A Woman of a Certain Age: Stories From Higley Hill

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I sometimes feel guilty now that I live in Vermont and am devoting my days to writing. My husband and I are not well-off. We do own our house, have no mortgage, and have reduced our expenses considerably but we could use some extra cash, and a lot more savings.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. I applied at the local coffee shop after I moved to Vermont and was spending a lot of time there because I was off the grid. I hadn’t filled out a standard job application in years. I usually just bring my resume. It took me an inordinate amount of time to fill out the form. I had to look up phone numbers in my cell phone for references. What was the street address of my college? What’s the zip code for Pompano Beach? When you graduated in 1979 does it really matter? I should have used a pencil. I had to cross out a few things.

I didn’t get the job. I’m not sure if it was due to my sloppy application or they considered me overqualified. Or under-qualified. I don’t know how to operate those hi-tech cappuccino machines. But I didn’t mention that, and I am a quick learner.

My hairdresser told me about a man who owns several rental properties in town. She gave him my phone number and we set up a time to meet. He looked like Hemingway and we wasted a lot of time talking about his sailing trips throughout the Caribbean. When he finally got around to telling  me he’d had five bookkeepers in eight years he was losing me, but then he said he was willing to pay me ten dollars an hour.

When you get to be a woman of a certain age you can pretty much say whatever you want so I replied, “Well, that explains why you can’t keep a bookkeeper.” He laughed. I held firm at twenty five an hour. I later heard from several people in town that he is a slumlord and known for his bad temper. Having graduated from college in 1979 I am old enough to regret the fact I will never get that afternoon back.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. When I lived in New Hampshire, I met with a man who imported old floor boards from Holland, refurbished them, and sold them to clients like Restoration Hardware and Anthroplogie stores. The boards were all over his house, leaning against the walls and the sofa and the dishwasher in the kitchen. He told me he could only pay me eight dollars an hour.

“We’re talking about your money,” I said, outraged. “I’ll be taking care of your finances. My sixteen year old daughter works at Panera and makes nine dollars an hour. I’d rather get a job there. It’s less responsibility.”

I’ve worked at so many jobs and had so many bookkeeping clients I can barely keep track of them all. I started working at twelve, six days a week, delivering newspapers on my bike. In high school I ran the brake at the kiddy roller coaster at Rocky Point Amusement Park, worked my way up from usher to box office at the Warwick Cinema where The Sound of Music played for a year, and served burgers and fries at Howdy Beef ’n Burger.

Recently I saw a job opening for a four day consumer survey at a local gas station right here in Wilmington, Vermont. I would be asking customers questions about purchasing food items while in the gas station – slices of pizza, pre-packaged sandwiches, steamed hotdogs, and Green Mountain coffee.

In the cover letter I sent, I played up my experience one summer after junior year in college working for a market research company. Yes, as I’ve mentioned, I graduated in ’79 so this would be the summer of ’78 but it’s still relevant, right? I had experience approaching strangers in shopping malls and offering free samples if they answered a few questions about shampoo and razor blades and other consumer goods. Sometimes I worked in the office and made phone calls. On one big project, I went door to door trying to get people to give me forty-five minutes of their time to answer questions about the Providence Journal. You wouldn’t believe how many people said yes, even if I rang their bell at dinner time. One night an older gentleman asked if I wanted some beef stew. Jimmy Carter was president back then, and the nation was experiencing a gas shortage, leading to long lines at the pumps and irate motorists. Only on designated days could you buy gas depending on whether the last number on your license plate was odd or even. People had strong opinions about the news coverage and they were more than willing to answer my questions regarding the Providence Journal, particularly if they pertained to the op-ed page. We didn’t have Facebook back then where we could bitch every day.

The marketing guy for the gas station survey called me and told me I had the job. Score! The following day he called back to tell me the gas station canceled the survey. Bummer! I was really looking forward to the work, if only for the stories I would hear. I have a series of Stories about Gas Stations on my blog. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with while filling your gas tank or buying coffee at 7-11. Or maybe this is just me.

