I was frankly dubious about going to the cookout/memorial for a family friend, but I rememberd him fondly from my youth and with the loan of an automatic shift car (Aerin took the adorable blue thing to see her young man) I ventured into the wilds of (further) western Massachusetts. (Ankle: still broken, working better, still can't shift)
I am so glad I did. Where Uncle Tom's party was a delicate dance of sympathy and cousins and navigating my mother's conflicting senses of propriety and humor, this one was about someone more distant, making it easier and ... softer somehow. To my delight there were two key people from my youth, like really - I was six - that meant the world to me.
Did you love one or two of your parent's friends? I was so lucky, that my parents were convivial, and well located, and in a big enough house that we had what seemed like a steady flow of people though the house. I think also that I loved easily and thoroughly when I was a child, and some of that has persisted. Two men old enough to be my father, and I was SO pleased to see them. I think it must be hard to look at friend's children and see them as adults, as parents themselved - it takes a special kind of imagination and memory to find the child who worshipped you in the ernest adult standing in front of you. Although I guess the flip side of that is watching anyone age.
I was pleased tht I managed to stand up and tell a story about the friend in question. It was a nice story. My mother was sitting next to me shaking her head muttering that was not the person she remembered. He was a trickster, a coyote, always on the edge of some giant joke that you might be the butt of, or might just as easily be the hero in. It could be confusing. Most of the stories failed to mention that. I think we want to speak well of the dead, for all kinds of reasons.
in other related but unexpected news, I managed to sit next to the most amazing people, and had nice and intelligent conversations for all the rest of the afternoon. That was delightful, and I have an invitation to come and see the farm and the horses and the dogs... which I am looking forward to. She said she invited me becase she liked my smile, and liked the way I was pleased to see my mother, and my mother is a sweetie. Which she is. I even had a seet short visit with my mum, before she had to head back to her visitors. Tomorrow she has another memorial, which I wish I could get to.
I am, in retrospect, astoundingly lucky in my parent's friends.
I was trying SO HARD guys - SO hard - to get off the couch and get stronger with the secret plan, ultimately, of intiving myself to see Hannah and hiking with pups in the Whites, and on Day fucking 4, on the way home with coffee and new yarn, I stepped in a hole on a shortcut from one piece of sidewalk to another and rolled my ankle and now it is actually (the xrays say) broken at the tip end of the fibula. So fuck that, I am hobbling for a couple weeks and the whole try to get better at walking thing is on hiatus. I did not spill my coffee, or lose my new yarn or needles. But still.
That was my Wednesday, and most of Thursday was lunches and suppers with friends and seeing the Dr to ascertain if I should be doing more (or less) than Uncle Google told me to do for sprains. It hurts less than it used to, and I am blissfully free of casts and applying a support only if I go out into the world and have to hobble. I am so grateful for Aerin being home, and having a car she can use to drive me about. I am doubly, triply, unspeakably grateful to her for her kindness and patience and humor with this process. I don't know why I expected anything less, she is a fabulous child, and reared well with kindness, but the level of it is just ... it makes me cry with gratitude and relief.
So Alice and Aerin both have been helping me and handing me things and telling me to sit down again and just take it easy until things hurt less.
When Aerin was little she'd practice "driving" me places at the playground. She'd load me into the back seat, and make sure my seatbelt was clicked in so I'd be safe, and we'd drive forever, she'd tell me about the scenery and we might stop for a donut, but it took me a while to realize it was a perfect mirror of how her life went. I was so relieved that what she felt was the affection, and the interest in her and the delights of the scenery, that what I had for frustration and impatience was not so readily visible and not what was making an impression on her.
Children are a perfect mirror. What they show you is all your kindness and all your faults, and in the hardest possible way. She is old enough now that the things she reflects are no long all things that I installed, but at age 3, all the things she was demonstrating were things I had done to and with her. And the relief I felt was palpable; that she was having a happy childhood, that I was not crushing her spirit or breaking her, that she knew she was both loved and cared for and showed me these things in her play.
So yeah, on the one hand there is the tendency to see our own shortcomings most clearly, to be hardest on ourselves, and on the other is this feeling that I am reaping some of the childrearing I sowed, twenty-odd years ago, and it will be ok. Getting older will be ok. The children becoming adults - that will be ok too.
So that happened. That is Alice, the younger one. She is the one whose mental processes I recognize intimately - the urge to make things, the affection for, pretty much, everyone, the animals, the stuffies, the willingness to balance for a long time with one foot solidly rooted in childhood, the other equally solidly rooted in good sense far beyond her years.
