Today I gave a talk to 30 lovely church women at the venerable old First Baptist Church of Lexington MA and the weather was again terrible only this time it was raining little needles and the day had dawned snowy so the walking was awful.
But the second I walked into the basement of that old church I felt happy.
Church basements all have that same great smell and the Sunday school rooms looked so dear with their wee tables and chairs and some old hooked rugs and bright yellow walls.
When I found the main gathering place the ladies were just tucking into a hot lunch that one of them had put together all on her own: pans of ravioli with sausage and broccoli; Caesar salad; baskets of bread; and home-made carrot cake. I had said I wouldn’t eat the latter but it smelled so much like childhood and a school cafeteria I thought How can I not? and so sat down.
I was the only outsider of course and they did the nicest thing they could have done while smiling warmly at me from time to time: they went on with their regular conversations which let me see right into their lives. This one was having trouble with her dog. That one was going crazy because her husband is always saying she doesn’t talk loud enough. A third one leans forward to say that she was born in this town made famous by a Revolution and still lives on what remains of the family farm. Her mother, in her late 90s, lives there too.
She and the woman beside her described exactly how this town still seemed even just 60 or 70 years ago: pastoral. Quiet. Like the farm town it was before 1775.
The talk and the rain outside took me back I think and when it was time for me to rise and talk for 40 minutes I talked about that past too and these great women laughed and sighed and remembered back too.
I told them what was next for me; how three hours after I got done with them I would be unpacking a picnic in a cemetery as night fell. The picnic was my romantic notion and I’d invited to it a lady 60 and a lady 80.
I’m writing this at 3pm. I have made a beef stew and a salad of Boston lettuce with almonds and berries for this picnic. I have sourdough bread and some cookies, wee little oranges and two kinds of wine, a straw picnic basket and some elegant stemware, fresh-brewed coffee and two thermoses that between them cost 50 whole bucks because they’re guaranteed to keep hot things hot for 24 hours.
We’ll see I guess. But the cemetery we are going to is Mt. Auburn, such a beautiful place rain or shine that I’ve been thinking lately it’s the place where my man and I will one day go for keeps, where all day and all night we can look up at its wonderful trees and imagine that we too can still feel the rain on our faces, steely-needled or soft, and the snow when it snows and the strengthening vernal sun.