Yes, Sweet Things Happen Too: A Tea Party

You know you live in New Hampshire when you get invited to a tea party to celebrate your elderly neighbor’s house turning 200 years old. At the party the many older women there tell stories about growing up in this town.

“There was the time the horse fell through the floor of the barn. My father tied a rope to his tail and dragged him back up. How else was he going to do it?”

“I would visit Sam at the farm because otherwise I didn’t get to see him and one day I went in to the milking barn. His father and uncle pushed me between two cows and said, ‘Can’t come out til ya get some milk outta that udder.”

“There were only 40 of so students in each class at Coe Brown (the high school) and the boys didn’t know enough to ask a girl to the prom so the teachers had to tell them — ask a girl. They all asked the same girl.”

When you’re asked where you live people know your house by the family that owned it four generations ago.

Everyone goes around the room to say how they know the elderly hostess.  Connections that reach back three generations are discovered — a grandfather’s uncle lived on the farm next to a great-aunt’s mother (or something similar).

One women reads from a card with notes about who owned the house first — a couple who grew up on abutting farms (of course) and had eight children but only five lived to grow up.

There are fewer farms now and lots of people who live in this town are “from away” and the elderly neighbor no longer walks up the hill to collect branches blowing off the old maple trees bordering the ceremony to bring home and use as kindling. She’s too frail now. So her family keeps her house warm and makes tea and scones and fills the house with stories and maybe another 200 years will go by and another circle of women will gather and talk and make connections that radiate out from a center of home.

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Indigo

 

There should be a name for the color of the particular blue deepening into purple-black indigo of winter evenings, especially as a day of snow slips over into sleet. The indigo glow through my windows right now brings back this poem from February 2007.  The barn and shed and silo are still there, though the farmhouse burned. And l need a bigger wagon, there’s so much more to hold than a hole now.

Valentine’s Day

The first real storm washes out the little color
in the landscape, the barn and shed and silo
weathered to the gray of a cut snow bank.
Sparrows peck in the perennial bed, tall stems
and seed heads clustered through snow. Small storms
of snow blow up off the roof of the hay shed,
sweep past. We would ski at midnight to catch
the pure snow before the storm slipped over to sleet.
So much happens every day, I need a wagon to hold
the hole. Last night I lay on the kitchen floor,
where our cat slept for her last year, her old body
bony, weightless. I noticed the narrow maple
floor boards running under the hutch, thinking
the world is flat even as I know it is round.

Lichen On His Stone

I hadn’t been to visit Eric’s grave for a long time. Six months? More? I’m quite sure there was no lichen on the rose granite headstone the last time I was there.

Now there is. I thought, this looks like an old grave. I thought, this is beautiful. Eric loved mosses and lichens, the small plants and organisms that add richness to the world’s green.

How long does it take for lichen to take root on granite? Or how long does it take before I’d notice that lichen has crept into the carving of Eric. And January. The Hebrew letters too.

The stone has been there since April 2007. Many lichens grow less than a millimeter a year, so these could have been growing on Eric’s stone all along.

I’d like to live in a room painted the pale sage of the lichen on Eric’s stone. It’s almost the color of Squam Lake water over white sand. Eric would love that lapping at his grave.

Haunted

July 4th, 2003

Last night I went to the 4th of July BBQ I’d planned to be part of two years ago. A lakeside camp, boats, swimming, friends and lots of my friends’ family including adults I’ve known since they were kids now with kids of their own. Burgers and hot dogs and fresh strawberries and then fireworks set off from the raft off the beach and other rafts up and down the lake front. I had fun.

Then this morning I got up and cried. I missed the BBQ two years ago because I wanted to be with Chris, my sister whose metastatic cancer had progressed enough to make her so sick she couldn’t see how sick she was. My other sister Meg had a cookout at her house with my family and David and I knew that was where we wanted to be. It hurts to remember how fragile Chris was that day, how she had trouble standing on her own, how she talked about being patient while she waited for her new medication to work.

At one point while we were eating she looked up at Meg and thanked her for the invitation, as if she hadn’t spent more holidays with Meg than almost anyone else in her life. Why does that moment haunt me more than others?

