A Sense of Place

Margaret: It makes one feel so unstable, impermanent, with all the houses being torn down on all sides. Including, in the foreseeable future, ours.

Ruth: Are you having to leave Wickham Place?

Margaret: Yes. In 18 months when the lease expires.

Ruth: Have you been there long?

Margaret: All our lives. We were born there.

Ruth: That is monstrous! I pity you from the bottom of my heart…

Margaret: Of course, we are fond of the house. But it is an ordinary London house. We shall easily find another.

Ruth: No, not in this world. Not the house you were born in. You’ll never find that again.

Howards End, 1992

A friend of mine recently learned that her childhood home is slated for demolition. Although she no longer lives in the house, she and her sister are devastated at the thought of its being devastated. She wrote a very eloquent and emotional letter in protest, which you can read here. It is probably a vain hope, since not one home has been saved from destruction in the name of Progress in that area, no matter how many people objected, but at least she was able to express her feelings. She makes some wonderful points about how heritage buildings should not survive in a vacuum, museum pieces to be looked at and forgotten about, but rather be part of the fabric of our everyday lives, a connection to the past that lives on.

It made me think about how the places we live shape us and become part of who we are, even after we leave them.

The house I grew up in predates the Civil War, and its stone foundations are much older than that. The cellar used to flood every spring as the snow melted, so Dad built a sort of raised walkway so we could avoid being soaked while walking around down there. The cellar still had the slanted doors where coal was delivered long ago.

The house was called Fox Hill, named for the foxes who lived in the wooded hills around our house. Legend had it that the five acre parcel our house was set in was payment to a Revolutionary War soldier for his service. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have many happy memories of growing up in that old house, and although I have not been there for decades, I can still walk through it in my mind, from the red front door to the fireplace in the living room, the stairs where our dog Ginger slept on the landing when Dad was home (and across the front door when he wasn’t), to my room under the eaves with the window seat Dad built.

I have equally treasured memories of my grandparents’ house, about an hour and a half’s drive from Fox Hill. It was a grand home, built by the town sheriff for his daughter when she married. The windows on the ground floor were seven feet high and the ceilings twelve feet. I made the mistake of stalking the house online and was appalled by how it was changed. The barn is unrecognizable inside, and a hideous deck has been added off the kitchen, which is as unrecognizable and ugly as the barn is now. The stained glass windows are missing, though thankfully the built-ins, fireplaces, and wraparound porch remain. Maybe it’s better not to go back.

My current house is quirky to say the least, and its faults, like my own, are neither small nor few, but I never want to leave it or this area. I have grown to love our little community and how we look out for one another. At Fox Hill, our driveway was unpaved and about a quarter of a mile long. We were often snowed in during the winter, and our nearest neighbors were farmers and their homes could not be seen from our house. I still can’t see my closest neighbors, my driveway is still long and unpaved, and we are often cut off from civilization when the road to the city floods. So in a way, I have come full circle, from one side of the country to the other. I have come home.

A YEAR AGO: Finding beauty in the Village.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous.

85


Mom and her father

Today would have been my mother’s 85th birthday.

Sometimes I am surprised by how much time has gone by since we were orphaned. In some ways, it seems like it just happened, and in others that it was so long ago. With the unpredictable elasticity of grief, some anniversaries of births or deaths make you feel almost as bereft as you did when it first happened, and on others, you remember more happy memories. And it’s pretty much impossible to say why or know how you’ll feel until it happens.

My mother has not figured in these pages as much as my father. We did not always have the easiest relationship, and it is only now that I have begun to understand her better. She had a difficult life, there is no doubt about it. She was abandoned on the steps of an orphanage as a baby, my father left her, she married a man half her age who spent all her money and left her on welfare to fight a valiant battle against cancer. Hers was a long and terrible death, which she fought bravely to the end.

But she was also loved. Her parents adopted her when she was about three, picking her out at the orphanage like a puppy at the pound. We do not know anything about her birth parents, though there were rumors that her father was a doctor and her mother a patient. My mother didn’t care, though. Her parents told her that they chose her out of all the children in all the world, and other parents just have to take what they get.

Dad met Mom at a wedding and was charmed with her looks and joie de vivre. He was finishing his PhD in England and she lived in New York State. While he finished his degree, and when he took his round the world tour afterwards, he wrote her constantly, and I still have the wonderful love letters in their blue airmail envelopes, with drawings and photos and descriptions of the many wonders he had seen and how he missed her.

They definitely loved each other, though they were very different. Dad was scientific, Mom was artistic. She loved music, he was tone deaf. She was utterly American, he was English to the core. In retrospect, it’s probably not surprising that the marriage didn’t last, though like mine, it did last a long time.

