Post #53: A Climb Through the Clouds

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Meditations on Friendship

Well, there it is! Stretching invitingly out before me like a sweet and sinuous pull of taffy, curving around hills and sweeping around vistas.   The trees are massed tight and are swaying in the wind like kids at a campfire kumbaya. It’s Woody Guthrie’s true “ribbon of highway” and my car banks the curves of the road with the rhythmic skill of a skier mogaling gracefully downhill.

As we move further west the land flattens. I can’t see the destination ahead or the point of origin far behind. I feel alone. Friendless. But am I? I look out and see that the sky has spread its arms wide to embrace the earth, so close that I feel as though I could climb the clouds into the pockets of quiet, to companionship and solace. So, of course, I do.

***

The Sweetness of Friendship

“Okay, so what’s the plan, what’s the plan, what’s the plan?”

At my house there is ping-pong, and People Magazine and the pool. Walks to the corner market for peaches and cherries and grapes, to the drug store for Mars Bars and Milky Ways and Twizzlers, We can maybe even walk the dogs. Charlotte the sheepdog on one leash for you, Tina the chihuahua on another for me. Want to splash together Vernors Floats? Mash together chocolate chip cookies? It will be so fun!

At yours?

We will swing so hard and so high that for sure (well probably) our swings will wrap themselves around the swing set just like in a Tom and Jerry Cartoon.   Spread Monopoly or Scrabble or The Game of Life all over the living room floor and play beginning to end, all the way through. We’ll take piles of McDonald’s burgers from your freezer and zap them back to life in that microwave thing. Be very careful. The pickles will be extra hot.

Different interests, different schools, different lives. Winter or summer. Rain or shine. During the week we each walk alone. But every single Saturday, your house or mine?

Someone finally asks us, “How have you two been friends for so many years?” We shrug and grin at each other. It never occurred to us not to be friends.

***

An Interwoven Friendship

Well frankly the miracle was that I managed to get a top bunk. You, a double session girl, are top bunked too of course and in a choice corner spot to boot, right across from me. You have the coveted Levis to my Danskins, the braces to my buck teeth, the cool, shambling walk of an athlete to my short stepped shuffle. And yet? While playing a desultory game of flashlight tag I spot you! Curled up in your bunk passionately scribbling away in that notebook. No one, but no one, writes a letter home like that. You weren’t writing a letter home.

I am soon to find that you are not what at first you seem. But then, it would appear, neither am I.

Swept Away by the Dream of Friendship

After the play. After the after party. After hours.   I am not sure exactly when I am supposed to be home but it certainly is well before this. But it is 3 am and I am perched high on a stool in your kitchen and rooted to the spot. How can this be?   My dreams are echoed in your words, my hopes are buoyed by your thoughts, my brain prickles with yearned for connection. Oh! My breathing is ragged and my heart is expanding and expanding and expanding yet again. I will risk all for the sheer pleasure of this conversation, I can’t leave, I just can’t, it will break the spell and that would break my heart utterly.

But I do leave.

In the daylight I spot you. I can feel myself curl inward, like a styrofoam cup melting in the fireplace. I avert my eyes. I don’t stop. Instead, with nary a stutter step, I keep walking by myself.

But why?

***

In the True Spirit of Friendship

The creature of habit, day after day I am sitting in the seat I’ve claimed as mine for the history of music class. And you in yours. Right next to me. Do gregorian chants bring to mind the tight harmonies of the Beach Boys? A sublime Mozart aria, the zing of Django Reinhardt? Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever , the muscular thrum of Buddy Rich?

I gamely toss in For Me and My Gal and you firmly lob Gene Kelly and Judy Garland right back.   You serve up On the Waterfront and I complete the volley with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Adam’s Rib with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is a total slam dunk.

When we graduate, you’ll fly to the left, I’ll fly to the right. Our dreams will take us from one end of the country to the other.   But I Know Where I’m Going!, dear friend. As do you.

***

And here we are on the road once again.   The path ahead is not a straight, unblinking journey at all but rather seems to fold back upon itself in the gorgeous, jagged unending pattern of a fractal. Memory does that. On the road for sure, but not alone. Never really alone.