The rest of that summer haunts me, and last summer when our friend Peter was so sick, and the summer after Eric died and all the summers he was alive and healthy when we had our own July 4th traditions — a day of kayaking on Squam, followed by a BBQ and fireworks at a good friend’s house, Eric along with his buddies John and Mark bending over a batch of fireworks with a lighter and then backing up quickly as light and color exploded upward. I remember the heat of summer sun on our skin, the fresh smell of lake water, the ease of a cold cocktail on our friends’ deck as burgers and chicken sizzled on the grill.

Last month David and I spent two weekends with my family, bracketing the week Chris always rented a house on the beach in Humarock, near where Meg and my parents live. The rental on Humarock tradition has continued and much of my family was there. At one point we did a Face Time call with Adrienne and Emilio and Ava because they couldn’t get there, and after my mother had said hello to her great-grandchildren she handed the phone back to me.

“Who else do you want to talk to, Ava?” I asked.

“Grandpa Eric,” she said with a smile.

I’m happy we’ve done such a good job telling her about the grandfather she’ll never get to meet that she wants to meet him.

If only she could.

Returning

The last month may be the longest blog break I’ve ever taken. It wasn’t intended, but it happened. Which is life, right?

Or maybe it’s my reflexive response to the current political insanity. Yes, I’m still obsessed with the news and spend a lot of time working to keep myself centered and using my energy to resist the dismantling of so much of what I’ve taken for granted as norms of democracy and living in a country inching its way towards true social justice.

At a party this weekend I talked about how meaningless my blog seemed to me after the election. How could I write anything that wasn’t directly political and pushing back against the madness engulfing us? Why write about the apple blossoms filling the trees and then salting the ground around my garden as the flowers start to fall apart?

“Because that’s exactly what we need,” one friend said. “We need to read about apple blossoms.”

It has been an extraordinary year for blossoms. From the forsythia bushes to cherry trees to apple trees to dandelions to lilacs, everything is having a bumper year of flowering. There are maple trees on my running route that have such thick clumps of red seed pods (also called samaras, maple keys, helicopters, whirlybirds or polynoses) they look like tropical blossoms, heavy and full as they nod towards the ground.

Yesterday afternoon I sat on the back deck steps for a few minutes, looking across my garden beds to the lilac bush intermingling with the largest of my apple trees. I could hear a catbird and finches singing. Every time I walked towards the small wood shed on the side of the barn a robin screeched from its nest at the top of one of the posts, trying to distract me from what must be a clutch of pale, blue eggs. The yard is an unbounded aviary (which actually would make it not an aviary at all, but you know what I mean), full of birdsong and nests and the flash of wings.

The world is still beautiful. I’m still resisting (15 acts of resistance a week — phone calls, emails, meetings, discussions) but I’m also still writing and drawing and turning over the soil and planting and picking bouquets for the house.

I’ve learned this before but have to keep learning it again. Bad things happen, but birds and trees and bushes don’t care. The sun comes up and spring comes on and the grass gets green and then grows again and the cows return to the pasture across the street, as they did today, right now come to the corner right across from my porch, as they do most evenings.

That’s reason enough to celebrate.

 

 

 

Deathaversaries: When Dates Line Up

 

This deathaversary season (what Adrienne, Sam and I call the anniversary of Eric’s, or anyone’s, death) has felt harder than other years. Or do I say that every year? I don’t think so.

The accumulation of other losses, the spread of grief in my circle of friends and family from those losses, and the communal dismay of the majority of Americans at the continued display of arrogant greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (okay, I won’t go on forever) among the white fuckboys currently trying to run/ruin our country all contribute I’m sure.

But I suspected dates were lining up in a way to remind exactly of what was going on 11 years ago, when Eric was diagnosed with metastatic cancer just before Passover. I was right.

David and I had a busy weekend, spending time with my family to celebrate Easter in a decidedly secular way then coming home to host a Seder with a group of friends we’ve been celebrating Passover with for many decades.

