Home

On Meeting Jesse & Margaret

3 Comments

I run into Jesse and Margaret at the spring, or “down to the spring,” as they would say here in the Granite State. And a more perfect New Hampshire couple I have yet to meet.

Jesse is tall and lean, wearing well-worn blue jeans and a dingy white knit cap. His shirt is even more worn than his jeans. It’s one of those generic green shirts with his name over the pocket that he probably wore back when he worked at a garage or service station.

At eighty-three, he’s not working anymore. “Me and Margaret, we like to go for drives,” he says. “We went up to the Weathervane in Lebanon yesterday — had our Thanksgivin’ dinner there. Ayup. That’s almost an hour away,” he informs me.

Margaret nods her bundled-up head. Her blue eyes are clear and shining with delight at the prospect of befriending a new person. “We get out as much as we can,” she says enthusiastically.

She is a particular type of older woman that you meet up here, the kind that exudes health. Her skin’s as deeply wrinkled as a peach pit from the sun, but it’s got a fresh glow to it and her cherubic cheeks are rosy pink from the cold. She is beautiful, actually.

We chat as Jesse helps me fill my water bottles from the spring. It turns out that they used to live on the same back road that my grandmother’s house is on. In 1955 —  the year I was born and started spending summers here — they moved to the next town over, but they know my house and call it “the old Tainton place,”** as all the old-timers do.

We share stories about long-gone neighbors and agree that Hattie Bunker was the sweetest woman we ever knew.

Hattie and her husband Arthur lived in a little tar-paper shack down the road and were a big part of my childhood. Hattie was twelve years old when she got married, and she carried a childlike simplicity well into old age. Arthur always looked like he was at least a hundred years old. He was struck by lightening multiple times while riding his tractor in the fields. One bolt stole his power of speech. I never heard him utter a word in my whole life.

I tell Jesse and Margaret how I spent hours listening to Hattie’s stories while we milked her cows and harvested veggies from her garden. I ask if they have a garden.

“Not anymore. Our daughter liked to garden, but she’s gone now,” Jesse says.

“Cancer, like my mother,” Margaret says. “You probably knew Carolyn. Didn’t you? Carolyn Wheeler — she was at Prudential for thirty-two years.”

“Thirty-two years,” Jesse confirms.

I nod and say yes, I think the name does ring a bell, which of course it doesn’t but they really need it to, and so I give them this small gift.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’m really glad you have each other,” I say.

“Married sixty-one years,” Jesse proudly tells me. He hoists my crate of filled water bottles into my car and invites me to stop by if I’m in their neighborhood. He shakes his head and laughs because for a minute he can’t remember the name of the street they’ve lived on for sixty-two years. Margaret doesn’t remind him; she lets him remember for himself.

“Center street!” he finally declares. “That’s it. Right across from the old saddle shop. Come by anytime, we’re always there unless we’re out for a drive.”

Down to the Spring

** Not wanting to broadcast the most common security query, my mother’s maiden name, I have substituted my grandmother’s maiden name.

 

Images of Life: Journal and Camera

3 Comments

Sometimes you lucky readers are treated to a glimpse of my inner workings when my nearest and dearest confidante — my journal — opens its pages to you. Not all its pages, mind you, just a few select snippets.

The best time for a peek into the journal is when I’m staying at Quiet Hills, my little writing retreat up in New Hampshire. Otherwise you would be treated to endless pages of I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that- and-I-need-to-do-this-and-then-I-need-to-do-that. Here, I have time to pay attention to life and to think and to not think.

And so, a few snippets:

June 17:

Quiet Hills! I’m sitting on the deck in the morning sun after an uneventful trip up, just traffic and fog.

The shower isn’t working, the side door fell off its hinges just after I arrived, and I can’t air out the house properly because I can’t juggle the storm windows with my broken arm. My neighbor never brush-hogged the fields last fall, so they are becoming forest. Sigh, sigh, and sigh. But I am here and glad of it.

Arrived!

Arrived!

There’s always this strange combination of great happiness but also anxiety when I arrive. Just to be here is pure joy. But so much is left undone at home, and I mistrust myself to get everything taken care of. And money is always a worry — how can I afford to keep this sacred place with the crazy taxes and maintenance?

The white iris by the birdbath are blooming. 

DSCN4932

Lots of chipmunk activity. Quiet bird chitter. Peonies in full bloom and lilies covered with buds.

chipmunk

DSCN4955

Orange Hawkweed, also called Fox-and-cubs — don’t you love that?

Beedie’s (grandmother’s) climbing roses by the front door fill the hall with their fragrance. There are loads of Orange Hawkweed and daisies in the small field, but the big fields are all brushy — few flowers.

Butterflies abound. After dark there should be fireflies – loads!