To all of my old friends, even if connections have been gnarled or twisted, the pattern continues, time untangles.   Friendship, whether felt in a burst of connection or a lifetime of longing, is a privilege with the possibility of a kaleidoscope of joy. I am still a bit besotted with all of you. As well I should be.

As he neared middle-age, Henry David Thoreau wrote “I sometimes awake in the night and think of friendship and its possibilities.”*

I reach out my hand and my heart in possibility to all those friends I’ve known and loved. And I extend my hand as well to those friends I hope to know and hope to love someday in the future.

Looking forward.

 

*Thank you to the marvelous Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org) website for the reminder of this lovely quote.

 

 

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Post #52: The Voice of Inanimate Things

IMG_0341 (1)It’s perfect.  Like a verdant, ruffled mop of hair, the green strands sweeping and swaying in the breeze, I am sitting in a bravely untended and dearly loved velvety nest of grass.   Even if every presharpened color in my box of 64 Crayolas was a different shade of green I couldn’t color it all right. I dig my toes into the damp coolness as my neck cranes up and up and up for my face to reach toward the warmth and light. I am expanding, growing, shifting—yet rooted to the spot—until I’m called in for lunch.

My sandwich is cut into four neat little quarters, the carrots sticks stacked in a pack, the tomato soup perfectly portioned into exactly a dozen mouthfuls. Tiny bite, tiny bite, tiny bite. And then finally, at last, I’m done.

I go back outside. But where is it? What happened? The screen door smacks shut behind me. I am mystified and then bereft. My phantasmagoria of tangled green has vanished. In its place is arrayed a precise and formal tightly clipped regiment. A moment of inattention and it’s gone! But is it?   I take a deep breath and the suddenly essence of grass caresses my nose, expands my lungs and delightfully coats my tongue.

***

It’s so early that if the sun had a face it would be rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. So early that the neighborhood seems to snore in unison, so early that the paper hasn’t yet been slapped onto the front porch.   Doesn’t matter, time to go. Drag open the car door and climb into the vastness of the front bench seat. Hand crank the windows all the way down, doesn’t matter the chill. Slide from side to side, bumping the door with every right turn.

We know where to go! Where else would we go? This is the only store with lights this early on a Sunday morning.

My mother pulls open the door and we are embraced by a whoosh of steam. The bagels are just coming out of the ovens. They tumble from their trays into the wire baskets, like giddy bunches of children released from school. The New Yorker Onion Rolls, the bialys, the flaky ones are already done, slabs of Russian Coffee cake, the Crumb cakes, the sprinkle cookies are proudly lining up in the glass cases.

Our brown paper bag is crammed full with our hot bakers dozen. I get to hold it. The open bag warms my lap as we ride home. A generous schmear of hot bagel scent fills me almost to bursting!

***

The cloud of gently floral spice wafts down the stairs, meanders through the living room, makes a short stop into the dining room before emerging full blown into the kitchen. My elegant and beautifully pressed father, not a hair out of place, arrives in the room a few minutes later. He has been announced.

A riffle through the mail, a bolted shot of orange juice, a quick flick of his wrist to check his watch, and he’s on his way for the day.

But the scent lingers…

Years later, I will buy his cologne and wear it myself, just to keep him near me.

***

What ho, to the great outdoors! Crack of dawn a winter Saturday morning, I am bundled beyond recognition and wedged on the Blizzard Ski Bus on my way to Pine Knob or Mount Holly or Brighton. As we pick up speed the rhythm of telephone poles blur into a Kandinsky. The roads are slick, the slopes sure to be slicker. The bus bounces over the pot holes, fishtails crazily when we turn…or don’t. Cool kids sit in the back. I sit in the front.

At last we careen into the parking lot, there are the mountains looming icy and distant in front of us. Our bus is parked with dozens of other buses disgorging hundreds of skiers on the mountain like ants spilling over a jelly sandwich. Clumping down the bus steps in my ski boots, I take a deep breath of good clean mountain air.   I am ready!