I just wish Mom had found the happy ending Dad did. And I wish I could tell her that I love her and miss her. When I think of her, I think of her sparkling green eyes, beautiful, thick, golden-brown hair (which Megan inherited), her pleasure in beautiful things, from music to jewelry, her laugh. I think about sitting in bed with her – she was a night owl – watching “Saturday Night Live” back in the 1970s together. She was delighted by Devo’s avant garde version of “Satisfaction” on that show. I think of how she welcomed Gilbert, Dad’s graduate student from Tanzania, into our family for a few years when his family couldn’t get money out of the country to him. I think of her driving fast with music on loud in the car, the way I do now, the bracelets I now wear jingling on her wrist, shining in the sun.

She was strong. She was brave. She was unique. I am glad she was my mother.

86

Dad’s birthday dawned sunny and beautiful, but it was a sad one for me this year. Some years I am filled with how lucky I was to have such a wonderful father and friend, and other years it just makes me so sad he is gone. This was one of those years.

To make things worse, I ran over a dead deer on my way to work in the evil darkness that morning. I had no choice, since there was too much oncoming traffic for me to go around it by driving in the other lane of the two lane highway, and there was no shoulder of the road, either. I felt like a monster, since humans had already killed the poor creature and now I was desecrating its body.

I was relieved to notice that someone had removed the evidence of my callousness on my way home from work that day. I got changed and ready to go out again, since Megan and I had plans, but I was not feeling festive. I went out one door as she came in another, but we found each other and laughed. We jumped in her little red car and set off for the Village, passing the eternal Christmas tree where Dad’s bird ornament winked in the sun.

Unlike me, Megan was having a good Dad’s birthday. She had worked in the garden that day, honoring Dad’s legacy as an excellent gardener, restoring the sweetpeas we plant for him every year as well as fertilizing the fruit trees and caring for the lavender. And she was looking forward to our plans to celebrate Dad that evening.

The bookstore in the Village was having a sale, and that seemed like a perfect way to honor the man who read to us and gave us our love of reading. You can see the Great Catsby in his favorite spot:

Megan bought two instant pot cookbooks, even though she did not actually have an instant pot (she rectified this later by ordering one on her phone at my house, since she does not have internet at hers). I weirdly ended up getting deeply discounted but sparkly Christmas cards as well as some stocking stuffers. I got something for Erica’s stocking last month. I am unable to explain this extremely premature holiday shopping.

We then headed to the beautiful Ledford House, where the view was wonderful:

We toasted Dad with Red Queens, a divine concoction made of gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and cranberry, garnished with a sugar rim with hibiscus and dark chocolate:

and swapped some of our favorite Dad stories over dinner. I think he would have liked that, and also approved of our choices, both of us ordering according to his rule of getting something you would not (or could not) make at home. Megan had incredibly light gnocchi with Gorgonzola and walnuts:

and I had petrale sole with passionfruit beurre blanc, served with mashed potatoes and asparagus with infused herb oil:

It was a good way to celebrate our father, and by the time we headed back home, I just felt glad we had him in our lives. He will always be in our hearts. We love you, Dad.

A YEAR AGO: Not a great start to the day.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A date with my family.

Fifteen

sweetpeas
Dad’s Flowers

Every year, we plant sweetpeas in honor of our father. They were his favorite flowers.

We had a little bouquet of them at his memorial service, along with a photo of Dad and his beloved dog, Jesse. Our wonderful stepmother Margaret later scattered Dad’s ashes with Jesse’s on the Common where they loved to walk together. It comforts me to know that a boy and his dog are together always.

And it comforted me that our beloved Lu chose to carry some of Dad’s sweetpeas in her bouquet and her lovely hair when she married her best friend Rik this summer. It made me feel like Dad was there, and I was glad to think of him and his special flowers on a happy occasion.

No matter how long I am without him, I will always miss him. And I will forever cherish the treasure of his love and friendship.

A YEAR AGO: Brian Wilson said it best.

Megan’s Birthday

My former boss gave me a very generous gift certificate to the Ledford House, where I recently met my friend Jim for a drink in the bar, and taking Megan out to dinner on her birthday seemed like the perfect use for it.

It was also a perfect day to be at the restaurant, which has a stunning view of the ocean. It looked like a postcard as we took our seats by the window. The server overheard me saying it was Megan’s birthday, and brought us complimentary birthday champagne:

chmpagne

Are there lovelier words in the English language than “complimentary champagne”? Well, there’s always “taxi” and “doorman”…

We toasted Megan’s birthday and I couldn’t help remembering the day she was born. I was called down to the principal’s office, walking through the empty, echoing halls. My nine year old body was full of dread and my nine year old brain was paging through the things I had done wrong and the things I could have been caught doing wrong. Arriving at the office, the motherly secretary told me that I had a baby sister. I don’t know if I was more excited about that or the fact that I hadn’t been caught at whatever mischief I had recently been perpetrating.

I skipped merrily down the hall on my way back to my classroom, where I shared the news. The girls all choroused “Yay!” while the boys chimed in with “Boo!”