Wasn’t this the weekend in April 2006 that we had a much diminished Seder after Eric got home from the hospital with his grim diagnosis? We’d planned to host the Seder with friends that year, but had called it off earlier in the week when we understood Eric’s back pain and accelerating fatigue was from bones full of cancer. Instead of a dozen friends seated around the table, we had a small family Seder, using a two minute Haggadah someone had sent to Adrienne. Eric sat at the head of the table as he always did at Seders, leading the ritual telling of the story of the Jew’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, embellishing the minimal text with his own knowledge of Jewish history and custom.

Yesterday afternoon when David and I got home I pulled out my folder of calendars and wasn’t surprised. Yes, the dates line up. The day Eric got home from the hospital in 2006 was Friday, April 14. We had our small Seder on April 15. This year David and I hosted our Seder on Sunday, April 16.

No wonder I’m feeling the presence of sorrow. The 2006 calendar is repeating. The sun is at the same angle, birdsong is rising out of the fields in the morning at the same pitch, the brook out back is running high and hard, and the red buds on the maple tree out front are fattening into their familiar, fuzzy flowers. On some level, my body takes this all in and connects it with that scared and bewildered body 11 years ago.

There is a difference in the Jewish calendar though. Passover is ending today, not beginning as it was in 2006. Tonight I’ll light a Yahrzeit candle, which I just learned is a tradition on the last night of Passover.

How fitting.

 

Early Spring Tableau

My desk as this early spring afternoon slips over to dusk — Belvenie on the rocks, in a lovely tumbler Eric bought. He would approve.

My sketch book with a drawing of tulips I bought yesterday. Last week I figured out how to draw a leaf turning over on itself; I followed the contour line through the flip, added a bit of shading, and there it was. I’m practicing, still drawing almost every day.

Not Sunday. Under the sketchbook is my bib from the NYC half marathon, on its way to getting pinned on the decidedly not-decorator-worthy-wall of homasote in our bedroom from back in the days David was seeing if the room would work as a studio. It didn’t. But having a wall of fiberboard to tack up race bibs and Emilio drawings and sketches and poems and cards and posters is too wonderful a thing to take down. Two weeks ago David put up homasote over the art desk in my study.

As I ran down the West Side Highway towards the Battery on Sunday, sun on my face and the wind at my back, I knew I was probably going to make it to the finish line fast enough to qualify for the race next year, but my right knee and left thigh and left, blistered foot hurt.

So I let them go. I remembered what Sam told me after he ran an 11 mile trail race a few weeks ago. Describing his fastest stretch, running downhill after a grueling, steep-as-shit climb, he said, “I was flying. My body was gone.” A faster song came on my playlist and I picked up my pace.

1:58:17. That’s 31 seconds slower than last year. I’ll take it. It gives me 3 minutes and 43 seconds to come under the 2:02 qualifying time next year, and the year after I’ll be 65 and get another 10 minutes. With my time on Sunday I’d have been fifth in the 65-69 age group. The number of women running dropped from 162 in the 60-64 group to 53 who were 65-69. Two thirds fewer. Can I keep running into that age group? That fast?

In the first years after Eric died I would have laughed at myself for making plans to place in races two years out. Where do plans get you?

But I like the idea that by keeping myself on the road I could get closer to winning, even though being able to run 13.1 miles is winning enough.

 

#daylightsavingstime

The Truth About Death
Cover painting “Grace” by David

My conversation with Adrienne about daylight savings time started on Instagram. Under her photo of scrambled eggs and coffee she wrote daylight savings is weird. #theend. When I commented I want my hour back she replied every year! Time for the poem from 10 years ago!

Yes, Adrienne has listened to me complain about this lost hour all her life. It’s such a let down after that extra hour (bonus galore!) we get in October.

I’m not alone. Twitter is full of complaints today. Mamas, how are your #daylightsavingstime naps going? (Accompanied by a photo through a door of a child standing in a crib playing with a mobile.) I remember those days.

