Bad Backs

“Ooh my back, my poor, poor back.” (There’s a song from a musical about feet, not backs, but I can’t remember which one it’s from.) After three weeks at the cabin, Paul and I decided to search out a new mattress. We took ourselves to a special mattress store in Antigo, tried them all, and came away empty-handed. At the last minute we looked in a large chain store, picked one that seemed both soft and hard, hoisted it onto the top of our car, and roped it down. Unfortunately we had not brought enough rope, so we drove back home at 30 miles an hour, with hands out the window holding onto the plastic covering.

We were victorious by the time we arrived home.

Our smiles were large in the morning. We thought the mattress a winner! But one week later, it was beginning to sag a bit, and our smiles were no longer so generous.

How could we have been so stupid? Why didn’t we do some on-line research first?

We found the receipt and called the store. “Can I please speak to the store manager?” I said.

“This is Carl, the store manager,” he said.

“We have a problem with the mattress we bought at your store a week ago,” I said. “I have a bad back. We bought your mattress thinking it would be of help, but my back is still very sore. I am very sorry, sir, but we would like to bring it back.”

“Do you want to exchange it for another one?” Carl said.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “We would very much like a full refund. There’s not a spot on it,” I added.

“Good,” the store manager said. “You can return it. Just make sure you have the receipt, and when you come in, bring it round the back.”

“Whew,” I told Paul. “They’re going to refund our credit card.”

Paul borrowed a wooden trailer from a friend. Together we took the mattress back to the store.

Next, we went on-line to do proper mattress research. Both on our computers, we shared our findings. We ended up ordering the same type of mattress we have at home, which is none too cheap.

We checked on-line to make sure it had been shipped. Yes, it had—to our address in Kansas!

Oh no. More phone time. Wait time. Computer time.

We think we have the problem fixed. Somehow they were able to reroute the mattress to Wisconsin.

We are presently sleeping with a quilt cover on the box springs. It sort of works.

Headstones

A few years ago when I was taking a walk around the neighborhood in Lawrence, I passed a house advertising its residents. The name PERKINS was engraved on a headstone near the front door, instead of on a mailbox.

I could not believe what I was seeing. I stopped, stood, and stared at the gravestone-looking object, thinking why, why would people who are living use a headstone to list their names as the occupants?

I have walked by that house many times, and when I do, I still get that eerie feeling. In the language of my childhood, “it gives me the heebie jeebies.”

But the other day I was snipping some parsley from our little herb garden in front of the cabin in Wisconsin, and my eyes went to the iron shoehorn from which hangs a rectangular board with two names painted in yellow. “Paul and Lynn,” it says. My husband’s last name has quite a bit to do with shoes, and it, too, is on the mailbox.

I thought to myself, maybe someone walking by connects the dots, laughs, and says just a tad maliciously to her walking partner, “How bourgeois … and they think they’re being so country quaint.”

Up North Authors Circle

Last night was my first meeting of the summer at UNAC in Lakewood, Wisconsin. The group was small, seven adults plus one very well behaved seven- or eight-year-old. This child said not one word, but observed everything through her glasses. I think they were pink, but they could have been yellow, or even green. At one point her gum fell out of her mouth. She looked crestfallen at me across the table. I mouthed, “It’s okay.” She reached into her shirt, found it, popped it back into her mouth, and almost smiled.

The first hour of the meeting consisted of a back-and-forth about writing. One young man has completed five books in a series about how a young girl discovers magic during WWII. He’s been working on this project for eight years. An older man said that he had written a ghost story and sent it out. As yet, he had received no response. This man has written some excellent short stories based on his experiences during the Vietnam War. I think he should put them out as a collection. The UNAC leader is compiling a book about military men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to go along with the graveyard she started on a little island off her property in Townsend. She’s also written a sequel to a humorous play she wrote about Women of the Northwoods.

I asked one woman I had never met before what she is writing. Her answer: “A book.” Everybody laughed.

One woman I do know is completing a memoir, layering in more historical references. Her memoir is titled The Purple Wedding Dress; at least this was the title last summer.

At the end, I read two short stories I’ve been working on this summer. One is titled “What a Housekeeper Sees,” the other is “The Waltz.” The group liked certain things about the first, such as the character of the housekeeper and the situation in the story. They think this story needs fleshing out; in other words, I am seeing things, the reader is not. They all seemed to like “The Waltz,” which they said they could see and could feel. Someone said it is fraught with tension.

Delia’s Rug

In this cabin in Wisconsin the living room, the study, and the bedroom all have oval braided rungs, the rags gathered, braided, circled and stitched by Paul’s grandmother, Delia.