The picture is from a friend because we (a total of 9, counting my mother and friends who are basically aunt, uncle and cousin) were all in the balcony over her left soulder. so yeah, no photos because secnd child syndrome, and also that is just not what I am thinking about at these things. I managed to deflect a LOT of weeping by hollering and clapping for every tech and theater child I knew, every friend of Alice's I knew, every child of friends that I knew, and any child who looked like the process might have been hard. At the end I was hoarse and my hands hurt, but it was pretty gratifying.
And then we went away through the rain to the cellar of Paradiso, and turned off the music and turned up the lights and fed the fainting people appetizers and Miriam (Alice's boon companion on the Rome to Athens trip, and taker of photos while Alice was chronicler of tales) and her parents (English Lit and Art History professors at Smith - the child looked SO NATURAL in her robe and mortar board) joined us and it was lovely.
And then I spent today doing Not One Thing except having coffee with a friend, which was good, and I bumped into someone else on the walk to the coffee and that was also good. Alice says I fell asleep sitting up at my computer again. Which is getting less disturbing the more I do it.
The trouble with a Really Big Day is that it is also Just Another Day and that tightrope of anticipation and delight and significange has to be negotiated and people are constantly CONSTANTLY asking you(me) HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS and the answer is generally - can I get back to you on that? So I think today was dedicated to feeling things. Tomorrow I will take my dad to lunch and then attempt to find some kind of rhythm for the summer.
Saturday evening Great Kate came out, and Sunday she and Red Kate and I went up to see sheep and sheep dogs and yarn and fabric and roving and shearing and all things sheepy and wooly. It was kind of overwhelming for me, and cements my personal feeling that I should never ever ever ever go to Rhinebeck because it is all lovely and all different and all the same. I mean, all charming and lovely too - so many lovely things to look at, and think about, so many friendly sheep, looking like muppets, bellowling or blapping, more or less ready to be patted or scratched behind the ears. So so SO many charming human beings offering helpful advice and conversation about sheep and wool and yarn and all the things that make them happy and presumably us as well.
I found a skein of sock yarn in a colorway called "you are going to be just fine" which made me kind of moist around the eyes so I bought it as a talisman against the future. I wound it into a center pull ball today with only a single tangle at the very end which feels like a good omen.
Great Kate and I left Red Kate happily spinning while protesting that she couldn't spin, and went along to a pique nique in celebration of the end of school for all concerned, organized by Aerin's boyfriend's mother who is charming. Aerin and her young man brought the yellow boat up and had a sail around the pond, someone I didn't know (to my chagrign) showed up with something with a heartbreakingly lovely shearline and two places for rowers and rowed across the pond and back. It looked like what we used to call the Famiy Yacht - a 14' Whitehall fiberglass replica that could hold three or four plus a well stocked picnic basket, and one or two could row. We took that all over Woods Hole and surrounding islands, in some moderate weather even - it was solid and glorious fun.
Great Kate ambled home that afternoon, and today has been spent by us having headaches and naps, in relays, all day long. Not necessarily at the same time. either the headaches, or the naps, or at the same time as any one else is having them.
that went far better than I hoped.
The celebration of Uncle Tom's life was Friday evening at the yacht club, an institution of spit and polish, varnish and excessive drinking since 1871. A solid percentage of the men had had pink pants that were later explained to be Nantucket Red which is a yachting color, and there was a Great Deal of soutache braid in elaborate patterns on all the men (no women, they were relegated to social secretaries) who were currently or had ever been Commodore (that would be president, for us landlubbers). We were late because my brother and family got caught in Maine traffic, and Anne was getting tightly wound and exasperated by the time we arrived. Many people said wonderful things about Uncle Tom, organized and hustled along by my cousin, his son Nat. As cousin Abby pointed out, she knew less than half the people there from her childhood, because her parents, particularly her father, had gone on doing other things; adopting new hobbies, new causes and new friends as he went along.
My kids were grand, my husband kind and presentable, everyone stayed as long as they could before they melted. Al and the girls headed home, I went back to Anne's house and hung out with cousins and my brother for a while and then to my mother's and slept.
This morning we were sternly told to be present at the yacht club well in advance of the 11 o'clock departure of the boat. We presented ourselves, as required, and waited.... to discover that our boat was on the wrong side of the railroad bridge, which would't go up, and the boat couldn't go under until the tide went down a little. So we waited. It was a nice place to wait. It was a dock. There were pretty boats in the harbor. The sun was shining. The wind was blowing. Eventually the boat showed up, and we all chose a flower or two and went aboard. We powered out to Newcomb Ledge, and said some kind things and scattered Tom's mortal remains over the side along with the flowers. The giant pink and white peonies floated and looked lovely on the sea.