A few months ago I applied for a job at the Chamber of Commerce. They needed someone to answer emails and promote the town of Wilmington on their social media sites. Come on now, I am highly qualified for that type of work. Look at me, I’m everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The want ad said experience with WordPress would be a plus. Hell yeah, I’m typing this blog right now on WordPress!

I not only emailed my resume through the job site Indeed, I also delivered it in person and pitched myself to a receptionist behind a tall counter. I never heard from them. Whatever happened to the days when you got rejection letters and taped them to your dormitory wall? Yes, again, that was 1979. Those days of common decency and respect are long gone. Just another discarded common courtesy. And why is that? It’s easier nowadays, just plug in the applicant’s name and shoot off a form rejection email.

But then again, just look at our president.

I wasn’t surprised by the Chamber of Commerce rejection. It’s one of those jobs where you need to know someone. Once, during a fourteen month layoff, I worked at the Exeter town hall as the tax collector for six weeks. I sat behind one of those old-fashioned bank teller windows with the metal bars. I enjoyed chatting with so many of my friends and neighbors and they were all surprised to see me there.

The people I worked with weren’t as friendly but I didn’t really have much contact with them, until a woman told me she wasn’t going to pay her real estate tax unless her assessment was adjusted. She felt it was too high.

“Let me get someone who can help you,” I said.

I knocked on the assessor’s door and told her about the problem. She stepped back from me with her hands up, as if I had the bubonic plague or was looking for a fist fight, and said, “That’s your job, not mine.”

My job? I was the tax collector, a temporary one at that, and I had been on the job for a mere two hours and was still learning the computer system. I didn’t know anything about assessments and it said right there on her door, Town Assessor. I went back to my bank teller’s cage and told the woman to knock on the assessor’s door. “She’s here today. She’s in her office,” I said.

I worked my butt off for six weeks, came back from a 4th of July weekend on Cape Cod to work on the 6th – the day taxes were due – although we had been invited to spend the whole week, and on the 7th the town administrator told me they had hired someone else. At the end of the day, a woman who worked with building permits and had a sign on her desk that said “Crying children will be beaten” told me a police officer’s wife was offered the job but they didn’t want to start her until after the tax rush because she had no bookkeeping or office experience.

I really wanted that job. It was close to home, had great health insurance benefits, and a pension, and I had been been laid off for twelve months, making COBRA health insurance payments to the tune of $1250 a month while looking for full time employment with benefits.

I recently went through the query process for my finished fourth novel, searching for a literary agent who might get me a traditional publisher. Seventy-five percent of the agents I contacted do not send rejection letters. Instead they say you will hear from them only if they are interested in seeing more of your novel. It seems arrogant to me but I gave it until the 4th of July, which was three months from the time I sent the queries. After all, I graduated from college in 1979. What am I going to do, wait ’til I’m seventy? When I can self-publish?

Through the magic of social media I know a blogger who is friends with a published writer I follow who is extremely well-connected in the New York literary world and the Ivy League buddy system. She breezed through the doors of traditional publishing. Now her friend, the blogger, has been picked up by the writer’s agent. Apparently traditional publishing is like those cushy town jobs. It’s not what you know but who you know. But when you reach a certain age, you already know that.

As Sam Ryder says in my 3rd novel, Life Is All This, “Fuck the man.”

On one of my recent road trips this spring, I met a woman at a bar in the Phoenix airport. I had a three hour layover so I had time for nachos and a margarita. She was my age, lived in Phoenix, and was flying to Sacramento to help her aging parents. Her name was Marcia and she told me her mother had Alzheimer’s so I shared some of my mother’s stories. I also told her about the inn Rich and I managed in Connecticut.

“Although we were disappointed and angry about the way we were treated by the inn’s owner and how it all went down, I believe it was meant to be. The job brought us back to New England and we left the inn just as my mother was failing,” I told the woman from Phoenix.