Years later I am walking the streets of New York on a hot summer day. I pass a city bus and am baffled as suddenly I get a jolt of good clean mountain air, just like that of the snowy ski mountains. How can this be? A bit more investigation proves, of course that the “good clean mountain air” I associated with skiing was actually the heady and intoxicating exhaust of bus fumes.

***

As I type this the smells of a good dinner caress the house, melding with the comforting, slightly musty scent of old, beloved books and cats warming at the windows. I can breathe in a soft hint of wild strawberries and wince, only slightly as I catch a whiff of slightly stale socks. It’s all here. Mary Webb says it best in her marvelous essay The Spring of Joy when she notes that “fragrance is the voice of inanimate things.”

I close my eyes to sniff the fragrances of memory, to remember and most of all to keep it all close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #49: Diving Deep

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I was so little that reading still meant whispering words out loud when on whim I dove headfirst into the pages, down down down, deeper and deeper and deeper. There seemed to be no bottom, no ending, to it all. But who wanted one?   I’d never felt anything like it, the phrases pressing and swelling around me, ideas glowing like an Atolla Jellyfish, a Clusterwink Snail, these incredible luminescent creatures of the murky and mysterious deep. I almost didn’t know where to look first, riffling the pages this way and that. But like one born to it, little by little I learned to slice through the waves of words with shark like precision. Or was I more like a whale, opening my jaws wide to feed with words like millions of plankton slucing over my tongue to nourish my whole self? It was all there, confronting me, challenging me, inviting me. Sometimes reading I would find that I was actually holding my breath—my excitement so great that I’d forgotten to come up for air. That font of knowledge, that cornucopia of thought, that mélange of ideas right there in our living room. There it was: The World Book Encyclopedia.

My goal was simple. I just needed to know everything.

***

And so I’d dip in a random:

How wrenching that Beethoven was completely deaf and couldn’t even hear his 9th symphony performed, nor listen to the rapturous applause!

Did F.W. Woolworth really build his “Tower of Nickels and Dimes” out of nickels and dimes?

If the Egyptians mummified their pets, it meant that they adored them, right?

How on earth did Nellie Bly pack for an 80-day trip around the world in her tiny handbag?

My heart ached for Elizabeth I, her hair thinned, her life shortened from a lead based make up.

My spirit soared with George M. Cohan’s lyrics to Give My Regards to Broadway!

***

Bits and pieces, everything this way and that way. I never knew what I would find, what I would learn, what I would think what page my eye would fall on.

Each breath of knowledge became a pinpoint on my own personal map, a zigzagged line of inquiry. But to what purpose was I collecting all of this? And where, exactly was it leading me?

I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I needed to know. Or try to know.

It was a shock, really.

At some point I realized that beyond the World Book the universe of knowledge was constantly expanding, making my childhood quest to know everything both absurd and Sisyphean. But you have to wonder, is a task really Sisyphean if it’s a joy?

And so the quest continues. I read and read and read. There is no end. Because I hope that somewhere in that lovely pile up of facts and ideas, my hodgepodge collection of pocketed, billeted and cherished tidbits will be there when I need them most. I’ll be ready to extract just the right phrase at just the right moment when someone needs it.

This is not a simple goal. But in some ways it is everything, after all.

 

Post #38: The Tower of Nickels and Dimes

IMG_1046POCKET CHANGE: 1961

My Grandpa Lou would walk in the door. A kiss and then his hand would reach into his pocket. From his fingers would come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking! I was too small to touch them. Too small to even know what they were for. All those pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters were shiny and rattley and meant for me. Spare change scooped from his pocket every night with the nonchalant precision of a soda jerk digging out a double scoop of Fudge Ripple. Once in a while a real Indian Head nickel or a steel penny, still in circulation then, would be blended into the handful, a curious and alluring whisper from his past.

What was he doing? Building, of course. Little by little, my Grandpa was building a Tower of Nickels and Dimes for me, his tiny F. W. Woolworth. Coins for my bank. Coins for my future.

