My Cottage and me…

cottage

“It’s no bad thing to be lost in a fog or at sea.
When land comes into view again, you will appreciate it with a keenness
that is denied to those who know nothing but the safety of the shore.”
Sister Monica Joan, “Call the Midwife”

Leave it to the perpetual parochial schoolgirl to find inspiration from a BBC series set in the 1960’s about nuns in London. But, so it was…

I bought a house. I had no such intention, but in a leap of financial and personal faith, I bought a magical cottage in the course of eight weeks.

Here’s how that goes:

I have a lovely friend who invited me to dinner at his new home. When I pulled in, I could see warm light from his windows and as he opened the front door, I was drawn in by the character of the place. Old-fashioned charm eeked from every corner. You know that house, the perfectly, imperfect cottage with nooks and crannies and “good bones.” It is the kind of home that suggests history, where you can imagine who may have lived there before.

I was surprised by my delight in his fortune. Over dinner and wine, I couldn’t stop myself from distracting our conversation with Tourette-like interruptions, “God, I love this cottage,” “How did you find this great cottage?” and finally, “Can I have your cottage?” He laughed and with the confidence born to him said, “You cannot have my cottage, but I bet I could find you a cottage of your own.” And that’s how this story begins; a lovely friend with an imagination for me that I did not have for myself, and a realtors license.

He sent me several listings the following day.  I approached it like a shopping expedition that would take years to complete.

When I divorced I bought a condominium, and it was a good one. It came with all the perks of condo living: plowing, shoveling, mulching, leaf raking and the safety in numbers. It was a good space and I shared it with a man I loved. It was a wonderful nest for a time. Then it wasn’t. When love takes its leave it’s hard to remember the good of it and so it was with me. No amount of sage burning, Feng Shui-ing, therapy, or kitchen renovation could chase the memories of the unkindness that replaced the love that once filled that space. My thoughts flew to moving far away from its memories. Rhode Island, Savannah, Nashville, or some lovely South Carolina coastal town became my goal. Pack up and go, start again, do whatever it takes to stop the paralyzing memories. It’s been three years since the crash and I still can’t quite shake the memories of what once held such unexpected promise. Good aura was replaced by bad and I was powerless over its hold on me.

But what of friends? What does one do when there is no family left except children, off to their own lives, on whom to depend? Enter my Russian, “You can move, but how do you recreate your family of friends?”

Those words, delivered across a bar, stuck in my soul. My friends, who stayed with me when I lost myself, could never be recreated. As I painstakingly find myself again, how can I possibly leave them behind?

The house my lovely friend presented to me was on Cotton Tail Lane. That’s a good start in anyone’s book. I met him there and as we entered the stone-framed front door I took note of the dormant climbing hydrangea. I walked into the home, built in 1938, and spied the original planked, fir floors and an endless bank of windows through which the sun poured on a chilly November afternoon. The mammoth stone fireplace was also original, though the kitchen and bathrooms were new.

The pièce de résistance was a magnificent screened-in south facing porch which led to a deck, which led further to a flagstone patio and a perfectly manicured yard built for a romping labrador. I have a romping labrador who has, for four years, not known the thrill of a leashless romp. Perrenial bushes and flowers, so many of them, had just settled in for their winter nap, but it took nothing to imagine them in the glory of a June morning. It was a cottage dearly loved by its owners. I wanted this house as much for me as for my seven-year-old labrador, Seamus.

The cottage was half the size of my condominium; a summer cottage which spent its winters unoccupied. Closets were sparse and it had no attic or basement. I tossed and turned that night with a gnawing question, “Where would I keep my vacuum cleaner, or winter sweaters, or sherpa lined snow boots?”

It’s hard to articulate when something is simply right. I returned to the cottage several times to test my rediscovered imagination and at the same time tame suspected romantic folly. Each visit bonded me to the space. Within two weeks a bid was accepted and before I knew it keys were handed to me. The gravity of being its next caretaker floated like a cashmere cloak about my shoulders.

It’s been nine weeks since that serendipitous meal at the home of a lovely friend.

It’s a magical place, my cottage; a soul grabbing writers space that at once summons peace and creativity. This morning, I am sitting on a new couch in the center of my tiny cottage. The original, large-paned kitchen windows are frosted from the inside and in the silence, you can hear the creaks of age. When I sweep the floor my mind swirls with thoughts of the summer lives lived here. It thrills me to think that my cottage was born when Franklin Roosevelt was President and Candlewood Lake was just a child of ten herself. If I close my eyes, I can hear the laughter of children and the happy slam of wooden screen doors competing with the hum of cicadas on summer evenings long before I was a thought in anyone’s imagination.

Sometimes, it takes a long walk in the wilderness to appreciate the light of open space again. Serendipity and a friend found my next chapter for me. Isn’t life full of unexpected surprises?