“But all of that is over now. It’s been a year since we left the inn and I haven’t found work, if we don’t count the hours I spend writing. It’s not that I haven’t been looking for a job. Just before I left for this trip I applied for a job at a farm stand set in the middle of a large apple orchard. I was very excited about it because it seemed like a fun place to work and it’s seasonal so it wouldn’t really interfere with my writing. I told the owner all about my social media skills, my bookkeeping experience, and the five years I spent working as a sales rep for speciality food sales in supermarkets. She seemed really excited and told me I could help her with so many things, from setting up displays to doing payroll. And she told me she hadn’t posted on her Facebook page in months. I told her I’d be happy to help with all of that but it’s been over a week and I haven’t heard from her.”

Marcia grabbed my arm and said, “It’s age discrimination, you know. I’m having the same problem.”

She was laid off from a job as an office manager at a doctor’s office and had been looking for another job for over a year now.

“You’d think the medical field would have lots of jobs,” I said.

“Yes, you would. And they do. But I’m a woman of a certain age. They don’t want to hire women our age. But now, after talking to you, I’m thinking it’s meant to be. You know, now that my parents’ need me.”

“That could be true,” I said, not really believing the bullshit pep talk I had given her about leaving the inn at the so-called right time and how it was meant to be. We both ordered another margarita and continued along the vein of convincing ourselves it might not be our age. It might be fate.

On Monday I have an interview at a temp agency in Keene, NH. I have a lot of marketing plans for my new book including taking the book on the road and meeting with book clubs. I need the funds.

I’ll also be needing your help. Obviously I want you to buy the book when it comes out. If anyone is interested in hosting a book club or a reading sometime in the fall please contact me at sheilablanchettetheauthor@gmail.com

You may be surprised at how far I will travel, or maybe not if you regularly read my blogs. I am a road warrior.

I also will need those all important Amazon and Goodreads reviews from you. I can never emphasize enough how important they are to the success of a book. And if you enjoyed my previous books and haven’t written a review yet, by all means get on there and write one!

Thanks for your support over the past few years. More is on the way. Stay tuned.

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” ~ Rumi

 

 

 

Sharing My Confusion: Stories From The Road

Jack Kerouac once took a famous road trip and had this to say about it: “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Back at home on Higley Hill after over two weeks on the road I think I know what Kerouac meant. Or at least I know some of the questions, not the answers. I too have nothing to offer you but my own confusion.

I sat down to write this blog numerous times since I’ve been home. There were lessons to learn from the road. There always are. Travel for me is new experiences, new places, and meeting people who live different lives and have different points of view. On this particular trip it was the points of view that tripped me up. I can’t find the words to explain the meaning of all I saw and what, if anything, I learned.

A lot of the places we traveled from and to are rural places. Communities where nothing much happens but what did happen in November 2016 changed America into a place I no longer recognize. A place that induces anxiety and anger on many mornings when I wake to the relentless stream of bad news coming out of Washington.

I started this story on Instagram where I share short stories along with pictures. I’m including a few of the posts throughout this blog. I have never experienced writer’s block in my writing career – if you can call something you spend hours doing for little pay and often a lot of overtime a career. But at the moment my thoughts are confused. I can’t find the meaning of the journey.

Then I found these words from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

That led me back to the photos and the words I shared on the trip. They are a map across the landscape of my memories and a guide book to help figure out what it all meant.

#roadtrip #theroadislife

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We were not setting off on a ski vacation, exploring a foreign country, or headed to a beach resort, although we have taken those sort of vacations before and enjoyed them. On this trip our only goals were a change of scenery, sunshine, and warmer weather. We had nothing much else in mind.

We took the road less traveled by heading west toward Albany through upstate New York, then south into Pennsylvania. We were avoiding the Northeast corridor which is one long traffic jam with very few scenic vistas.

