‘Return to Sender,’ read the yellow sticker plastered over my friend’s name on the envelope I’d addressed and mailed a couple of weeks before Christmas, ‘Insufficient Address, Unable to Forward.’
How my mother paid for the old piano is somewhat of a mystery. With a fresh leg of lamb? A pair of newborn kids? In trade for my pony? One thing is certain, I started playing piano around age nine – later than my farm-country peers whose fingers zipped up and down the keys at recitals in our Oregon church’s airy sanctuary while mine trembled.
I was late, rushing home from a local store after doing a little Christmas shopping, when I stashed my bags in the back of my clunky minivan and pulled into traffic. Ahead, an SUV was turning in the same direction I was at a four-way intersection. As the vehicle pulled down the brick-lined street, I noticed how its right rear tire smooshed against the pavement like a puddle.
If you really want to discover how much (or how little) you understand a subject, try teaching it to middle-schoolers. Like the three different ways verbals can be used in a sentence. Or first-person, second-person and third-person point of view. Or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
This past week brought fresh waves of grief to our nation and to our local community. Even as many families gathered around candle-lit tables and held hands to give thanks, other families were in darkest mourning for those whose hands they will never hold around a holiday table again. And what do we do with the weight of all this sorrow?
When I saw boxes of candy canes and foil-wrapped Santas lining the shelves of my grocery store one week before Halloween, I wasn’t surprised. There are many signs of how far society has fallen from what was once considered sensible. And yet, I thought, have we really come to this? Blitzing through our days so fast that we barely have time to celebrate one holiday before marketers are ram-rodding another down our throats?
A news story on NPR this week featured Kitty Eisele, the host of Demented, a podcast about caring for her elderly father. She mentioned that one in five American adults currently provides unpaid care for an elderly or disabled family member. Having been in that position once before, I found myself temporarily in it again this past week when, despite those of us who were eligible being fully vaccinated, my family and I came down with COVID-19.
I am no expert on sorrow, although I’ve lived long enough to know that none of us is exempt. There are no detours wide enough to navigate your way around suffering. No bank account big enough to buffer those you love. No life untouched by loss.
Ever found that the more familiar you are with something, the less likely you are to notice it? Like the earth turning each day to catch the first bright rays of the sun. Or the liquidy feel of water as it rolls over your tongue. Or the shifting swoosh of sound that fills our days – from morning bird songs to the evening breeze?
September has long been my favorite month, and not just because I get to celebrate my birthday. But because it feels like the climax of the year, as if every seed and limb and leaf has been working together for just this moment to release its fruit before ceding to fall.
I have long admired Tessa Afshar, a romance novelist who crafts historical fiction set around the time of Christ. As a kid lit fan, I’m not a big reader of adult fiction. And I confess that I stopped reading romance novels about the time I realized that lasting love involves more laundry than long walks on the beach.
When the kids are gone and summer is flying fast and the morning chill portends to fall. When the news is bleak with buckled houses and panicked faces and fierce mobs shooting in the streets. When hopes fade and fears swell and what’s on the horizon seems like more than I can face, I can either give into the gloom, let it swallow me like an ocean, roll me into its dark depths.
When my friend Jenny was getting ready to host a party celebrating her daughter’s wedding, she cleaned her farmhouse top to bottom, even washing all 24 of the ironstone tea cups stacked in her dining room cupboard. Ridiculous! I thought, helping her. Who’s going to check her china closet?
“Antiques,” the flaking wooden sign advertised, hanging over the closed double doors of an old church planted on a rural Maine hillside.
Driving past with my husband, I had just enough time to glimpse the overgrown grass and darkened windows before the church faded from view. “How sad,” I said to Dana, who sat behind the wheel. “But also how appropriate.”
Juggling a lot this summer? Me too. For the past month I’ve been immersed in an intense graduate education course. My husband thought this would be a good time to demolish the back of our house to replace the rotting windows. And – thanks to a determined rodent – I’ve had to replant my vegetable garden. Twice.
When we bought our house, one of the first things that attracted me to it was the light. It streamed through our four giant south-facing windows like buttery-warm happiness. Unfortunately all four of those windows were damaged. The wood sills were rotten. The double-paned glass had separated, creating a milky-white fog. And some refused to open.
Everywhere I look – on social media, television commercials, slogans printed on T-shirts and pasted on signs – the prevailing message today seems to be about achieving greatness, thinking big, striving for the maximum measure of success.
Feeling exhausted? Me too. Falling-asleep-on-the-couch-at-7-p.m. exhausted. Muscles-aching-like-I-just-ran-a-marathon exhausted. Snapping-at-my-family-over-missing-lunch-boxes-and-Who-ate-the-last-piece-of-cake? exhausted.
Several years ago, when my family moved up the river from Bath, one surprise that came with our new home was a tenacious apple tree. Despite the tall grass and thistles that threatened to choke it and a deluge of water that had loosened its roots, causing its trunk to grow sideways, it continued to bear fruit.
If you’ve caught me wandering around town on one of my infrequent escapes from work or home, you might’ve noticed the dark crescents shadowing my eyes or the stringy weight of my unwashed hair. For most of the past year, I’ve been dragging myself out of bed before dawn to sit at my laptop and write a novel about three children who try to stop the emerald ash borer from destroying the world’s ash trees.