Of Comorants and Whelk Husks

There are no otters on Otter Key, only birds: cormorants swoop too close to our kayaks.  My bird-phobic daughter shrieks.  The birds dive, emerge, skitter across the water, eyes beady and curious.  We name one Kevin.  Sleek, with a pattern that reminds me of scalloped leaded glass windows etched on his back, the comorant has an orange stripe around his beak.  I want to pat him, but though he flirts with close approach, happy to have our paddles stir up fish below for a snack, he is still wild--he and his bird brothers, diving hungrily in the midst of our bright plastic fleet.  Comorants can’t fly when their wings are wet, Ben, our guide, explains.  They must perch and spread their wings to dry in the sun. Without the oil ducks possess to fly wet, if comorants try to fly too soon, they drop back, graceless, into the water. Today, they feint and dodge in the Sarasota sun, playful, reappearing, intent on hide and seek.

 

Looking down from the perch in the front of the boat, the sand seems patterned like shapes revealed in a kaleidoscope--stained glass sans bright hues:  sand, olive, brown, tan, khaki, beige, taupe, tortoiseshell—a muted palate shimmering under lapping waves, grasses undulating, small fish swimming undistracted by our passage.

 

A boy, eleven, stands and rocks his kayak.  His mother scolds.  He scowls. 

 

We approach another group of kayakers and paddle boarders.  They confide in whispers that they have spotted manatees.  We pause.  Large dark spots shade the blue water.  The mama surfaces, her snout ancient against the blue; her baby tucked under a dock, safe from errant paddles.  Mama passes, majestic, towards her baby, shimmying under my daughter and husband’s kayak. They are stunned by her immensity; my son and I regret that our boat was not chosen.

 

We head into mangrove tunnels cut by the WPA but as primeval as any landscape I’ve imagined.  Originally dug as ditches to assist in controlling mosquitos, now they are arched and magical paths, shady and mysterious. It’s as if we’ve passed into a jungle; this gorgeous, womb-like passage is quiet but for the flip of oars.  A stalky crane crunches on a crab. The narrow path is hard to navigate. Roots feel suddenly malevolent, animated, determined to ensare us.  We gaze down at the water, miss the bend.  More roots emerge from brackish clarity.  Limbs meet overhead, the sky faraway beyond the dappled canopy.  Black crabs scuttle up branches. My daughter screams, thinking them spiders.  Sharp oysters cluster on branches, deadly if grabbed in haste.  Yellow sponges dot roots.  We glide over a starfish (sea stars, our guide, Ben, calls them), an enormous horseshoe crab scuttling; several whelk egg husks, curled like a snake’s discarded skin; jellyfish-- upside down like cauliflower with blue tentacles. Grasses and sand.  Sea anemones, too, but I don’t see any.  Frustration on my son’s part—too much side coaching, too much skill required. He, who is steering from the back, despairs, angry.  Finally, Ben, calm guide, tows us, his mellow cheer salving our shame.  We bend our heads low under the arched limbs, then squint to the sky, tilting our own heads like our comorant companions from the open water. 

 

We break free of the tunnels finally and paddle by ourselves again, in rhythm now, rested, restored.  We know we are almost back to the starting point. My cheeks burn. I taste salt on my lip.  It is hot in March. There’s an osprey, her nest perched high in a dead pine. I note how glad I am my son is mine; he does not try to stand up, does not try to paddle ahead or splash others like the other show-off boy ahead.  He notes the wonders that we pass, asking questions about predators, curious in spite of himself.  Smoothly, we land, disembark, stretch, satisfied with mild adventure, a small challenge met.

Dad: JRK, 1920-2010

 “Do you want that stone?” my sister asked on the telephone. 

“Which stone?”

“The carriage block that used to be at Midland Avenue. The one with KLOTZ engraved in it.” 

“Oh, yeah. Yes, I think I want it.”

“Okay, I’ll take it to Eagles Mere.”  She hung up, efficient.

My sister was selling her home in Delaware, so she would schlep the stone to the summer house we owned together.  

Why did my father’s family have a carriage stone engraved with our surname, anyway?  It seemed a little upscale, a vestige from an era when one needed a lift up into a carriage, but I remember it from our Christmas visits to my father’s home in Montclair, NJ, when we did not need it to ascend into our Volare station wagon.  It sat on the front corner of the driveway.  After Daddy’s parents died, the stone moved to our house in Haverford, set at the end of the stone path that led to a patio in our home on Orchard Lane.

