Forty Years Ago Now

me and baby carrieForty years ago just about this minute, which is to say at 7:46 on December 31st, I was in the delivery room with my OB/GYN who had decided to induce labor even though I wasn’t even due yet –  so that, as he put it, “he could give Dad here the tax deduction, har-har.” (Oh the sexism in those days! He had also told us two weeks before the birth that while I did my “huffing and puffing,” my husband was welcome to “come in and heckle” if he liked, – as if this were all about HIS brilliant performance!)

When, at 6 o’clock that morning,  we showed up at the hospital as we were told to do, he ordered the full humiliating ‘prep’ done and then personally inserted a kind of knitting needle into me to make my waters break, so of course the child was born with tiny cuts on her head. Then later, when things weren’t moving fast enough for him, he brought on the Pitocin and as the time passed, went on to crank the dose up and up until I was almost levitating off the gurney. Someplace in there came the Epidural, one of life’s great blessings, so everything else was easy. But if my body was blissed out, my mind was as clear as can be and I do remember him telling one nurse to call his wife and say that he’d be at the New Year’s Eve party by 10.

And I guess he was. By 10 the three of us were cozily ensconced in a room. At 11:55 exactly, the nurses on duty brought us a split of champagne and we toasted the future.

Ah memories!

We see backward so clearly. We see ahead so poorly. We didn’t know this baby would be the first of three, or that she would be such a mild philosophical child. She was easy from the start – well, except for that 8th grade year when she was doing the hard work of separating from us.

carrie & katy at the beach

in 9th grade with her cousin Katy at the beach

Today though, she is altogether launched. Today she is 40, thirteen years older than I was when I gave birth to her. Can that even BE?  We had a wonderful winter as I think back on it. I wrote thank-you notes for baby gifts and the three of us napped and napped…

carrie-looks-like-callie…resting up for the excitement of watching that landmark series Roots based on the remarkable book by Alex Haley.

She was too thin at first and then she chubbed up – and before we knew it, Spring came and she crawled down from our laps and away from us, as all babies must.

How blessed we are though, because all these years later we can still get to her in 22 short minutes. Oh Happy birthday Carr! What a joy it has been to watch you grow!

carrie at 6 in a chair

carrie as a mom

 

 

 

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Old Things

glass liquor bottle 1890sI love old things. One of them you see here, a bottle from the 1890s or before, meant as I am guessing, for spirits of some kind. You can’t really tell with the label mostly effaced.

I came upon this and the item below while going through a nasty drawer full of junk under our kitchen’s utility sink. It was in the 1980s that these two items first came to our notice from their sleeping-place deep down in the earth . It happened when we excavated a portion of the yard to expand our antiquated kitchen.

I don’t know what the builder was thinking when he laid out the original room when the house was new in the 1890s. Even by that era’s standards, it seems a truly terrible space to for the preparation of food. I say this because in all the 90 years before we came, this kitchen had remained the same. Sure, the stove had been swapped out and the old stove still reposes, a slumbering whale in our basement. The refrigerators got swapped out too, from the original icebox to electrified coolers, like the 1920s-era version that also slumbers below stairs.

But the basic layout?  Unchanged in all that time by which I mean to say that when we got here, there were no cupboards above sink or stove or fridge. If you wanted a cupboard you had to walk in to the next room, a room grandly called, in those days, ‘the butler’s pantry’. I called it that myself  – I had grown up in a house with room we called the l pantry – until I realized my small children thought I was talking about a pantry without a butt. (It must have been my Boston accent.)

Additionally, there were no surfaces on which to set things in this kitchen we inherited in the 1980s. Not a countertop in the place. If you wanted a surface, you had to walk into another room called the larder, where there were wooden shelves, wooden drawers and a lone square of marble for rolling your pie dough on. If as the cook, you needed to pare the potatoes you stood at the sink. When you needed to whip the potatoes, you sat at the wooden table in the room’s center and worked with the bowl in your lap.

And when our family of four sat at that table, still situated in the room’s center, we were all squeezed in so tight that someone had to vacate his seat and push in his chair in order to open the fridge for a forgotten item, and another person had to do the same so someone could check the oven to see if the brownies were done.

We couldn’t wait for that renovation. It brought us not only a larger more airy space in which to prepare and serve meals to friends and family, but it also delivered to us this last old item: a railroad spike from… who knows when, as Its irregular shape argues for a vintage older still than the 1890s. Today I am thinking hmmmm: the old Massachusetts town of Concord lies only a few hills and laps distant from here.  Maybe this is the kind of spike driven in to the earth when they first laid that Boston-to-Fitchburg run in the 1840s, and the iron monster  so shattered young Henry Thoreaus’s peace of mind over there in his cabin on the banks of Walden Pond. Anyway, here is ‘our’ spike, seen against one of my cookbooks for scale.

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The past is all around us, no doubt about that! Now if I could just talk to Thoreau, or Emerson, or Walt Whitman, or my girl Emily D. over the road there in Amherst. Where do they go, the dead, the silent dead?

The Getaway

cold cold dudeYou know how it is when you try to cheat winter and grab a few days in warmer climes. You stay up late and get up early every day for weeks, to shoehorn in just a few days when your ears won’t feel like a couple of frozen shrimp pinned to the sides of your head.