The scenery through New York and into Pennsylvania was farmland. Cows and silos, large agribusinesses and tumbling down barns. This is a trucker’s route and sometimes we got caught up in a convoy as we passed through the cities of Scranton, Wilkes Barre, and Allentown, where we discussed Billy Joel and I hunted for a tape of his in my box of music.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound The grass is green in Hershey, PA. We passed through Pennsylvania coal country. Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Allentown, Frackville. There were miles of windmills along the ridge off in the distance which contradicts the promise of coal making a comeback in this part of the country. We see lots of signs demanding the installation of safe gas pipelines. And then there are the Jesus and pro-life bumper stickers. We shared the $5 Subway sandwich of the day at a gas station in Harrisburg – ham with pickles, and at another gas station in some other burg I had a craving for a Klondike bar. #roadtrip #theroadgoesonforever #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #anamericantune #theroadislife

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The following morning in Lexington, Virginia, just north of Roanoke, we woke to blue sky and unfamiliar flowering trees. I have been here so many times before; a motel parking lot, crisp early morning air, car windows wet with dew, license plates from across the nation. On this particular morning we were at the crossroads of three major highways offering choices and options. A cluster of economy hotels, chain restaurants, and gas stations planted in an otherwise bucolic setting along America’s Interstate Highway System.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, signed the Federal Highway act in 1956, a year before I was born. It is forty-one thousand miles of highway meant to eliminate unsafe roads and traffic jams, and speed up travel and commerce. Advocates of the highway project made the argument that the roads would facilitate quick evacuations in the event of an atomic attack on our major cities and this bill was essential to our national security.

Apparently fear has always worked with the American voting public. However, I am grateful to Eisenhower for these highways and also to Lady Bird Johnson, a Democrat who as First Lady took on the cause of highway beautification. Over the years I have traveled to forty-five states. Although many of Lady Bird’s flowers are gone now, we came across red tulips and blue bachelor’s buttons planted along the medians of South Carolina’s highways.

History is a part of our American story. I learned this lesson when I was very young when my Dad, the U.S. history teacher, took us on historical vacations across America. One thing I gleaned on my current road trip is that Americans have lost a sense of their shared history. They no longer know what the fight was all about during the American Revolution. The Constitution means different things to different people, particularly politicians and their wealthy donors with personal agendas. As I watch President Trump and his cabinet undo everything I and my forebears have ever fought for my heart aches.

In Dothan, Alabama we stumbled upon the first of three mural cities. We found them in a neglected, rundown part of town. No one knew about them anymore. It was a metaphor for American history itself.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute We are driving north into Alabama then east into South Georgia. There are miles of cow farms and freshly tilled fields of reddish brown dirt. I keep noticing billboards advertising The Mural City. It is Dothan, Alabama – the largest town we will drive through on our trip to the pecan farm. The billboards are faded and peeling but I assume the murals must still be there. We drive along the main drag that could be anywhere America. Home Depot, McDonalds, but we know we're in the south because there's Popeyes and a farm stand selling Mayhew jelly. We don't know what that is but we saw small signs planted in the grass all along the route for that and Gator jerky. Gator heads too! Rich pulls over to check the Map. I run in the Howard Johnson's to ask about the murals. The woman at the desk has never heard of them but she thinks they must be in the historic district. She gives me directions. #muralcity #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #smalltownamerica #thestoryofamericain2017 #dividednation #roadtrip #theroadislife #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Historic Dothan, Alabama reminded me of so many small rural towns I have driven through and written about throughout New England and upstate New York. Hoosick Falls, Hinsdale, Woonsocket, Winsted. Empty buildings, lack of jobs. The industries that once made these towns prosperous are gone now. Some of them were the same here as in Apalachicola where we were just a few days ago. The murals paid tribute to them. Turpentine, cotton, lumber. In The northeast it was textiles, jewelry, furniture, clocks. Different places, the same problems. Why are we such a #dividednation? #muralcity #streetart #publicart #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #smalltownamerica #theroadislife