 Here is what I remember about my dad and that stone:

 It was October, still warm enough to walk barefoot on the bricks terrace in front of the front door.  Those held the warmth in the way that the darker stones on the side patio did not; those were cold, damp, slippery with moss, but the bricks were warm.  I could smell dirt; no doubt, my mother had been doing something out front, pulling up pachysandra, planting bulbs, clipping.  An earthy, rooty smell clung to the smoky air—leaves burning in a wire basket at the end of the driveway. I’d come down looking for her, pushing out the open screen door, expecting to find her out front or in the garden at the side of the house, box bushes ready to be draped with burlap before winter.  No Mom.  I heard an odd noise, raspy, unfamiliar.  First, I thought it was the desperate caw of a lost crow.  But, around the side of the house, by the carriage stone, I saw my dad, sobbing. 

 “Daddy?” I asked, tentative. I had rarely seen him so unguarded.

 “Bugs,” he said, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and blowing his nose.

“Not Bugs,” I clarified. “Ann.”  Bugs was his love-name for my older sister.

“Ba’nan,” he corrected.  I stood a distance from him, my tall dad somehow shrunken. 

“You’re crying,” I announced without a lot of warmth or interest.  Crying was our default these days.  I cried plenty.  I knew perfectly well why he was crying, but there wasn’t any room in my own sorrow for his.  

“It’s hard, Ba’nan.  He was the last to carry my name.”

I bristled.  “I’m a Klotz, too, Dad.  I have your last name.”  My heart was as hard as the rock that held my father’s gaze.  I was angry, a good cover for broken.

“You are, Ba’nan.  But, you’re a girl.  When you marry, you’ll have another name.”

“No, I won’t,” I spat though, until this moment, I had looked forward to losing Blood Clots as a nickname.  “No, I won’t.  I’ll always be a Klotz.  I’m a feminist.” 

“You can count on me, Dad, I churned silently.  I won’t die.  I won’t change my name.  I’ll be here.” But not really.  I kept my name, but I hardened my heart.  I moved away.  There was room for my grief, for my mom’s, for my sister’s, even.  But no room for my dad’s.  I could not take care of him, too.  He would have to take care of himself.  Thankfully, my sister loved him hugely, cared for him with devotion until the end of his life, went to Phillies games with him, packed him up from one nursing home and found a bed in another, put up with his outrageousness and never faltered.  The good daughter.   

And a few years before she asked about the stone, she had phoned me in December.

“I think you’d better come,” she said gently.  “He’s pretty bad.   He isn’t waking up.  We think it will be soon.” 

So, full grown now, I flew from Cleveland to Philadelphia, renting a car, using one of those pre-Google map devices to get me to his final nursing home.  Kind nurses signed me in, showed me upstairs, quietly opened the door to his room.

He was in bed, so much smaller than I remembered him, eyes closed, hair mussed, which it never was in real life, unshaven.  My dapper dad enfeebled.

 “Bugs,” he said—my sister’s name again; I felt my irritation rise, suppressed it. 

 “No, Daddy, it’s Ann.”

“Ann?  You can’t be here.  You’re in Ohio.”  He struggled to sit up to see me.

“Well, Daddy, the reports on you weren’t so good in Ohio, so I came to see for myself.”

“I’m fine.  Better than your mother,” he exclaimed, competitive to the last.

 I laughed and pulled up a chair to his bed and we spent the morning telling stories. 

The nurse came in, amazed to see my dad so lively.

My dad, man of mystery.  It was the summer of 1977, and my mom and I had just bought a red plaid midi-kilt in a shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“You’ll have it forever,” Mom declared, and she was right.  I still have it.

We walked towards Harvard and Radcliffe, this college tour of the East Coast that I was trapped on with my parents.  Wellesley, Tufts, now Harvard.  Mostly I was thinking about how I wanted to get home so I didn’t miss Doug’s party before he left for Kenyon.  We were crossing Harvard Yard when my dad pointed, “That’s where I lived.”

 I dropped back to Mom, trailing a few steps behind.

 “I thought Daddy went to Penn,” I hissed, puzzled.

 “After he flunked out of Harvard.”

 Who knew?  How could this part have been left out?  What other secrets did he have?

