I miss the Reading Lady on Williston–that tiny road on the back side of town.
She was my favorite sign of spring.
Appearing there on the porch of her aging Victorian.
Layers shed beneath gingerbread lattice
While the season unfolded into summer.
First a cup of tea and a blanket.
Then a glass of lemonade and a sun hat.
And always a book (and reading glasses.)
Well into autumn.
Right there on the corner as I drove by.
Did she move away or worse–pass away?
I like to imagine her on the coast of Maine.
Overlooking the ocean or perhaps beside a quiet bay.
Waves lapping at the dock
Where she reads
While the world
A bit slower
A rainy Wednesday in March brings to mind the memory of orange, chocolate-chip scones.
This would be just the day to sit a spell at the counter at Sweeties on Route 9 in Marlboro–sipping a latte, taking in the aroma of bacon, the morning conversations, the ebb and flow of townspeople and tourists beginning their day
Sweeties has been closed now for a handful of years and we’ve all grown accustomed to having to leave town for gas or a six-pack, but the absence lingers like a loved one, and sometimes rises like an ache, particularly in wintry months or on rainy days like today.
“After the General Store, comes the Post Office,” says a neighbor. “Then the school.”
Marlboro School was at the center of last week’s Pre-Town Meeting in response to Act 46 which seeks to consolidate school governance.
“Forced, short-sighted, rushed through legislation,” is how one woman described it.
A discussion of the unintended consequences of Act 46 ensues; and I’m surprised by a consideration that hadn’t occurred to me until then, and how deeply it shakes me–not the loss of our precious Junior High, or the loss of our vibrant voice; or how these losses will reshape our school, and our town; but something that strikes at the center of self-governance:
I know not everyone can make it on the first Tuesday in March, and I know that efforts in other towns to shift the meeting to an evening or a weekend haven’t produced the desired results; But our old Town House fills up with body heat and breath and voice and community, and that’s something.
And even in the years when you’re not in a chair or on a bench or at that front table or up at the podium, the gathering holds space for who we are and how we live and what happens here, not just in Marlboro, but all over the Green Mountain state, and even across our nation, as Bernie proved to be true.
Sure Town Meeting would continue for awhile; the old timers here are hearty like that; but the absence of the school budget–ie. the absence of children at the heart of decision making–would hollow out the gathering, until it became a dusty relic of itself.
Just before our Pre-Town Meeting closes, a follow up question about our “Geographically Isolated” and “Structurally Isolated” school comes from the floor:
“If we find that it doesn’t work for our town, can we go back to what we had?”
The response sends a chill through my body, particularly this year:
“Once you take it apart, you can’t build it again.”
The world conspired to keep me awake. The warm air. The intoxicating sounds. The sky. Especially the sky! First Mars. Then all those constellations whose shapes & names I never bothered to learn. Then something else. A first for the season! So soon? Maybe it was a plane. A falling star. A UFO. I got up three times. After midnight. To be sure.
My guys strut around in the Rockin Rose towels I bought for spring, Makes my feminist heart sing.
Here’s to black fly bites & ant infestations.
Without which we’d drown in the intoxication of May.
I suppose I was 17 and she was not quite 2. We dove under the sea together and the salt water soaked her long lashes and made the gift of her in my arms under the warm sun almost unbearable.
“You have such pretty eyes, Bon Bon,” I said.
After which, she looked at me, just as earnestly, with the sand kissing the fine hairs of my face, and said,
“You have two eyes too, Kel Kel!”
One year ago today. Bernie announced his campaign. On the waterfront. In Burlington, Vermont.
both boys back in the house
At 52, I’ve become such a risk taker. In relationship. First with a friend. Then a sister.
Exposing where I’ve been hurt instead of tucking it inside. To fester.
After I share, I listen and respond to the ways I’ve presented a similar challenge. To them.
I am so brave. And vulnerable.
We all are.
after 10 days away, i love re-integrating back home
under the cover
Another day, another graduate!
May 21, 2016
Am I pretty?
52, and I still want
to know. Daddy,
do you think so?
Medicine enters the next generation…
Nephew Corey (my sister Robin’s oldest and the first of our next gen) JUST graduated from Medical School.
Continuing on the path of his father (ER doc), grandfather (Surgeon) & grandmother (Nurse), great-grandfather (Surgeon), great-great grandfather (Physician) & great-great grandmother (Nurse), and his great-great-great grandfather (Health Officer.)