I think everyone relaxed some after that and talked a little more freely as we headed back. When we landed we all went back to Anne's again, and had more food, and then started saying goodbye to everyone, over and over and over, walking around and around and promising to meet up again. We probably won't, but it might be worth saying we might.
Warren Zevon never looked hard enough at his mother to write my song,
he stuck with Excitable Boy,
he who commited murder and was horrific,
and completely missed
the one where the old witch woman sits in the back yard
cackling over a fire pit of bones and sticks
roasting marshmallows and pretending they are birds
toasting bread, letting butter melt down her elbows
greasy and mad
rolling her eyes
shaved her head
watching the young roll by
a witch by definition is still
an old woman
a hut with chicken legs is starting to look pretty good
a couple of cats
a nice dog
plenty of room to make stuff and a little alimony or allowance
after feeding everyone
all the time
Although maybe I only want no schedule
or my own schedule
or no other bodies to think of or herd about or manage somehow
there is a certain freedom to getting the younger child to eighteen
the temporary majority in which they can vote and marry
but not drink or smoke
which has to chap someone
but made sense at the time
I've been off balance, teetering on the brink of distressed and weepy for no good reason. If I think about it, I know I would feel better if I could make it to the gym, accomplish some exercise, stick my nose in a horse, ride my bike, but the threshold for doing any of those things seems unsupportably HIGH and I am unable to clear it without stubbing my toes.
I also know that making stuff generally makes me happier, and I have been working on that. But the whole studio scene has been feeling oddly pointless if I can't find an outlet for it - gallery girl wants landscapes, but what it pulling on me is these larger more abstract sinuous river works, and she hasn't got the space for them or the people who want them. Shich means finding an audience for them, or figuring out how to craft them for her audience, or something, and thinking about it is just making me tired.
Aerin is home from college, she's slept most of a week. She said today at supper that she thinks she might have mostly caught up because the book she was reading suddenly got stupid. And she was half-way through book two. Of a trilogy. So that made us both laugh.
I had the distraction of my dad today, so I took him over the to the Amherst College Natural History Museum (the museum formerly known as the Pratt) and he was gobsmacked. It was charming and delightful. Out of a smallish museum of three levels, we saw half of the middle level and roughly half of the top level, and then we had to go fortify ourselves with lunch and settle our whirling brains. We will probably do that agin a couple of times, since there are still things to explore. He had a nice time opening all the drawers that visitors are allowed to open, and admiring the fossils within. It is a super little museum, and a family favorite. Next time we'll take some subset of the girls as well. Today was much easier mentally than two weeks ago. We were in the present, and talking about geology, and current things, and he was pretty solid. I think it is trying to remember things, particularly people, where he gets lost, and then goes in circles.
Al and I are negotiating how to get Aerin wheels so she can transport herself to and from job interviews, actual work, and her young man near Boston. My mother has very kindly offered half, but Al has some issues around giving her a thing she can't maintain, and is quibbling over exact phrasing of ownership, which is tense.
I think it is weird that the mental image I have of Uncle tom is from black and white photos taken before I was born; of him with Sally and Tim in various stages of childhood, in various collections of family, and one vivid image of him at the helm of Reva, sailing out of Manchester probably, because I think he did that forever, and the whisp of my mother's back nearby. They were so tight, they worked so well together, they were so important to each other. I don't know how to think about that.
My brother and I don't have that kind of working, easily affectionate relationship. I want to know what he is thinking and doing, he wants to be sure we're ok, and beyond that we don't really spend enough time visitng, and talking, to understand the other very well. I could change that. I could call more often, talk more, reach out more, just say hi more.
I brought Aerin home from college yesterday... all the way across the river from Amherst to here, all ~8 miles of it, but she's been living in a dorm and had stuff to get out and get home. We talked while she got the last of her stuff into containers and into the car, and talked going home. Al pointed out this morning he had been working on wrapping his head around the idea of having no girls home and right now there are two girls home and he is confused.
Aerin and Alice started talking as soon as Al and I went to bed. I could hear them, laughing, in the living room. It was lovely. I asked Alice why she and Aerin got along so much better than other sibs I saw, and her answer completely floored me. she said she'd watched Al with his sister Nancy, and me with Mat, and decided she and Aerin would need to get along well when they wer bigger so they should probably start sooner rather than later. I asked how old she was when she made this observation, she said maybe 6 or 7, because she'd thought it, and then pinched Aerin. Because one's inner 40 year old can only speak to the current occupant of your brain for so long. I'm not sure Aerin has an inner 40 year old, but she has other motivators so it does not actually matter.
