Warp and Weft

Imperfect Reflections (c) SMG 2018

Movers could have unfurled the enormous Persian rug in one of two ways.

Once spread out, it fills more square feet than did our entire first apartment as newlywed grad students.

A symmetrical design falls away in layers from a central medallion reminiscent of a quavering diamond, outlined with both gentle waves and angled peaks.  The rug is distinctly in my husband Jim’s calm color palette: gentle golds, russets, and moss greens, with a smattering of milky blue. (I find that I gravitate to riots of color, at least when I surface from grief to come up for air.)

Over the years I have, heel-to-toe, paced these never-ending lines while preparing to argue cases, waiting interminably as my customer service calls were “escalated” up the line, and giving and receiving both good and Very Bad news.

After the not inconsiderable task of unfurling the rug in my newest home–now three full cities and one state distant from its original tenure with us–I saw that the movers’ serendipitous choice of where to deposit it has laid bare its deep flaws.

Some might have discarded this rug many moves ago.

Had it faced the other way, its mutilated corner would have been hidden from view underneath the cream-colored couch (which, of far more recent vintage than the rug, bears only a minor flaw: a sprinkling of puppy teeth marks) .

But now the abraded corner has been splayed for all to see, if they are in the habit of periodically looking down to see where they are going.

Patches of hand-knotted wool have entirely worn away; fringe has thinned to weary threads.

The selvage cannot be salvaged.

The manner of injury was inadvertent; the cause was over-watering (of a potted ficus that towered over me).

The venue was a more modern home, the sun-soaked slightly sunken living room, to be exact.

My husband made very few mistakes in his all too short years, especially when it came to living creatures.  But boy, did he over-water that plant.

The water, in turn, seeped through drainage holes in its large clay pot, and into a significant swath of the perfect new rug that was then our most expensive purchase in our years of marriage.

We did not actually notice this until we were almost ready to roll the rug up for a move to the old house he loved so much, where his earthly possessions would remain for me to tend to when we moved the next time, and the next.

The damaged portion is now a tattered island moored to the mainland by its underside, where it seems Jim fashioned a large rectangular dressing from carefully cut adhesive strips of silt-colored paper.

Over the years the adhesive hold has become more tenuous; fissures have developed, revealing ragged shallow ridges of scored, carmelized once-sticky paper which poke through the surface like baleen teeth.

The rug’s measurements are the same, but  it is off kilter.  Perfect symmetry is a thing of the past. It’s as if only this portion of the rug has aged–badly, in the way too severe a shock robs a body of its power to entirely heal.

Even in the dark, this damage would make itself known by the gentle crinkling sound the paper dressing still makes when a foot or paw treads even lightly upon it.

I have left the rug that way, not simply because it is far too weighty for me to move.  It is right at my home’s threshold; if you enter and simply glance down you will see it, cross over its threadbare glory, and perhaps contemplate its story.

It was pristine when it came to us.  Jim purchased it after careful appraisal, and with some consternation about the price–more than we had paid for any car we’d purchased, and four times the entire semester’s cash he’d carried as a college freshman–in the dog days of  August.  Our first baby was in my arms and a welcome breeze came in.

For awhile the rug was the only furnishing in our living room.  In the only shaded corner was a large stone fireplace where we posed our perfect baby boy in the tiny Santa suit his Aunt Liz gave him before he was born.

A year later, I sat on it in a room still bereft of furniture , and baby Sam gently patted the belly under which his brother dwelt.

After we had next moved, by then with three preschoolers, we returned to the empty  house for one last visit.  Our smiling sons sat on the two low wooden steps into the living room, where our seated toddler daughter’s image was reflected in the gleaming wood floor.

I have noticed, only in retrospect, that once we became parents Jim became more of a caretaker to all living, growing things.   He brought the ficus home shortly after we brought home our firstborn, and surrounded our homes with bird feeders which he carefully maintained.  Over the years he planted and maintained flowers and bushes and trees and grew berries and vegetables he readily sacrificed to wildlife visitors, rather than safeguarding in a way that might endanger critters emerging from surrounding woods. He even enlisted and supervised less complex organisms, tapping maple syrup, tending to sourdough bread starter, and brewing beer.

He maintained bird feeder cities, tending more meticulously to their culinary sensibilities than I ever was capable of when attempting to sate our humans and beagles.

Perhaps it is needless to say I am not such a fan of perfection.  Maybe it’s just a chicken and egg proposition, as I have never been close to that mark.