The island in May. Empty of commerce. Pulsing in preparation. Landscapers. Dune-shapers. Painters. Stockers. Deliverers. A shoulder season like September, but intemperate & gusty with an unwelcome chill. A desire for baring, not covering. Skin. Aching for swimsuits, not sweatshirts. The anxious cheer of Open for Business. Eager staff training & being trained. Busboys seeking anything upon which to apply clean rags. Everyone practicing on pretend customers, like me, before the real ones arrive, in throngs, in season, with the height of the summer sun…
Happy 26th Anniversary of our Marriage, Casey
the “backdrop to women’s oppression for centuries”
(I wouldn’t want to live inside this institution with anyone else.)
Though I was born here, and lived here from time to time throughout my life, it is the returning that I most appreciate. And in this, I have been well received, both by the sea, and by those who have welcomed me and my family over a lifetime. First grandparents, then parents and in-laws, aunts & uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, friends of siblings, parents of friends–each providing spare bedrooms, empty apartments, entire homes–so that I might know, and always remember, that I belong.
The pre-patriarchal goddess, Hera, returned for a ritual bath to the Spring of Kanathus every year to renew her Virginity–the quality of belonging to herself.
~Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
In my bag, I have packed, just about 700 pages
Ready for gentle eyes
If ever cease I to call Vermont my home, this may be what I’ll miss most…
To her home state. The great state of North Carolina.
“Let us learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past… Let us write a different story this time.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
How often have I lived my life in compensation…
for another’s lived or unlived life…
Or my own…
How might I live without it…
Where does the balance of self reside?
Healers, artists, builders, coaches, counselors, teachers.This rich village in which we raise children.With special gratitude for Beverly Current at the Colonial Pool & Spa, who retires this summer, but not before coaxing a reluctant swimmer into proficiency & delight. True mastery.
I don’t read a lot of fiction. Because I feel manipulated and all. But my favorite fiction is once read. Sent by a friend. Who just had to share. Post office and all. Hoping I’d love it too.
I guess there’s some alchemy to an old white guy reminding us who we are as a country (and who we are not.)
30 years ago. The phone rang. It was Casey Deane.
Calling for a job.
what if i didn’t try to change how i was feeling.
what if i felt tired or depressed or heavy or all three and i just let that be. as if there was nothing wrong with me. as if how i am feeling is an invitation. as is. to really know. me. nothing to change. nothing to fix. nothing to flee.
next time, i’ll try this.
today i had chocolate. (lots of it.)
~EARTHSHINE: Sunlight reflects off the earth and lights up the moon; most intensely just before & after the New Moon of April & May.
Mothers Day sightings:
Racoon. Porcupine. (both dead)
Fox with two kits. Crossing road.
Turkey. Crossing highway.
Mouse. Crossing Rte 9.
(honorable mention: Golden Eagle, seated, on Rte 9, the week prior.)
Mothers day. Every day.
Feel the love. The sacrifice. THE POWER.
~A middle-aged man & woman, searching for trash along the side of the road, pause to exchange a touch & a kiss. #GreenUpDay
~A silver-haired man wipes tears from his cheek as the chorus sings, “Every week, I visit my mother. She lives in a place where they can take care of her. She’s not sure that I’m her daughter, but that no longer makes me cry.” #BrattleboroWomensChorus
~HEROINES with young children at performances throughout time, braving the gauntlet of breakdowns, while the rest of us get to focus so intently that we bristle at each squeak. #Motherhood
Celebrating all the ways we’ve been mothered well, and all the ways we can mother ourselves…
I can look out the window and see another dreary day or I can see the carpet of white blossoms on the greening earth.
I can look toward my kitchen and see the crumbs and disarray, or I can sense into the years of feeding a family and celebrating home.
I can look into the past and remember a mother who abandoned her children or I can see a woman who looked her demons in the eye and invited to them to the table where she nourished my soul.
Even the cd shuffler knows that stealing the sun after a few hours flirtation is crueler than another day without it.
Daffodils on a string of cold, dreary days; like sunny people at funerals.
You know that moment just before you transition into deep sleep? It’s there that He appears. Waking me. With a startle. Each night since Cruz dropped out. (Thank the Lord.) But now there’s no more pretending. He’s their guy. #Trump
Yesterday I finally tracked down a beloved. I can’t believe how hard she’s been to find. Made simpler by one fact: the smile that greeted me every morning in 7th, 8th & 9th grade was the same one she beamed at 51.
From her obituary.
That in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.
After a 6 month hiatus, I’m struck by a tidal wave of sensation. Fear. Constriction. Resistance. A
nd something even more immobilizing:
Who do I think I am?!
The stakes are this high.
