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We have had a couple of magical mornings this week at the Inn and I am working on a blog about two consecutive mornings in particular. A story of Day Dream Believers whom I have neglected while pursuing my own daydream.
There have been some very busy, crazy days when we lose our rhythm. We are riding a learning curve and at times we get flustered which leads to bickering and crankiness.
I also haven’t had a lot of time to write which definitely makes me cranky but I have been reading. In an Amazon review of Life Is All This a reader compared me to Richard Ford. Somehow I had never come across this Pultizer Prize winner’s novels so I immediately set off for a walk down the street to the library and started with The Sportswriter, the first in a series of four Frank Bascombe stories.
I definitely see the similarities between my character Sam Ryder, Frank Bascombe, me, and possibly Richard Ford.
The reviewer wrote: I was reminded of Richard Ford’s writing as I read this: reflective, not rushed, pulling together life experiences in order to understand the current occupied space. The characters were well-drawn and ‘life is all this’ – great joy, great sorrow, regretful at times and hopeful at times, and gratitude for what we get, what we keep, and what we lose.
It was the gratitude bit that struck me this morning as I read in bed before getting up to make breakfast once again for people we had just met and may never see again.
On page 132 I came across this:
“When you are fully in your emotions, when they are simple and appealing enough to be in, and the distance is closed between what you feel and what you might also feel, then your instincts can be trusted. It is the difference between a man who quits his job to become a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout, and who one day as he is paddling his canoe into the dock at dusk, stops paddling to admire the sunset and realizes how much he wants to be a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout; and another man who has made the same decision, stopped paddling at the same time, felt how glad he was, but also thought he could probably be a guide on Windigo Lake if he decided to, and might also get a better deal on canoes.” ~ The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
I realized this described a lot of the characters I write, particularly Sam Ryder. They are trying to answer the unanswerable questions. What is happiness? What is the meaning of life? They often find the answers in small every day moments.
Early morning in Boston, a small three bedroom condo in Back Bay. Melissa wandering into their room one morning, sucking her thumb and dragging her blanket behind her. An accomplished escape artist at two, she would toss her blanket over the railing then climb up and over the crib and make her way to their room, often in the middle of the night. Raising her arms above her head, she said to Sam,“Up,” indicating she wanted to get in bed with her mother. As Sam dressed for work, he watched Melissa drift back to sleep, an angel, her wet thumb falling out of her mouth to rest by her ear. Crawling back under the covers in his freshly pressed shirt, tie, and boxer shorts, he wrapped his arm around his wife’s growing waistline and placed his hand on her belly. Waiting to feel the baby kick, he closed his eyes and tried not to think about the long work day ahead. A moment in bed with his wife, their daughter, their unborn son Matthew, the rain on the roof. ~ Life Is All This by Sheila Blanchette.
It is often hard to put aside our daily hassles, to live in the moment, and to forgive the mistakes we make on a daily basis. I would love to be a full time writer and someday I plan to be just that, but this morning I realized for now how much I also want to be an innkeeper.
Life Is All This.
THE LAND OF NOD
From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do —
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
~ The Land of Nod, Robert Louis Stephenson
We are in the eye of the storm, experiencing a respite between the busy summer season and the month of October when the leaf peepers will descend upon us.
Driving home from the grocery store, I noticed the window on a church I have always admired. I love the way its steeple looks on a foggy day, the weathervane taking on a polished golden sheen when set against the dark gray sky.
Today the sky was blue and it was the window that popped out at me, reminding me of the logo from the CBS Evening News when Peter Jennings sat in the anchorman’s seat. I asked Rich to pull over so I could snap a photo.
We had some time before check-in so we wandered down the country lane behind the church and stumbled upon a hidden gem.
Along the Blackberry River is the Beckley Furnace, a part of Connecticut’s manufacturing history when iron ore was mined here during World War One. It is now a historic site with a wealth of information, and a lovely place to have a picnic.
