a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Sitting next to Aunt Vi this morning while she breathes faster, out of a whole night's sleep, watching her in the quiet, I look up and see across from where I sit the wall of the reading room beyond.  The night nurse, the first we've had, has just left, as amazed as I that she barely stirred all that time she waited up.

What I am thinking about is encapsulated in that view before me.

We have made these connected rooms, the reading room and her now bedroom, by doing what we have been doing since before they moved here: shuffling things around to accommodate what's happened in the last two months...their move here, their settling in more comfortably, Aunt Vi's fall one week ago.  This is a house (perhaps I've written this before, but it's becoming more and more so) that is willing to become whatever you ask of it.  With only a few moves, exchanges, switches, this here, that there, what was once a perfectly comfortable set of rooms becomes, once again, a perfectly comfortable set of rooms.

Next to me, Aunt Vi is breathing more heavily now, more noisily and labored, stopping a second or two every now and then to rest from that, too.  I've rubbed her back, arms, legs, during which she spoke once out of her continued slumber, "onh...time to get up?"  No, I say, it's only 6:30.

It reminds me that she's still trying hard to get back into her old routine, when only the week before, she woke by eight ("don't let me sleep late!"), got herself to the bathroom, washed her face, and shuffled into the kitchen for juice first ("good morning", she and my uncle toast), milk in her cereal (not before her juice! she doesn't like it soggy), a few slices of banana ("just a few!"), and then toast (plenty of butter), coffee  (a "spot" of milk) and finally her regimen of pills she slides one by one out of a small bowl, counting slowly, sips of water in between, like a syncopated composition.  Shuffling off again to bathe, brush her teeth, and dress ("what can i wear?" a challenge for her blind vision), at last pulling her hose slowly over each foot and leg, and sliding, just as slowly, into each shoe.  After which she would sit back in her chair, exhausted, but dressed neatly and elegantly, rings, watch, scarf or necklace in place.

Still she strives mentally toward that ordinary life; instead, there is this invalid (in both senses) condition she must succumb to. What I see across the room reminds me in the face of unwelcome change how nonetheless change brings its own balance to things.  The symmetry of the small reading room beyond her hospital bed, delivered five days ago thanks to hospice, comes about only because of this new being she's fallen into.  Yet look at the comfort of it, the inclusion, the completeness.  The arrangement on the wall...quilt and two small framed icons that favor it...weren't together before, scattered instead here and there about the suite.  Yet how intuitively they balance each other, as if they were a puzzle, in theme as well as vision, just waiting for the right day when someone would figure them out.  This view (my aunt in the foreground though the photo doesn't show it, leaning toward me as she sleeps on) is the calming center of this moment. 

And there is another wall, too, in this part of the room facing her, again brought together by her move and only now after the fall  striking its significance: the wall of our family predecessors, loved ones so important to her,  facing her squarely across from the bed though she can't see them, impressing on her (and me) the full import of these moments, too.

 And a third wall, with her favorite painting on it, now arranged before it the necessities of her days (certainly the flowers, included), murmurs silently to her.

A bird outside the window behind her has begun his song; the sky opens; the light she cannot see bathes her anyway.

I am here, bathing in it as well, grateful, if not for her fall, at least for the chance to awaken to this small grace.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Leonard Huber is sitting at the counter in my kitchen here, drinking his first cup of coffee of the day...a dark-roasted New Orleans chicory I pick up wherever I can find it and keep for him.  He drops in a few (we don't count) sugar cubes and some half-and-half.  He's the kind of coffee-drinker most people used to be in the mornings, and only a few any more are: early in the kitchen, the paper in hand, a hot cup ready to muse over, a slow and deliberate refill a little while later.

His better half, Johanna, is not yet in evidence, but there are signs she'll be up soon...a certain rustling in the back guest room, the squeak of the bathroom door.  I begin a pot of decaf for her and for me.

I'm up because, after all, I'm the supposed hostess, but these guests are so often in my company and so used to things here that we all slide into place easily and let the day begin with whatever we are used to.

For Leonard, the coffee ritual means that even while he's stirring it, he's considering the first story of the day, coming up out of a memory from last week or seven decades ago.

"My grandmother lived next door to us," he begins,"so when I got my drivers license I couldn't be  riding her fancy car just for pleasure.  It was my job to carry her all over town visiting her friends and shopping."  Just what an adolescent boy yearns to spend his spare hours doing in a car.

I've heard this story before, and he tells it the same way almost each time, with the same expression.  Leaning back on the counter stool, his body as resigned now as it must have been driving his grandmother, he goes on to talk about the family cars, and relate a few hapless incidents he and they were involved in.

Sometimes he segues into after-hours exploits with a girl he dated in high school, then stood up, then his friend married. Or the one he delivered to her academic doom helping her climb into her boarding school window too late for curfew.

And speaking of school, though in earlier years, there's the one about his father losing his cool after being told by his teacher, "Your son and my son [his classmate and co-conspirator in high-jinks] are the laziest ________ boys I've ever seen."

Do not for one microsecond assume that I am bored by any of these tales.  On the contrary, Leonard (like Johanna) is one of those friends whose friendship is so replete with his origins that you feel you know them inside out.  It's as if you can imagine them as a whole life friend, instead of merely the one you met as an adult.  Each story puts a piece of a puzzle in place, not that it's a mysterious puzzle...just an entertaining insight into the transparent and entirely visible man he is now.  Was now.

