Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue...]

Ready for Air–and a give-away

RFA-Cover-194x300It wasn’t lost on me that I read Kate Hopper’s lovely memoir, Ready for Air, earlier this month, while in the air myself.

Beside me, squeezed into the too-small middle seat, my 6’1″ son Jack was reading his own book.  I kept glancing over at him, aware that this was the last trip the two of us would take together for quite a while.  Aware, too, that I was already preparing myself for the moment when I would bid him goodbye in Atlanta, leave him to his new life as a student there, and fly home without him.

Kate’s subtitle is “A Journey through Premature Motherhood.”  It sounds specific, and it is.  This is a story about a baby girl born too soon, about a young woman’s struggle to be strong and brave in the face of one terrifying complication after another, of a marriage that is tested and ultimately strengthened by adversity, of a baby whose struggle to survive offers both a compelling read and something better: a reminder that, in the largest sense, our human stories are all variations on a theme.  For isn’t the real journey — through motherhood, through every relationship we ever have, through life itself  — really about learning to work with things as they are rather than as we wish they could be? [continue...]

September afternoon

nestA Saturday afternoon in September, the last of them.  Where the air leaves off and my skin begins, I can’t tell. They are the same temperature, the same softness, the same.  There is no need for a sweater or shoes. I sit in the lawn chair by the garden, eyes half closed, listening to the low, incessant churring of crickets, the intermittent hammer taps of a woodpecker in the maple tree overhead, the chatter of birds, their wing beats as they come and go from the feeder, the acoustic hum of bees burrowing into the jeweled nasturtiums.

It is that gentle, golden, in-between moment, no longer summer but not fully fall, either.  The sun, already sliding down the sky, casts long purple shadows across the grass and, elsewhere, creates translucent pools of light. It feels nearly holy, this luminous glimmer shafting through the trees. Everything is softening, crumpling, fading.  And yet, on this mild, sun-kissed afternoon it isn’t an ending I feel, but a thrumming continuum of energy, an urgent, insistent turning toward life and change. [continue...]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue...]

Small moments

BI SunsetO
k,” I said to my family, “I have a question.”

We were halfway through dinner at my parents’ house in Maine.  The sun was setting, casting the room in molten, amber light.  The table was littered with lobster shells and corncobs and wadded up napkins: the perfect ending to a perfect end-of-summer day.

No one could remember the last time we’d all been gathered together in this place we love, a place layered with memories and history and hallowed artifacts.  Twenty-six years ago this week, my husband and I were married in the church at the head of the cove.  We began our life together in the bedroom off the kitchen (repainted by my mom and dad in honor of the occasion) – the room where we still sleep when we visit and where my wedding dress still hangs in the back of the closet. Our sons spent all the best vacations of their childhoods at “Nana and Bapa’s Maine house.”

Even now, the books they read as children are stacked on the bedside table between the twin beds upstairs.  Winnie the Pooh sits in silent meditation upon a pillow; the old board games are piled neatly on the shelf; the sea glass and smooth stones they collected line the windowsills.

And yet, time and summer jobs and new interests and horizons have their way with all of us. Life doesn’t’ always carry young adults back  to their best-loved places.   But over Labor Day weekend, with both boys home, we seized our chance.  And for one night, my parents and the four of us were under one roof.

Of course, everyone knew what was coming: Mom was going to ask the family to reflect.

My dad rolled his eyes.   “It’s a nice meal,” he said, only half-joking.  “Do we have to make it meaningful?”  The kids laughed.  Steve said, “You can’t stop her, you know.”  And in fact, no one really tried.

What I wanted to know was simply this:  What moment from the summer are you especially grateful for? [continue...]