Two days later, on Saturday when my nephew and his wife were visiting, we picked up sandwiches at Haystack Pizza, less than a mile from the Inn. It is our go to place on nights we don’t feel like cooking which is just about every Saturday night when we have a full house. Their spaghetti and clams, chicken marsala, and other Italian entrees easily feed two and are to die for. My daughter’s dinner request her last night at home before going back to college was the Italian grinder, which I ordered for the picnic. The owner is a doll and always gives us a free bowl of soup. Today’s soup of the day was chicken cacciatore. A spicy, hearty treat on a gray September day.
By the time we were settled at the picnic table by the dam, dark clouds threatened to disrupt our afternoon plans, but we managed to finish eating and snap a few photos before making a mad dash for the car.
Just down the road from the Furnace is the lovely little vineyard, Land of Nod. We sat in the car waiting for the rain to lighten up but it wasn’t happening so we ran for the door and joined three other people at the cozy little bar.
Our host, Rick Granger, is a wine and music aficionado. Marshall Tucker was playing and as we sampled the first of ten wines, the Flyfisher, a crisp light white, we all agreed Doug Gray has lost his voice. He just can’t hit those high notes anymore.
The music moved on to The Band and the Allman Brothers, and we moved from whites to reds to fruit wines. Rick married into this wine family years ago and they are a Certified Bicentennial Farm dating back before the American Revolution. They also make maple syrup and yarn, and offer fly fishing classes. As we delighted in each wine, Rick offered food pairing ideas and we sampled chocolates with the fruit wines which markedly changed the taste and complexity. I had a hard time deciding which ones to buy but left with a 2011 Bianca, a light bodied white with hints of honey and pear, and a Blueberry-Raspberry Medley Wine which is indescribable when served with chocolate. I could have bought more but as I said to Rick, “I live just down the road.”
It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and just ten minutes down the road from the Inn so even the innkeepers were able to relax between breakfast, room cleaning, and three o’clock check-in.
Some recent reviews on Amazon:
Editorial review: The quality of writing and the authorial voice pulled me right in. There are all sorts of things to pleasure a reader (especially an editor). Blanchette has effectively created quite individual characters whose attitudes and voices are convincing. Her diction is impeccable and her eye for detail is extraordinary. I was struck by one observation after another that puts the character palpably alive on the page. ~ Robert Emmett Ginna, author of The Irish Way, and former editor-in-chief at Little, Brown
“As an avid reader of fiction, it is a pleasure to come across a book that is written so simply, yet draws you in with its pathos & bittersweet emotions. It captures an American generation perfectly. Ms. Blanchette’s writing is reminiscent of Alice McDermott’s, while keeping her own voice. Loved this book!”
“Life Is All This” is a wonderfully heartfelt, reflective novel with some beautiful writing. Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Sam’s life is well examined and certainly worth living. I highly recommend this book.”
“Read this big-hearted book last week. Nothing in this story is extraordinary – the people, their circumstance – and yet I was always interested and engaged in their stories and concerns. Loved the directness of the prose and the light that the author shines on the small, intimate things we do everyday. What a grand read!”
“Life Is All This is a joy-ride across a quickly changing world with a man striving to be big-hearted and determined to gather to him all the things that are important. This is a powerfully moving and passionate novel.”
Yesterday I wrote a Facebook post that received some very positive feedback so I thought I would share it here on my blog.
It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote a piece about a long day at the DMV where most of the workers on the government payroll were kind and patient but it was at BJ’s where I came across a young man who understood the meaning of “It’s My Job”.
Today the clerks in Ms. Davis’ office are giving marriage licenses to gay couples, as they should. It is their job, despite what Kim Davis’ husband told reporters outside the courthouse.
“She has done her job,” he said. “Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law.”
Sorry Mr. Davis, it is your wife’s job to issue marriage licenses. And as for the Supreme Court’s decision, that’s the way things work here in America. We are a nation of laws and they are the highest court in the land.
Here’s the Facebook post:
So, I just have to say something about this crazy case in Kentucky regarding the county clerk who is now in jail because she won’t issue marriage licenses to gay couples. It astounds me that so many Americans do not understand the Constitution. Kim Davis is free to practice what ever religion she believes without fear of prosecution. She is not free to impose her religion on the rest of us.
