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The way it was / the way it is

A family affair. A wedding on a gorgeous (almost) autumn day, Duchess County, New York. A distant cousin walks up to me. “You know who I am — right?” She says her name at the very moment I recall it. “You look the same as you always did,” she tells me. I smile at the compliment.

The truth be known, I feel far from ageless. If anything, seeing the distant cousin, and all the others I see only at these few-and-far-between family events, both joyful and sorrow-filled, has a way of heightening the sense of something long gone. We talk about the grandparents who were cousins, and the affection our own mothers had for each other. We used to see each other (a little) more.

Nothing is the way it was, I remark. Everything just is what it is.

The father of the bride (a close cousin of mine) walks with a cane.  One cousin of the bride has flown in from L.A. (with his girlfriend); other cousins, from Ohio, came a few days early to visit with family.  Friends and family from the tri-state area got an early start for a ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. on the lawn of Mills Mansion, an historic site that overlooks the Hudson.  With weather as perfect as it is, who could even complain that the ceremony would end up taking place more than an hour late? Whatever it was that delayed the bride will turn out to be well worth waiting for when we see a white Rolls Royce pull up, delivering the princess of the day. My daughter, also in from the West Coast, sits next to me. What more can I ask?

Maybe this is what we mean by ‘stolen moments.’ In another time, an earlier one, this very same celebration of a marriage would have been just another link in the chain of family events, an assumption across generations. Yes, there would be a touch of acrimony (former husbands and wives bristling at being in the same room, siblings holding their rivalry in check)  thankfully overshadowed by the joy of it all.

Just a month ago a death in family brought at least some of these same cousins together. I felt a little more saddened by my reason for not attending the funeral than the fact of not being there.

What happens when the yoke of obligation gives way, the glue of ritual thinned to a paste more water than starch?

‘Bittersweet’ has long been a favorite word of mine. Today there is no bitter, only sweet. Yes, there is a sense of something not here, except in a ghostly way, reflected in the tears I see filling the eyes of a cousin who I can only imagine is thinking about her mother, the grandmother of the bride, long gone.  The very same cousin who, reflecting on the good time had by all — laughing, sharing photos from our iPhones, doing shots with our (now grown) children, dancing to Sister Sledge (not to mention the hora)  – becomes wistful: why can’t we do this more often? Her heart, always in the right place, would love nothing more. I grant her this much: yes, I feel the tug of nostalgia, but more, perhaps, as a room to visit from time to time than a house in which to dwell.

The Riddle of the Reader/Writer

I admit it, I don’t know how the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour got started, but here we are, installment #9, and I have the pleasure of introducing Nat and Sarah, tucked between them as I am. What I like about this blog hop is that the number of participants — ten in all — doesn’t overwhelm me.  The more the merrier does not necessarily hold up when it comes to the give-and-take of the blogosphere. With so much out there, how do we pick and choose?  It’s a mix of shared hyperlinks and and dumb luck.

Now to the theme: ‘Reader or Writer — Which Would You Rather Be?’ At first I thought this must be a riddle, sphinx-like in its asking. There is, after all, no writing without reading. Then I read Pandora Poikilos’s very poignant post, and things became a little clearer.

Writing, no less than reading, is an act of discovery, the difference being that, with reading, someone else has done the legwork. The reader gets to sit back, take it all in, see what resonates. The writer, in contrast, starts with a slate begging to be filled, a temptation all its own. Asking which I’d rather be is a Solomon-like conundrum: cut the baby in half and no one gets anything that lives. It’s in the love of reading that the love of writing begins.

At this moment — a night on the cusp of summer and autumn cheered by a symphony of insects and an incandescent full moon — all I want to do is put into words what I see and hear. And recall. Just hours earlier, the see-saw was weighted in favor of reading, serendipity leading me to a Twitter link, E.B. White, in his own words, “There are too many things I’d rather do than read.” It seems that the writer who gave us the most ‘literate’ of spiders, would “rather sail a boat than crack a book.”  Which makes me think that it isn’t so much about preference as it is about making connections — the kind that come from  staring at the moon or taking a walk,  listening to the blues or surfing the Web, sailing a boat or curling up with a favorite book on a winter night. And it’s about taking risks.

