Pick Me Up And Turn Me Round: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a summer in motion. Long rides across New England through forgotten mill towns and struggling small cities. Places that informed the novel I am writing. I slept in a lot of beds. I would wake confused and wonder, where am I? Whose house is this? It took a few minutes to orient myself. Where is the door to the hall that leads to the bathroom? Where is the nightgown I discarded in the middle of a muggy night? I certainly couldn’t wander around in my underwear looking for the bathroom in someone else’s house.

When we first left the inn, we spent a few nights at home in our own bed in Vermont but we needed a paycheck. The owner of the inn didn’t give us the two months notice nor the severance we were owed per our contract. The small bonus we earned is in limbo, awaiting year-end audits. I don’t expect to ever see it, but let’s not go there. I got all of that out of my system by writing about it. Rich still harbors deep resentments.

There were a few days of unpacking and then we were off to the Cape where Rich had lined up work for friends. First a paint job in Brewster which required removing all the second floor doors. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was awkward but other than that we had wonderful dinners with old friends and I walked and wrote a lot.

We moved on to another friend’s house that we had to ourselves on Mondays through Thursdays. There was a view of the Bass River and for a month we slept on a trundle bed in the finished basement. The bathroom was easy to find, it was never completely dark as the curtains were sheer and the lights of the boatyard cast a mellow glow across the room. Sunrise and sunsets were sublime, the air was a perfect temperature, and pink blossoms drifted like snow across my path as I walked to the cranberry bogs, a deep crimson red in the month of May. I wrote a lot of blogs, finished the Innkeeper’s Journal, and exorcised the demons, so to speak.

geese over the bog

My Mom’s health deteriorated, and my Dad was also dealing with the turmoil created by the fire at his condominium, so there were numerous trips to Providence. My youngest daughter was working at a pecan farm in Georgia then leaving for Germany to study at a wine institute in Koblenz so I had a Providence bachelorette pad to myself. In her up and coming West Side neighborhood, trendy new restaurants are popping up everywhere and one of many speakeasies, dark bars with discreet signs, is across the street in the historic old Avery House. If I wasn’t eating at my sister’s house in Warwick I’d grab a bite at North, an Asian fusion place, or the Broadway Bistro where they played Lou Reed’s Romeo Had Juliet the first time I stepped through the door and took a seat at the bar. Pinching pennies, I ordered appetizer menu items like a bowl of corn chowder with corn fritters or crabmeat served on cucumber slices with sesame sauce, and a glass of wine, or two. I felt like I was young and single and living in Boston again.

north

North in Providence, RI

I didn’t know how to use the smart TV in the apartment, which made me feel old, but I watched the Democratic convention on my laptop and wrote a lot. It was a hot summer and the sounds of the city kept me up late after long days at the nursing home, barging into the condo association office to raise hell, and daily walks along simmering city sidewalks. Young people laughed outside Avery at midnight, the kitchen staff at North dumped bottles into recycling bins, trash pickup started before dawn on Tuesday mornings. I slept late and walked to the Seven Stars Bakery down the street where I hung out with college students and young professionals, reading the New York Times on my laptop, drinking strong coffee, and eating goat cheese quiche, chocolate croissants, or flaky cheese biscuits. All summer long, everywhere I went, people talked about the upcoming election, and that also informed my work-in-progress.

avery-bar

At the Avery Bar, Providence, RI

Everyone I stayed with drank coffee. Some had Keurigs, others brewed a pot, and a few even ground the beans. If my hosts didn’t have half and half I managed with whole milk or an extra pour of two percent. One percent, skim, or God forbid, soy or Coffeemate, were a bummer. I drank a lot of iced coffee and discovered a lot of coffee shops throughout New England this summer.

coffee-exchange

Coffee Exchange Wickendan St.  Providence

A life long friend at an undisclosed location legally grows medical marijuana in her basement, so there was that, too. Along with eggplant parmesan and meatballs, a fully stocked backyard bar, and a passion for politics that rivals mine, we spent many an evening passionately discussing Bernie (me) versus Hillary (her). As the election approaches I am still deeply disappointed.

We vacationed for three days on Nantucket with my cousin and her husband at their lovely little home near the high school. We drank Cisco beer at the brewery where we enjoyed the music of Danger Muffin, read books on the beach, and visited an old friend, a local carpenter who has lived on the island for thirty years and is trying to finish the renovation at his amazing, ambitious house but needs more cash to complete the project. Everywhere we went we bumped elbows with the one percent who don’t need to worry about things like that. Our friend has seen the changes on Nantucket throughout the decades, a microcosm of America and what all the fear and anger is about during the summer of our nation’s discontent.

surfside-nantucket

Surfside Beach, Nantucket

Rich and I also stayed in Milton, Massachusetts at an old house filled with books while he worked at his sister’s new condo. There were a lot of staircases and one room led to another. It was easy to get lost on my way to the kitchen for morning coffee but we had a room with a bathroom right outside our door. The wallpaper had an intricate pattern of palm trees, peacocks, and tigers. On our last night there, Hurricane Hermine blew through this town still inhabited by Lodges and Cabots and other wealthy Boston Brahmins. The rain beat on the dormers of the mansard roof edged with copper and dripped from leaf to leaf on the tree that danced with the high winds, tapping on our bedroom window.

We always brought dinner, wine, and beer. We served just about everyone our summer meal of BBQ chicken topped with pesto, caprese salad, and a side of street corn. The times I was home in my Vermont kitchen I finally mastered pie crust. All it took was my food processor, very cold ingredients, and the Barefoot Contessa’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe, so I showed up at some of these houses with a blueberry pie. When I was alone in Providence I hit up Venda Ravioli on Federal Hill and arrived for dinner bearing made to order cannolis.

I washed my own sheets and towels and remade the bed before I left. Last summer at the inn I was doing thirty loads of laundry on a full house weekend. I wondered how I would have managed this summer of my mother’s passing if I were still at the inn. I know I wouldn’t have been able to visit very often and most likely wouldn’t have been by her bedside when she took her final breath. Some things happen for a reason.

If someone told me this is where I would be at the age of fifty-nine I wouldn’t have doubted it. I am a nomad, a gypsy, a Native American on a ramble. I love hotel rooms, other people’s vacation homes, and small bottles of shampoo. I spend a lot of time writing alone but love the company of good friends or a conversation with a stranger sitting next to me at a bar.

On Tuesday evening after Labor Day weekend I found myself looking back on the first summer since I was sixteen that I didn’t work, for a paycheck that is. I did write a lot and I’ve reached that sweet spot where the whole thing’s come together and the editing is pure pleasure.

This was also the summer I moved to Vermont and have been living off the grid. The summer Rich and I dropped our daughter off at the airport for her flight to Frankfurt and on the drive home listened to NPR and heard the news of the terrorist truck driver who killed eighty-four people in Nice. A few days later a shooting rampage took place at a mall in Munich. So I followed her studies and later her travels, via Facebook Messenger, with some trepidation but much joy that she, like her Mom, was backpacking through Europe and having the time of her life. I reminded myself that when I traveled with my backpack, Anwar Sadat was assassinated and I accidentally stumbled upon an ETA protest in San Sebastion where soldiers arrived in armored tanks spraying tear gas and shooting rubber bullets.

I also spoke to my older daughter in Lake Tahoe almost every day and listened to her stories of life on the West Coast. Like her Mom she loves traveling this beautiful, diverse country of ours and has a restless soul.

It was the summer my mother passed away. She too loved to travel and lived a wonderful life.

I am not much for mourning the passage of time, for time is all we have and its passage is our unique, individual lifetime. It is our responsibility and privilege to make the most of our days. For me, success has never been about money. I may live long enough to regret that, but this was also the summer I devoted time to a book I feel may be the best I’ve ever written. I’m sure many would see this as an impractical endeavor but I’m determined to see it through the whole competitive, privileged, impossible New York publishing scene.

I sold books consistently throughout the summer. If you bought one and have read this far, Thank You. (And please don’t forget those Amazon reviews. They will be a huge help in November when I pitch this book to agents.)

Hurricane Hermine followed us to Vermont last night. The sky grew dark and a smoky gray fog slipped around the base of Haystack Mountain like a ballerina’s tutu. I expected a downpour. It didn’t happen. The sky grew dark, the night was quiet, and when I later looked to the west the Big Dipper was to my right and a crescent moon to my left. There was a chill in the air. The calendar still records summer but here in Vermont autumn is creeping in.

Last night we slept like children. I knew where the bathroom was but I didn’t wake until long after sunrise. Life is like that, sometimes you don’t get what you expect but as someone once wrote (that would be me), it’s true, Life Is All This.

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12 thoughts on “Pick Me Up And Turn Me Round: Stories From Higley Hill

  1. I don’t always get the chance to read your posts (though I try to as much as possible), and am always memorized and deeply touched by the sheer beauty of your heart and your evocative images.
    Because I live so near to the Providence venues about which you wrote, I was by your side at each stop. Our younger son live in the West End, just before he moved to Hollywood, (California, not Florida). He loved it his years there. One of his homes was just behind Julian’s a favorite place for him. You must try it.
    Reading each bit of your summer travels touches the reader’s heart and soul. It’s wonderful that you get to share via the miracle of the internet.
    I look forward to your new book. And I love that you ended this piece with “Life Is All This,” which I dearly love and will surely read again.

    Like

  2. Your summer sounded like a story book in far off land to. It is far from where I live in a way. Very rich. I love the way you make the most of every moment.

    Like

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