We are a nation of laws and the Supreme Court has ruled it is lawful for gay couples to marry. Period. It amazes me that in the case of Hobby Lobby the religious right’s answer to the problem is women who want their employer to provide birth control in their insurance policy can find another job. Well, the same goes for Ms. Davis. If her religious beliefs don’t allow her to sign marriage licenses, she can find another job.
No one is holding her hostage at her desk. If she can’t do her job she can resign. Of course, she is making $80,000 a year in a job her mother held in an office where her son also works. Nice work if you can find it. I myself have never made $80,000 but if I did, say at a job where my employer made me refuse service to gay couples, I would simply quit.
One comment in the NY Times explained this dilemma perfectly: “I am an Orthodox Jew. I can’t eat milk and meat together as per my own personal beliefs. But if I were a county clerk, and someone wanted to open up a cheeseburger joint, I’d have absolutely zero right as a government official to deny that person his permit on the grounds of the rules of my religion.”
That’s it in a nutshell. It’s time we made Civics a required course in high school again.
In the early morning hours, in the dark before dawn, if I am awake, which I often am, I hear the driveway alarm beep beep, warning me someone has entered the premises.
Forty seconds later it beep beeps again. The newspaperman has driven round the circular driveway and tossed the news of the world on my doorstep.
The guests are sleeping peacefully in this bucolic place where they come for rest and relaxation, good music and fine dining, peace and quiet. The driveway alarm can’t be heard over on their side of the Inn.
Each day my husband rises before me. I stay in bed an hour longer, catching up on sleep lost during the witching hours, that time of night from three to five a.m. when I am tossing and turning the pillow to the cool side, ideas for stories bouncing around the dark room.
He starts the coffee, preps the apple smoked bacon, and retrieves the Hartford Courant from the front steps, placing it on the dining room table along with the pitcher of orange juice, the small bowls of jams and jellies, and the crystal decanters filled with local maple syrup from a man named Winter Mead, an appropriate name for a maple syrup maker.
I come down at eight, prepare the fruit for the breakfast plates and check the emails for reservations. As I serve the breakfast and clear the dirty plates, I glance at the day’s headlines. Rarely is it good news.
Heroin Use in the State Increasing. Stocks Plunge Worldwide. Police Search Putnam Ash Dump for Clues of Missing Couple.
Hardly a day goes by without someone dying at the wrong end of a gun. These stories don’t always make the front page. We as a society have become so immune to quotidian violence it no longer merits the headline.
Here at the inn, where a family of deer set off the driveway alarm on Tuesday morning, we had a few days of empty rooms ahead of us. An open window of opportunity to take time off before the busy foliage season.
We drove north, along the worn down spine of the Berkshire Mountains, across the Housatonic, the Farmington, the Westfield and the Deerfield Rivers, through small, picturesque New England towns with covered bridges, lakes and waterfalls, hiking trails, and quiet woods, making our way to the Green Mountains of Vermont where we spent two nights with friends near Brattleboro without wi-fi, decent cell service, or news. It was heaven on earth, if there is such a place in a world full of anger and violence.
The day we drove home there were no guests scheduled to arrive so we took our time driving back, making a detour to the town of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts where we walked across a bridge of flowers that was one of the loveliest sites I have ever seen.
The next morning coyotes howling in the hills preceded the nightly beep beep announcing the arrival of another day’s news. Rich woke early for one more round of vacation golf for there was no one in need of breakfast, and I slept in, coming downstairs in my bathrobe at nine, a rare luxury, to a pot of coffee, which I brought out to the grand living room in the Inn. My daughter had left yesterday’s paper on the dining room table.
Deadly Ambush on Live TV.
Two journalists doing a live broadcast on a southwestern Virginia TV station were shot and killed in front of their morning viewers. The Hartford Courant described it as a grotesque moment of TV.
The words on the page swam before my eyes. Deadly Ambush on Live TV. Live TV. Deadly Ambush. People in Virginia drinking coffee in their homes, getting ready for work, watched as two journalists were shot to death before their very eyes.
I am a day late to the story. I head to the front door to find today’s paper sitting on the bottom step behind the planter of flowers that are wilting after three days of neglect. I scan the headlines for a followup to the story. There is nothing on the front page. The news cycle has moved on.
