The Golden Summer: Giving Myself Permission to Just Be

This summer, we arrived at the lake in sorry shape. Paul had been in a biking accident where he broke his sternum. Scrapes and bruises covered his body. In fact, his entire butt was black and blue. His psyche took a hit. My eldest sister had been found in a diabetic coma and there was the family scramble of how to get her proper care. My bruises were internal: the worry over two people I love.

We headed to the lake, two Sunday drivers–what with our 4Runner, top-heavy with 2 kayaks, towing our old Corolla and changing over as drivers every hour.

Once at the cabin we were met with the workings of a critter, a critter that chewed through my couch cushions and sprayed them in a circular pattern with something smelly and black. The critter also gnawed the edge off a windowsill, scattering wood chips onto the floor. The plumbing did not work at the kitchen sink. Inside the cabin the air was cold and damp. Outside it was cold and it often rained. We did a lot of huddling under heaps of blankets, coming out to light the Franklin stove and then sit in our chairs under blankets…and sort of stare at the fire.

This state of being–like the weather–lasted about two weeks. Finally the plumber came and soldered pipes. The cabin’s pipes are the age of the cabin–forty-six–and often leak. With water in the cabin flowing, we began to move. One day Paul gingerly sat on his bike seat and rode a few miles. Material and thread came in the mail and I began to measure and sew. For a week, our kitchen table was covered with fabric, measuring tape, needles, iron. The sewing machine whirred in our little study. The light and warmth of the spring sun came to Wisconsin in mid-June. Step outside and there is the iris that usually makes its appearance at the end of May. Same for the lilies of the valley that run along the cabin’s side. And trillium, both white and pink, spreads sporadically through the ferns on the downward slope of the hill to the lake.

I transported two carefully wrapped little flower-shaped silver vases from my Norwegian grandmother–Mormor–to Wisconsin this year in order to snip a few of these lilies of the valley for the vessels and thereby bring my worlds together through a small offering of sight and smell.

Couch cushions washed, repaired, or thrown out; new curtains for the living room and bedroom up and working, it felt like I was ready for outdoor fun. What should I do today? A walk? A bike ride? A kayak ride? A swim? Friends coming soon. Let’s get going.

I notice Paul is smiling a lot–even beginning to glow. He’s now biking for 25 miles. I can sense the lightness in my own expression, an expression that comes from my insides to the outside. As I walk, I am not afraid of bears; I breathe in long whiffs of sweet light early summer air. As I kayak, I watch: the yellow water lilies opening up, the turtles sliding into the water after sunning on a log, the loon’s webbed feet disappearing from the surface water’s light-filled transparency. On my bike, I am free. I am young. Swimming, I am a girl.

Sets of friends come and play. Then, go.

Paul is now up to fifty miles a day. In a week he will join some high school guys pals to bike 400 miles across Iowa.

And I am back to me. It’s a golden place to be.

Satisfied

I have only loved one dog in my life, a collie, named Zoonie. She was large, golden-haired, streaked with white with a long pointed nose and very human eyes. With a little coaxing, she would sit properly upright and offer her paw. If you added some loving words, she would give out a happy breath, or two, and lift her paw again. Her eyes glowed. You could roll around on Zoonie; she wouldn’t mind. If you were a cat being chased by another cat, or small dog, you could run right under her legs. She would stand there majestically and protect you. She was so steady, calm and contented, her spirit rippled into you until your own breathing became deep and satisfied.

This weekend, I met another dog whose spirit shone. This is a mutt, a large puppy, that Paul’s son, Scott, and girlfriend, Brynn, picked out at the pound and brought home to love and train. Her name is Layla. What she has in common with Zoonie is her happy disposition and her human eyes. However, being a puppy, she’s not calm–at least not unless she’s had two, or three consecutive walks. Then she’s ready to lie her whole body down flat, close her eyes and snooze.

Paul and I flew to Indianapolis where Scott picked us up and drove us to his apartment in Bloomington.

Paul climbed into the front passenger seat, and glanced around the car. “You’ve cleaned it,” he commented.

“Yup,” said Scott. I was in the back, so I couldn’t see if he smiled, but I’m pretty sure he did.

I did see Scott smile late Saturday night when he came into the study where Paul and I were at work throwing the couch cushions on the floor and wrapping sheets around them, because the blow-up mattress had a hole in it no one could find.

“You guys look like you’re camping,” he said.