ONE THIN DIME: 1966

Morning Kindergarten or afternoon, it didn’t matter. The rule was the same. You came to school with a nickel and that nickel was for one thing only. Put your nickel in the slot, twist the dial and a perfect little pint would tumble into your hand. The Milk Machine. No one ever drank white milk when there was chocolate available. Everyone drank straight from the carton.

But on the days where my mother was out of nickels and only had a dime to give me? Well there really was no choice.

I would buy a ten-cent Eskimo Pie from the Good Humor Man at the corner instead and eat it on the way to school.

I’m sure no one ever knew.

ALLOWANCE: 1967

We worked all week. Toys in the toy box. Books on the shelf. All the paper napkins folded into triangles. Back and forth from the table to the sink, plate after plate after plate. Don’t forget: use two hands!

We worked all week. We waited all week.

And on Fridays we each earned a dime.

I saved them all. Collect ten for a trade with Dad for a real grown up dollar bill.

Work and save and work and save. All my dimes together bought my own Incredible Edible set. Now that I earned my own money I could even make my own food. Life was good.

HALF DOLLARS: 1972

Full of a good dinner, surrounded by those he loved best, my nattily dressed Grandpa Nate would lean back in his chair and smile.

We knew what was coming. So did he. With a sign to my grandmother a bag was procured from who knows where and it’s contents spilled out on the tablecloth.

A king’s ransom! A pirate’s bounty! A rich man’s loot!

All for us! All for us! All for us! The coins were heavy and impressive and our heads swam with the possibilities of it all! Piles of Franklin half-dollars all there for the taking. So much money. We could buy anything in the world!

But alas! Euphoria is short lived. The coins were to be treasured and to be saved, but never to be spent.

We sadly concluded that being rich has its burdens.

2-DOLLAR BILLS: 1981

If you go there, you’d better know how to order. Get in line; grab a tray and pay attention! Hey you! Do you want French fries, onion rings or fried broccoli? For your burger, double, triple, quad or quint? Your bun? Kaiser, onion, plain or WHAT? Want mushrooms, grilled onion, pickles or peppers? Order it now or forever hold your peace! And if you decide on condiments only say what you want, not what you don’t want. DO NOT MESS THIS UP!

If you follow the above rules exactly, Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger will give you the best burger on the planet. And in keeping with their Krazy ways they will often fork over a $2 bill for your change. You’d better know what to do with it! Cherish it.

PENNIES ON STREET: Always

I seem to spot them everywhere.

On the sidewalks and the side streets. Dug out of the corners of car and of the couch. They gleam at me. Heads up or heads down. I scoop them up and I save them. I squint for the dates and wonder about how many fingers have touched them, how they were lost, how much further will they travel? Little silver and copper time capsules! And they jingle in my pockets.

Is it lucky to find a penny or a coin? You tell me.

Perhaps it’s just as lucky to spot a dandelion about to curl open to the sun, lucky to notice a person who took the time to hold the door, lucky to discern meaning from the lines of a poem.

But it’s so much harder to hold those things in your hands, to jingle them in your pockets.

So I save all the coins I find, knotted into handkerchiefs in my drawers, zipped tight into a special pocket in my jacket, sometimes clutched in my fists.

I save them because I have a plan. Someday for someone I’ll dig deep into my pockets and scoop out a handful of coins. . From my fingers will come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking. I’ll be building someone their own little Tower of Nickels and Dimes.

 

 

A TASTE FOR JAZZ AND LIME-VANILLA ICE

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I was one of those precocious little Suzuki violin kids. We were schooled strictly in classical music, that is, as soon as we could scrape through Mississippi River. My first violin was quarter size and our early training involved marching around the room trying to keep the violins tucked under our little chins. Tiny violins bounced everywhere. But music really exploded for me on Sunday afternoons when I got to watch Bill Kennedy at the Movies on WKBD-TV channel 50 in Detroit. Bill Kennedy was the faded, slightly pompous former B movie actor who hosted the show. He had this one great scene as a tennis pro with Bette Davis in Dark Victory, which he referred to often.   It was here that I watched my first musicals: Top Hat, Singin’ in the Rain, Meet me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon. This was the music, these were the songs that I really fell in love with, the ones that stuck in my head.