 My father had been a supply sergeant during the war; afterwards, at Penn, rescued from his Harvard ignominy, he was a jock, playing lacrosse and rowing crew.  He loved his fraternity—St. A’s--and being part of a group.  He was the dapper, debonair older man who met my mother at her debutante party and wooed her.  They were married for 36 years and divorced for 25.  My dad struggled to hold a traditional job; he wanted to be a schoolteacher, but his father didn’t think that was high-status enough.  He worked briefly for a bank, flirted with law school, was self-employed as a manufacturer’s representative much of his professional life.  Mother said she always knew when he appeared down the lane in the middle of the day that he had been fired again.  A personality test he took in college suggested he would have been happiest as a forest ranger. 

 As a little girl, I was afraid of him when he shaved and lonesome when he took me to baseball games because he had to have his earphones in to hear the game, so he couldn’t answer my questions. But some of my happiest memories are of reading with him in the big chair in the living room—Our Island Story was the name of the volume.  I was thrilled by Bodaecia, by the little princes in the tower, by Henry the Eighth and his wives, by Mary, Queen of Scots—no professor in college held a candle to my father’s ability to tell the story of British History. 

 When I read Death of a Salesman at 17, I felt a frisson of recognition; my dad was liked, but he wasn’t well-liked.  I had seen a tightness in people’s greetings at the Club out for dinner—I knew people were polite, but not everybody really liked him.   He never quite found his place. 

 I spent much of my adolescence hating him because he humiliated my mother over and over again. A ladies’ man, he flirted and more—repeatedly—liaisons poorly disguised.  After he retired, he gave himself over entirely to sports—playing tennis and golf, teaching tennis to kids, traveling the world to attend tennis clinics or play golf on other courses…only as an adult did I realize what an odd path he took.  But it was through teaching that I found my way to him again—teaching helped us build the bridge to meet each other. 

 In 2004, he came to Cleveland to see me installed as the Head of Laurel.  A former Laurel headmaster had been daddy’s teacher at prep school—he loved that connection. I was happy to have him with me.  Because after I had been married for a long time, I began to understand that it takes two to make a marriage cool. Perhaps my father wasn’t entirely the villain I had made him out to be.  And I began to do the work of coming to know him all over again, of listening more closely to his story. 

Daddy was chronically late.  Every short cut he insisted on taking got us more lost. He kept Archway cookies under the front seat of his car.  He loved to fly fish and play golf and tennis.  He loved cross word puzzles and ceremonies.  Once, I moved away from home, Daddy cut out articles and sent them to me—Ann Landers columns, anything about Katherine Hepburn or Princess Diana, editorials about education, reviews of books or plays. He never gave up on me, even though I was so hard on him.

When our son, Atticus, was a tiny baby, Daddy visited and remarked that he never knew babies were born with eyebrows—I shook my head—he had had three children and seven grandchildren!  But infants were never on his radar.  He was delighted we had passed his middle name, MacPherson, down on to our baby son, but I almost fell off the rocking chair that summer afternoon when I learned that my dad was no more Scottish than anyone you might meet on the street.  In 1920, he had been named for his father, and his father for his own father, who had been named, curiously, for the Mayor of Newark. That mayor employed my father’s great-grandfather as an engineer to design a water reservoir system in Newark—a crazy scheme in the 1850’s, but the mayor was forward-thinking, and the reservoir system is still in use today.  In gratitude, my great-grandfather named his son for John MacPherson, the mayor, and the name has come down through the generations.  I shook my head and laughed—another secret spilling from my father’s lips.  Of course, I had never asked, had just assumed his Scottish heritage.

 On that wintry afternoon by Daddy’s bedside, we talked about school.  I thanked him for being my dad, for giving me my love of poetry and literature, for being proud of me.  Occasionally, he wandered into a past where I could not follow—he told me all about a date he had had with a pretty girl in the 1930’s.  My father loved pretty women.  Eventually, he fell asleep, and though I sat by his bed for several more hours, knitting and thinking about the stories of my childhood, he didn’t wake again.  A few weeks later, he slipped away, more dignified in death than the colorful escapades that characterized his life would have predicted. 

