09 August, 2008
the most fun you can have for $2.48
There is such a MAGIC to the light in these summer days, a light that actually translates surprisingly well to photographs, that I simply cannot stop taking photographs and trying to capture the fleeting beauty of our time here. Believe it or not, when I have tough days in the other 10+ months of the year, as much as I love our British lives, I go back to these summer pages and remember that it is always STILL HERE. The serenity, changelessness, comfort and familiarity of Red Gate Farm sustains me all year long.
Part of the experience is in reading the writings of Gladys Taber, from across the road 60 years ago, and hearing in her "voice" the same timbre of love and appreciation of these trees, hills, birdsong, dusty roads, neighborliness, wildlife, fresh produce, I could go on and on! I love it all. Of course our lives 60 years on are very different: in some ways wonderfully the same, but the differences are some good, some bad. I wish I were a gardener, but I am not, don't know if I would ever be, but being first a weekend-er and now a "summer-er," I have not ever had a chance to find out. So my summer memories do not include a glut of cucumbers (as my darling father's garden in my childhood yielded, along with tomatoes), or peaches to put up, or a must-create-zucchini-recipes insistence in August, or six different varieties of beets to glory in. I wish these were my experiences! In my next life I will not be struggling with London traffic or super-competitive children's school acceptance, or dying to break into the British food-writing market, or moving every two years. In my next life, I will be settled at Red Gate Farm growing hollyhocks. My mother in law's dream for me! She loves them.
And even though we built up many wonderful memories of wintertime Red Gate Farm on our weekends from New York (the woodfires John tended with all his heart, our experiments with popping corn! puzzles on the kitchen table, countless dishes of meatloaf coming out of the oven), my fondest memories are of summertime.
What's changed for the good? Well, I must vote for cell phones and email. It is possible to feel quite close to those we love most by those beloved calls and messages in our inboxes! I think Gladys Taber would have LOVED email: any way that keeps people writing and sharing stories is a good thing, I believe, even if it's harder to keep copies of what you say. I absolutely cherish the emails I receive from London friends, beckoning through the summer dust motes like messages from another world! And in the London world, how wonderful it is to receive reports on our darling farmhouse from Anne and David. And to have the phone ring and it's my best friend Alyssa, taking me RIGHT to her beach in Fire Island, with her little boy shouting in the background. These things make modern life almost worth the... let's see, reality television and icky politicans of modern life? And children's medicine that is now sold in "pre-measured" dose packets? Whatever happened to the perfectly good word "measured"? Pre- to what? I am really a curmudgeon.
Goodness, I'm digressing! But I do adore every little thing about our golden summers here, even the gray and lashing afternoons of glorious rain that only underscore the shimmery bits we enjoy so much.
Well, John's home! We reunited with him at Becky's house in Greenwich on Saturday: such a shock to see him so much taller than I remembered, and with a fresh haircut and smiling at us all. We repaired to the lovely Old Greenwich Beach House with Becky's family, enjoying some wholesome American food like burgers, baby back ribs, cole slaw, French fries! Then home for John to take a nap (after duly admiring Hastings, of course: and Avery is most anxious that everyone know he's named after Poirot's sidekick, NOT the "Battle of"!). Avery and I of course ended up at the beloved if grotty old town pool, just what we had been waiting for all summer, all YEAR: the perfect sunny afternoon, complaining to the lazy lifeguards that the music is too loud, lying about trying to get comfortable with our books, knowing that John is here!
His first morning home, we headed to the Laurel Diner for that brunch that kills all other brunches: the two twin cooks, one fat and one thin (we're concerned, though, because the plump cook is slimming down!). The entire stick of butter sizzling on the grill for our hashbrowns, corn beef hash (or "rash" as Avery said as a baby), Avery's Reuben without dressing... we savor every bite! And the same bright-eyed waitress Kerry every summer, who loves that we come back from London and never forgets that I drink something crazy: half iced tea, half lemonade! Only this morning, on our way to the diner, we glanced around our property to fill our hearts and... there were HORSES in our MEADOW! OK, pit stop!
We knew they were coming, but still! Horses in our meadow, swishing their tails in what we know is an effort to get rid of flies but still looks lovely, drinking from an abandoned bathtub as you see! We succumbed to hunger, but were happy on our arrival back home to see our neighbors Mark and little Taylor working in the meadow, and they stopped to chat. Mark is a career firefighter, with that ineffable aura of authority and just-this-side-of-intimidating booming voice that marks any town's Bravest. He's the kind of guy who has the local police force 1) on his cellphone speed-dial, and 2) in his debt for something generous he's done for them, so if he needs help... look out for the sirens! He curbs his normal total authority to get down on Taylor's three-year-old level, and it shows in her: she is the total explorer and intimidated by nothing. John said, "I love your haircut," and she immediately jumped down from the trampoline, covered her head and said, "No one talk about my haircut! I refuse!"