And, as always on Twitter, there’s politics and humor. You didn’t lose an hour of sleep # just redistributed it to someone who needed it.
Losing an hour of sleep means you have to sleep in, right?
I woke up and it was like noon wtf
low key wishing we lost the next four years vs one hour of sleep last night.
so do i have one more or one less hour to be high today?
Well, at least the clock in my car is right again…

There was a suggestion we all chill out by Relaxing Back Into Soothing Stillness w/this

Here’s what I had to say about it ten years ago, the poem Adrienne recalled. I wrote it the weekend Sam and I helped her move to live with Matt in NYC. March 2007, in the midst of the writing fever that produced The Truth About Death, less than a year after Eric died. I could feel the raw pain coming up off the pages as I looked through the manuscript for this poem. What a time.

Moving

Our daughter is going to the epicenter, someone is always
going somewhere, I can’t make small talk, I talk too much,
I am following the little red car, I can do anything I want,
I am a sparrow feeding in the bushes, the promised manna,

such pain to get here. Highways, cars, family, the irrevocable
center, flip your hand, wave off the evil eye, not evil, scary.
There is a blue balloon floating, this song is the tits, this song
is the bee’s knees, it’s if I had wings. I’m still mad

about the hour they took away two weeks ago. There are bells
ringing, it’s 6:00 p.m., the boys are watching college hoops,
the buildings out the window fall down in cubes, gardens
tucked into ledges, trees and statues below, a lion and a nymph

holding bounty, a set table in a room of glass, birds, planes
lifting west. I dance with a maenad, I dance by myself, drive fast
with my family. A lovely and ancient tradition. At dinner we discuss
predictive text, our son never finds his phone, our daughter’s lover’s

mother knows the pre-revolutionary Russian for lovely,
beautiful – veeleekalyepnah. When she found her grandfather’s book
of Torah commentary it opened to her son’s portion. Go forward
and be a blessing unto the world. Never enough, never enough.

Yom Kippur Afternoon

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For five years — 2010 to 2014 — I did a blog post on or about Yom Kippur. I missed last year, I missed all of the High Holy Days last year. On Rosh Hashanah I was in Massachusetts with Chris, in her last days, and didn’t even consider leaving to go services in NH. Yom Kippur was less than a week after Chris died and I wasn’t yet able to face so many people I know asking how I was. Would I lie and say fine, or be honest and tell them my sister had just died and it had been a long, difficult summer, helping to take care of her and watching as another loved one disappeared into the fog of cancer? Rather than answer that question, I stayed home.

Now I’m fasting and ruminating, my usual Yom Kippur afternoon. Last week at Rosh Hashanah services I felt Eric sitting by my side. I kept seeing the sports jacket he always wore to the Temple, because he would ask what he should wear and I’d suggest the brown jacket with black and tan threads woven into a tiny check design. My favorite. When I got home I took out the jacket — one on the few pieces of Eric’s clothing I’ve saved — and hung it in my study. I can see it now, facing me as I sit at my desk.

Since attending Kol Nidre services last night, and through this morning’s service, I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, contrition, sin, wrongdoing, right action, justice and peace and regret, which is what we’re meant to consider on this solemn day.

The Rabbi’s sermon last night was about regret, and how people more often regret something they didn’t do, a risk they didn’t take, a goal they didn’t fully commit to, a hand they didn’t reach out, a letter they didn’t write. I remember how often Eric said, in the last weeks of his life, as he faced his death, “I have no regrets. But I’m having so much fun living, I’m not ready to be done.”

I’m certainly not ready to be done either, but I can’t say I have no regrets. Like most people, my greatest regrets are about things I didn’t do — a card I didn’t send, a story I haven’t dared to write, a call I didn’t make. I’ve also judged people according to my version of the narrative we share, not challenging myself to see the world from their eyes. It can be too easy for me to think I’m the one who has it right.

Yom Kippur is about being honest with ourselves, digging deep and admitting to the ways we’ve not been our best selves, then using that knowledge, not to be ashamed or give ourselves a hard time, but to do better.

I can do better. Eric’s jacket helps me see that.

 

Posthumous Guest Blogger — Peter Menard on 5FU

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I’ve never had a guest blogger, though many of you know I’ve curated my sister Chris’s blog since she died, posting mostly guest blogs.  One of the most popular guests was my good friend Peter Menard, who shared his own journey living with metastatic cancer.

Now, posthumously, Peter gets to be the first guest blogger here.  Peter wrote this in the spring intending it for my blog, but the tragic, untimely death of a much much too young friend made us decide it wasn’t the right time to put it up.