Last Friday, answering his request that his last rites include a cocktail party, some friends and I put one on for him after his memorial service, something we could do to relive his spirit (just fyi, we're good at cocktail parties) as Leonard's life wound into remembrance.  We sipped champagne, one of his drinks, and stared a while at the bottle of Pernod no one seemed to know what to do with, its two aficianados gone from this world.

Stories, however, continued.

In college he rides way up to Michigan for his first year, aspiring to be an architect.  It's cold, it's a long way from home, and architecture school is not what it's cracked up to be.  In a year or two, he settles for Tulane, where his fraternity gets into the kind of trouble he's more used to.

After college, he's married and in the Army, stationed at some point in West Texas and then in the Philippines far from his bride.  It's hot, and all his money goes home, and his unit is doing the sort of job you do in the army when there's nothing else to do, but they find entertainment readily enough.

Later, father of four, he's in the cemetery business, like his father and grandfather, and many years later, visiting New Orleans together, we are taken on a grand tour of the grounds and mausoleum.  It's impressive, the work they've done, and it's clear Leonard is proud of his part in it, despite the mishaps with marble cutters and moving grave sites that make for even more good New Orleans stories, so different and so much more lively than even his father's cultured histories.

When he marries Johanna, they struggle along for a while, but manage to hold tight to each other, and eventually sail up into the North Carolina banks, and us, keeping a wonderful bed and breakfast for years until they build their dream house out in the country, and retire (Leonard:  "Retire!  Hah!")

None of this tells you about the friend he was, or the faithfulness his friendship was, or the man whom the obituary listed as being on every civic-based committee in town...there's that story of how they volunteered to move the cannon from the grave in Boston back to its origins...or vice versa, I forget which.  I'm not the detail person I should be to retell his tales; it's the telling I treasured.

Never mind about that. What I will miss most is those mornings he visited, early to the kitchen counter with his sugared chicory coffee and stories.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Good morning...full of energy, I'm sitting out on the porch surrounded by the soft but persistent rain, a cool fall-weather day, maple and poplar leaves blowing down...the best respite of all for the muggy antecedents we've endured the last week or so.

Rain like this draws down into the ground, bringing out the colors of the mums and grasses, picking up the ears of the sage and marjoram...all that's left of the herb garden now.  And it draws me up, too, into a whole string of things that could be endeavored today...this post, for one, more of the one-of-a-kind cards I'm storing up for our November 4-5th show at Cathy Burnham's, tickets for the Mendelssohn concert next week.  Then there's the orecchiette and broccoli rabe I promised my aunt for lunch today.  And a jazz group I'm thinking might make a relaxing evening.

Naturally, I have no idea how much of this will get done...lunch is about the only certainty, though this morning, here with the rain, I feel hopeful for the rest.

I've wanted to write for weeks now, no dearth of subjects racing through my head, though interestingly without words to begin.  Mostly, if I sit down to type, something comes, and then I'm off, until the end, when I plug in photos and send it off to you all.  But this time the things I've wanted to record have eluded capture on the page.  My friend Leonard's passing two weeks ago, my friend Denise's marvelous journey in the Cotswalds going on, my aunt and uncle's (and my) twists and turns as we become a home together, their courage and the many lessons I learn from them.  Someday soon you may read through these life lenses, but right now, there is this refreshing rain (apparently falling in the Cotswalds, too..."a day for staying in, for wine and books", says Denise, maybe or maybe not in that order) and I remember winter days out in our farm long ago, beside a fire, grading papers or reading poetry for the magazine, glad for the chance to be interior.

Now, I think about what's possible, rather than what's gone on.

The rain itself enlightens me, especially in this fall season, so dry here so far.  You may be surprised to learn that all the hurricanes passing east and west of us in the last month have slipped by us, leaving little trace of even nourishing showers, cloudy as it's been.  Yesterday, the sun came out strong and bright by noon, and we took advantage of it to walk in the community park, and quite literally smelling the roses still blooming and fragrant in the garden there, the colors of summer fading from some petals, the colors of fall growing richer.  Even my aunt, whose sight is nearly gone, could recognize some of the huge red and white blooms, and perceive (no, I'm not being arty here; that's the closest word there is for they way she sees/doesn't see at the same time) the masses of miniature yellows and oranges, one of them called Cupcake.  Afterwards we took a ride around what used to be called Grandma's Lake, the tall old trees like archived cliffs on either side of the road.

But today, even after such a pleasant afternoon out, this morning's weather seems more to the point.  I can see my neighbor at work in his shop across the street, building grandchildren things; another neighbor drops by on her monthly collection for PORCH, our local volunteer food drive, reminding me to go through closets looking for extra coats to give against the cooler weather; a third neighbor, raincoat and umbrella for shelter, scurries up the street to work and students on bikes, some coated, some not, go the same way.  My son, in the air to Texas for work, will stay on my mind til he gets home, as always.

And me...I'd like to run right out into this rain and dance in it, for the exhilarating...and grateful...sense of  place and possibility it's given me.

See you in November!