 So, yes, some years ago, I accepted my sister’s offer.   I set the stone at a jaunty angle in front of our house in Eagles Mere, near the snowball bushes.  I wish I had been kinder to my dad long ago; it takes a long time for adamantine rage to melt.  But I bear the name on that stone, my father’s name, now with more pride than anger.  That hard heart of mine has released its clutched fist, softened, found a way to forgive a man who was, alone, crying, for his lost son.

JRK

Not In Charge

This morning, Thursday, I creep downstairs, the heat’s smell familiar, the radiators clanking. Freezing rain pelts the roof.  The kitchen sink is full of dishes, which I wash.  I empty and re-load the dishwasher, make coffee, sponge off the countertops, throw away a withered bouquet that, earlier in the fall, I thought looked charming and now looks only musty.  I also toss a few spiky chestnuts, the ones that look like a prickly lion’s mane and hurt when you touch them; they had sat in a plastic bowl on the windowsill since a visit to my husband’s stepsister’s farm eighteen months ago.  One mother’s feeble efforts at de-cluttering.  I note the many open cookbooks on the island, ingredients for various dishes strewn on every surface.  The crew worked late last night, long after I, jet-lagged, had retired. My daughters have already informed me I am no longer permitted to grocery shop because I buy things we do not use in time that go soft and squishy.  The girls returned from the East Coast, purged the rotten produce, sanitized the fridge, and gave me my marching orders.  I am not in charge.  

How long have I made Thanksgiving?  Almost thirty years, I guess.  There was a Thanksgiving in college when I brought Seth home to my mother’s house.  He was the first vegetarian she knew—an exotic creature who would become my husband some years later. We made Thanksgiving with all the trimmings: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, string beans with almonds, several kinds of pie, stuffing, but quiche in place of turkey. 

My mother loved my vegetarian beau fiercely, even then, and fretted continuously that Seth might not have enough to eat, a refrain that irritated my sister and me for years. This small bird-like woman who, herself, subsisted on “air pudding and wind-sauce” would plaintively inquire, “What will Seth eat?  Will there be enough for Seth?” fussing over her son-in-law in a way she never fussed over either of us. I can’t recall Seth ever starving.  My mother, on the other hand, would have been happy with three Triscuit spread with Philadelphia cream cheese and a dot of Worcestershire Sauce. Often, Lee, my sister, and I would have to make a surreptitious run to the grocery store to lay in additional supplies.

That first Thanksgiving, right before dessert, Mom exclaimed, “We forgot the rolls!” There they were in the oven, tiny Pepperidge Farm dinner rolls hardened into weapons.  Forgetting the rolls became a family tradition.  Some years, our amnesia was so complete that we forgot to buy them or put them into the oven at all.  The girls have eliminated them from the menu this year, so we will not forget them.

We often spent Thanksgiving in Eagles Mere in Kuloff, our slightly heated summer home, insulated just enough to manage November as long as the woodstove kept burning and warm sweaters and thick socks were part of every wardrobe.  Because there is no supermarket close by, we would stuff the car with every ingredient we might need and drive from Manhattan, offering incantations to avoid traffic.  Some years, we would race to the big house, Self Help, which was unheated but had a working oven to accommodate one more pie. Once, a guest made sauerkraut, the scent lingering through the whole house all weekend.  It was during the Eagles Mere era that I took over preparations, Mom a better guest than chef.  Kerro would drive down from Syracuse to join us, always forced to carve, and Seth would manage all the bits no one else could cope with-- shimming a tilted table, finding a few more chairs, opening recalcitrant lids, lighting the room so that it was lovely.  I am a serviceable cook—imaginative, improvisational, rarely bound by recipes, but frequently inspired by them.  I like basting the turkey with ginger ale and cider and orange juice.  I like whipping cream for pies.  I like being together and pausing for a moment to be thankful, but I am no gourmet.  My repertoire is basic:  turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, stuffing. New recipes for soups or sides get stuffed into a red folder, including a recipe EB gave me years ago for Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip bread, the Thanksgiving morning favorite.  Some years ago, the girls took over making that bread and all the pies with Kerro. Kerro, Seth’s and my friend from college and from ETC, is our children’s chosen guardian—though two of them no longer require a legal guardian—he is the secret ingredient—close enough to know us well, our foibles, neuroses and frailties—and provider of comic relief, calm, and gravy-making.  His presence doesn’t always ensure our good behavior, but it helps. 