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In Lake Wylie, South Carolina, there was this wonderful evening:

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Last night in Lake Wylie, SC I met with a wonderful group of women at their book club and read from my third novel Life Is All This. There are so many stereotypes and pre- conceived opinions in America but in this room last night the author from Vermont and the book lovers from Carolina had so many things in common from our kids to our worries about retirement and the whole world in general. Thank you Kim, the evening's hostess. And thanks to my friend Cindy for making the evening happen. I will return when my fourth novel is ready, however I get it out there. #bookclubs #newfriends #readabook #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #lifeisallthis #theroadislife

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I will admit I was nervous about attending the book club, a northern leftist liberal in a room full of Southern readers, but these wonderful, friendly women embraced me with open arms. They even asked me what they could do to help. “Just read the books,” I said. “And if you like them write a review on Amazon. Reviews really matter.”

I bumped into a man name Felix numerous times throughout a day spent exploring the historic town of San Fernandina, Florida while my husband and his childhood friend, Peter, played a round of golf. Felix’s persistence despite obstacles made me smile.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound This is Felix riding off on his bike from which he sells boiled peanuts. We bumped into each other several times today as I walked the streets and he sold his peanuts. He walks with a limp that causes him to rock and sway as he pops into Nana Teresa's Bake Shop where I had a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish. We ran into each other again at Florida's oldest bar, The Palace Saloon with the coca-cola sign, where I poked my head in the open door to check it out for the possibility of a nightcap after dinner tonight. Shandel, the woman who drives the complimentary van from the Residence Inn to town, told me Felix is a fixture here in Fernandina with his jaunty straw hat and colorful Mardi Gras beads. I'm glad I met him. #floridalife #theroadgoesonforever #smalltownusa #southerntowns #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wemadeit #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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When Rich and I travel without definite plans, we just get in the car and drive. We open ourselves up to the unexpected. On this trip we learned about the dwindling longleaf pine forests.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute This is how life happens sometimes. You meet some people you hit it off with. Your kids are dating or whatever. You keep in touch. You spend some time together. You share things in common like a love of the outdoors, rural landscapes, and ecology. You watch a documentary about #longleafpines. A few days later you find yourself driving along dirt roads in rural Georgia through a carbon forest of these dwindling burnt bark trees dwelling in an endangered ecosystem that now fascinates you. There is something about coincidence, fate, and landscape that has always fascinated me. Who you meet, where life takes you, and how some grand design makes it all happen. A lot of it has to do with choices and your own relationship with risk. But there is always the randomness of the universe that writes the story if you read between the lines. Down in the garage where we drink and play pool each night the walls are covered with license plates, family photos, old signs, and this quote from Pat Conroy: "Entering Charleston is like walking through the brilliant carbon forest of a diamond with the light dazzling you in a thousand ways, an assault of light and shadow caused by light." #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #ruralamerica #patconroy #theroadislife