Someone noticed.

That person was my cousin Marty.

He wasn’t at all the type of person you’d expect to notice things. But he did.

Marty was my mother’s first cousin. He shared an apartment with my two great Aunts. my grandmother’s sisters, Bess and Rose. My grandmother lived alone in the apartment across the way. My sisters and I would always see the Aunts and Marty at holiday dinners or be trooped unwillingly across the parking lot to visit their little apartment. It was hot in there and there wasn’t much to do except answer questions about whatever it was we were doing. The Aunts hung on our every word and beamed at us for even the smallest accomplishments. We should have feasted on this avalanche of praise and affection but we didn’t really. We felt squirmy and uncomfortable.

At some point in the conversation, Marty, Bess’s grown up son, would be summoned from his room to say hello to us. Marty’s room was a great mystery. No one was ever allowed in there. Not even my Aunts. But the door was ajar once and I peeked inside.   What I saw was a fantastic jumble of books and records amidst the whorl of an unmade bed. It was a mess, it was utter comfort, it was a refuge and a fortress. It reminded me a lot of my bedroom at home.

Marty always entered the living room slowly and bashfully even though this was his home, he was the adult and we were just little kids.

He was a heavyset man with dark curly hair. He smiled a lot. He perspired a lot too—the apartment was kept extra warm for my Aunts—so much so that his thick black glasses slid constantly down his nose. But the look of appreciation on his face, no matter if I was talking about whatever old movie I’d just seen, what music I’d played or some song I loved, was real.

I was probably self-importantly talking about some play that I’d been in at camp when he got really excited and went to his room. He returned with Allan Sherman’s My Son, the Nut, which he placed gently on the turntable. Marty was the first person to play “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah “ for me. I got it. It was cool. The albums that were stacked along side were by people like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. I wasn’t ready for them yet. Not by a long shot.

At holiday dinners he usually didn’t say much. He would always wear a tie although he always looked like he’d rather take it off. If there were uncomfortable silences he would always talk and talk about how much he loved the spinach.

On the violin I learned how to play Leroy Anderson’s Fiddle Faddle and would have gone crazy with joy if I had somehow heard about jazz violinist Joe Venuti but I didn’t. I was a high octane behind the scenes high school theatre person. I did my best to keep up in chorus class. I was hurt that I wasn’t a part of the revered Madrigals singing group at Kingswood (my sister Lisa was) but I still found that I completely and totally loved harmonic singing.

I overheard that several times a year Marty would take the train to Toronto to go to Jazz clubs or Jazz festivals. I don’t know who he saw up there. Chick Corea? Charlie Mingus? I don’t remember him playing that music for us on those afternoon visits. Was he too shy? Did he feel his connection to that music too private to share? Or did he know that to truly fall in love with something you need to discover it yourself?

I had heard the stories. That he had asthma and terrible allergies. That he was babied by his mother, my Aunt Bess, who coddled and overfed him. That he wasn’t allowed out to play much as a little kid and had a way of running with his flat feet slapping the pavement and his arms flapping wildly in the air. That he hated driving and took the bus, a true anomaly in car crazy Detroit. That he was smart. Really, really smart.

Over the years he never once made one of those cringe worthy comments about “how much I’d grown.” But I knew he noticed when he said that I reminded him of Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer. By then I liked songs like Sing, Sing, Sing, Java Jive, and Dream a Little Dream of Me. Progress.

After college I lived in Brooklyn before Brooklyn was cool. I stretched meager paychecks by buying groceries at Balducci’s with my Dad’s American Express card. But one night I went to the renowned Blue Note all by myself, to hear “The Divine One”, Sarah Vaughan. In that cramped jazzy space, I sat alone at the bar drinking Bloody Marys at nighttime. It was the only drink I knew how to order. But there, on that wonderful night, I actually heard Sassy herself sing Misty.

After that night I knew why Marty went to the Jazz clubs in Toronto.

I was away from home for a long time. I grew up, I worked, I married, I had children. Back in Detroit, my Aunts died. Marty was left alone. He moved to his own apartment.   Alone a lot in New York, I listened to music. On my own I discovered Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald. Peggy Lee. The Boswell Sisters.

