Sunday, August 28, 2022

Frances hit the tree again (and other stories I heard on my vacation)

We were walking in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, my husband and I, a stroll over a bridge, a harbor, the boats bobbing along, and as an elderly man and his wife passed by, the man stopped and pointed over his shoulder. "Frances hit the tree again," he said, and I nodded, as if I knew Frances, as if I knew what tree he was talking about. 

"It's a mess," the man said. "All over the road. But if you stay on this side of the street, you'll be okay." I nodded again and smiled. I was thinking What a nice place this is, where strangers issue warnings about fallen trees, where the gossip about Frances, whoever she is, whatever problems she's suffering from (crashing into trees! Oh my God!) is the gentle, informative kind of gossip, and not the mean, disparaging kind. 

Who's Frances? my husband said. 

I started spinning out theories. Frances the town goofball, the concerned chatter about her increasingly shaky driving abilities. My husband thought maybe Frances had been riding a bike. But would that knock a tree down, we wondered. We'd reached the corner and turned, and there was the tree ahead, a large piece of it lying across the road, and suddenly it occurred to me that what the man had actually said was not "Frances hit the tree again," but,

something more like "Branch fell from the tree up there." (For the record, I like my version of this story better.) 

And then there were the women walking on the beach as my husband was angling to take a selfie with me and our son. Our son was the reason we were visiting Woods Hole. Spoiler alert: he and his longtime girlfriend were going to propose to each other that night! Her parents have a house in Woods Hole, and the family, and our son and his girlfriend had invited us to stay nearby, show us the town, be there for the big moment. The women on the beach stopped,

and one of them offered to take a picture of the three of us. "Life is short," she added, and I thought she'd said, "Like your shirt," and I was already spinning out theories about why she might like my husband's shirt, or my shirt, or maybe she was talking about our son's? This miscommunication was cleared up more quickly than the Frances saga 

because the woman helpfully repeated herself and we all agreed that life IS short and we let her take our picture and then offered to take hers and her partner's, and after the picture-taking we chatted like old friends, saying Life is short to each other because it really and truly is.

My future daughter-in-law's parents live on the water and at night they served us dinner out on the porch and I couldn't get over the place, the people, the sailboats drifting by, the hoot every forty-five minutes of the nearby ferry going back and forth to Martha's Vineyard, which all of the Woods Hole-ians simply call "The Vineyard," the flowery tablecloth that I decided was not fancy but festive, and why couldn't I have a tablecloth like that if I wanted it? 

Answer: I could. I do now. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Every morning my husband and I waded out into the cold water and watched our son and his girlfriend swim laps out to a buoy and my husband kept saying, This water is so cold! And I would say, I know! and then we would dare each other to dunk in, egging each other on by repeating our new favorite mantra: Life is short. 

What do you think Frances is up to now, my husband asked me as we shivered together, our son and future daughter-in-law small blips against the horizon.  

Only yesterday, it seemed, we were dropping our son off at college, one of the many times we dropped him off at college, and he said, I want you to meet my new girlfriend, and later, on the drive home, my husband said, Do you think she is the one? 

And only the yesterday before that, our son was in high school whacking lacrosse balls in the backyard, in middle school building hovercrafts out of leaf-blowers with his best friend, a ten-year-old riding a bike ahead of me on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, the last time we visited this part of the country, and now--

The same night Frances hit the tree and the woman complimented our shirts, we all walked out on the beach as the sun was setting, my husband and me and our son's girlfriend's parents, the four of us hanging back, watching, as our son and their daughter walked ahead, out along a jetty, stopping at the tip, a sparkle of sunlight on the water. 

Our son got down on one knee and after a few moments, he stood, and she got down on one knee. 

And then it was over. 

The sun had set. The ferry hooted as it made its way out of the harbor or into it. We drank champagne and made toasts and I didn't say it but I was thinking it: this place, these people, 

this moment

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Don't tell the dog we're going on vacation

because she gets nervous. Or maybe I am the one who gets nervous. I don’t know where this comes from, my travel anxiety. My need to scour the entire house, for example, before we can walk out the door. 

I mean, I love vacations, I just don’t like the part where you have to prep, to pack, to travel to get wherever you are going. My husband knows this about me after many many years of witnessing it, and mostly he goes with the flow. 

Okay, he says, I get why you want to have clean sheets on the bed, why you want the bathrooms to be clean, why you want to leave a detailed note for the dog sitter, but why are you—what are you—? 

He stops mid-step into the kitchen, where I am presently taking an orchid plant apart in the sink. 

(What led to this was we have an orchid that’s been dormant for two years and I thought it was dead and was ready to pitch it, but this morning I saw a Tik Tok video that shows step-by-step how to revive an orchid plant. It is truly amazing.) 

My husband is slowly shaking his head.