So yeah. Aerin finished college, graduated, went through a bunch of different ceremonies and is now officially done. She was ringed with a golden collar for completing work within the Commonwealth Honors College, and Jared insists her name had all kinds of stuff after it in the general graduation program which none of us retained one of because it was bucketing rain and cold and the seats in the stands of the football stadium were soggy so we all sat on the programs. Not one remains. We are taking his word for it, until we can locate some corroborating details. We think she graduated Cum Laude, which is excellent and praiseworthy. It occurred to me that we never doubted she would finish - she is a good student and scholar, comfortable in school, good at organizing her life around academics. I am much more dubious about how she is going do to out of school, and how she intends to deal with the process of getting a job... So we have been low key to the point of catatonia, which is pretty much out M.O. for stuff like this. A big dinner, a lot of chocolate, a fair amount of "job well done sweetie" and then sleep for a week.
I dunno why I have things to say today
I've always felt a certain affection for Lydia Pinkham
- she ran an emporium composed almost entirely of alcohol and possibly cocaine and morphine dissolved in vegetable extract, she labelled it with her face, which was critiqued endlessly in ways women today find very familiar, and she left behind an extraordinary building in Lynn that used to be cheap industrail space and seems to have transitioned to cheap artist space.
My spare father designed his own boat, and built it in the Pinkam building over the course of seven years. We called the building the Pinkorium, and the boat Heitmann's Folly until the glorious day he launched it, at which point I took seven rolls of film worth of photos (back when film was a thing). Sundowner was launched from the boatyard we lived next to for several years in Marblehead. Instead of a marine railway, they had a crane that was originally steam-powered like Mary-Ann the steam shovel (four corners, straight and square) and had been retro-fitted with a diesel engine when it was bolted to the ground so that heavier boats could be lifted into and out of the harbor.
We moved into the house when my brother was 3, and within a month he could make all the noises of all the power tools he could hear in the boatyard. We'd go down into the back yard (everything was built into a hill, and no two adjacant square yards were level) and hang on the fence and watch people working on their boats and talk to anyone who would talk back. In that back yard we also had a jungle-gym, a set of towing bits from a dying tug boat, and a sand box.
drove to see Sally yesterday
...nearly light hearted. It was unexpected. I think for her dread and suffering are worse than death, and having something be over is a relief. It was clear to her that her brother Tom was physically miserable, even though his mind was there, he was in enormous pain as parts of his body stopped working. I had thought we would go see Aunt Ann, but we just hung out at her house and talked about sailing and boats and animals we'd had, and our shared past and her past with Uncle Tom. I brought some pictures down from her bureau - she sent me up to look at a photo of Aerin, Al and me from Aerin's first year, Aerin cheerful and drooly, two teeth and a grin, but we have that photo on the fridge and I was more taken with others. I brought down the one of my grandmother, mother and me, lined up like peas in a pod, and a bunch of my mother with her brothers at various ages, started at age one looking dubious, and working her way up to older age. There is a big chunk missing in the middle, from when we were kids and she was in her 30s and 40s. I'd like to find those, somewhere, and the ones of Sally and Tom sailing Reeva with all those friends from forever ago.
Sally, Tom is the middle child, Tim the oldest. i think there is four years between Sally and Tom - there was another daughter in between but she died of ...diptheria? as an infant. Tim is oldest by 2 years.
I think of Tim as case hardened. He decided he was unable to please anyone so he might as well please himself, and he went off and studied engineering and took a break and went through the army and came back and worked for AT&T forever, starting as a lineman climbing telephone poles and fixing wires aloft. He's still alive, divorced from the (slightly crazy) mother of his four children and remarried to a woman I like a lot, with a New Yawk accent that can cut steel.
Tom, in contrast, was painfully polite and worked hard to please everyone. His moments of rebellion were small but successful. He scrounged vacation time and organized his family and sailed across the Atlantic and down the coast of Ireland, England and Europe, into and around the Mediterranean, back across the Atlantic on the trade winds and home along the east coast. It took over a year, and he made it all go, and brought everyone home, and sent them all back to school again. This is such a stark contrast to the five month flail our family did attempting to run a charter boat that was totally not as advertised in the Caribbean - that is a different story.
My mother tried briefly to do as was expected and just decided not to. She is also a story for another time.
Uncle Tom left some notes for his family, to help organize the celebration of his life. He included handy lists of friends and what parts of life they hailed from, and a list of all the boats he'd owned, and the length. That was pretty much peak Uncle Tom, right there. His memory will be a blessing.