A Local Republican Strategist Gets One Year for Stealing Public Funds.The High Cost of Traffic Jams: Connecticut Has Some of the Nation’s Worst Tie-Ups.Vets Homeless No More: Veterans Taken Off the Streets and Provided With Housing.
Time and time again those of us who would like to see sensible gun control laws enacted think the latest atrocity will be the story that breaks the NRA’s back, but like heavy fog, a sense of powerlessness envelops the country.
William Butler Yeats once wrote, “The best lack all conviction, While the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
This could be said about a lot of stories in the news these days but gun control is one of the more glaring issues where you would surely think “some revelation is at hand.”
Instead, the stories come and go with more and more frequency and less and less news coverage.“The blood dimmed tide is loosed.”
There is one thing you can be certain of. If it hasn’t happened in your town yet, just wait, for “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
We as a nation have put each and everyone one of us between a bullet and a target. There is no safe place in America.
Once in awhile you read a book that touches you so deeply it changes your perspective. Bettyville by George Hodgman is one of those books.
George and I are Facebook friends. I can’t remember if he found me or I found him. This past Wednesday I spent the better part of the afternoon on the back porch reading his touching story which is both heartbreakingly personal yet universal in its portrayal of the challenges of growing old and the role reversal relationship between aging parents and their adult children. It is also about a lot more than this; about growing up gay in a time and place that didn’t accept anyone who was “different”. But for me, it was the relationship between mother and son that opened my eyes.
As the sun began to set, the towels and sheets piled up in the laundry room. The dishwasher was full of clean dishes and the dirty coffee cups were stacked high in the sink. I was still on the back porch lost in Bettyville.
The next day Bettyville came to visit my Inn in rural Connecticut in the form of my parents who stopped by for lunch. After serving our guests breakfast, I managed to keep myself from returning to the book to make a tossed salad with chicken, a large bowl of fruit salad, and a ham sandwich for my mother because that is one of the only things she will eat nowadays. She claims she is never hungry. She makes scenes in restaurants, complaining there is nothing on the menu she likes.
There was a time, about a year ago, when she wasn’t quite so lost and confused but would ask, “What do I like here?”
“You like their hot dogs,” I told her.
She shook her head. She didn’t believe me. As George writes of Betty, “Her will remains at blast force.”
“Do you have that red meat?” No longer trusting me she asked the waitress, who thought she was requesting a rare roast beef sandwich, but I explained it was ham she wanted.
“And make sure you give me the yellow stuff. I don’t like the other kind.”
She was asking for yellow mustard. Her words and memories are disappearing, lost to Alzheimer’s, the thief who stole her yesterdays.
Today she shows up all smiles. “I remember you,” she says. She doesn’t really remember me. She doesn’t know I am her oldest daughter but she lets me hug her and says again, “Yeah, I know you.”
“I can only imagine how scary it is to know that the person one is losing is oneself.” ~ Bettyville
She walks like Russian nesting dolls with rounded bottoms, her arthritic left knee bent at a right angle, her gait rolling and rocking as my Dad and my daughter help her up the stairs to the front door.
“My friends are helping me,” she tells me.
“He is a very good man,” she tells my daughter, nodding towards my Dad. “He takes good care of me.” She turns to my Dad and says, “Did you hear what I said about you?”
He laughs. “Yeah, you were telling her how bad I am.” She smiles mischievously.
“By the time she goes to bed, when things get bad, she will have fewer pieces left in place.” ~ Bettyville
It is my mother who is bad, late in the evenings, bad in the way of a small rebellious child who can’t get her pajamas on, doesn’t want to take a bath, and refuses to eat dinner. Mornings are difficult too. She wears the same clothes day after day, insisting they are clean and nothing else is comfortable. She is always cold and wears sweaters on hot summer days, sitting by the pool while my father swims a few laps.
“She is wearing the jeans she will take off and a blouse with wrinkles she cannot see. For many days this pairing has been her choice. I have given up trying to control her clothes. God grant me the serenity to accept the clothes I cannot change.” ~ Bettyville
It saddens and frightens me to think of my father dealing with the craziness that now rules his days and nights but Hodgman’s sense of humor could make the most weary of caregivers smile.