9 years of experience washed away.
Forced back to the beginning.
The initiation. Ishvara Pranidhana. Let my successes and my failures be an offering. #TeacherAppreciationDay#Unmasked
I asked Father Hodges–the one who wore a hair shirt and had us sing Irish drinking tunes in our senior theology class at Wildwood Catholic High–if I might be excused from getting on my knees and saying the rosary.
“I’m not Catholic,” I said.
The next day he volunteered me to crown Mary in the May pageant.
I’ve never liked short stories.
They leave me longing.
But Friday night, after dark, we made the trek down our hill,
through the valley, and up another mountain, to the village of Putney,
to its newly renovated Next Stage Theater.
There, Robin read from her upcoming short story collection, Half Wild, and afterward performed with her husband, Tyler Gibbons–as the duo Red Heart the Ticker–which followed an interview and Q&A.
We brought my son along. Not the one upon whom a character may or may not be loosely based in one of Jodi’s stories… (sometimes I think we’re all writing memoir. Or fiction.) but the younger one who still lives with us on MacArthur Road.
During the interview, Robin spoke of her family’s history in Vermont, with mention of her father as a baby; and Aidan, 15, turned and whispered:
“I can’t imagine Dan as a baby. Can you? Ask Dad if he can.”
Though they’re not old enough to be our parents, Dan and Gail MacArthur are like the grandparents of MacArthur Road, and actually have the pleasure of all 4 of their grandchildren here, including Robin and Tyler’s two.
Gail drove the school bus and served on the select board and helped shape a number of community initiatives in town; and Dan has the same years of dedication, including the Board of Directors for the elementary school, and raising many of the houses in the area, like ours and Jodi’s–one after the other, about a decade ago.
“Why didn’t I know that?” whispers Aidan, when the Poet Laureate of Vermont introduces Tyler as “a graduate of Harvard,” who has scored numerous feature films, feature-length documentaries, shorts, art films, and radio and media sites.”
Aidan turns toward me again, this time with a smile, when Robin tells Chard deNiord that she and Ty met at Brattleboro Union High School (where Aidan is a freshman now.)
“We were in an art class together,” Robin says. “He looked at a piece of my work. Said it could be better.”
Tyler tells Chard that he wrote Peaches and Plums–the March 2013 edition of Songs in a Lunar Phase (a monthly subscription-based CSA–the A for Arts instead of Agriculture)–after Robin rebuked his earlier attempt to write an upbeat song about March.
I sulked away, he said, but then Peaches and Plums came which is pretty down on Vermont.
“Filled with yearning for spring,” Robin corrects.
Though they haven’t performed together in two years, they played a handful of songs on the stage this evening.
Tyler joked that his goal was to bring as many instruments as songs.
Ty and Robin ended the night with one of my favorites. A soulful tune that she wrote: One Last Tear.
As Robin sang, “Will you bring your blue dress and your pale blue…”
Aidan turned to me quizzically, but I refused his stare, for fear of laughter; because like him, I thought heard “pale blue ass” instead of “eyes.”
The short story Robin selected read like music too.
Flooded toward me.
And then in me.
Like a quickening.
Then they picked up speed and rocked me with the rhythm of labor.
Climaxing in a body of water.
in a field.
“The stories take place at the edge of Vermont towns,” Robin says. She admits that Tyler makes plot suggestions. She adds:
“I’m not wild about plot.”
“She’s half-wild,” Aidan whispers.
We both smile when Robin announces the release date for her book–August 2, 2016–Aidan’s 16th birthday.
It was just after his 15th that we visited Jodi and her husband Bob for the first time in their new place in Maine. Aidan never did get to have Jodi as a teacher, but the timing worked out that our oldest had her for four years straight. Under Jodi’s wings, Lloyd became a reader, a writer, a mathematician and a scientist.
The following summer, alongside the MacArthurs, Jodi helped lay the sub-floors that would serve as the foundation of Lloyd’s second-story bedroom. In later years, he stacked her wood and mowed her lawn–a scene which inspired the first story in her collection.
Jodi returns to Vermont from the coast of Maine this spring to read from: They Could Live With Themselves.
We tucked our celebration away at the end of December, but the holiday season has dragged into the New Year for our family–by the Merry Mulch Fundraiser.
On any given day, we receive 7 to 21 calls about Christmas trees. (Of note: Despite a progressive populace, not a one referred to theirs as a Holiday Tree.)
Our son volunteered to receive these calls to offset the cost of his highschool band trip. His mother, who did not play a band instrument, is a writer. Self-employed. In the home. Which is why it was both necessary and excruciating to succumb to this daily intrusion. (I stopped answering the phone in 1989.)