Peter died on August 23 and now it feels like the right time to share this post.  Peter was smart, brave, deeply curious and very funny — as you’ll see.

5FU — by Peter Menard

Are you worried about Zika virus? Lyme disease, mosquitos & ticks?
Want to keep up with your hipster friends on the body-piercing frontier?
Is your weight creeping up on you, even faster than the proverbial 10 lbs. a decade?
Do you have cravings for food that you shouldn’t indulge in?
Lastly, are you worried that you aren’t producing enough mucus to protect your digestive system?

You may want to consider 5FU, a strong medicinal agent developed for some other diseases, but found to have some very interesting side effects.

5FU has been found to kill ticks when they dare to latch onto you. And mosquitoes won’t even light on you, perhaps because they can smell the 5FU, and they want none of it.

Make your hipster friends envious when you flaunt your port, a body piercing that is a direct connection to your own heart.

5FU is a very effective appetite deterrent. You won’t be able to finish any restaurant servings at one sitting. You can live for weeks on doggie bag food. And not to mention the slimming down of your waist line (and your arms and legs too – gets rid of unsightly bulging muscles).

Please note that there are a few quibbling side effects, such as nausea, a lack of a will to live, and a reduced social and work life. Working with your physician, you may be able to effectively ameliorate these side effects.

ENDORSED BY A LEADING REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE!

“I TAKE 5FU BEFORE MY BIG CAMPAIGN EVENTS. IT HELPS ME KEEP MY GIRLISH FIGURE, AND FRANKLY I THINK IT REPELS ILLEGALS AS WELL AS THE ZIKA THAT THEY CARRY. IT ALSO MAKES MY HAIR THIN AND LIGHT, AND EASIER TO MANAGE. AND WHEN I WANT TO SPIT ON DESPICABLE MEDIA STOOGES, 5FU HELPS FILL THE TANK SO TO SPEAK.”

Ask your doctors if 5FU might be right for you.

For those of you who’d like to know more about Peter, here’s his obituary, written, of course, by him.

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Peter Menard (65) of Deerfield unlaced his skates for the last time on Tuesday August 23, 2016. He hopes to skate on the moat around St. Peter’s Pearly Gates when it freezes.

Peter was able to get himself and traveling companions into international incidents in several languages, though he preferred to be lost and confused in Italian, treasuring its penchant to sing.

Peter had the honor to pour libations invoking the ancestors at family weddings, beseeching the ancestors to bless the newly-weds, (and hoping for the ancestors’ welcome when he joins them).

He had great friends from Canton High School in NY, his Canadian brother Lanny from Brown University, West African Peace Corps compatriots, fellow hockey players, Crossfit buddies, and denizens of Deerfield. After marrying 33 years ago, Peter and Anne took a 12-month honeymoon trip around the world, quite an adventure.

Peter’s 5 years in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer/staff fostered his appreciation of small-town life, as well as his trek across the Sahara. He eased back into the States as a commercial fisherman on George’s Bank, then a carpenter for Don Booth in Canterbury, next joining the Deerfield family firm P. K. Lindsay Co. in national sales. His last work was as a real estate agent with his sister at Parade Properties.

Peter’s wife Anne Burnett helped him so much with his cancer; as did sons Michael and wife Carissa, and David. Likewise mother Frances Menard, sisters Anne Menard and Guy, Jeanne and Kevin, Carol and Carl, Cathy and Betsy, Mary and Larry, brother Matthew Menard and Wendy; nephews and nieces Nick, Lindsay, Wes, Cam, and Edie, stalwart Galoots all. Peter thanks extended family and friends for their care.

A service celebrating Peter’s life will take place on Saturday, September 10, at 11:00 a.m. at Deerfield Community Church, UCC, in Deerfield, NH. Afterward, a potluck reception will take place at the church. Continuing in the spirit of Peter’s generosity, you are invited to bring a dish to share.

In lieu of lowers, memorial donations may be made to Schools for Salone, PO Box 25314, Seattle, WA 98165 or Anne Burnett’s run of the Dana Farber half marathon on October 9.