, but of course they were wonderful. I managed to get myself back into normal rhythm, so there was no trip to the hospital. Later, one of my sisters-in-law told me that she was planning to take time off to come help me post-transplant. She lives on the other side of the country. I’m just floored. And indescribably grateful.
As it happened, we had plenty to celebrate this Independence Day, and it was so nice to focus on other people, their humor, and their gifts instead of my health and the politics of the day. It’s hard to remember when I’m worried about being sick, or about money, or about my teenagers, or the state of the world; but, of all the things I imagined for myself when I was younger, I got this wonderful family. And I get a few moments, every so often, to sit quietly and revel in it.
Now in my head, I know the time was made sweeter by the fact that we don’t see each other that often, but in my heart, I sure do wish they all were closer.