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When you open yourself up to the unplanned adventure you never know what might happen. One morning we ended up on a hog hunt at our friend’s pecan farm in South Georgia. Something I never imagined myself doing.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Hog Hunting: It was a dark cloudless night with more stars than I'd ever laid eyes on. No mountains to shrink the view. Just a flat endless canvas where I was able to clearly identify Canis Major, Orion's loyal dog. Ron had a constellation map that helped us find Leo the Lion. A hog hunter thought he might be able to come by tonight but something else came up so we were out driving in the dark to back fields where a man named Loren had spotted the #wildhogs the other night. As we bounced along the dirt roads and open fields I stuck my head out the window. The trees blurred past, wind blew through my hair, and a few shooting stars passed overhead. I felt wild and free and young. We wouldn't find the hogs until the next morning. #stargazing #hoghunting #southgeorgia #pecanfarm #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The #hoghunt ended in a hollow of large boulders, yellow brown rocks excavated from the loamy soil of South Georgia. The dogs followed them right in. Cindy and I heard the hogs' loud squeals and stayed in the truck. Later, after the hunt, Rich said a gun would have been less gruesome. But he thought it had something to do with the safety of the dogs who are used to first chase the #hogs down, then corner them where they sieze the hog by the ear to control them until the hunter arrives with his knife. Brandon told us hog hunting has been going on for centuries. Nationwide, wild boars and feral pigs are a menace to farm crops and the timber industry. They are also a menace to the environment. Their rooting and wallowing causes runoffs and contributes to the pollution of drinking water. Because they breed amazingly quickly and have no natural predators a group of hogs can easily overrun a small #pecanfarm like the one we were visiting in no time at all. At the end of the hunt everyone's adrenaline was pumping. Who needs coffee when you a start a day like this? Brandon said, "Once you do it a few times you're addicted." In my case, and I think I can speak for Rich too, that wouldn't be true. But it was certainly eye opening and there has to be something to learn here about other ways of life. #lessonsfromtheroad #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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I will admit I expected to see a lot of Trump support in the form of bumper stickers and lawn signs and yes, it was there.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound We passed this truck driving through Tallahassee traffic. Two women in a Nissan were driving behind the Frito Lay delivery truck with potato chips dancing on the side of the trailer. The redhead was gesticulating wildly. I could tell she was speaking loudly. Occasionally she'd place her left hand on her heart. The driver was an older gray haired woman. She just kept nodding while keeping her eyes on the heavily trafficked road. "What do you think she's talking about?" I asked. "A breakup? He broke my heart. I kicked him out of the house." "Maybe she's talking about Trump," Rich said and pointed to the message on the dirty back door. A van passed us on the right. Rich got ready to make his move and said, "Get your camera ready. You're gonna want to take a picture of this." It was a pro-Trump essay taped to the back of the van. Something about "Use the power of the Oval Office and send them all back across the border". My phone had slipped between the seat and the console. I missed the photo op. I was relieved to get out of the shopping mall, red light, traffic congested nightmare that is called Tallahassee but we were headed to the Panhandle, a place some call the Redneck Riveria. #staytuned #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #dividednation #theroadislife

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On previous visits to the South I had seen the Jesus is the Way and anti-abortion billboards. There were even more of them on this trip and I also came across signs in North Carolina regarding the transgender bathroom issue.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Blew right through the town of Boone's Mill, VA on our way to Shenandoah National Park. I could travel for months but I admit I am weary of the confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou. Our friends in Summerfield told us they struggle with living here in the south. The overbearing religion thing bothers them. "What church do you belong to?" Is a common getting to meet you question. They moved here because of a great job offer. They need to work three more years before Medicare kicks in. They admit they are counting the days. It's not that we don't all have the right to believe what we believe as far as religion goes. It's the in your face nature of it here in Bible Belt. My friend told me it makes him feel uncomfortable. Me too. #instagramwriters #instagramstories #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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It is as if people have been emboldened by the recent election. Their opinions and prejudices have been validated. Although most statehouses have now removed the Confederate flag there were plenty of them flying on front lawns, waving from the back of pickup trucks, and printed on T-shirts.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound Traffic dissipated when we reached the Panhandle. Anti- abortion billboards popped up. The land is flat. The sky is big. Until the trees close in and line the roadway. A rusted sign on a building that looks like it once housed a supermarket has a sign that offers Real God Real Church Real People. I wanted a picture but Rich wouldn't turn around. There are no shortage of churches here. Apostolic. Pentecostal. Baptist. Fundamental. Can I tell you all of this makes me feel very uncomfortable? Framed signs with white letters on black backgrounds advertise Trump: Make America Great Again. They appear to be permanent fixtures like storefront signs. Unlike the signs made of sturdy paper with wire sticks I put at the end of my driveway back in NH: Obama for President and Support the Troops. End the War. The bridge into Apalachicola reminds me of the drive to Key West. The town is funky #oldflorida. There are lots of dining options. I am keeping an #openmind here on the #redneckriveria #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #theroadislife

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By the end of the trip I admit the Confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou wore me out. The unrelenting presence of religious proselytizing was insulting and invasive. In a nation founded on the principles of religious freedom there is a certain part of the population that doesn’t understand or respect the fact that those words also mean some of us have the freedom to not believe. The political positions juxtaposed with so-called Christian values were jarring and hypocritical.