Meanwhile, back in the present, my now grown up sister and I received a little white ceramic tray with spiced olives, house-made bread which was crusty on the outside and springy on the inside, and a tiny white ceramic pitcher of fruity olive oil to nibble on while we considered the menu.

I considered that since local sparkling wine made by Roederer in Anderson Valley (Roederer’s French vineyards make Cristal) was only $4 more than ordinary still wine, we should stay bubbly, my friends. With that important decision made, we turned our attention to the menu.

We shared a head of garlic, roasted whole with fresh thyme and olive oil, the top cut off to expose the caramelized cloves. We spread the cloves on wafer thin crostini and topped it with fresh chèvre. Simple but delicious.

Megan had gnocchi, which she said was the lightest she had ever tasted:

gnocchi

and I had mussels, on Dad’s principle of getting a dish at a restaurant which you would not cook at home:

mussels

The gnocchi were the lightest I have ever ever tasted, and the mussels were served in a complex white wine broth, garnished with a nasturtium and served with a rich, spicy aioli on the side. There was a bowl thoughtfully provided for the discarded shells. The bill came to $16 after the gift certificate was applied, and it helpfully listed what 10, 15 and 20% tips would be so no after dinner math was required. I left a $40 tip. The service was great – there when you wanted it, not when you didn’t, not too chatty and not too unctuous. And the server was probably in high school. The owner does a great job of training his staff.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a fine dining experience. The food and the view were great, the atmosphere was casual but refined, but most of all I think I enjoyed the feeling of being cosseted and taken care of. It was a wonderful evening.

A YEAR AGO: File under miscellaneous.

Saturday Errands

It was a sunny Saturday morning. My sister texted me that she was teaching a CPR class that day, but was not looking forward to the long drive to town. Even though I was still slowly caffeinating in my PJs, I decided to join her and keep her company.

I tossed some chicken in the slow cooker and threw on some clothes. Even while I was dressing sketchily and leaving the house with no makeup on, I reflected that I would almost certainly run into someone I knew, which proved to be the case.

Megan’s car was preloaded with the dummies and equipment which I had picked up from our friends Lu and Rik on my way home from work the night before, so we jumped in and set off. As you know, I would always rather be driven than drive, and it was nice to be able to admire the ocean and the wild flowers by the side of the road.

Leaving Megan to her class, I took her car to the Company Store, which used to be exactly that: the store where loggers and millworkers bought the necessities of life from their employers:

company store

The outside hasn’t changed much, but on the inside, there is free and fast internet to delight the heart of an impatient girl doomed to the slow yet exorbitant horrors of satellite internet at home. In fact, I was so delighted that I failed to notice my brother’s girlfriend Rio until she came over and hugged me. She was accompanied by her daughter, who is getting married here in May. The two ladies had appointments to taste cake, consider flower arrangements and other pleasant wedding-related duties that day. It was nice to see them, and Rio’s daughter will make a beautiful bride.

Next stop was the library, where I both picked up and dropped off books for everyone and paid their fines, because that’s the kind of sister I am. 🙂 Next to me, a little girl was checking out a stack of books, and it reminded me of the long-ago summer Saturdays when we would go to the beautiful library in Bar Harbor:

librarybh

As lab kids and constant summer residents, we were allowed to take out extra books, which was a privilege we always enjoyed. I overheard the same little girl say to her mother, “Of course you can’t see her. She’s in my head,” with a look on her face that clearly said, “Silly grownups”. As Antoine de St Exupéry observed, grownups always need to have things explained. And they usually think an elephant eaten by a boa constrictor is a hat.

After that, it was the feed store for the cats and then the feed store for the humans, where I naturally ran into some people from work. Fortunately they were also makeup free and dressed with extreme casualness.

I met Megan at her class, where she had been annoyed by Scenario Guy (“What if someone has a seizure in the middle of the road? Do you treat them or go get help?” along with dozens of other what ifs) and Know It All Guy, trying to share his wisdom with the class. At least it was over. We returned the dummies and returned home, where we made chicken enchiladas for dinner from black beans grown on the property and salsa verde made with ingredients also grown there, and the chicken I had thrown in the Crock Pot that morning.

We baked the enchiladas in Megan’s new to her stove:

stove

which had been a family affair. Megan’s old stove was pretty dysfunctional, with only one working burner, so when I saw a free stove advertised on the local message boards, I immediately notified the family, who swung into action. Rob borrowed Mark’s truck, and he and Jonathan went to inspect the stove, which looked fine to them. They brought it home and installed it, and I am pleased to report that all the burners and the oven work! Less crappy, my friends.

A YEAR AGO: Some time off before starting my new job. I’ve been there a year today!