Time passes. This is our thirteenth year in Shaker Heights. For the most part, we have made Thanksgiving at in our home, christened Lyman House, long ago in honor of the school’s formidable headmistress who lived out her days here in this home that was built for her.  Kerro is always the featured guest along with whomever else we can find willing to celebrate with our family. Seth mounted his annual campaign to eat Chinese food; he doesn’t see the point of all the fuss for one meal and too many leftovers.  He sees me chopping, my cheeks the color of pomegranate from the heat, my feet swelling, my temper fraying as the day unravels.  The girls and Atticus outvote him, declaring him curmudgeonly and misanthropic, when I suspect he was just trying to decrease the opportunity for drama. I have a trip for school to England, so I can’t shop or prep this year. 

“We’ll do it,” the girls declare, since I will return late on Wednesday night.  And they do.  They start a Google doc and make shopping lists.  They fight the holiday crush to get to Cleveland, breathless, one late on Tuesday night and the other, having missed her flight, on Wednesday morning.  They clean the fridge; they shop.  They are a force.

“Mom,” Miranda exclaims to me on the telephone from Whole Foods as I wait for our connecting flight at JFK yesterday, “This is so stressful.  I mean--it’s a lot of work to make Thanksgiving. You did it all those years. I didn’t realize.”  She is the age I was when I first began to make Thanksgiving. 

We order Chinese food and sit around the table in shifts last night: Miranda, Cordelia, Atticus, Seth and Kerro and Eva and Linne, maybe Katie, though I fall asleep before she appears. There is mess and there is bounty.  The two indoor cats have to be shut up in another room because they want to leap onto the table.  We eat fortune cookies and laugh.  I droop from the long trip. Our girls and Eva have a spreadsheet and a time-table. This morning, in a few hours, they will wake.  One will go to yoga; they will all go to the supermarket at least once more.  I may be pressed into service to make stuffing or to set the table—or not.  I am happy to bask in their competence, to play sous chef, to wash the dishes and praise and admire.  They are in charge.  

The Kitchen Crew 

The Kitchen Crew 

The Cat and the Cardiologist or My Broken Hearted Prisoner

Our black cat, Cesario, does not care that Mr. Trump has been elected President.  He wants only to go outside, to get out of the house.  He has always been an outdoor cat.  He wants his old life back.  But we learned yesterday that he has a heart condition that requires medicine three times a day; if we let him out, we will not be able to give him the medicine.  His old life is over.  This morning, in the quiet dark, he prowls the house, puzzled, angry.  I stroke his glossy head.  He glares at me.  We both know he wants to go outside.  Why am I not letting him? It’s been a strange twenty-four hours—the nation, our cat, heart conditions.  We have a little kitten, too, Phebe.  She is also an indoor cat—too young and small to take on the world--careless, we fear.  So we are keeping her in until spring.  She is delighted by Cesario’s captivity, wants only to be his friend.  She leaps and feints and pounces, trying to engage him.  He hisses, baleful.  He is so much bigger than she, yet his is afraid of her—uninterested in her joy, her innocence. 

Standing in front of my girls on the stage yesterday, I read from my carefully prepared script that congratulated the winners and offered strategies to those whose hearts lay elsewhere in the election.  I watched girls all day embracing, weeping, averting their eyes.  I felt tired, pretending an optimism I know I must model, but one that felt strained, as if I were acting the role of Head, rather than inhabiting it.  

“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered, feeling muted, drained, teary.  Our college daughter phoned, shares that her Feminist Theory professor has told her students that she has spent 35 years telling classes that women matter.  “Ahh,” I sighed in recognition.  “Me, too.” I am not a feminist theory professor.  I am the head of a girls’ school; I have spent my life in girls’ schools, been shaped by them, by the fierce and formidable women that populated them, by good and generous men who joined those women in building essay by essay, problem set by problem set, a structure that convinced me I belonged, I was good enough, I had a place at the table, and a job to do in advocating for those more vulnerable than I.  I learned to lead with optimism, with my whole heart, with authenticity.  I chose a life as an educator in independent schools, and, long ago, when I was a young teacher, I fretted to my department chair, Judy, that I had chosen too easy a path, that I should have stuck to my guns and returned to the New Haven public schools, where I had cut my baby teeth as a student teacher.