But, there are always two sides to a story.  Although I saw this in Apalachicola, a small, sweet town in the Florida Panhandle:

I also saw this next door:

And therein lies my confusion.

There was also another message along the waterfront in Apalachicola. I couldn’t find any information on who placed these words along the docks or what the words meant to the messenger. You wouldn’t think we would have to wonder about the definition of a word but yes, nowadays we do have to question not only the meaning of the word, but what it means to someone else. Even two simple words like wake and bake.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Today started with a search for breakfast. We found a coffee shop but they weren't serving food until 11:00 am. I know how Southerns have a more laid back reputation than we Northeasterns, but seriously? I told the young man working the register that we were looking for a bakery I found online. "Wake and Bake? Have you heard of it?" "Yeah. The name was controversial. They're not here anymore." Oh my. I told him about @meandollies in Exeter NH where we lived for many years The t- shirts and the bumper stickers with their logo Wake and Bake. Now a lot of us know what that means – a wake and bake is an early morning high- but they're bakers who rise early and bake bread and muffins, and censorship of words? How is that okay? He nodded in agreement but said no more. We took our coffee to go and stumbled upon an antique car show but my eye was drawn to the waterfront where I saw a few signs wrapped around poles that I didn't notice last night. Signs with Words like Sympathize. Tolerance. Love Others. Peace. Who put these here I wondered. What is their definition of these words? Is it the same definition As mine? The same definition as the Oxford dictionary? Then I saw The Scream and thought yes, maybe it is. #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #freedomofsoeech #wordsandpictures #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #wordsarepowerful #wakeandbake #theroadislife

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In the small town of Colquitt, Georgia where the pecan farm was there were also murals.

And a theater where a biannual show takes place. It’s called Swamp Gravy and it is all about sharing our stories.

Notes From The Road: The Reverse Commute Colquitt, GA is our destination for the next few days. The clock in town says it is the first #muralcity . I had never heard of a mural city and now I've visited three in one day. It is also the home of a community theater that hosts Swamp Gravy twice a year, in March and October. A folk life play billed as "you tell your story I'll tell mine" which is a little like I'm doing here with these #instagramstories Ron told us his uncle was in the play one year and told the story of the first time he stepped into a store that had air conditioning and how amazing that was. The stories they share each season are about life and death, family and community. I wish we were here in March to see it because these are stories I like to write. #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #goodfriends #swampgravy #muralcity #theroadislife

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That got me thinking about the arts and how important they are for our culture, our shared history, and reaching across the divide.

We all have stories. One of the things I did learn was that when I can connect with people one on one and we share our stories, we discover we have more in common than we thought. We share the same concerns and worries, and if we don’t, by sharing our stories we experience empathy for someone else’s struggle.

The divide exists between us when we think all Southerners wear T-shirts proclaiming “Body Tattooing by Smith and Wesson”. I actually met and spoke to the man who was wearing that T-shirt. He pulled up to a gas station on his motorcycle. He is a neighbor of our friends at the pecan farm and had helped them out numerous times. They don’t like the T-shirt either but this man was a good neighbor and he was the guy who was trying to get us oysters for dinner one night. He stopped at the gas station to update us on his progress.