We gave her the cookie she expects at my house and then headed to the tennis courts, where we have as much fun as two really BAD players and their long-suffering male companion can have. Home again, hot and red and sweaty, to see Anne, David and little Katie crossing the road to meet John, home from oceans and oceans away! So many thousands of miles he's come and gone, in so many directions, to be with us. After properly admiring the blue-eyed elf, we walked the property, discussing dredging projects, fence-building projects around the protected border by Phillips Farm, weeding and window-replacing. And discussing the ancient stinky smokehouse! "Years ago," Anne remembered, "we were given a head cheese that was smoked in that place, and... it sat in our freezer for YEARS before we threw it out!"
Through it all Katie smiled opaquely at us, looking for all the world like a philosopher who has yet to come to a conclusion about the state of things around her. As always we talk over and over each other, all four of us, never enough time to discuss, compare, agree, add comments. Increasingly I think what we all need is more power outages: that evening sitting in the candlelight with Anne, David and Katie, Avery and I had a more relaxed, free-floating conversation than we've been able to have with anyone else all summer. We were forced to sit quietly. There's something Gladys Taber's world understood: the beauty of sitting quietly and basking in the company of beloved friends.
Of course, I shouldn't be so hard on myself: cramming all our love and fondness for each other, all of these people all summer, into six weeks is not easy! But we try, and it builds the blocks for next summer, and the rest of our lives and our children's lives. Funny to think that someday, when they are middle-aged and old, the 10-year difference between Avery and Katie will be... nothing. They'll still have just as many silly stories to exchange about their doting parents, no doubt, and, I hope, the many nights we spent around our picnic table, and their candlelit living room, chatting.
Anne and David told a hilarious story about a gift of venison one year from Rollie ("was it road kill?" I asked, and they thought it probably was, got to love Rollie). "There it was, year after year," David said, "this big bloody deer leg in the freezer," and I thought of Lord Peter Wimsey when he says "sometimes 'bloody' is just a good old Anglo-Saxon adjective!"
After a spectacularly thunderstormy afternoon, we ended up sitting on garbage bags at the picnic table, unwilling to eat inside no matter what, feasting on slow-braised brisket, macaroni and cheese and bean salad. And just as we watched the skunk come to claim the leftovers, up popped... Rollie! In his iconic battered blue pickup. I made a pretense of chatting for a moment, but then wisely left him to his long-awaited reunion with John, who he is tremendously tickled to find working again! Out came all his best summer stories. "All this rain, we've been hayin' two days, off two days..." I issued my annual all-boys dinner invitation, which as every summer I call dinner." Out comes his cell phone: "I'm callin' the boss.... Hey, how are you? Listen, can we make supper tomorrow night?" I call it dinner, he repeats it as supper, every year. Got to stay true to ourselves, after all.
So today we got up and drove to Mystic to see my old friend and student and brilliant painter Kathleen, and to divest her of her eldest child, Cici, who happens to be Avery's oldest friend. Hard to top it: they met when Avery was three days old! We stayed for lunch and then headed home, to arrive in time for the girls to "slip 'n slide," a totally plastic thing from Target, inspired by Becky's girls, a hose-filled affair that they throw themselves on, stomach first, and slosh downhill. As it was the end-of-summer clearance sale (weep), this gem of a plaything was reduced from its original astronomical price tag of $20 to... $2.48. Seriously? Seriously! And the fun they had, in the blinky late afternoon light? Priceless, as they say.
From there to our less-than-stellar, but always fun tennis lesson, and our indigestible but lovely classic Cici first-night dinner at Maggie McFly's... I sang to the girls as they went to sleep, and I couldn't get over how LONG they are under the covers! Their being together, as I have seen them since Avery was prone on her back as a newborn baby, then to toddlerdom, little girlhood, and the long sad separation in our London years, underscores the incredible STRETCHING of their little bodies! The everlasting upward lengthening of who they are! Quite magical, and also to hear their backseat conversation, the same as every year, as every Tuesday afternoon in our New York days when I drove them up to the Bronx to ride together, their chattering from numberless sleepovers, Book Clubs at our house, birthday parties and Halloween traipses. John and I exchanged a wordless glance that said MILES: "It's the same as always. Some things never change, and one of them is Avery and Cici." Long may it last.
Well, I'm relaxing to the Olympics and trying to remember when I last did a roundoff-back-handspring-back-flip! Some 30 years ago! But in the glass-half-full mode I plan to take back with me to London: I should be glad I could ever do it at all! And here's hoping the next 30 years are as much fun...