My Wednesday Place…

 

bar

I have a Wednesday place.  I didn’t choose it.  Candidly, I was sort of go along to get along at the suggestion.  I feared that a ghost from another time might make it a place better left alone. Not engaging ghosts is tricky business in my small swath of the world.  I gave up a local tennis venue and regular supermarket. Short of moving away, I had little choice but to brave it. I did, one winter Wednesday night 18 months ago.

In the muddle of last year’s Rubik’s Cube of heartache and Uncle Bobby’s precipitous decline, weekdays felt no different than weekends.  Days raced and crawled into weeks and months and nothing about me resembled mindfulness.  Getting through each day without dropping a spinning plate was all I could muster. I wanted to settle deep into my couch and shut the world away. Somehow, in the middle of each week, my world found its pace.

In the midst of The Januarys, my beloved, incorrigible Russian friend offered a midweek answer to the doldrums.

The place is not really the story.  It is dimly lit and there is a maze of rooms to navigate. At its center is a weighty, oak, wrap-around bar whose equally heavy chairs invite you to sit for a spell.  On the far side are a dance floor and small stage.  My only other time there was spent on that crowded dance floor celebrating a love unexpectedly returned. It left again before I even had time to catch my breath.

Like with people, I am not so much for flash.  I crave the comfort that comes with knowing something or someone over time.  I am skeptical of nouveau. The feel of a well-worn moccasin will forever outpace the thrill of immediate infatuation with anything, human or not.  Too many of us seek freshness. Familiar and flawed is where I find my bliss. It is where interesting lives.

As I walk in each Wednesday night, it is reassuring to see that the cracked window at the entrance remains unrepaired.  Damaged but not broken resonates with me. I am equally glad to see the faces that make the core of us.  There is Andrei, of course, the de facto center of our group.  I often only see him on Wednesday and he never disappoints in enthusiasm. When he has a story to tell, he animates in extremis, all talking hands and punctuated speech.

Tina is there, too. Blonde and beautiful, she embodies the elusive confidence of thirty-somethings. I remember that surety in myself.  I love her bravado and candor.  She is Russian as well, and I laughed aloud one day while reading a text from her announcing our Wednesday place as “consistently inconsistent.” Those Russians love to craft their second language with cleverness.  She nailed it.

My Wednesday place began as we three.

My writer friend, Joanne, was a come-lately addition. Intrigued by my unbreakable Wednesday appointment, she is now a warm staple; apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a crisp autumn night. She came just to see and hasn’t missed a Wednesday since.  Joanne trumps us all in warmth.

Dana is reliable, too. The mother of four, one doesn’t have to be prescient to know that she is also trying to find her life’s rhythm. One week she’ll grab the Karaoke mic, and the next she might quietly observe.  Mostly, I think she likes the promise of gathering with trusted souls.

Week by week our Wednesday place found its traction and others began to come, curious about our commitment to a well-worn place that promises little more than a finely poured beer.  The other cast of characters are “consistently inconsistent” in devotion. Some we already knew; some we are coming to know.  If life were a sitcom, my Wednesday place would have a continuum of guest stars, each one adding a different dynamic; their often-unexpected appearances adding to the shenanigans.

The left corner of the bar is our weekly goal.  Unlike weekends, when this place is packed, Wednesday is rarely crowded. Still, commandeering the left corner is never a given, more like a gift. It guarantees a flow of conversation and the best angle from which to observe the usually mediocre, but sometimes spectacularly great, karaoke which takes place in the vast space on the other side of the bar.  And yes, on occasion I lend my voice to the mediocrity. There have been epic failures like “Love Shack”, and a nearly acceptable rendition of “California Dreaming.”  The former all empty flash; the success of the latter owed to low register and subtle octave change. The B-52’s makes me edgy.  The Mama’s and Papa’s are comfortable personified.

Speaking of comfort, I have one more piece to add to the mosaic.  There is a bartender at my Wednesday place who is the most consistent of us all.  He is an Irishman with boyish charm; a peer for us in a place where a majority of the clientele need proper I.D. Over months, in small drips of conversation and revelation, he has become a part of us. He is an ear for the serious and the silly.  He has an intangible gift we all know, but struggle to incorporate. When he talks to you, you feel like you are the only person in the room, like what you might be saying is important.

While tending to his work, he always finds a way back to our corner. There’s often a wink or a smile emanating from his warm, comfortable face and that tells me that he “gets’ our motley crew.  Perhaps, I romanticize the place. If I do, he’s part of the fairy tale.  There is no satisfactory substitute.

My favorite Wednesday night of the many was the first after the death of Uncle Bobby.  I extended my reach to invite friends to join me in memoriam.  They came and I traded my usual Stella for the Uncle Bobby preferred Guinness.  We toasted his journey, urged on by patient friends to share stores of him. Uncle Bobby would have loved my Wednesday place and all the people who make it so. Like the brown plaid blanket he placed across his lap, he would have worn this place with comfort.