Then Marty died as well.

He was only 55. It was from his obituary that I learned that he was a revered and award winning Political Science lecturer at the University of Michigan Dearborn, known for both his bristling intellect and unfailing kindness to his students.

It had never occurred to me to ask what kind of work he did.

Of all the stories in Ray Bradbury’s beautiful Dandelion Wine my favorite is “The Swan”. Drawn together at a soda fountain over the unusual order of “a dish of lime-vanilla ice” young Bill Forrester meets and befriends 95-year-old Helen Loomis. Despite the extreme differences in age the two form a transcendent bond. It’s clear they were meant to be together, but according to Helen, just not in this life. Maybe the next. Or perhaps the next one after that. Ray Bradbury does not leave us with a happy ending in this story but instead with a wistful, open-ended one.

Maybe this is true for lost friendships as well.

But all I know is that I desperately miss someone I never really knew at all.

DREAM OF WHO YOU’LL BE

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I’ve fallen in love not once but dozens—no, a multitude–of times. And that devotion has been returned hundreds of times over; each time I’ve turned the pages. All of us bookish people are like that, I guess. Passionate. Committed. And in some cases, really besotted. I just am.

But let’s face it, there’s always that sense of, if not “wearing your heart on your sleeve” it’s “brandishing your book like a shield.” Like so many other things about us, the clothes we choose to wear, the cars we choose to drive, the movies we choose to watch send out signals to the rest of the world, help define us. So too with the books we read.

It’s not really fair is it? All of us deserve the right to read something junky or lascivious or mysterious or politically charged if we so choose. People’s relationships with books, no matter what they read, is a very private matter as far as I’m concerned. It’s why, in the era before e-readers, subway riders smuggled their reading material around in little blank book jackets. A modicum of privacy in a very public space. But sadder still is the opposite—people who read, or at least brandish—books that they think they look good reading.

Anyone who can immerse herself so completely in a book that walking into walls becomes a very real hazard can’t be overly concerned with looking good by reading the book of the moment. And I’m not. Which is why I read, why I’ve always read, among other things, children’s books.

For me reading children’s books, everything from The Wind in the Willows to The Seven Silly Eaters, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Quarrelling Book, from The Nutshell Library to The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Story Book (the list is endless, trust me) is not about reliving my childhood. It’s about being a glutton for good writing. And good writing of any sort is not just meant to be read but reread.

The best children’s books authors, think Margaret Wise Brown, Arnold Lobel, Charlotte Zolotow or Kevin Henkes, write poetry on a page. There can be no wasted words in great children’s books, no pandering, no puffery. It always makes me laugh when the celebrity of the moment (or that celebrity’s publicist) decides said celebrity needs to write a children’s book thinking it’s an easy fame grab. So many have done it, from Billy Crystal to Katie Couric, from Madonna to Whoopi Goldberg. They have no idea that they are wading into what is perhaps the most difficult writing form of all. The celebrity books flash fast and fizzle. The notable exception as a writer is Jamie Lee Curtis, whose quirky, funny and deeply felt books transcend celebrity. (see: When I Was Little: A Four Year Old’s Memoir of Her Youth)

Moreover, great children’s books are really written for children, without a smirk, a  hidden agenda or a knowing wink aimed at an adult audience.  I’d argue strenuously that’s even the case for the immensely complex books of Lewis Carroll, including the marvelous Alice in Wonderland. After all, Lewis Carroll himself said (in response to a letter written in 1880 about The Hunting of the Snark and reprinted in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Snark) “I have a letter from you . . . asking me why don’t I explain the Snark?, a question I should have answered long ago. Let me answer it now—‘because I can’t. Are you able to explain things which you yourself don’t understand?”

And so I read and I reread, swirling deeper and deeper into some of my favorites each time. I remember who I was when I first read those words. I think I about who I am now. Beyond that I don’t analyze. I do something much more difficult. I feel.

Find your own favorites. Read them again. Remember who you were. Think about who you are. Dream of who you’ll be. There still is no better way to do it.