I now have another, far smaller rug that appears to be perfectly symmetrical.  I acquired this magic Mughal carpet in Uttar Pradesh, where one of my daughters and I saw such rugs being hand-made.  Unlike the damaged rug at my home’s threshold, its asymmetry is well hidden but complete: due to the arrangement of its warp and weft, from one side it is deep sapphire, and from the other a steel blue-gray.

Little in life satisfies the human impulse to see and seek beauty in perfect symmetry.  And among what is worth holding on to, few things are unscarred.

 

 

The Light You Do Not See

Solitary Sunrise (c) 2017

At 4:30 a.m. the waterfront view is fully saturated one day and colorless mist the next. The best hints I gather from my starting vantage point a few blocks away lie in the light: usually a patch of shimmering silvery-slate in the deep blue-black signals an unsubdued sunrise, and I quicken my pace.

It’s a little bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, or the first view of monochromatic tartan turf from inside Fenway Park: you might gather clues or intuit what your senses will tell you before you get to it, but until you do it’s never a sure thing.

I took this shot before the morning light last week before travelling several hundred miles for my younger daughter’s college graduation.

My little girl.  I dropped her off at college and when it was time to say goodbye watched her twirl around and dance away in a swirling aubergine skirt, knowing she was “alright as she left” her home port.

Ten hours later, driving back to a truly unoccupied house that had seemed empty when it was inhabited by a family of only five, I was lost in an industrial park in Connecticut and found the CD my husband had somehow arranged for me to find two-and-a-half years after he died, popping it in to play and knowing only that he had selected for me John Hiatt songs from an enormous ouvre.

Before leaving home I asked my youngest if I should bring anything–did she want me to bring the necklace her father gave her for her birthday, just three weeks before he died? On a delicate silver chain is a ruby–her primary school color, and a shade not unlike her long, curly hair–surrounded by small diamonds, a treasure she let me keep in a safe place despite knowing of my tendency to forget where I have secreted such things.

She did, and I brought it for her to wear.

When we arrived, my now young adult youngest child met us at the airport, smoothly executing a parallel parking maneuver I still can’t pull off.  She whisked us to her apartment and commencement eve’s blizzard of friends and activity.

A university her father did not know she would attend.  A boyfriend of four years whom he never met.  A city he had never visited.  Friends whom he would have been so delighted to see supporting her.

This was to be the fifth college commencement my husband would not attend in a traditional way.

After deftly reparking the car I had left egregiously unmoored from the curb, my graduate-to-be walked ahead of me in a flowing, bright printed dress, part of a wardrobe I’d never seen.  I recognized the shoes, heels with an intricate cut-out design which we’d bought for her first birthday without her dad.  We’d traveled together to Vermont, where the six of us had often spent her winter birthday, and I’d trudged aimlessly in an uncharacteristically muddy early March, hearing a little girl happily calling out “daddy” from a bunny slope.

While we were together I saw my daughters exchange glances quite a few times, at more than one restaurant, before gently reminding me that I kept asking for tables for one more person than was to be dining with us.

Only one of us does not have a major transition going on–new homes and jobs and graduate schools, and all their attendant and considerable hopes and stresses.

We can’t know exactly how all of these changes will work out, and while it may not be wise to steer too hard a-starboard, keep walking ahead of me.  Someday I may catch up.

When the Planet Shifts

 

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Before we married, Jim promised me we would have five boys.

Because I was very young, somewhat gullible, and only took college laboratory courses because I had to (notwithstanding my lack of scientific skills), I believed him.

We had two boys in under two years. Promising start.

On a windswept January day the following year we had a few extra hours on our hands: my scheduled delivery had been moved to make way for an emergency one.  (I did not prove much more successful in the childbirth department than I had in the hard sciences.)

We took our toddlers to breakfast at a riverside restaurant where I managed–just barely–to slide my mid-section behind a sturdy stationary pine table where the boys laughed and gave us sticky kisses before we dropped them off to play with friends–and Winston, the venerable bulldog.

Jim had only sisters and I had only brothers, and despite having some experience growing up as a girl I never felt equipped when among girl friends to understand how that is, or should be, done.  I assumed that we would have a third son by mid-day; he let on to me that he thought we’d be bringing home a Holly or Fiona.

We stopped at a nearly empty restaurant near the hospital and Jim had something to eat; I was not allowed to partake before surgery.

The owner looked at me and smiled, “When are you due?”

I glanced at Jim’s watch.  “He should be here at 12:42,” I said.

She gave me a hug.

Then the two (almost three) of us went to the seashore,  and walked hand-in-hand down a snow crystal-glazed path to the ocean. A few hours later, beautiful Emma arrived, not with a howl but with a thoughtful, piercing and curious gaze from the second her enormous eyes adjusted to what we then knew as light.