“Annie,” she said, looking at me directly. “There are many paths. Here, you teach the girls that will have the access and the opportunity to make change.  If you are not teaching them, if you are not sharing your ideals and your insistence that they make a difference, then who will?”  That was a balm.  I have liked my life, felt purposeful, certain, in fact, that we, as a nation, were moving forward.  Part of me knows I need time to breathe.  I need some more rest—the World Series plus the election drama has wreaked havoc with my sleep.  I need to figure out how to offer to my girls and faculty offer the type of hope Judy offered me long ago—when I wore Laura Ashley dresses and white tights. 

Cesario crouches, ready to spring.  He is bewildered, cross. And I cannot explain this change in fortunes to him in a way he can understand.  He is still who he was yesterday, but not.  Me, too.  Sometimes, change is thrust upon us, like it or not.

Mary Catherine Bateson, Margaret Mead’s daughter, talks about composing a life.  I like the idea that we get to choose, that it is not all just random; rather, we have agency.  That is what I have taught the girls, always.

“You are not a tumbleweed,” I exhort to a child in my office, who has made a mistake.  “You always have a choice.  It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s how you move forward from it that counts.”

I have a choice about how to move forward.  I had hoped for a different outcome, one that more clearly demonstrated to my girls, my brown and black girls, my gay girls, my Muslim and Jewish girls, my immigrant girls that this country was committed to them, that they would be okay.  They will be okay, I hope.  They are strong and capable, feisty and resilient, amazing.  It is a privilege to spend my life among them.  But many of them are reeling, angry, let down.

 In acting, we say, “You must hold the whole experience—sorrow, joy, outrage, vulnerability.”  That piece of my repertoire has gotten quite a work out since the night before last—I am a moth, darting from one screen door to another, drawn to the light, unable to get past the tiny mesh barriers.  I can see the light on the other side—not a flame that will burn me up but an illumination.  I just can’t find my way quite yet.

 Cesario is heartsick.  We can treat him, help him improve.  Is it right, I wonder, to force him to stay in?  If his heart had simply stopped one night as he prowled this Circle that he loves, would it have been the worst outcome?  We want to hold onto what we love, protect and keep safe those who matter.  But he meows piteously at the door, brushes my legs, makes a nuisance of himself. I am having trouble figuring out what right is—for him.  For all of us.  Having trouble imagining what his future will be like.  And our own.

Quite a Week: Halloween, Baseball, the Election and Fall Leaves

My college daughter is not sleeping because of the election.  She is worried.  We are all worrying, which feels passive, hopeless.  This morning, walking in the crisp November air, finally chilly enough to be familiar unlike the earlier part of the week, whose balmy temperatures made me deeply suspicious, I am thinking about the week that has passed—the longest week of teaching ever for teachers in Northeastern Ohio—and the week that is to come, the high-stakes race for President. 

First there was Halloween on Monday—giddy girls in our school already sated from parties over the weekend, counting the hours until the Halloween parade and their release from school and hours of trick or treating.  Ghouls and witches at our door, decorously selecting two candies from my haunted, creepy candy box.  Tuesday brought the post-sugar crash and Game Six of the Series, which, with my husband and son, I attended.  Wednesday brought fatigue but possibility all through the ten innings, a game that lasted so long that I, schoolteacher-headmistress, kept my son home from school on Thursday because he had had the great privilege of going to Game Seven with my sister, imported from Pennsylvania for this historic moment.  They left half-way through the tenth inning, threading through the crowds and SWAT teams, reaching Shaker Heights after 2:00 a.m., while I, in Manhattan for a memorial service, crouched in my oldest daughter’s too warm apartment, watching the game on mute so as not to wake my husband.  When he did wake and learn that we had tied, that there had been a rain delay, that we had lost by one run in the tenth inning, he was incredulous, a little furious that I had not woken him (I tried when we tied, but he didn’t budge).  Next came Thursday with post-series let down as we all tried to keep our heads high—if we had to lose, better to lose to our Midwestern neighbors, the Cubs, another feisty, scrappy, long-deserving rival, instead of some fancy, arrogant team from one of the coasts.  Then Friday, the faculty in my school boarded buses at 6:00 a.m. and headed to Columbus in the dark for a full day conference with ISACS, sessions on many topics:  race, assessment, creativity, purpose.  We are sated, too, like the children with their Halloween candy.  A bad accident delayed our return. Wrapped in darkness once again on the trip home, we are giddy, like seventh graders, too-long cooped up in the same cramped space.  And finally, the weekend, a time for recovery from this long, long week. 