On any given evening, my son spends 20 to 60 minutes replaying (and replaying and replaying) messages; compiling information; and making follow up calls.
More than the volume of Merry Mulch activity, we are surprised by the volume of good will. This is its 27th year of the Music Department fundraiser at Brattleboro Union High School. Some of the callers let us know that they have been participating since its inception. One woman informed my son that she was the one to conceive of it.
Our hearts are equally touched or tickled or annoyed by the characters we find on our answering machine. The warm and gravelly sound of an older man. The busy staccato of the cell phone caller. The confused caller. The comedic one. The irritated. The kind. The repetitive. The overly informative. Their quirky names. Corky. Junio. A woman named Mann. (My son wishes he could meet them all!)
When Aidan showed up at school that first week with close to 100 orders, the band director offered to place our phone number last on the radio and newspaper call list instead of first.
I am almost certain that we will never (or always) do this again.
Note: if you live in Brattleboro, here is the link to more information. There is one more pick up Saturday remaining. Calls must be placed by Thursday. Please don’t call the first number. http://buhs.wsesu.org/merry-mulch
I think my parents suggested fiddle because there was this insane teacher named David Tasgal. He was kind of nuts, but he had an amazing ability to communicate music to little kids…. He was definitely an inspiring figure for me, not only musically, but also because he had this slightly cracked sense of humor.
He had this deadpan vibe that I thought was hilarious. ~Sam Amidon
play |plā| verb
engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose
• amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense
• (play with) fiddle or tamper with: has somebody been playing with the thermostat?
I never thought about David’s age before, but if I had to guess, I’d say early sixties, which is why I dismissed the news that a 72-year-old man was struck on his bike on Bernardston Road in Greenfield, Monday afternoon.
David has been a part of the Marlboro Elementary School family in Southern Vermont for over a decade. His quirky, fun-loving approach makes this classical instrument accessible to all kinds of kids; and his death this week leaves our school family aching–especially as I imagine all those young children–with their tiny violins–waiting for him on Tuesday morning, ready to play (and I mean play.)
A list of David’s original compositions for the violin lends insight into his heart for children, while revealing his characteristic playfulness:
Marching to the Practice Room, The Tough Cat,
Goldfish Variations, Cha Cha Cha Cha, The Rabbi Dances with his Dog
and Bingo Suddenly Meets Mozart
My youngest son, Aidan, who studied with David from 1st through 8th grade, believes that one tune in particular had a handful of title changes over the years: Song for a Pet Who Died became Song for a Pet Who Ran Away became Sad Clown Fish became The Lonely Fiddle–all in attempt to make the children less sad.
Aidan also marveled that David could compose a tune such as The Duck Song–from a single note–and still make it “interesting and satisfying.” As a parent and a teacher, it was particularly pleasurable to see so many children, of all ages and skill levels, play together, and David’s unique approach made that possible.
David swept in for school events wild hair and wild shirts, and then began without fanfare, keeping the focus on the violinists, while enthusiastically accompanying them on piano. In fact, it’s at the piano that I remember David best. I loved the mornings when he’d arrive a bit early for lessons–at the tail end of All School Sing–and then slide his way onto the piano to add pizzaz to our last song.
On the evening after David died, I entered the school auditorium to teach yoga, but felt his presence so strongly that I could barely begin my class. To soothe myself before I left, I placed a small light on the piano to sit shiva with David’s spirit through the night.
We lit a candle at home that night too. Our older son, Lloyd, 20, who was in David’s very first class at Marlboro recalls how perfectly David tailored lessons to engage him and his more sports-oriented peers: “At one point, he gave us percentages so that we’d compete with each other,” Lloyd recalled.
Aidan was uncharacteristically quiet as his brother reminisced. Aidan graduated from Marlboro in June, and on that night he tucked a small gift aside–a bar of soap–his favorite because of its crazy colors and textures and how he gets to slice it to size–and especially because of its name: Dragon’s Blood. He thought David would like it too.
Aidan gave himself whole-heartedly to music during his years at Marlboro and has continued on at the highschool just as enthusiastically; while Lloyd just about gave up on the violin in Junior High. At the time, I drafted a parenting piece entitled: The Violin Wars, which alas, I never finished, until now…
The Violin Wars
My 13 year old sits slumped behind me in an arm chair in my office while I blare Dave Matthews, Ants Marching and then Last of the Mohicans–two “cool” songs with engaging strings that I hope will entice him to play along and reignite his lost passion.