I never knew her, but her photograph jumps out at me from our bathroom wall in Lawrence, the face of a competent woman in the indoor arts. The only braiding I’ve ever done is of my own and my daughter’s hair. Once you’ve established a knot at the top and your three lines of “material,” you braid until you get a rhythm going. Then, it’s as if you enter a trance, because your fingers do the work.

When I lounge on our homemade sofa in the living room, I see Delia at work. This rug is quite large–12X7feet, in grays, browns, greens, yellows, and oranges. Each color has three variations in hue and is braided until the next color begins; it’s long, like a never-ending multi-colored snake. I can tell from her photograph that Dehlia was slim, but to work a rug like this, she must have had strong, ropey muscles. Perhaps she had help from Paul’s mom, Ruth, and Aunt Margie–they were the kind of daughters who were helpful.

They had to lay the snake out on the floor and start tightly coiling. Heavy needles and sturdy thread were used for stitching the braid. The stitches had to join one piece of a braid to another in the circle, exactly at the right point so that they appeared invisible; so that they appear invisible even now.

Delia created a useful work of art with her mind and her hands. She talks to Paul, Paul’s sisters, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, visitors and me from the living room floor. Her talk is rather lively.

Groups

I am less a part of groups than I once was. Perhaps it’s a right of passage–I now have a better idea of who I am and what’s important to me, less the need for others to say, “Here she is.”

Nevertheless, groups are important. There’s the big group: our American country. This is the group that scares the s**t out of me these days. How does one safely, proudly, deeply feel a part of it when it’s so splintered, so angry, so self-righteous?
If someone screams at you, what do you gain by screaming back? When you’re screaming, you can’t hear anything, but your own guttural sounds. When someone is screaming at you, you think, he’s out of control. I’ll wait until he calms down. Being a part of this big group takes careful thought. I’ll belong this way because it has integrity and makes sense. I won’t belong in that way because to do so is crazy.

Family groups such as mine can also be tricky. Parents dead, there’s only us adult children left. We belonged together in the past; we have a group identity from our time together as children, but each of us has forged independent lives, forming new groups with new families. There have been some divorces, which break up existing groups. We all think we know each other, but do we? We still belong, but it’s more to the way we were, that the way we are now.

New family groups take negotiation when there are children from divorce. There are the group memories of what existed once, an important part of the identities formed in the first family. Then there are new group memories being established as we speak. Sometimes these memories clash, because the old need to assert their realities over the present so they don’t get lost.

Friends create another group dynamic, with different requirements of what it takes to belong depending on what you have created in the first place, and how flexible and receptive to change the friendship is. The friendships that have lasted over many years can be the most comfortable and satisfying groups to belong to, I find.

There are also all the membership groups in your workplace as well as other organizations to which you give your time and attention. Such groups can be instrumental in getting things done, and you, as a member help the enterprise move forward. You are a part of something that is worthwhile.

Finally, I am back to where I started, a group of one. There is something to be said for embracing one’s own society. You bring this enjoyment to your marriage partnership. When your partner is away, you have things to think about, things to do. After all, alone is where we begin and where we end.

It’s Tuesday Already?

How could it be Tuesday already? I mean it was Monday a minute ago, and Sunday, two minutes before that.

What have I done to make it Tuesday already?

Vacuumed the cabin.

Two loads of wash.

A walk.

A bike ride.

Watched the final of the French Open.

A game of scrabble with Paul on the pontoon boat.

Read some Edith Wharton.

Cooked chicken with a wine sauce.

First draft of a short story.

Two query letters.

A talk with my cousin.

But what are the results?

Not so much dust.

Clean sheets.

Nature in the Northwoods.

Free as the wind, except uphill.

Yeah, Nadal!

Beat him by one point.

She doesn’t grow old.

Yummy.

Not good enough.

Who knows?

Satisfying.

Okay, Tuesday, you’re here. Wanna be my best buddy for the day?

What I Didn’t Tell You in the Last Blog

Okay, so there’s always another thing to tell; you just decided to delete it from the telling. It doesn’t go with the tone you are trying to create. Right?

So here it is…the gory little detail.

I went to Hotwire to book a hotel for a night on the way up to the lake. Given the accident I wrote about (I’m here, but the car’s not), we decided to drive to the lake at a reasonable pace. You know, stop for a bite to eat, and a good night’s rest.

When I saw the hotel price, two stars and all, I was like, Gosh, what a deal!

My heart sank when I saw the place. I had just coached Paul, “Ask for an upgrade. It never hurts.” One glance and I knew no upgrade here.

It was the kind of place you might just stay in when you’re eighteen. Carpet ragged, bed sagging and low to the floor. One upright chair. A drizzle for a shower. Flies inside when you open the door.

A burger and wine later, we hit the sack. The sack groaned. Paul looked expectant, like an eighteen-year-old. Here? Tonight? Really?