Tick Tock

When my father died, I inherited a 250 year old grandfather clock which has been in our family since it was first made by John Jullion of Brentford. Fun fact: the oldest clock still on public display in Australia was made by the same gentleman in 1770. Rob unpacked our clock after I moved to Hooterville, but it was decorative rather than functional.

At Christmas, Jonathan said that he wanted to get the grandfather clock running again this year. I’m not sure if that counts as a New Year’s resolution, but he (and Rob) can check it off their lists.

Rob shimmed it so it was as straight and true as possible given the irregularity of my house in general and the floor in particular. When the clock was stored, the (very) heavy lead weights, pendulum, winding key, etc. were all carefully stowed inside, so the guys had all they needed to get the old man alive and ticking.

They lifted off the top and got to work:

IMG_2532

It was nice to watch these two, brothers-in-law for 25 years and friends for more than 40, working together. And soon the clock was ticking the seconds away majestically. They did not install the bell, though. My house is really small and the bell is really loud. When I lived in San Francisco and the clock lived in the hallway and I had a bedroom door to close, it would still wake me up sometimes, so I think I’ll settle for the ticking for now. It’s nice to hear it, reminding me of how it used to make the same sound in my grandparents’ dining room and my parents’ living room.

Before that, the clock lived above my great-grandfather Sydney Smith’s butcher shop in Chiswick. Here he is with my great-grandmother, the redoubtable Elizabeth Harriet*, outside the shop:

shop1

The name was still over the door when I visited it in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977, though it was no longer a butcher shop. Some of the lovely tilework from the interior:

shop2

also remained then, though I’m guessing it’s all gone by now. The clock has outlived them all! And it’s gone from a very urban setting to a very rural one. I wonder what other changes it has seen in its long life – and what changes are to come?

*Sydney was a charmer and adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards bill payment by friends and neighbors, so it was up to Elizabeth Harriet to make sure the receivables were received. And she did.

A YEAR AGO: A play from London and a burrito from the Valley.

Remembering

kings
Dad in Kings Canyon, 1980s

This may be the first year I did not write a post about Dad on his birthday.

I had a hard time with his birthday this year, probably because of losing my Roscoe so recently. I am still struggling with Roscoe’s loss on a daily basis, so I guess thinking of someone else I loved greatly and lost suddenly didn’t help with keeping the flood of sadness at bay.

It would have been Dad’s 85th birthday, a milestone one. I’m not sure if that played into it too. But somehow, I got through the day at work, surrounded by the usual St. Patrick’s Day crap the day always brings, me with my heart aching and everyone else all cheerful. Good thing I’m good at faking it at work.

Thanks to Jonathan’s girlfriend Rio, we had dinner together the day after Dad’s birthday to honor him. When Jonathan checked out my car before I headed to Monterey, I said, “Let’s have dinner soon.” He agreed, and Rio pulled out her calendar, saying “Let’s pick a date, or it will never happen.” So we looked, saw the day after Dad’s birthday was a Friday, and a date was born.

When I came home from work that evening, Lupe and Luna came running up to greet me as usual, and Rio’s car was in the driveway. Inside, I found Rio and Jonathan already cooking in my kitchen(ette), a welcome sight indeed. They had brought everything needed to make Moroccan chicken, a recipe of Rio’s late mother (I’m sorry to say she is now a member of our sad No Parents Club). My brother’s giant cast iron pan was heating on my tiny stove, and he was browning chicken while Rio chopped kumquats.

I put my hair up, opened a bottle of wine, and got out my grandmother Nana’s wineglasses so we could toast Dad and Rio’s lovely mother Gloria. I set to work cutting up apples in the style of that same grandmother (carving pieces off until arriving at the core) to be made into crumble for dessert. I washed dishes while Jonathan made the crumble part, in which the secret ingredient is cardamon. He also puts in a pinch of cloves.

As Jonathan observed, having such a small space to cook in keeps you honest, since you have to clean up to make room to work in. Washing the dishes reminded me of doing the dishes with my much-loved grandfather Hoho* (husband of Nana). He had arthritic hands, and washing the dishes felt good to him. I used to dry, and he’d tell me stories:

meandhoho

These were special moments which I will always treasure.

Rob was already there, working hard at a new shelving extravaganza, and Megan came by after her 14 hour shift with coffee in hand. She has a magical ability to switch from coffee to wine in the afternoon which I admire but couldn’t emulate.

Rio asked to see some family photos. She especially liked this one of Jonathan and Megan in Maine. I’m guessing Jonathan was about 10, which would make Megan 4:

jodmeg

We got so far down memory lane that I almost (but not quite) forgot the crumble, pulling it out of my Easy Bake sized oven just in time. The Moroccan chicken was quite magnificent:

chicken

If I made it again, I’d use apricots instead of prunes, and maybe toss in a handful of toasted almonds for crunch, but it was delicious, and we were glad to remember Rio’s Mom along with our Dad. It made me happy to have my house full of the people I love most, all sharing food we cooked together:

jdrob

It was a wonderful evening.