This morning, the sun sparkles in the autumn leaves, vibrant, like living stained glass against a blue field.  I breathe in the cool air, breathe out disappointment, rusty on my tongue, privileged to live in this pugnacious town, in this Swing State, where I know my vote matters.  I don’t know how Tuesday will go.  As a Headmistress, I cannot put my politics on my lawn or on my Facebook feed, though all who know me will presume my loyalties—I am the Head of a girls’ school; I want my girls to know girls can do anything, be anything, including President.  The Indians loss was tough to swallow, but if we need to lose the Series to have the right team win on Tuesday, it will be enough.  

 

 

 

What I Did This Summer

·      Made a pie in June so I didn’t run out of time to make a pie.  Did not make another one. 

·      Took an on-line writing class on Scene and Summary.

·      Taught an online class (Intro to Girls Schools) with a number of colleagues in the class as well as my oldest daughter, who will start her teaching career next week.

·      Tried not to get stressed out about Atticus’ summer reading. Still not finished.

·      Bit my tongue when a new kitten came to join our family.

·      Walked almost every day.

·      Wrote more than I read.

·      Said goodbye to a much-loved colleague.

·      Worked on my school’s Strategic Roadmap on huge post-its on our porch.

·      Bought new linens and re-arranged furniture in three bedrooms in Eagles Mere.

·      Backed into a boulder.

·      Saw Cordelia in a ten-minute play at Williamstown—with a combined 8 hours of travel each way.  Completely worthwhile.

·      Listened to a great book on tape (The Gilded Hour) for hours and hours and hours back and forth on Route 80.

·      Watched the light changing on the lake.

·      Went canoeing exactly once.

·      Went night-swimming more than once.

·      Saw a falling star outside the window in the middle of the night, but forgot to lie out on the tennis court and look for meteor showers.

·      Washed a great deal of china and glassware from cabinets that I suspect have not been emptied for 50 years.

·      Got a new website constructed by one of my daughters!

 

Summer’s Lease

The crisp is less crisp two nights later; we have the last of the season’s rhubarb, brought by Kerro from his garden from Michigan, and we are ready to make Strawberry Rhubarb crisp on Sunday night until we discover one container of strawberries is moldy and the other has about eight berries in it.  Improvising, which is what theatre friends do, Kerro goes out to our back steps and fills a measuring cup with blueberries, round and fat and purple, from the bushes Mom planted about ten years ago.  I find some raspberries; we discover, in the back ofhe fridge, half a carton of blueberries I had bought last week—wrinkled, but in a crisp, who will care?  I mix the oats and flour and brown sugar and cinnamon.  We borrow vanilla extract from our neighbors, stir in melted butter.  Kerro preps the berries and we bake the crisp.  Before dinner, I put the metal bowl and the bottom of our immersion blender into the freezer, so after we finish the meal, I can make homemade whipped cream.  It’s then that my sister announces that she loathes rhubarb and declines our offer of dessert.  Her vehemence does not dim our enjoyment of our creation.  As we clean up, we find a tin foil cover for the baking dish and tuck it in to the pantry fridge. 

Yesterday we do jigsaw puzzles; I write a lot.  In a desultory way, I begin to collect my belongings because I head back home and back to work on Wednesday.  Today, my last real day of summer, Kerro leaves us for Michigan.  I nurse a migraine, grumpy about my son’s undone summer reading, cross at my own grumpiness, unproductive, restless.  But we walk the dogs all together—my son, husband and I.  It is lovely by the lake, clear and warm, the sun golden.  My mood improves.  I light the citronella candles, one of my favorite rituals this summer.  We eat dinner on the porch.  After supper, Atticus and I settle into our cavernous porch swing; he reads The Sign of the Beaver and I read my novel, Modern Lovers.  Seth jumpstarts his mini van with my car and we talk about how my battery doesn’t lose any power by helping his recharge—like candlelight, like love.  It is cooler, even this early in August, so we move inside to finish up the crisp.  I do the dishes and Seth warms up the crisp in cut glass bowls from my grandmother’s era.  Atticus chooses mint-chip ice cream over fruit, claiming, “I’m with Aunt Lee on this one; the rhubarb is sort of overpowering,” but as I savor the mingled flavor of fruit and lemon zest and vanilla ice cream, I know I am tasting summer.