That’s what I did, fretting ceaselessly over the question of how life would go on without me. ‘Who will do all the driving?’ I obsessed. ‘Who will collect our papers and our mail? Never mind that, who will make sure the moon comes up with me gone?’

David and I were to leave before dawn and a mere five hours before that, as Jimmy Kimmel Live rolled its final credits, I was still throwing things in a suitcase.  Then the big day arrived, and brought with it many vivid hours of the blur-and-turbulence that is winter air travel.

frozen plane

Then – finally  – we were in the Caribbean.

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Waiting for the ferry to take us to our hotel across the bay, I watched a promotional video about the place. It was playing in an endless loop on an immense super-hi-def TV.

You know how it is: you can’t look away from these big TV’s, even if you want to.

Ten times I must have seen this video. First, it showed old footage from the 1950s, the people moving jerkily in that old home-movie way, waving sweetly and self-consciously at the camera.  (“Oh the past!” I always think, seeing such footage. “Are my parents there? Where are MY parents?”But then this nostalgia bath gave way to the wordless ‘story’ of a modern couple – two actors really – riding bicycles and smooching and getting up out of the hotel bed that floated not near but actually IN those blue ocean waters. (They can do anything with film editing these days.)

The fourth time it looped, I noted a chickenpox scar on the female actor’s face. The sixth, time I saw three small pimples on her neck. The tenth time, watching the actor boyfriend in his filmy harem-pants tumble from the bed and swim off like the Little Mermaid, I laughed out loud.

That next morning, I saw that I’d forgotten to pack my comb, my sunglasses and my hat, my frantic planning notwithstanding, and sure, you could buy all these things at the gift shop for a small fortune, but I thought ‘Eh’ and just bought the comb, deciding to squint for four days and let the sun have its way with my dye job. 

And that was the start of my letting go. By degrees I went from noticing everything in that sharp 21st century way to noticing very little, except the lapping of the waves.

The ocean was almost body temperature. Sitting at its edge, I watched pelicans swoop down to feed and suddenly I WAS a pelican. I watched a cloud billow across the sky and suddenly I WAS a cloud.  

I looked over at David sleeping in a lounge chair that stood perpendicular to my own chair, so that I looked upon him not from the side, as usual, but as if from above.

I saw his still-muscular arm thrown up over his face. I saw his hair, no longer black as in days of old, but as white now as a seagull’s wing.

And suddenly I too was in a video, along with every living thing on this island, all of us in our own home movie, captured for those few seconds, all moving and breathing and as delightedly alive as the folks in this old reel. 

It’s Now or Never, Kid

Here is a thought for this newly hatched day, when we woke amazed by the streaming golden light flooding in our windows at 6am (only 6:00!) 

Here is a thought for this first day of violet evening coming, as it does in my part of the world, with the children scarce home from school.

It’s a poem called ‘Time Change’ by Gloria Lewyn that I copied out of a magazine in the days when my babies napped away the afternoons. It goes like this: 

Time is different with a digital watch.

The minutes that used to limp around

The small dial on my left wrist

Come in early these days

Like the train.

I wound it myself then

But now time has changed.

It jumps up at me

Pulsing

Hours minutes seconds even days

Into then.

My new watch says

It’s now or never, kid.

Whatever became of o’clock?

You could make it last as long as an ice bar

Or another kiss,

Walk in late

And still be on time.

I found it so long ago as it seems to me now, and yet its words shiver me still.  It’s now or never, kid. 

Let’s make it now.

Amnesty

If there’s one weekend in the year when you can exhale it’s got to be this one with summer about to begin, yet the days still getting longer. There’s an amnesty feeling almost, as if Time has forgotten its chief task of hurrying us all along toward the exits.

Even here on the internet things are quieter than a closed library. Winter weekend, rainy weekends it’s practically standing room only online, but today? With temperatures heading for the mid-80s it’ll be a ghost-town here, not counting the faint peeping sound Tweets and status updates coming in through people’s phones.

I couldn’t sleep last night. At 3:00 I was wandering from room to room, reluctant to take a sleep aid because I knew the birds would be up talking within the hour. They do that in my part of the time zone: they get up before 4:00. With their happy racket and full daylight by 5:00 I wouldn’t want to be drugged-out and unable to wake when the day began.

I work every single day to bring this little gift to you though there’s no money in it. And, like millions of others , I buy food and cook it, I work a job and I spend time with our small people, I take our remaining old person out to break the terrible loneliness of the old. I can never sleep late is what I am saying; I feel all that waiting for me and I hate to admit that I’m often anxious.

So at 3am today I was dragging my anxiousness with me into the living room, the hallway, the kitchen. There I suddenly heard the solemn tones of the wind chimes I had just hung outside the porch door the day before. They are made of iron and extend five feet down from tip to end and now a stiff steady breeze had called forth their deep belling sounds.

I listened and listened, standing in the kitchen. Finally I returned to the bedroom and opened the windows wider to hear them still . And didn’t they carry me into three hours of deep refreshing sleep, as they will perhaps do every night now until that far-distant day when the cold returns and the snow begins again to fall.

~These are not my chimes but they are like mine and will give you the idea. Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.~