A battle of wills is taking place between the generations in my family. My siblings and I insist my Dad needs help. At the very least a home caregiver a few days a week to help with bathing my mother, washing her hair, routine personal hygiene she rebels against, preparing meals, and giving my Dad some much needed time off. As my mother’s condition continues to decline, he continues to dig in his heels and insists no one knows how to take care of her like he does.
“‘Too damn long’: That is what my mother thinks about her life. She seems to believe she is taking someone else’s time.” ~ Bettyville
Hiding behind my Dad’s protests is a fear they will take her away when they hear the things she says. “I just want to die,” she shouts when sundowning. Or the swearing, which she never did until now. The cursing embarrasses him. He doesn’t understand where it comes from or where she learned these words.
Sitting on the glassed-in sun porch, my mother tells me, “I’m ninety, you know. Ninety years old.”
My father playfully nudges her. “You’re eighty one.”
She smiles at him indulgently, as if he is the one who is forgetful. “He thinks I’m eighty one, but I’m really ninety.”
She tells my daughter, her granddaughter as my father keeps reminding her, a long story about a man who doesn’t have a home and no food so he comes to their house once a week and “we feed him” she says. “We help him out.” I think this may be my brother she is talking about, her son who visits every Sunday.
She invites me to her house numerous times. ”It’s a nice place. Nothing to be ashamed of.” My mother has always been house proud. Money and appearances have always been important to her. I realize she doesn’t understand that I work here, that I am the innkeeper and this is not my mansion.
Betty goes through old postcards from a cruise she took through Europe. “She wants us to have fun, to share the experience, but she can’t remember it,” George says.
My mother tells me she has been all over the world. I ask her what is her favorite place.
My father answers for her. “She loved Morocco.”
I have never heard this before. “Morocco?” I didn’t even know they had been there. “I remember you liked Provence,” I remind her.
“I like everywhere,” she says.
My father tells us the doctor asks her questions, checking her memory loss. On her last visit he asked her what time of year it was, helping her along, naming the seasons in case she’s forgotten. “Winter? “Summer? Spring? Fall?”
“They’re all good.”
“But what season is it now?” he asks again.
“All of them are good.”
My father smiles as he tells this story. He likes her answer. He thinks it is an optimistic answer. When my mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s my Dad, the former history teacher, would prepare her for the doctor’s questions as if she were studying for final exams and if he tutored her she would pass the test.
“People mean well. They just aren’t here enough to get what we are dealing with or what it means to my mother. Everyone thinks they know what should be done.” ~ Bettyville
Everyone in our case is me and my sisters and brother. We worry when my Dad takes my mother on vacations. We imagine him losing her at a rest stop or in an airport. We are concerned about his health. He has two stents, a pacemaker, and another stent in his carotid artery. He is tired, exhausted at times, requiring two naps a day. We imagine the struggles in the bathroom getting my mother ready for bed. The wet, slippery surfaces, the tile floor, the porcelain tub. Someone could fall and crack their head.
“I get what makes sense, I just can’t bear to do it. I cannot imagine the sorrow of dragging her out of the house.” ~ Bettyville
Like George, this is my Dad. He understands what home means to my mother. Some of the last memories she hangs on to are the houses she has lived in and the real estate deals she made. My father has vowed to keep my mother at home. He prays that he will outlive her so he can keep his promise to her, the promise to not put her in a nursing home.
As my day with my parents unfolds, George Hodgman’s memoir provides comfort. There is so much wisdom in this beautiful story.
Things are not going to get better with my mother, and my father grows old by her side. There will come a time when he will have to bring in help, or a time when he needs to move my mother to a place where people can provide her with the advanced care she will need.
But for now he remains steadfast and refuses to listen to his grown children who think they know what is best. We fear something terrible will happen. My mother will wander off one day when he is napping. Or the inevitable accident will happen on these road trips he insists on not giving up.
There are no easy answers, but for now he says he is fine. He believes he can do this.
“On Betty’s journey, I have learned something I had not known….., at least once, everyone should see someone through. All the way home.” ~ Bettyville
Thank you, George Hodgman, for sharing your story of love and loyalty, and reminding us that we are all only human and kindness matters most.