DSCN4938

My grandmother’s roses

I hadn’t been here more than thirty minutes yesterday before Emily W. arrived and invited me for a pancake supper with the boys, so I abandoned unpacking and bed making and went up the hill. With Bill working late, she really, really has her hands full with the three little guys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     June 18:

It was overcast today, cool but still t-shirt weather. I stayed low-key yesterday, hanging out on the deck reading Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond and perusing cookbooks for recipes to try when the family arrives.

Emily came by with the boys after work. The twins were playing with my phone and all of a sudden Biff’s voice was filling my head. “Hi, it’s me. I was just thinking . . . ”

I know my eyes got as big as saucers. “Oh my God,” I said.

“Who’s that?” asked Emily.

“My brother,” I answered.

She leapt up, grabbed the phone from the kids, silenced the speaker, and dashed back to put her arm around me.

“It’s OK,” I said, and the weird thing is — it was. His voice sounded hale and hearty and healthy, and I felt glad to have that recording. I might listen to it sometime. I am finally coming out of my serious grieving time.

June 19:

Last night I got back from the Toadstool bookstore just after sunset. The sky was all pinks and gold and there was a hermit thrush serenade going on, at least three of them at the edges of the fields. I walked around the house listening to their divine exchange, fully in heaven except for the mosquitos. So crazy that this is my life! Beginning to settle in. Still a touch of anxiety now and then. The space and time here leave room for worries that are drowned out by busyness at home, but I seem to need to go through them before I get to the peace.

This morning I made gazpacho and a big pitcher of iced tea. Summer.

Then I wandered around taking pictures. It’s a glorious New Hampshire day, just perfect.

Columbine by the barn

Columbine by the barn

DSCN4939

I posted a blog this morning, trying to process — but mostly escape — the latest mass shooting by a mentally unstable kid with a gun. Nine people dead at the historic AME church in Charleston, including their pastor. Kid was a racist, railed about blacks “raping our women.” My escapist blog began with a wish that I were a cat, a cat that knew no racism, mental illness, NRA, terrorism, climate change, or Donald Trump (the moron has announced he’s running for president).

June 20:

Chilly morning, wrapped in a shawl. I’m watching a couple of deer bound across the meadow and listening to dueling woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting on metal and wooden poles along the lane. A chipmunk is fussing at some imagined intrusion, and I can hear a thrush up the road — a lovely, lovely song that deserves a metaphor, except that there are no words.

I’m loving the Rohr book. He can be brilliant at times. Sometimes it’s hard to follow his theology, but it’s not so much the “figuring it all out” or the “grasping it” that I’m after; what I need and desire is a deep knowing, a knowing of the Spirit. I do not need to “have” a philosophical understanding so that my needy little ego can explain it and be right about it, I just need to know — that I am God’s, that I belong, that All is One.

I had some nice prayer time under the stars last night. Prayer realigns me, gets me back on track. What do I pray? That I would be love. A perfect channel for God’s love, get all of my crap out of the way — and that I would desire that more. That God would comfort the families of the Charleston shooting, that God would heal this broken country, that God would guide us as leaders at Cedar Ridge and use our church to bring love to the world. That we would all be more of who God designed us to be.

Fireflies and stars. I love NH in June.

Related posts: Journaling in Space, Journal as Amusement Ride, and A Fourteen Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

The Work of Rest

12 Comments

My neighbor stood at my back door in his usual state: bare torso sweaty, blue jeans dirty, and straw hat terminally tattered. Despite his appearance, a sweet, fresh aroma entered with him when I opened the screen door, as if he had just been rolling around in his herb garden.

Van held out a carton of eggs and a paper bag spilling over with yellow squash, cucumbers, parsley, and basil. Before I could thank him, he proudly announced what he knew would be an even more welcome gift. “I just bought a brush hog!” he said with a grin.

“Oh my gosh!” I squealed. I knew he was looking for an effusive response, but I was also sincerely  thrilled because my hay fields are going to be forest very soon if I can’t find someone to mow them.

“I’m going to start on my fields tomorrow, and then we can see about yours,” he said. “And you gotta come down and see the solar shower I just rigged up from the rain barrels. Don’t worry, it has a curtain.”

10561744_10204143186170554_3860651189794132610_n

The Industrious Nature

Like a lot of folks up here in New Hampshire, my neighbor Van rarely sits still. He’s up before his rooster crows, feeding chickens, weeding the garden, or transplanting bee balm and lilies around his Rest Easy Pet Cemetery down the lane from my place. He hammers a lot, building fences and sheds and such. I think this industrious nature may be in the blood — many generations of chopping mountains of wood to fend off the severe winters and farming dawn to dusk during the short growing season.