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work,” says White, “will die without putting a word on paper.”

P.S. As irony would have have it, days after writing this post, an article comes my way re: the growing disconnect between writers and readers:  Writers who don’t read  may seem  like an oxymoron . . . and, yet, as Buzz Poole so eloquently points out, ” Humanity is losing its ability to be alone with nothing but our thoughts.”

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Without Power

Photo ©Abe Frajndlich. Reprinted with permission

Saturday, September 3, 2011:  The air  is filled with anticipation. Irene is on her way. A friend who lives in lower Manhattan takes heed:  an 8:48 a.m. train will deliver him, with his son, to the exurban community I live in, about an hour north of the city. If Irene is as fierce as predicted, he doesn’t want to be in her path. Little does he know that leaving the threatened eye of the storm will take him right into it.

Irony. It adds zest to literature. Makes a mockery of all those woulda/coulda/shoulda moments placed in our laps daily/weekly/monthly. Once in a lifetime.  The predictive tools we have at our disposal are no measure against our individually peculiar ways of dealing with all things unknown and out of our control. Yes, knowing a hurricane of such (potential) magnitude is coming allows me some time to prepare, stock up on (at least) water. I’ve lived in an area of overhead powerhead lines long enough to know that all it takes is one heavy branch or one squirrel looking for warmth in all the wrong for places to leave me in the dark. Prepared? Sometimes I’m not even sure what that means.

Sunday, September 4, 2011:  The sky  is thick with rain and wind, no letup in sight, the power already knocked out by Irene in the wee hours of the morning. Not to worry, I tell my friend over an early cup of coffee. I have a rule of thumb: if the power isn’t on within two-three hours, we’re in for the long haul. No point in (yet) waking his son, the college kid. Without Internet access, what’s a boy to do? We wait it out, keep ourselves entertained with conversation, eating, reading by daylight. How lucky am I to have an iPad, backlit and fully charged. My friend, a very gifted photographer, points  his camera to the world outside, from the world inside. We have buckets positioned beneath scuppers, collecting rain for the necessary flushes. Showers? Nobody cares right now. We’re in the thrall of Irene, captive, maybe even a little captivated. We talk about alternative plans — what if the power isn’t on by nighttime?

The day passes, and, like a miracle, the sun comes out. The college kid has a craving for grilled chicken, and it’s a craving we can easily accommodate.  We have friends, too, who by luck of being on a different part of the electrical grid, have power but no cable. Wouldn’t they like some company, a DVD at the ready?

Anticipation. At its worst, it skips like a broken record scratched with anxiety. At its best, it suggests hope. We leave our friends, go home, make our way through the dark house. Collecting candles, lighting them, settling down in the living room. Talking. Laughing. Two men, a college boy, and me. It feels a little like camping out, albeit with (almost) all the comforts of home. Life could be worse, my husband says. It could be the dead of winter, not a beautiful summer night.

Monday, September 5, 2011. We wake up, still no power, my friend and his son ready to head back to a city hardly grazed by the storm. I could have said what I was thinking before they came up — namely, that if Irene is as bad as projected, they might not be able to go back Monday a.m. Mother (often) knows best, even if she doesn’t say it. Fortunately, by afternoon, there are trains from a larger hub (White Plains). Even if all’s not really well, there’s something to be said for a little relief.

Hurricanes. They used to have only female names, and no one could really say why, except to assume it had something to do with a volatile, fickle nature. The joke: whoever heard of a himicane? Now there’s no gender bias, and we’ve had our share of male names  (Floyd one of the worst in recent memory). And yet I can’t help thinking about all those women with the name Irene and the power it held, almost mythical, for at least a few days. I’m thinking, too, how many times, in the course of the three days I would be without power, I turned on the light switch in the bathroom, surprised more at the reflexive action than the result it did not bring.