*So called because of his booming, distinctive laugh. You can read more about him here. He was really something.

A YEAR AGO: Wine and wild turkeys.

Magic

bolshoi1The glorious Bolshoi Ballet

Megan and I braved the stormy, twisty roads to head to the South Coast last weekend. Rain and wind lashed Wednesday, and even the fearless former ambulance driver had to concentrate on the road instead of the spectacular ocean and scenery. I was glad I wasn’t driving.

Our first stop was Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen, of course, where we loaded up on enough delicacies for both dinner that night and Megan’s long work week ahead, and then headed back to Point Arena. The Arena Theater was showing a recording of the Bolshoi Ballet performing The Nutcracker.

I showed Megan the bliss of the balcony, and she agreed that it was definitely the place to be. On the screen, there were images of the breathtaking Bolshoi Theater, built when this country was just getting started. I still remember the beauty of the buildings I saw when I went to Russia just after glasnost, especially the Catherine Palace and the Hermitage.

Megan studied ballet for many years when she was young, before her knee defects (an unfortunate family trait which skipped me but also plagues our brother) sidelined her. As we took our seats, she reminded me how I never missed her recitals and how much it meant to her. It meant a lot to me, too. And all these years later, it was an extra pleasure to watch what are probably the world’s elite ballet dancers with someone who was trained in that difficult, yet glorious art.

The Nutcracker/Prince was played by the very handsome Denis Rodkin, who had an incredible combination of power and grace. He was the best dancer, but the Mouse King, going into battle armed with nothing but a fantastic fashion sense, stole my heart with his purple, ermine-trimmed cape and huge gold star on his chest. The snowflake dance, set in a magical forest with a glittering white tree (much more elegant than the one in my living room), was our favorite part, though we also loved the Arabic dance.

All in all, it was a delightful experience, a wonderful combination of memories old and new. I love it that we have access to some of the world’s greatest artists here in our little corner of the world.

Without You

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I’d be without you

A YEAR AGO: Thirteen years since we lost Dad and our lives changed forever.

Summer Vacation

A look at a summer trip to Paris.

Paris, France
Friday, August 23, 1991

Sitting in the open window of my room at the Hôtel des Batignolles, in a part of Paris which is new to me. The room is quite nice for 290 francs a night: a double bed, clean bathroom with pretty grey tiles, and a window looking over a courtyard where children play and neighbors chat. It is not at all touristy.

The hotel is close to Montmartre, and has a post office, corner store, and many cafés all nearby. At the end of the street is a lovely, quiet square. The hotel was recommended by Margaret’s hairdresser, Philip*, and I have been very well taken care of so far.

After checking in, I walked to the rue de Rome, full of music stores, to the Gare St-Lazare. I bought a return ticket to Vernon, to go to Giverny tomorrow. Then I walked down to the Champs Elysées and had an omelette and a glass of wine while watching the people go by. It is magical to be in Paris again.

Saturday, August 24, 1991

Slept well on my down pillows. Walked to the train station through the quiet streets (it was early, Saturday, and August, the traditional month for holidays). There are no direct trains to Vernon on Saturdays or Sundays, so I took an almost empty train to Mantes-La-Jolie and then changed to a train to Vernon. You can take a bus from Vernon station to Monet’s house, but of course I took a taxi**. The taxi driver was very kind and arranged to pick me up a few hours later to take me back to the station. He pointed out a few things en route – a 400 year old mill, barges on the Seine – and said that Monsieur Monet had been beloved in the village. His coffin was driven to his grave on a humble wooden cart, “like one of us”, the driver told me.

I was surprised by how uncrowded the museum was. Entrance to the house and gardens was 30 francs (about $5). I was enchanted by the beauty of the gardens. They are separated by pink gravel paths and often have vine-covered archways, but the general effect is wild and uncultivated. A slim black cat lounged Cleopatra-like on a stone bench, disdaining the passers-by. The garden was a riot of color, filled with roses, geraniums, hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, and countless others. The waterlily pond looks exactly as it was painted, and it was amazing to stand on that bridge and look at those flowers:

giverny

After touring the gardens, I had to find a quiet spot to soak it all in and think.

The house was truly charming. All the Monet paintings in the house are reproductions, and most of the pretty pink stucco house with green shutters is decorated with Japanese prints and drawings. I was especially taken with the cozy yellow dining room and the blue tiled kitchen. The house is very unpretentious and livable. By the time I left, the place was packed and there was a long line to get in. I had timed my pilgrimage well.