I was cleaning the sink, I explain, which led to me cleaning the windows above the sink and then clearing the plants off to dust the sill, and then I saw the orchid… 

He’s still shaking his head, and I notice him noticing the food I have set out on the counter, the travel snacks I’ve planned for the road. Tomatoes and basil I picked from the garden, which I’m readying to toss into a caprese salad. Fruit I’ve washed. Veggies I’ve cut to go with some hummus dip. The parsley and mint and onions I’m chopping to go into the—

Is that tabbouleh? My husband asks incredulously. Are you making a tabbouleh salad? 

But back to the dog. Typically, before we leave on vacation, she seems to catch my anxiety, whirling around behind me as I scour toilets and change sheets, and erm, revive orchid plants and prepare homemade tabbouleh salad. But the moment she sees us dragging the suitcases up from the basement, she goes into full blown terror mode, panting and crying. I have a brilliant idea as I tuck the now already-perky-looking orchid into a jar of water and set it back on the windowsill. 

Let’s not take out the suitcases! We’ll keep them in the basement and carry our clothes and toiletries down there to pack!

My husband busts out laughing, but God love him, this is exactly what we do. 

Let me tell you the secret of the orchid plant. Over time, the root ball gets tired and tangled up, pieces of it, shriveled and dead. But with a little patience, you can untangle it, cut off the dead bits, clean it all up and get the plant going again. 

Wait. I think what I am actually writing about here is not orchids or worried dogs, but about vacations and why, even though some people are always anxious before they embark upon one, they still need to GO. 

So, I go. I’m gone. I’m here. Away from home and only one day in, feeling untangled and revived. 

By the way, before we left, the dog figured it out. In the morning, as I tiptoed around packing the cooler with what my husband calls the Bougie Travel Snacks, while I thought the dog was still asleep upstairs, she woke up and caught my husband in the act of carrying the pillows out to the car. She paced around my legs and cried. I kissed her on the nose and told her what I always tell her before we leave the house. 

It's okay. We'll be back soon. 



Sunday, August 14, 2022

The library is cool

I mean that literally. 

We keep the air on Cool, and most of our patrons love it, exclaiming excitedly how nice it feels when they walk inside, a much-needed break from the sweltering weather. And I like it because usually I am running around in that place, checking in cartloads of books and shlepping materials up and down the stairs now that the elevator is out of order. 

Not that I mind. I like the exercise, the bustle and movement. I've never been one to sit still for long. Even when I was home writing all day, I had to get up and stretch at least once an hour. Walk the dog. Do the dishes. Shuffle outside into the garden. I am a knee jiggler. A foot tapper. A pacer. 

Oh my God, sit down, my family has been known to say to me, and I pause mid-whirl, surprised that I was in motion. But back to the cool-ness of the library. Not everyone is a fan, a few patrons making their objections known to us quite emphatically, one even going so far as to write a strongly worded note. Which we acknowledge politely, but let it go. 

As much as we would love to, we can't make everybody happy. 

I want to remember this, but like other hard truths, I often forget it. Why can't we all just get along, I occasionally whine, and when I am in a particularly sad place, I cry about it. It has been the work of my life -- I was going to say, to make sense of things-- but the reality is that some things simply do not make sense and some people may never get along, and so I will amend that to:

It is the work of my life to come to terms with it. 

Accept the too-coldness of the room. Focus on the people I love, pace around them, sprinkling blankets and hot tea and comfy sweaters. But listen to them too, when they tell me, It’s okay now. You can stop.    

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Surprised by Watermelon

What happened was I thought it was a cucumber. 

That's what I'd planted, a labeled seedling, a gift from a gardening friend. And it did look like a cucumber at first. Small. Pale green. The vines I staked, the coiling tendrils, the delicate yellow flowers--all very cucumber-like. 

And who knew what variety my friend had given me--I mean, last week I was surprised by the weirdo arm-length white cucumber--so maybe this one was supposed to turn out bowling ball large, a darkening green? If I know anything about gardening, I know the more I know, the more I know I don't know. But isn't that the way with everything? Take the chamomile 

I planted two summers ago, the seller at the farmers market assuring me it would re-seed right where I planted it, so I took care. Found the perfect spot in my herb garden for it to take root, but then, the next spring it was gone. It wasn't until several weeks later I found an odd seedling sprouting in a place I would never have planted something, across the patio, right at the edge of my husband's barbecue grill.

I almost yanked it out, thinking it was some kind of weed, but no, it was the chamomile, the seeds carried by a bird or who knows what. The garden goes where it wants to go. This year, I found a surprise cherry tomato plant popping up by the oregano. Volunteers, my mother-in-law calls them, and I love that word, the whole idea of it, 

an unseen hand guiding the seed traffic, overseeing the design, and not just random accidents, the regurgitation of a robin, a shift of the breeze. And wouldn't it be nice if there were a garden-y ghost making note of the fertile cracks in the pavement, 

some kindly presence who slows down the green bean production at the moment you have had your fill of them and speeds up the ripening of the zucchini on the day you want to make zucchini bread? 

Don't we all love that volunteer friend who takes charge of the whole shebang, calculates the excessive number of white cucumbers from one plant, and nodding along, muttering to herself, suddenly snaps her fingers and announces,

Let's make this one a watermelon.