The violin sits on his lap.
Things between them almost ended–abruptly–two weeks ago, though truthfully, they’ve been on the rocks since Lloyd was about 10–the time of the First Violin War–an apocalyptic parenting moment–complete with yelling and threats and stalemates–followed by the stark realization that I had crossed the beginning of the end of my role as commander and chief.
But a deeper truth is that Lloyd and the violin have been together forever, into their ninth year, and they courted even before that. As a toddler, Lloyd offered rapt attention to any string music he came across–live or recorded–contemporary or classical; and as a preschooler, he brought the same toy guitar to show and tell every Friday, while truly longing for a violin.
When we finally found a toy one to match the guitar, he was at first delighted, and then quickly disappointed with its inferior sound. He insisted he needed a “real one,” but as neither my husband or I were musicians, we didn’t know how to go about that for such a small child.
One afternoon, while walking down Elliot Street in Brattleboro, however, Lloyd pointed to a sign above the sidewalk–with a picture of a violin–and said: “Let’s go up there.”
We climbed a set of steep stairs, and entered a small shop where violins–of all sizes–hung from the ceiling. I felt like a fish out of water, but Lloyd looked up in wonder. Reverent. Riveted.
The shopkeeper came around the counter, took out a tape measure from his apron, and sized Lloyd up.
“Come back in a year,” he said.
Lloyd was devastated.
But when he entered kindergarten that fall, something magical happened: the school instituted a pilot program with the Brattleboro Music Center and Lloyd came home carrying a case with the real thing inside.
Despite his passion, Lloyd was not a virtuoso, but he stuck with it, year after year, and so did the school–deciding to continue the program until the fourth grade when children could begin traditional band instruments.
Many of Lloyd’s peers gave up the violin in favor of a flute or a trumpet or a drum, but not Lloyd; he kept playing until he was the only one holding a violin, which is where we find him now, at the beginning of 8th grade:
“I want to quit,” he says. “I can’t take it anymore.”
But he isn’t resolute. He is miserable. Torn. Angry and frustrated. Feeling betrayed, by himself.
I’m not sure how to help.
Our tempers mount.
With so much at stake, I feel the SecondViolin War coming on, but now I am a wiser or at least less foolish parent, so I suggest we reach out for support. I quickly compose an email to dispatch to family members–cousins and grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and regular ones too.
The replies flood in.
Do what you want, says one. You can always pick it up again.
Stick with it, says another. You’ll never pick it up again.
With each response, Lloyd feels tossed about–first one way; then the other. In the end he does. Stick with it. But half-heartedly. And once in high school, he leaves it behind, while watching his little brother, 5 years his junior, follow in his footsteps, sticking with violin, through the 8th grade, but so whole-heartedly that it inspires Lloyd to pick it up now and again… “just to see how it sounds” (and to see if he can still play better than his younger brother.)
Lloyd is grown now, a man of 20, and to our surprise, he recently called to say: “I think I want to start playing again.”
We don’t know what will come of this spark, but it warms us, particularly in its timing.
We attended David’s funeral together. No one even balked at the suggestion. Not Lloyd who was leaving that afternoon on the train for Burlington. Not my husband who had to arrange coverage for his classes. Not Aidan who was… well… 15.
The music was exquisite. The service solemn and playful and irreverent. At one point, a handful of children came forward to play some of David’s pieces for beginners. I nudged a reluctant Aidan to join them. He sat firm in his seat until he saw another same-age peer, across the room, move toward the altar.
Aidan swiftly brought the violin case, hidden between his knees, to his lap, and as he did, I felt the collective attention of all those who shared the private mourning space around us.
We watched transfixed as he opened each latch, and carefully lifted the instrument from its bed, and then there was a palpable embrace as he approached the altar on our behalf.
When the children began the last of three pieces, we were invited to hum along, after which we accidentally broke into the applause we had held inside for the soloists who had so stirred us earlier.
As Aidan rejoined us at the end of the pew, I turned toward him to mouth the words: “Thank you,” just as he locked eyes with mine, nodding his head, offering the same, not once or twice, but a handful of times: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you…”
The sky was a stunning blue as we exited the temple doors that afternoon; the surrounding streets lined with the cars of those who came to grieve David’s departure–students, colleagues, family, friends.
As we walked, Lloyd spoke to me of the music–of the viola solos–played by loved ones.
“I could barely breathe,” he said. “I couldn’t remember how.”
To find out more about David’s approach to teaching violin, or to purchase his curriculum, see his website: Strings Fun and Easy.