When I arrived back in Paris, I visited the Square des Batignolles:

batignolles

It is delightful, with waterfalls, duck ponds, and a carousel. I am enjoying my temporary neighborhood. I felt quite at home reading the newspaper on a green park bench in the early summer evening. Once again, I marvel at the many people who say Parisians are rude or unkind. Everyone has been quite the opposite to me, from the elderly lady who was amused that we were reading the same newspaper to the man who invited me to admire his little dog. No-one has refused to help me when I asked for directions or information (such as where to buy stamps on a Saturday) and some people (such as the man on the train from Mantes to St-Lazare) are even too friendly. I think it’s all in your own attitude.

*Philip was fantastic. He used to come to Margaret’s house and do her hair every week. He was very flamboyant and very funny, and I always loved talking to him.

**Some things never change.

A YEAR AGO: A loving farewell to a very special man.

Fourteen

My blog turns 14 today! Can you believe it? And can you believe that I actually remembered?

So many things have changed since I first started this blog, though my lack of techspertise isn’t one of them. I wanted to make a list comparing the changes, tried a couple of plug ins to no avail, and ended up with old fashioned HTML (with limited success). You have been warned.

Then

  • Married
  • Living in San Francisco
  • Owning now million dollar art deco apartment with walk in closets and view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the roof. No parking for 1966 Mustang convertible (paid off).
  • Both parents alive.
  • Making enough money to go to Europe every year, not worry about paying the mortgage, and able to buy art and books.

Now

  • Not
  • Living in the boonies
  • Renting hippie hovel with no closets, no insulation, and no counter space. Lots of parking for 2008 Fusion (still paying it off), though.
  • Both parents dead.
  • Constant fears of how to pay rent and bills. Can’t remember the last time I went on vacation. Let passport expire for the first time in my entire life since I hadn’t used it in 12 years and couldn’t afford the requisite $150.
  • Of course, constants in my life are cats (though not the same ones; John still has Jack, the last of the cats we had together) and my family, to whom I am closer and more grateful for than ever. It will be interesting to see what the next fourteen years bring.

    A YEAR AGO: Happy blogday to me!

    Throwback Thursday: Suzy Edition

    As I mentioned, there were photos of Me in the care package John sent after Ramona’s death, and I thought I’d share some with you.

    Here I am with my mother’s father, Hoho, at what seems to be one of my very first Christmases. That’s a photo of Mom with her cat Smokey on the shelf beside us:

    suzy1

    Nana and Hoho had their Christmas tree in the front parlor, which had 7 foot high windows and a beautiful fireplace. I recently made the mistake of stalking the house on line, and discovered that egregious renovations had been done to its Victorian magnificence, but the beautiful fireplace remains*.

    This time, Daddy’s Daddy is holding a fancily dressed me:

    suzy2

    For some reason, I seem to think that this is my third birthday party. Daddy’s Daddy is looking at me like I’m from another planet. Maybe it’s my freakishly square, yet blobby head. I once told my Dad that I thought I was an ugly baby, and he responded matter of factly, “Yes, I felt quite sorry for you.” Side note: I bet that plant on the sideboard didn’t make it.

    This is Jonathan and me at a house we rented in Kent before Megan was born:

    suzy3

    Even then, we loved cats!

    I’m in my early 20s here. I still love that hair! Even though it’s my natural color:

    suzy5

    You might think I’m wearing jeans, but they are actually linen pants which I dyed. I’m looking up a profiterole recipe for Megan’s birthday.

    My dear friend A, she of the near-fatal illness a few years ago, took this picture of me not far from her 17th century home in the red light district of Amsterdam:

    suzy6

    We always had such a great time together. One of these days, I hope to get to London to visit her. A girl can dream. And remember the past with love.

    *The attic also remains untouched. When I was a girl, Smokey’s bed was still up there, though Smokey himself was long gone.

    A YEAR AGO: Clyde is a merry little outlaw.

    Remembering

    dadjdmaine
    Dad and Jonathan in Maine

    This is one of the batch of photos John very kindly sent me recently. It shows Dad and Jonathan in Maine. I’m guessing that Jonathan is about 6 in this photo, which would make Dad about 40. See? Kittenish! I am further guessing that this is on Otter Cliff, a spectacular headland more than 100 feet high. We often walked from Sand Beach to Otter Cliffs along the ocean path.

    I look back at those golden summer days with great fondness, when we’d be dropped off at the beach for hours, or sailed with Jonathan at the helm (“if not duffers, won’t drown”), or went to the annual book sale at the library, or had popovers as big as our heads at Jordan Pond House after climbing the Bubbles*.

    As you know, I’ve been feeling pretty lucky lately. And I am lucky to have had a father who was not only my parent, but my best friend. I am thankful for all the wonderful moments we had together, from the rocky shores of Maine to the sunlit canals of Venice to the gilded palaces of Russia.

    But when I think of Dad, as I do every day, I think of all the small moments, like his rolling around on the floor with me and laughing, or telling me stories, or carrying me on his shoulders. Yes, he was a great scientist, but he was also a great father.

    Happy birthday, Dad. I’m glad you were born. And I’m glad I was born to you and Mom.