Before going to bed we had dined like kings and queens because Brynn is a twenty-four year-old goddess in the kitchen. Working like a Trojan, she whipped up some of her mother’s recipes: a vegetable-curry soup, rolled flank steak with a prosciutto/breadcrumb filling, pasta with parsley and butter, cucumber and onion salad with yogurt dressing and blackberry pie. Scott assisted her in her culinary efforts. At the table, when we oohed and ahhed, Scott said, “Glad you’re enjoying it. I’ve enjoyed many good meals you’ve prepared.”

Back home now, looking back at the weekend, I have a satisfied feeling. Young people on their way to making their way in the world–and giving back while they’re doing it.

The Pinch of Christmas

We had a white Christmas here in Lawrence, Kansas. It kept a couple of people away from our Christmas Eve gathering, but not others. One woman came early to cope with the snow and ice before darkness approached. She bore a squash dish, salad, cookies, and a change of clothes. Slowed by the blizzard, three other people came late. They had to park down the hill, around the corner. The front door opened to a beautiful black woman her wealth of black hair flaked with snow, and two men–one my son–carrying warming lights and some hot dishes: a spicy shrimp and tomato casserole, fried plantains, and crispy balls with meat and cheese inside. Our Russian neighbors trekked to our house from across the street bearing a calamari salad, and a tray with crackers already prepared, each with a slice of brie and topped with a dollop of homemade spicy jam. Later, the son disappeared and came back from home with a little vodka. All of these dishes were in addition to what we offered: gorgonzola cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, cucumber/watercress soup, baked eggplant slices rolled with boursin cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, couscous with garlic, collards, oyster mushrooms, roast beef smeared with roasted garlic, and slices of semolina baguettes with butter.

We sat down to two adjoining tables covered with white tablecloths, set with silver polished a few days earlier, pewter and crystal candelabra bearing six red candles, and two small vases of little pink asters. Everyone seemed happy to be at the table. Not surprisingly, conversation started off with food, because each person had worked hard on his dish(es) and relished appreciation.

Uppermost in my mind was my Norwegian mother who, with help from daughters and daughters-in-law, always produced an elegant Christmas Eve dinner before we held hands around the tree to sing “O Yule Mesen Glede.” She is gone, my sisters and brothers live and celebrate Christmas in the east. As we sat down to eat, I raised my glass nodded to everyone and just like Mom said, “Velkommen til bords.”

Roland

Last night Paul and I went to bed early, got up as midnight approached, put on jeans, sweaters, and boots, and drove downtown. The trees to our right and left on Massachusetts Street held a dusting of snow lit up by Christmas lights. We parked on Ninth Street, walked briskly to The Jazzhaus.

Upstairs the scene was festive, expectant. It was “stop-day” for KU. Classes were over but finals yet to begin so the college kids were out on the town. Older generations were dotted here and there, everyone drinking beer and–to use a new word made up by a friend–“conversating.”

We sat on low chairs, drank beer and, amidst the loud music playing, tried to conversate, too.

My son Roland is keyboardist and a vocalist for The Irietions, a hot Reggae band that writes its own music. The “Iries” are winding up/winding down the end of their performances with Ska. The band was hot. Roland was skankin hot.

Cora’s Nigerian friend begged me to get up and dance. Then she begged Paul to dance. But most of the time, I was slunk in my chair avidly listening and watching.

Christmas is Coming

My daughter, Cora, had to jump start me this past Saturday.

“It’s time to get the tree,” she told me.

“Oh, okay,” I replied, “I guess it is.”

“I think it would be great to get two trees this year,” she said.

“Two trees! That’s too expensive.”

“I’ll go out with Paul and we’ll compare prices between the tree farm and the hardware store. I’ll pay for one of the trees. One can go downstairs, the other upstairs.”

Now I begin to get the idea. Cora is back living at home, going to KU for a degree in design. Her area of living is downstairs. She wants a tree to light up her personal space. I also realize she’s offering to shop and pay for it with money from her part-time job.

“Alright, go ahead with your idea,” I said.

“While we’re getting the tree,” she added, “why don’t you get the lights and ornaments out. That way we’ll be ready to trim the trees right when we get back. Look around for the Christmas music, too. Then we’ll be set to go.”

I notice mother and daughter are beginning to reverse roles. Later on, while we were trimming the trees to Roth and Henson’s Flute And Harp For Christmas, Cora added, “There’s a lot of work around the holidays, which I hadn’t realized when I was young. But don’t you just love Christmas!”