It’s not that citizens of the Granite State are frenetic like the people in D.C. where I live most of the year. They know how to relax. People in rural New Hampshire work hard five or six days a week, but they don’t work much past five o’clock. On the weekends they go to ice cream socials and sidewalk sales, and they actually stroll in the park (without phones glued to their heads). The bars and businesses in town close early, and then everyone goes to bed at nine or nine-thirty so they can be up at dawn.

So it was with a tone of confession that I answered Van’s query of what I’d been up to: “I’ve really done nothing since I’ve been here.” I smiled apologetically.

“Well, isn’t nothing what you’re supposed to be doing?” I love Van.

“Well, I better get a move on; got to get the chickens in,” he said as he headed for the door.

Re-Imagining Work

What exactly am I supposed to be doing? Is this it? Then why do I feel guilty and ashamed? This was my plan for the summer: a month of cleaning out my family’s house in D.C., then a month resting and writing up here — back and forth each month and catching the fall colors both places.

Yet somehow I feel I should be “working.” I haven’t even been writing much, except for some bad poetry I wrote while sitting by the beaver pond.

Perhaps what I’m doing can be re-imagined as work?

Inspiration for some bad poetry

Inspiration for some bad poetry

The Writer at Work

I feel slovenly when I spend an afternoon reading fiction, but they say that writers should read incessantly — it is part of our work. I’ve finished almost three books in the short time I’ve been here — Keri Hulme’s The Bone People; Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (awesome); and an Agatha Christie mystery, Cards on the Table.

I say I’ve hardly written, but I’ve actually filled more than twenty-five pages in my journal and covered ten pages of a spiral notebook with random bits of blogs, essays, and poems.

Spiritual Work

Much of my writing has also been spiritual work. I came up here with a specific goal for myself: to examine and pray about some of the character flaws I’d like to have God remove — anxiety, contempt, a need for recognition, and envy. (The latter is an insidious little bugger — I’ve only recently realized I have it!) If you’re interested in my navel gazing about some of these flaws, scroll down to my last post.

I am making an effort to get back to my favorite form of meditation, Centering Prayer, which is seriously hard work because it entails trying to surrender everything in your brain to God, becoming nothing but a vessel for love.

My walks in the woods can be considered spiritual work since most of my wandering is spent in reflection, and they are also a workout for my body. So is my occasional thrashing around on the floor in front of a Rodney Yee yoga video.

A Working Chef

Cooking! Surely that counts as work, although it’s fun and something I usually take significant time for only when I’m on vacation. Summer is abundant here, and I never miss the farmer’s market.

Summer Abundance

Summer Abundance

I’ve made gazpacho, fresh corn salad, potato and lentil stew, cabbage and pasta with garlic, tomatoes stuffed with eggplant curry (dreadful), and nearly daily caprese salads with perfect local tomatoes and basil from my backyard.

Does building up the compost pile count as work?

Shucking corn is hard work!

Shucking corn is hard work!

Working Dreams

While we’re pushing the boundaries here, how about dreaming? I’ve heard of “dream work.” I decided to stop setting the alarm because I’ve been waking up anxious, something that happened after my mother passed away and which returned after my brother’s death. I don’t think I understood the psychic cost of keeping the phone by my bed every night for seven years in case my mother or my brother had a crisis or was dying. No wonder I wake up anxious!

After I nixed the alarm, I slept eleven hours several nights straight and had intense and involved dreams of my mother and my brother. The subconscious at work . . .

What I’m Supposed to Be Doing

The work of rest. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

Partners in my work - Mayasika and Eliza Bean

Partners in my work — Mayasika and Eliza Bean

Rest is essential to health and creativity.

After my mother died, I went on a retreat about calling and vocation — I thought I had to get busy since my caregiving role had ended. (Little did I know I would become my brother’s caregiver for the next six years.) On that retreat, I learned that restful healing is a calling in itself. I just forget sometimes.

I will not talk about the work of grieving, that goes without saying. It is what I do these days. Except to say that part of grief work is learning to have fun again. Saturday I went to a party and met a bunch of interesting folks and laughed a lot. On the way home, I stopped at the fairgrounds and watched the town’s end-of-summer fireworks.

I am where I’m supposed to be.

DSCN4529

DSCN4535

How Do You Escape?

3 Comments

Next week I will head north, like a compass needle seeking home. After six months away, my annual early summer trip to our family home in the foothills of New Hampshire is always a sweet time.

This first trip will be short — mostly dispensing with mice and mildew and catching up with my neighbors. But I’ll be back and forth all summer, sweltering in the D.C. suburbs for a few weeks and then easing back into the serenity of New England.

In reality, there will be biting black flies and voracious mosquitoes up there, but in my mind it’s paradise.