    *You can imagine what their nickname was.

    A YEAR AGO: Thinking about Dad. And dogs. Of course.

    Memory Lane

    Audrey woke me up from a vivid dream in which I was driving in the snow – which I have never done in real life – and came across my childhood home. In my dream, I asked to look around the old place. Needless to say, it was weird and not at all the way it really was, but I still wanted to see the upstairs. Audrey had other plans, and so did I, seeing as it was 3:30 am.

    Audrey, Audreyer, Audreyest…

    I gave everyone a snack and went back to bed, but I couldn’t rejoin my dream. Doesn’t it seem like you can only pick up the threads of interrupted nightmares?

    Later that day, I saw a little girl holding her father’s hand and skipping as they went into the Gro, and it reminded me of the long-ago Saturdays when Dad would pile us into the old Chevy and take us grocery shopping and then to the library. In retrospect, it seems odd that he didn’t leave us at home, but a lot of things about my childhood seem strange looking back, even to the allegedly grown-up me.

    First we’d go to the Victory Market, with its big red V, and then to the old stone library, where Miss Opal, the librarian, would let me take out extra books. In Maine during the summer, we’d go to the Shop & Save and then to the old brick library, with its glamorous wooden gallery and echoing marble foyer. At the end of the summer, there was a book sale, which was almost as exciting as the Fourth of July boat race or the lab picnic.

    Our house was set in fields overlooked by gentle hills:

    dryden

    We had five acres of land, which included a grove of pine trees from which we’d choose a Christmas tree each year. I still remember the clear sound of the axe ringing against the fragrant wood in the cold, clean air, and the triumphant feeling of dragging it home across the snow and into the house.

    Legend had it that the five acre parcel of land was payment to a Revolutionary War soldier for his service, and certainly the stone foundation of the house, which was built in the early to mid 1850s, was much older than the house. I’d like to think the tale was true, though that valiant young man might not have been best pleased to find an Englishman living on his hard-won property.

    In my mind, I can still step up on the flagstone step, to the door into the closed-in porch, and through the red front door into our house. The living room, with its fireplace and the bookshelves Dad built, is to the left and the kitchen straight ahead, with a pass through to the dining room. Dad’s study and the powder room/laundry room are on this floor.

    There’s a landing on the stairs where our dog Ginger used to sleep when Dad was home (he slept in front of the door when Dad was away). Upstairs is a bathroom, with a laundry chute which we always found thrilling, and all our bedrooms. My bed was set under the eaves, and Dad had built a window seat for me overlooking the view you see above – the perfect place to read. Once I came home from a visit to my grandparents’ house to find that Dad had painted my room “Fantasy Orchid”, a color I had been pleading for and he had been vetoing for weeks.

    I haven’t set foot in that house in decades, but it’s still there in my memories, just like Mom and Dad and my grandparents and all the golden days of the past. Time seems to burnish more than it tarnishes when it comes to memories.

    A YEAR AGO: Shopping with the lovely Miss Stella.

    Past & Present

    Five years ago today, I moved into my little hippie hovel in Hooterville. My house used to be James’ (who built it) and Rose’s, and it seems only appropriate that I moved into the house on Rose’s birthday. As Mark said, she is everywhere here.

    On Sunday, Rose’s daughter Citlali, who is a member of the same fire department my brother belongs to, invited me to stop by the firehouse for some tacos. This is a fundraising effort held once a month or so, and takes place at the old firehouse beside the Gro:

    Inside, the firefighters had set up a couple of tables with slow-cooked pork, corn and flour tortillas, a sort of coleslaw with jicama and corn, salsa verde, limes, chopped cilantro, rice, black beans…it was a feast! For $7, you got a plate with two tacos, rice, beans, and salad with all the accompaniments you could wish for:

    All served by your friendly local volunteer firefighters. You know, the people who run into burning buildings and rescue people from crashed cars for no pay. That’s Citlali on the far right. She looks so much like her mother, Rose:

    The firehouse was bustling with people, some eating their tacos on the spot and others, like me, taking theirs to go (dinner’s ready!). I stopped in at the Gro to pick up a couple of things, and was amused by this sign on the bulletin board outside:

    I especially liked the “Any luck yet?” written on the top.

    A YEAR AGO:

    Magical History Tour of downtown LA.

    Dinner and a Movie


    Seasonal decorations at Luna Trattoria

    How better to take a girl’s mind off pending unemployment than dinner and a movie with two of her favorite girls?

    As Megan and I set off for the Big Town, the rain that had been promised all day finally materialized, bucketing merrily down as Megan navigated the twisty roads. The bucketing didn’t last long, though, and there was a mere tenth of an inch in the rain gauge this morning. Come on, rain! You can do better than that!