Anticipation = Work + Work

Do you roll over and play dead when you’re supposed to pack the car for the annual fourteen-hour trip to the lake? Not if you’re a he-man. Paul has been preparing for a week. Excellent Leinenkugel packing boxes, which open from the center out, are stacked in the living room filled with such things as dry foods and tennis balls. As we head into the second week before our trip, the stack of things grows. Now we have suitcases full of books and important papers. We add golf equipment, tennis rackets. The last things we put in the living room are computers and clothes.

Paul’s a packing magician. He lugs this huge pile of stuff out to the car, then places everything just so, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, until it all fits in. He does not want my help with any of this; I would interfere with the plan he’s got going in his head. So I content myself with making little bags of “last minute items” I can stuff into a hole here and there at the end. Finally, Paul asks, “Will you help with the kayaks?” Together we lift them up onto rollers and push them into their cradles. He attaches the bike rack and puts the bikes on.

We’re off to Wisconsin! To the cabin. To the lake. To stillness. To quiet. To trees and birds. To the simple life. A place to think and write. A place to read. A place to play games. A place to cavort in nature.
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Now we’re here. We’re dealing with critters that have taken refuge in the cabin, and ants, lots and lots of ants. The lake is very low because there hasn’t been enough snow and rain. I waded quite a ways out yesterday before I could push off for my first kayak ride.

I saw the female loon I wrote about last year nesting on the sandy shore of a little island (“Communicating Effervescence”). Again her head was weighed down with the work of pregnant waiting in the same position in the same spot.

The Importance of Siblings, My Cousin, and Old Friends

I have two sisters and two brothers, and each one of them is a part of me. For many years, I lived relatively close to them all. Now I live fifteen hundred miles away. I can’t just get in my car for a quick visit. I have to save $, and plan carefully so that I can see them all.

May 8th I flew to Newport to begin my week east with my cousin Dorothy. I unfolded myself into her life: walks on the beach, yoga, lobster pizza, clam chowder, talks about books, family, health. I am now reading a book that Dorothy’s husband, Jim, recommended: Memories, Dreams, Reflections—C. J. Jung’s telling of his life story. It is an educational experience, filling me up with new ideas, making me think about the formation of individuality and identity.

After a few days, I rented a car in Newport and drove to my older sister Krissie’s house in Connecticut. It rained the whole time I was there, so we didn’t do much other than drive around to see the countryside in the rain, and talk. We got into our sister zone, where we discussed beloved places from our childhoods, memories of our parents, our children, her grandchildren, animals, plants, and books. We went to her local library, where we talked to her friend the librarian. Krissie took home several books that the librarian recommended, two of which I have read: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn, and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer.

After a couple of days with Krissie, I drove into NYC to drop off my rental car. Once there, I immediately resumed my NY identity, dodging traffic through familiar streets. Yeah, I’m young again! I can manage New York’s vibrancy and complexity. Yes, I can!

I happily walked from the Upper East Side to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I sat on one of the benches in the entryway for an hour enjoying the different mix of people, looking at their clothes, listening to their voices.

I’ll come back tomorrow to experience some art, I thought. Before I left, I decided which exhibition I wanted to see: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.”

I was treated to dinner and spent the night at the apartment of one of my oldest friends. This friend and her husband have seen me through many different lives. When I looked across the table at them, I still saw the eighteen-year-olds I knew from college. What does each of them see looking at me?

The next day after the Metropolitan, I took my suitcase to Penn Station and placed it in baggage. Then, because I was late, I quickly headed to the Museum of Modern Art to meet my youngest brother, Michael John, for lunch and the Cartier-Bresson exhibit. Although we didn’t really talk about what we each saw, I did go back when my brother said, “Did you see Jung, Capote?” My brother is a writer. He has recently written a treatment and is about to begin work on the screenplay.

I made it to New Jersey Transit in time for the ten to four. My older sister Randi (pronounced Rondi) met me at Princeton Junction. This sister does not really drink wine, but over dinner she sipped a little with me. Her husband cooked and we talked. Listening to her discuss her life, I thought that what she says makes a lot of sense. When I went to bed, she put a little nightlight in the bathroom for me. As a child, she was always my light in the dark, and perhaps I was a little that way for her, too.

Early next morning, my younger brother Stephen picked me up, drove me to his house, and cooked me breakfast. His wife’s chickens had laid the eggs we ate. Warm and yummy! Stephen and I talked about his art projects. He took me to see his wife’s flower shop, then drove me to the airport.

I made it back to Lawrence without any travel hitches. Paul bounded toward me at the airport, as happy to see me as a joyful puppy. I am filled to the brim with my love for sisters, brothers, a cousin, friends, husband, and, not mentioned in this blog, my adult children, and adult stepchildren.