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The Wings of an Angel, the Wings of a Dove

 

Emma was a teenager when her father died. She is in such important ways like him, the man who taught her to love finches.

As sunset gathered on her birthday this winter I felt compelled to turn my steering wheel off course and drive back to that seashore spot, where layered gold and orange clouds settled in one spot to form unmistakable wings so bright they lingered as an after-image even when the sky turned gray and only the smudged plum outline of a single bird soared over the sea.

 

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Misty Memories

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“Memory — fragile, hazy-bright, miraculous, was to them the spark of life itself, and nearly every sentence of theirs began with some appeal to it . . . .”

— Donna Tartt, The Little Friend

One of my sons joined me on a recent summer night to seek a view of northern lights predicted to swirl so atypically southward that they would be within view if we drove just a few hours north.

On the way he indulged me as I pulled off the road and scampered with my camera towards relatively tame mountain vistas.  Like his father, he is very patient.

Meteorological predictions went unfulfilled.  But the fact that we saw no aurora of dazzling blue and green lights did not make it an unsuccessful jaunt.

The two of us wound our way in the dark around the White Mountains.  Mt. Washington’s serpentine blackened hulk loomed over us, reminding me of a dream I had when I was ten: my toddler-aged dream self was standing knee-deep in the ocean and I was surrounded and dwarfed by stacks of boulders.  No one else was in sight.

Ours was the only car on the highway, our headlights muted echoes of two stunningly bright lights in the night sky.

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The night’s dark watercolor whorl beckoned to both our former selves.

Still more coming . . . x, y, z . . . . ”  I murmured to my firstborn, who is now not far short of a doctorate in pure mathematics.

We were here before, and you and your brother wanted me to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom the whole way.”  I added.

He had been only three on the night I remembered last winding down this road.  In the deep dark of that recent June night, though, I still could see not only the long packed-away picture book’s saturated pinks and oranges, green coconut tree leaves and neon letters, but the carnation pink velour shirt my baby girl had worn, the holly-sprigged cobalt parka in which one son had been swaddled in his car seat.  My husband Jim would have been playing his music, though a Raffi tape would have been at the ready.

Unsaid: the “we” in “we were here before” was our family.  It was I who read to the children in the car because my husband, their father, who has since died far too young, had always taken the wheel when we traveled.

“I remember,” my son said.  He paused a beat.  “I think this was the first time I went skiing, and dad took me and he brought me up a rope lift.  And the aunts were there, too, in a different part of the place we were staying, and there was something about a refrigerator?  A broken refrigerator in one of their rooms?”

He jogged my memories.  He was right on all scores.

“How did you remember that?”

We drove on, trading off pieces of our family memories, sequences of bright clattering dominoes, pictures from our past.

“We came back over this bridge with the big stone circles and it was raining, and we stopped right over there and had pancakes.”

“And here–just about a block away, around the corner–do you remember we stayed overnight and we were in the room decorated with the baseball posters?” 

“Oh, and then we went a little way off the highway near the mountain the next day and dad found a trail with a waterfall, and we went through a little tunnel to get there….”

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A few years ago I heard on my car radio a story about an elderly professor who remarked that when his wife died, all their family memories died for him too–that there was no point in his holding onto a past she was no longer there to curate with him.

Mercifully, that is not so for me.

In under a week it will be the anniversary of my wedding.  (Perhaps there should be a word for a widow’s or widower’s wedding anniversary . . . a widoversary?)  I have very few photographs of our wedding, which took place in the days of film photography.  We have no moving pictures, no preserved sound.  But I can easily call back our friend Gary playing the guitar, our friend Patty singing, the exact timbre and measure of our best man Jon’s words to Jim, my long-gone grandmother’s bright blue-green eyes and her patting the chair next to her and telling me to sit with her for just a minute before we left on our new life.

Rather than any formal recording, I gladly rely on what my aunt has referred to as the “haze of memory” of vows which lasted and which yielded this new family and all these boundless memories.

*****

My son and I spent several hours driving that recent night.  We stopped away from ambient light and walked into woods, peeper frogs and crickets providing the soundtrack, but no northern lights appeared.

Near midnight I stood next to my son, who towers over me.  He is nearly as tall as his father.

We gazed on glittering gray starlit skies reflected in Chicorua lake, much too dark to capture with my camera . . .  but a photograph, after all, itself is never just a photograph.  So that night too will softly slide into memory’s soothing mist.

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