Eighteen months have passed since Andrei’s suggestion.  He could not know then that his intuition would help heal a heart that felt like shattered glass or sustain me through the difficult walk I faced with Uncle Bobby.  I have no idea how long the Wednesday night ritual will continue. Life seems so expansive to me now, so filled with limitless possibility, that I can make no promises.

But, tonight I will be there; comfortable and grateful for friends and an unexpectedly special place.

 

Limitless Possibilities

sky2

Easter weekend and my thoughts fly to reinvention, rejuvenation, and re-imagining what my life can be. Forget about cold Novembers in my soul, too many months in the last year have felt cold and song-less. It’s refreshing to finally find a space in my mind to rethink and begin the process of moving forward.

I have an Indian friend who, if I listen carefully enough, often presents me with pearls of wisdom.  He is my surprising sage. Dinesh planted a seed in my mind last August when I was lucky enough to share a beer with him at his summer tennis club. I arrived there as the sun was setting on a warm night, after a day of tennis playoffs an hour or so south.  I had finished playing late afternoon and was too wired to head home for the night.  His tennis club is like a second home to me, and it turned out to be an inspired destination.

I had played two matches that day and won both.  Sitting with him to debrief was great, but in a weak moment, I got a little misty.  I missed my partner in life who, just a year before, would have been greedy for the details of my competitive day.  The small victories in one’s daily life crave an invested audience.  One of those “meaningful nothingness” things you don’t quite appreciate until it is gone.

Dinesh is an empathetic soul, and often surprising philosopher. In response to my unexpected emotion, he put his hand on my shoulder and said,

“I envy you.”

HA!  How silly to envy my exposed, bereft soul.  Last summer I was as lost as I could be:  heartbroken, untethered, desperate for traction.  Envy me?  Unimaginable!

He went on,

“Within a short time, your daughter will graduate, and before you know it, your life will be full of limitless possibilities.”

Aha! The flip side of the sorrow that comes with loss.  My parents both gone from the earth, my children on the precipice of independence, and no significant other with whom to meander?  Dinesh equates that sad concoction to limitless possibilities?

A year ago, I had morphed into such a pathetic shell of myself that the words of my insightful friend sort of floated around me, as though they were more to be studied, figured out,  than applied.  My imagination for myself had gone the way of my self-esteem at that juncture. I could barely recognize me, let alone re-imagine what I could become.  A year ago, all I wanted was turn back the hands of time.  Undo the mounting sorrow.

In fits and starts, I would advance, but traction remained elusive.  Three steps forward inevitably led to two backward. Mostly, I was disappointed in myself. I couldn’t find a way to move ahead, to let go of what diminished me.

I applied Dinesh’s observation like a mantra, wanting to believe it.  Candidly, my jaded soul didn’t and the mantra took a cynical turn.

Picking up medical unmentionables for Uncle Bobby might prompt a sarcastic take,

“Right, look at me and my life of full of limitless possibilities!”

A Friday night with no company to count on might engender,

“Just me and my limitless possibilities!”

Perusal of dating sites offering tattooed, Harley riding, big game fishing men for my consideration might result in,

“Great, all these gems with whom to share my limitless possibilities.”

This past year felt like one endless limitation.

I’m not sure why, but recently Dinesh’s mantra began to resonate.  I helped it along with a some literal and figurative spring cleaning.  With bravado, I actually dumped the junk someone left me, right on his front stoop. As though it weren’t enough for him to bury me in his emotional junk, he left mounds of literal junk.  I felt lighter in the return of it.  A small, but important step in the embrace of limitless possibilities.

It’s interesting how sometimes a small step can thrust you forward.  And so it was with the junk dump.  The lightness I found in the result compelled me to think forward. Wistfulness was replaced by a tug of hope, a distant barely perceptible tap of actual optimism on my shoulder.

That one relatively small action gave me back some of my power, helping along the feeling that maybe it can begin to take hold.  With the arrival of spring, the myth of limitless possibilities suddenly seems less like a self-deprecating mantra and more like a reachable concept.

As I write this, a message comes in from my Russian friend, who continues to humiliate me in online chess.  He writes after my recent move,

“Bold move, I like it!  Just don’t get carried away.”

Message received!  I love a little metaphorical serendipity! A good reminder that reinvention might be best achieved in small steps.  I contend that playing a Russian in chess to begin with requires a bit of cock-eyed optimism.  Once upon a time, I had a stockpile of it.

So, to my Indian mystic, I say thank you for the gift of imagination for me. Rest assured, your words were not wasted on a sultry August evening, just held too carelessly.  I needed time to understand them, some healing to grasp their power.

Let it begin; the rising, the planning, the rebuilding, the moving forward to something which holds promise. I have learned that the world does not stop spinning on its axis just because I choose to slow down in self-imposed sadness.   I will try to be bold in imagination for myself, smart in preparation, and open to the truth that my life is indeed filled with limitless possibilities.