    We met our dear friend Lu at Luna Trattoria, a new restaurant which has been getting a lot of buzz. All of my co-workers at the jobette just love it. It’s a pretty, friendly place, owned by a family from the Emilia- Romagna region of northern Italy. As the menu notes, it’s authentic Italian food, not Italian American food.

    Megan had feather-light gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, Lu had pasta with Sangiovese sauce, and I had spaghetti carbonara, which reminded Megan and me both of our father and our friend Davide, who worked with Dad at the University of Siena. We visited Davide at his home in Milan as well as his very, uh, rural* country home in the Italian Lake district (home of George Clooney). Davide taught Dad to make this dish, which uses pancetta, white wine, eggs, etc. to create a delicious dish. They used to say they’d open a restaurant together one day, Il Due Davidi (The Two Davids). I wish they had and I wish they were still here, drinking wine, cooking, and laughing together.

    After dinner, we headed to the movie theater to see “Gone Girl”, which you may remember was one of my favorite books a couple of years ago. I found myself sitting right next to my co-worker and his date. After the movie, I asked him what he thought of it and he opined that perhaps it had not been the best choice for a date movie. On the way out of the theater, we ran into our beloved former swimming teacher Sallie, who was as wonderful and glowing as ever. Gotta love a small town! And a fun evening with the girls.

    A YEAR AGO:

    LA at last!

    *And I do mean rural. Dirt floors and no hot running water.

    Thirteen


    Dad and Megan

    “All the things I long for, those are not things in the future. Those are things in the past.”
    — Jo Nesbø

    Thirteen years ago, my life changed forever with one early morning phone call. I will never forget my sister’s tight, tense voice as she told me that our father was gone, nor the shock of hearing those words. I will never forget my brother’s strong, work-callused hand seizing mine as we walked through the echoing, impersonal vastness of SFO, saying “Let’s do this.” I felt his strength pour into me as he held my hand so tightly that summer morning, just as I felt Megan’s through the phone just hours before.

    Dad, we got through that dark day and the 4,745 days since, whether they were dark or light or something in between, with each other, the way we always have and always will. Thank you for teaching us what love is and the importance of family, no matter what happens. Together we are holding hands and walking into the future. We just wish you were walking beside us.

    Faux Pho

    I came home from a long day at the jobette on Tuesday to find Rob and his power tools hard at work in the bathroom, installing the extractor fan. In order for him to do that, I had to move things around in the storage loft above the bathroom, and remove a box of my father’s letters.

    I made the mistake of glancing at one or two of them, dated just weeks before his sudden death, and was overwhelmed with emotion and choked up with tears. I stowed the box under the stairs, marvelling that thirteen years after we lost him, the grief can still be so fresh. Audrey promptly sat on the box, perhaps saving me from myself.

    In a Dad-like manner, I turned my attention to dinner, trying out a new recipe for pho, a Vietnamese soup.

    Needless to say, I took serious liberties with the original recipe, partly because it uses beef, which I don’t eat, and partly because that’s just the way I am.

    Here’s the original recipe. I skipped the first part and substituted two cans of Campbell’s chicken broth (there is no substitute for Campbell’s, though it is a little salty) and two cans of water. I poached two boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the broth along with the spices. I cut down on the cinnamon and skipped the star anise. Also left out the salt due to the Campbell”s, and used about a teaspoonful of brown sugar in place of rock sugar.

    As for the garlic-chili oil, I used about a quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes, since food should come in hot, medium, mild, and Suzy, and stepped up the sesame oil, because I love it.

    I poured the soup through a colander into a smaller pot, then cut up the chicken and returned it to the broth. I brought the broth up to a simmer and added the rice noodles instead of pre-soaking, etc., and cooked for about 15 minutes. I served it with lime wedges, chopped cilantro, bean sprouts, and chopped green onions.

    It was magically delicious.

    Feel It All Around

    Things have been on the dark side during these bright spring days. My boss/partner/friend of decades lost his father and aunt within days of each other; his uncle received Last Rites last night; my brother’s friend lost her mother just days after her first grandchild was born; and, lastly and most shockingly, my friend J died last week.

    J was one of the grooms in the beautiful wedding last summer that was one of the high points of the year for me. I will never forget the joy and love with which these two were finally able to claim each other after a quarter of a century together. I expected their married life together to be a long and happy one. It was happy, but it was cut short by J’s death of complications following surgery. His widower has nothing but good words to say about the dedicated and hard-working staff at the hospital, who all worked so hard to try and save him.

    He was 69.

    I have been in daily touch with his widower, who is doing better than I expected. He stopped by the jobette this week after making the necessary arrangements and I was impressed by his strength and courage. He will plan a celebration of his husband’s life at a later date, which will be presided over by the Sikh who married them just nine short months ago.

    It just feels like there’s been too much death, too much loss lately. May has been the new August this year. I hope things get brighter and happier for all concerned, and I wish those who have lost loved ones the comfort of happy memories as well as the strength to bear the sad ones.