***

A (very) short list of a few of my favorites:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Quarreling Book by Charlotte Zolotow

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

CAVIAR WITH A SOUP SPOON, MINT CHIP WITH A LADLE

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I’m in deep. Buried. Delighted. Staked my claim to the couch, right next to the mountain of laundry that might be clean, might not be (can’t remember). And it’s only page 254.

If you say you don’t know what I’m talking about I swear I won’t believe you. It’s happened to you. How could anyone miss a feeling this all encompassing delicious? In this case the volume that’s snagged me is a gigantic tome called The Green Treasury crammed with essays by some of the world’s finest natural history writers, from Rachel Carson to Maurice Maeterlinck to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Gorging on a compendium is dangerous business though. Kind of like eating caviar with a soup spoon. Or mint chip with a ladle. I’ve done both—same result. Don’t care.

At any rate, at some point during my reading revelries I was slapped with an uncomfortable realization. I love reading about natural history but find nature itself tempestuous and unnerving. I don’t go out to smell the first roses of spring nor crouch by ponds to watch bullfrogs burrow into mud. It’s cold out there. Possibly wet. Coffee can be distant. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that I am the indoorsiest person on the planet.

But I like it here. I know the terrain. Or at least I think I do. There’s a famous scene from Guys and Dolls where Sky Masterson bets Nathan Detroit that he is so oblivious that he has no idea what color tie he’s put on that morning. I tried the same experiment by closing my eyes and trying to remember which paintings were on the walls of which rooms. Low score, no curve. Do over.

So I decided to look around.

There are first and foremost a lot of books everywhere, in every room, jumbled, piled, stacked, loved. There are people who adore books who take pleasure in keeping them in stunning Dewey Decimal’d glory but I am not one of them. I actually enjoy not finding exactly what book I’m searching for immediately because then I’ll find five or six more on the way that I hadn’t expected to find. I’d never want to deny myself the pleasure of those searches.

It’s that element of surprise that I truly love. Surprise is everywhere here. Over the years I’ve stashed odd bits of tiny amazements squeezed in around and between titles. A folded popcorn container from the Michigan/Ohio State game. A rare “Trumpet Horn” harmonica. A tiny glass case sheltering the Laffy Taffy that pulled out one of my son’s first baby teeth. (Probably should get rid of that one, but not just yet).

If I stop and sniff the kitchen stills smells faintly of risotto experiments and oatmeal cookies, even though with everyone everywhere I don’t make either much any more.  There’s the teapot that was purchased by small people with dimes and dollars saved over a long long time. A big plastic cube that is filled with masses of multi-colored super balls, all purchased from the same cookie cutter Ohio rest stops over so many visits to see loved ones. A framed Blazing Saddles movie poster because I really love my husband. A gallon jug of Tabasco just because.

If there is a nod to both nature and science, it’s seen in the Wild Strawberry Wedgwood dishes in the dish rack. (Charles Darwin’s mother was from the famed Wedgwood family). In spite of their expense and delicacy these are and have always been the everyday dishes simply because they are beautiful.  “A macaroni and cheese by any other name would taste as delicious” on Wild Strawberry.

Even the drawers are crammed full of wonders. The 12 Tribes Trivet, a wedding gift from my childhood violin teacher and in all honesty the only wedding present I can actually remember. A stub of a Blackwing pencil (Half The Pressure, Twice the Speed), jewel of all writing implements. I crave them. The metallic jingle of half a dozen M discs, the kind that the Metropolitan Museum of Art handed out to patrons before succumbing to paper stickers. A Pikachu keychain. Or maybe it’s Charmander. Whatever. It was all still there.

If I felt like paying attention, I’d see dust tumbleweeds and cat snagged curtains and unmade beds. But those things can be taken care of when I choose to. Not yet. Maybe soon.

A comfortably rumpled space once filled with people. It percolates with memories, waiting for the right moment for me to flip the switch. I didn’t look at photographs as I moved through the house. I didn’t need to. I remembered everyone and everything. They’re coming home soon for Thanksgiving. I won’t be reading then. Welcome back. Can’t wait.