At any rate, the WordPress Gods’ Weekly Challenge asking for photos that say “escape” is kind of a no-brainer for me.

Here is my escape:

Quiet Hills

Quiet Hills

A Sneak Peek into History

Here is a short excerpt from an essay that has yet to find an appropriate publication to snuggle into, so I can’t share much of it lest it be deemed “published” by my future editor – just a sneak peek:

My grandmother Beedie bought the white Cape Cod with its four ramshackle outbuildings in 1940, after her merchant husband died in what Newsweek magazine called “a fiery elaborate hell at sea.” Investigations of the Morro Castle ship fire subjected families and survivors to nightmarish scenarios of suspected arson, murder and panicked crew members absconding with lifeboats while passengers drowned or burned.

The shaken young widow found comfort working in her flower garden by day, and at night she was entranced by luminous showers of fireflies and stars strewn across the heavens. Deep winter snows softened the edges of her pain. She christened her house and the surrounding forty acres “Quiet Hills” and so created a healing refuge for five generations of her family.

My earliest memories of Quiet Hills are captured in a faded black and white photograph of the two of us in the shade of a massive oak tree. My pudgy four-year-old legs dangle from a tiny Adirondack chair and Beedie sits straight-backed, primly sipping English Breakfast tea. I remember the older kids were racing about on a treasure hunt, upending maple sugar buckets, peering into the lichen-covered well house and scaling the barn silo. I couldn’t tell if it was a good or a bad thing when Beedie remarked, “The hills aren’t so quiet when your family is here.” But she was smiling.

If you are the editor of a well-read and well-paying publication, feel free to contact me if you would like to read this essay in its entirety.

Are you planning an escape this summer? Where to?

If you believe that you are too busy to get away, consider reading one of these posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/are-you-too-busy-to-be-happy/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/how-not-to-screw-up-your-holidays/

Conventional Wisdom?

1 Comment

The light and shadows seem more distinct this morning, no longer dulled by humidity and summer haze. A pine-scented breeze ruffles the browning meadow grasses dotted with goldenrod, and my fingers are chilly as I write. Autumn is beginning to insinuate herself on this lovely New England day.

So why do I want to write about the Republican convention? Wouldn’t you think I’d opt for describing the silent parade of wild turkeys through the field, or the dappled fawn that just materialized from behind a veil of white hydrangea blossoms? Nope, it’s the convention. I didn’t even mean to watch it, and it caused a serious breach in my serenity shield, which was emphasized by periodic breaks in my internet service that juxtaposed Great Horned Owl pronouncements and coyote conversations with the rants and raves coming from my computer.

I’ve always been a convention addict, ever since my Dad decorated me with Barry Goldwater buttons, handed me a little American flag, and plopped me down in front of a black and white Zenith television with a box of Lucky Charms. I was hooked – everyone wore funny hats and brandished signs and tossed balloons and generally acted like children; but at the same time I felt grown up, watching politics with my family. It’s all they talked about at the dinner table. I belonged. Four years later at age thirteen, my friend and I plastered ourselves with bumper stickers and leapt around intersections like cheerleaders, shouting, “Humphrey, Humphrey, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, Muskie can!” (By 1968, I had discovered the teenage joy of ticking off your parents, and I’ve remained a life-long Democrat.)

Energy, engagement, belonging, purpose. That’s what politics has meant to me. But last night I didn’t get any of that. I didn’t scoff at the syrup, “I want to talk to you about love,” or get angry about the half-truths, or even say “shut up” to the whiney chants of, “We built it, we built it, we did so build it, don’t say we didn’t build it.”

I’m finally sick of it. Sick of both parties. There aren’t off years anymore, where our elected leaders can get things done together, like maybe addressing climate change before Tampa’s under water for good. It’s twenty-four hour, media-driven, mean-spirited diatribes and warped-fact rants, interspersed with those serious speeches where we all look somber and talk about bringing the country together. It’s the gleeful sarcasm that gets me most – did you know that sarcasm means “to tear flesh”?

The first century Roman philosopher Seneca said, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Sometimes that journey is a process of elimination, of shedding old behaviors or interests that you adopted for whatever reason – to survive a chaotic childhood, to please a partner or parent, to feel significant, to belong. So maybe I won’t be watching the Democratic convention. Maybe I’m done.

Who am I kidding? I’m still fascinated by politics, even if it’s more like watching a car wreck than a country at work. I like to think that, like me, America is on a transformative journey, learning how to live. Maybe eventually we’ll decide to drop behaviors that don’t serve our common good. Perhaps we have to see how low we can go, before we can start climbing our way back up to constructive civility.

So, yeah, I guess I’ll keep watching the extravaganzas. It’s my country, and besides, the Democrats usually have better hats.

%d bloggers like this: