On Nov. 17, I walked through the tender light of dawn beneath a misty moon and dusky sky. Leafless trees wearing coats of earth-toned bark marked my passage, cool air stirred around me and leaves crunched to the rhythm of my stride. Watched by cautious deer, I followed a zigzagging trail up a hill west of my home. At the top, I turned to see Craig stretched below, hushed and expectant, as though awaiting an event of import.
In early 2015, an online hubbub erupted over a researcher’s claim that 36 specific questions, answered seriously, could create intimacy and cause two people to fall in love. It’s that easy? I must have wasted my time entertaining butterflies in my stomach, losing my ability to concentrate and feeling insanely happy. Silly me. I could have skipped periods of bliss and moments of uncertainty of by answering 36 questions and listening to a possible partner do the same.
I should quit thumbing through the magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms. The out-of-date publications harbor germs from sneezing, sick people and tempt me to read stuff I’d ignore if I weren’t trying to distract myself from the reason I’m in a doctor’s office.
On Jan. 20, 1953, my fifth-grade class, suffering from frozen noses and wild excitement, climbed from the back of a farm truck after an open-air, arctic ride to Barney Cornaby’s house. Barney had invited us to his home, which held one of the few TVs in Lake Shore, to watch the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Whatever that was.
I exited the meeting for new teachers with the words of the dictatorial principal, Mr. Bailey, ringing in my ears: “Remember no gum, no slacks, no mini-skirts. Never be late for recess or lunch duty. And I will check your lesson plans every Friday for their adherence to your grade-level curriculum.”
The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising: imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.
My mother sometimes asked her children to express gratitude for something meaningful before they indulged their Thanksgiving appetites. If I had mentioned my gratitude for the raisins she put in her homemade cinnamon rolls, she would have looked at me with disapproval. But, to me, a cinnamon roll without raisins wasn’t worth chewing. I know many folks disagree, but I’ve never met a raisin I didn’t like, and I’m grateful for them.
Growing up in a rural area in the years following World War II, my friends and I quickly absorbed the behaviors deemed appropriate for boys and girls; behaviors we learned from picture books, movies, parents, peers and siblings.
If we pay attention, life teaches us useful lessons: Refuse to cross a raging mountain stream on a fallen log when your hiking companions who claim it’s safe are standing beside you. Never befriend a barking dog or a growling librarian; and boycott turtlenecks so tight that pulling them off hurls your earrings, hearing aids and equanimity into space.
Last summer, during one of my Sunday morning walks, a power outage undid my husband, Joel. When I arrived home, I found him in the alley, looking beleaguered and whacking a hedge. With waving shears, he beckoned me near and then began a tale of woe: “You won’t believe what happened. When I started to fix my breakfast, the power went out, so no bacon and eggs. Then my coffee was cold, so I thought I’d reheat it. Nope. No microwave. I couldn’t even defrost blueberries to eat with cereal.”