(courtesy of carman photography)
The red-striped flag, curling in the warm air, brushes against the square pillar of the porch. Magnolia tree, full blooms like teacups on their saucers, reaches up towards the windows of the upper story, stretching its thick old silvery branches way out over the grass, raining down fragrant petals around the man and woman sitting side-by-side on the front step and the two small children tumbling over each other in the grass.
“You look like America!” (because this is a picture I get to enter) – and they do look just like the Beautiful from sea to shining sea - that dream we have of a place in Golden Mountain, abundance and peace in a quilt of small towns - where everyone has their plot of earth and their sheltering tree and a front porch to enjoy it from. That place we dream and dream of - sometimes fearing it is lost behind us, sometimes hoping it is still ahead, sometimes despairing that it never was nor will be.
But this is not a dream. And they have been sitting out in the sweetness of their own front yard waiting for us to push open the white picket fence, to come walk in their garden, come sit out on their back balcony in the middle-of-June loveliness of this unseasonably warm April and eat a fine dinner and listen to music (eclectic old-timey street-dance jazz) and talk and play silly games with the children. Inside there is a ceramic tile fireplace and built-in alcoves and thick windows that look over a sea of blossoming trees away towards the river. And there is the smell of bread and cleanliness.
And that was Monday.
Every day this week there was some good thing. It helped, of course, that every day:
- the bleeding heart kept blooming outside the glass door by my desk
- blue camas suddenly spread its splendor over the basalt cliffs north of town
- the sun shone
- I biked
Tuesday I got to lie in the sun in a field of camas wearing my favorite blue shirt while my photographer friend took pictures. And then I biked with my elegant friend (who treats me like a favorite daughter though she is by far too young to be my mother). We biked over to visit a young woman who is coming back from cancer, her hair growing back, her laugh back already as she shows us her picture album.
“You were always a doll,” says my elegant friend looking at the part of her history when her hair was long and her eyelashes thick.
“Exactly, a doll,” and our friend, who is a young mother of three young daughters, runs a hand over the soft velvet sprouting all over the curve of her head. She is bare-faced and vibrant, “A Barbie doll. It used to take me an hour to get ready. He,” gesturing to her young husband, “never even knew I had freckles. But it’s true, you know, what they say - what actually a couple told me, two women out to dinner we met one night at the beginning of chemo - the one woman said you only know who you really are when everything has been taken away – eyebrows, eyelashes, any desire for sex. But look, it’s all coming back. And I know now who I am.”
She squares her jaw and her eyes twinkle. Her husband leans over the back of the couch, nearly resting his chin on her shoulder. The tenderness between them is almost a fragrance and it is a small blessing just to sit there and breathe in.
On the way home I meet YoungSon at his carpool and we make our way home in the sunshine - I coasting on my bike, he running full-throttle a quarter of a mile at a time. This is one of the ancient joys: to see your own child running for the joy of it and in a strong body.
When we came to our corner he says, "Can we stop and see Nora?" who is 95 or thereabouts and whose stories about this street we live on (told in a cadence tinged still with a trace of Swedish) - stories about walking to the tiny little schoolhouse back in the days when everyone was Swedish farmers, back before TV or electricity or cars - have rooted our hearts here.
Nora comes to the door in her walker, laughing at herself, "You've caught me knee-deep in a good book!"
YoungSon is the one who usually initiates coming here, though he never says a word once we’re there. Just sits on the couch next to me in her tiny front room with Nora across from us beneath her lamp, the light from the window on her face. It’s such a good face - nearly a hundred years of laugh-lines and white hair in a wispy nimbus.
YoungSon sits and listens while she tells us, “Anyways – ” about how she and her niece went up to the $1 book sale at the PUD and she's come back with a whole bag of books – she pats the full bag next to her chair.
"Anyways, we'll have to go back. Like I say, I've already read five of them,” and she laughs softly at her own prodigality. A Walk to Remember is her favorite so far, but this book she’s started today, it’s a good one, and she tries to keep from glancing at it.
We don't stay long (understanding the call of a good book) and when we rise to go, YoungSon gives her his usual hug and, as always, she chuckles and pats his back, "What a good boy. Like I say, you never forget my hug."
And that was Tuesday.
Wednesday I wrote and was only a little bit miserable. And the sun shone. And when I got back on my bike again to come home after errands in town my legs began to sing their little song of returning strength (something like what the backup singers might sing in a soundtrack to . . . say . . . Strong Man Rejoicing). And the piano teacher cancelled lessons.
And Thursday the sun shone (again!) and the dentist was able to smooth over the broken edge of my tooth that my tongue has been worrying over and over and there were blossoming cherries on one of the trees outside his office window and bright-red holly berries on the other tree.
And Friday we were able to hold our planning meeting outside, which made it a good meeting. Then later YoungSon and I threw rocks in the creek and walked back up our hill together.
And Saturday I used my new hula-hoe.
And Sunday I read Gilead with wet eyes and incredible gratitude for Marilynne Robinson whose two novels have given me more pleasure than many other authors with ten or twelve novels apiece.
(And now putting in the link to Robinson's book I see that she has three novels now and I have a library card . . . oh the joy!)
Now I can't wait for next week.