Family · Uncategorized

Something to Celebrate!

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.

Ludlow, VT. Near Mt. Okemo, this house sleeps 30!

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.

Three generations watching old home movies.

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.

Two generations playing Cards against Humanity . I managed not to be too embarrassed in front of my kids.

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.

There was cake!

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.

Community · Family · Uncategorized · Writing Life

A Memory of Geraniums

The smell of geraniums reminds me of my grandfather. He instilled a love of gardening in me and though I can’t match his work ethic when it comes to fertilizing and weeding, I have a reasonably successful vegetable garden and plenty of flower pots around the yard, including several geraniums.

They are available in many more colors now than they were in the 1970s. I remember the geraniums in my grandparents’ yard as solid red, and occasionally white, growing in a basket hung from the lamppost opposite a sign with the house’s number and a name, “Squaw Rock.” The name came from the large rock formation between the back yard and the beach and there is also another formation with the same name off the coast of a different part of town. Although Native/Indian names are common in the town and surrounding area, “Squaw” is now considered a slur and the name has vanished from the property as it stands today.

Squaw Rock in a Storm

Geraniums and salvia were part of my summers. The salvia was a treat because you could pull the red center part from the rest of the flower and suck a tiny drop of nectar from the end. These days the salvia I see at garden centers is mostly purple, and the geraniums can be peach or even a lavender.

My mother and I are not in frequent contact, but when we do talk, I have made a point about asking clarifying questions about some of the family lore. For instance, my parents both grew up in New Jersey, but stories made it sound as if my mother’s parents had grown up in Connecticut. Which is it?

My grandparents grew up in Connecticut. I believe my grandmother’s father founded the Congregational Church in their town (that’s another thing I’ll have to clarify). My grandfather worked on a farm there and the owner of the land had connections that led to a job for my grandfather on Wall Street. After the Crash, he was laid off and came back to a job at a manufacturing plant in his home town. He was bored and he hated it. He set about trying to find work back on Wall Street – during the Depression. He did find a job with a firm that sold odd lots (small orders) of stocks, moved back to New York, and eventually did quite well.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was a teacher. One summer she was taking some sort of certification classes at Yale. On the last day of the session she offered a classmate, Martha, a ride home in her Model T. Martha’s brother, my grandfather, was home for the weekend, and when he met Anne, my grandmother, he asked her on a date right then and there.

The house at 405 Stuyvesant in New Jersey

They eventually married and moved to an apartment in New York. They quickly had two sons, but when Anne was pregnant with their third child, my mother, the two of them decided that they needed more room. The story goes that my grandfather got on a train to New Jersey after work one day and rode until the train came to a stop where there were a lot of trees. He got off the train, walked around the town and picked out a house. He bought it without my grandmother ever seeing it first. They raised five children in that house through the war and beyond. They would often rent a house in the summer back in Connecticut.

As it happened, a couple of decades later, my father opened his business several blocks away on the same street in New Jersey. My mother would eventually meet him when she applied for a secretarial position there after a few years away at college.

I only have the barest details of our family history, but I have been increasingly drawn back to the towns in Connecticut where I grew up and where my grandparents had a house on the beach that is the biggest part of my summer memories. It started last winter with my uncle’s funeral, and intensified when his daughter died this past winter. I wrote about this pull earlier this year. I really can’t explain it, but a sense of place has always been important to me. Where you grow up has a huge impact on your identity, and your perspective.

I think about the books I’ve read that are based in the South, and how the climate and the culture are almost characters unto themselves. Surely, New England has some of that, in stories like Olive Kitteridge , set in Maine. But, Connecticut? What stories are there? I’m sure there are plenty, and I need to start somewhere.

Community · Uncategorized

Relax, it’s All Done!

I have to say this was one of the better Christmases in recent memory. Several groups we typically exchanged gifts with agreed not to do gifts this year, cutting both the expense and the frantic shopping.

The boys got along reasonably well, even buying for each other for really the first time. There were no fights, no complaining.

I finished my Christmas Eve errands hours earlier than I usually do, and L stepped in to make cookies for the neighbors’ party so I didn’t have to scramble to get home in time to do it.

We all took the week off, though it is going by faster than I anticipated. Yesterday was crisp and cold, no higher than the freezing mark, but there was no wind so it wasn’t uncomfortable to go out and fill the bird feeders, and throw a stick for the dog.

Chickadees and doves and two kinds of woodpeckers swarmed the newly-filled feeders, perhaps gathering what they could before today’s rain. Later that night a pack of coyotes howled and yipped in the distance; their calls traveling easily through the thin, frigid air to our dog, who stood on alert for nearly an hour.

Today it is raining, and though, according to our weather station, it’s warmer, the winter damp can be paralyzing. I am fighting a cold, not a bad one; sore throat, congestion. However, I have pulled something in my shoulder, so even coughing hurts. It is a good excuse for a nap, and truly, I haven’t done much else.

Life right now is about managing my energy, trying not to run myself into the ground the way I used to. I was reading an article about how much of the emotional labor of the holidays falls on women, driven to perfection as so many of us are. When my nieces and nephews were small, I put a lot effort into finding the perfect personalized gift for each of them, running around from store to store and spending way too much money. I stopped being able to do that when I had kids of my own. Similarly, we used to travel all the way to Connecticut late on Christmas night after spending the evening with L’s extended family. A few years ago, we stopped doing any visits at all on Christmas Day and it’s been the best thing.

I realized the other day that this is why I keep my Christmas decorations up as long as I do. There are those who take their decorations down right after Christmas and put everything away. I don’t like to take things down until the “twelfth day” of Christmas because I don’t have time before Christmas to relax and enjoy the tree and the lights. Christmas morning, after all the presents have been opened, is when the season finally belongs to me and I want some time to enjoy it.