My most troubling and upsetting moments along the road trip were when I saw people as the bumper stickers on their rear fenders, the T-shirts they wore, or the signs they planted on their front lawns. Not to diminish the troubling aspect of all this. Although I said I wasn’t visiting a foreign country there were many times I felt lost in a foreign land. I do realize there are a certain group of people who will never open their minds. It is when I get the chance to meet and talk to people that I find the majority of Americans are kind, honest, and willing to listen.

Still, the confusion remains.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Ron is up before everyone else each morning, mowing between the rows of #pecantrees and checking the irrigation lines for damage from the pesky wild pigs. A #pecanfarm is endless work. We took a trip to Albany, GA hauling a Kabota tracker behind us through miles of tall pines and flat farmland. The blue sky goes on forever. Albany is like Torrington, the town we shopped in when we managed the inn in CT, but the sun is brighter and more intense, washing out colors. Back in Fernandina Beach the town hall had a bell in the tower that was made in Troy, NY. where I took the first photo of the #roadtrip. We left Vermont going west toward Albany, NY. All across America things are the same but so very different. After we drop off the tractor we stop at an upholstery shop that a friendly elderly Black man owns. A younger man is his apprentice. I poke around the old chairs, sofas, and bolts of fabric. There is stuff everywhere. It reminds me of my uncle, my godfather, who was also an upholster. When I started my bookkeeping business years ago he was one of my first clients. His shop was in a large old warehouse in Providence just as cluttered and fascinating as the shop I am standing in today in rural Georgia. #memorytriggers ##thesamebutdifferent #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Do the similarities in the above Instagram post make sense or am I seeing what I want to see?

Do my questions have answers? Can our problems be solved?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Back in Colquitt running farm errands and shopping in great little stores with clothes, gizmos people don't need but want, flowers, and what-all. Ran into a guy who is a friend of our friends and we hope he shows up with oysters tonight. Met another farmer who told us about a man who works for him and recently lost his son. The son won some money at a card game and after he left the bar another man shot him to death. The man who told us this story said this Dad conveyed the story to him in a matter of fact sort of way. I will never understand America's attitude toward life, death, and guns. Never. Because I believe it shouldn't be this way. #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #gunsense #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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Many of the larger cities we visited, like Athens and Roanoke, were hip, more racially diverse, progressive, intellectually involved, and had a lot more music, theater, and arts to choose from. So what happens after Trump cuts funds for the National Endowment for the Arts?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The GPS on my phone was acting up. Siri told me she couldn't find Shenandoah National Park. I think she's tired of the road. Route 220 North dumped us in the center of downtown Roanoke. It looked like Boston's Quincy Market. We pulled over when we saw a coffee shop. A young black man was passed out in a doorway. Another man with dreadlocks passed by with his friend whose hair was knotted, his beard long, like one of those mountain men who come out of the Vermont woods about this time of year. That story is on the blog. Link in my profile and search Shameless in Brattleboro. The dreadlocked man tried to wake the young man on the pavement. "You okay, man? Wake up! Come on." He looked at me. I shook my head. He walked to the corner and checked the street signs at the intersection then called 911. In the coffee shop they played Mumford and Sons. Families shared Sunday breakfast and hipsters read the paper or communed with their phones. I got out my laptop and figured out our next route. I am not tired of the road yet. When we returned to the car the young man in the doorway was gone. #roadtrip #wordsandpictures #instagramstories #instagramwriters #homelessinamerica #americancities #twoamericas #cocacola #theroadislife

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Northeast rural towns voted for Trump, too. I even saw Trump signs in Vermont – down the road from my house – and many people refer to this liberal state as the Republic of Vermont. So does the problem start in rural America?

We are better when we talk to each other and share our stories. Since the eighties politicians have divided and conquered the American voter. Talk radio hosts scream and lie. Fake News is everywhere on the Internet. Instead of addressing real issues like education, the environment, income inequality, retirement, and so many concerns we have in common, the media and politicians distract us with social issues that divide us.

Is it our nation’s neglect of rural places and the forgotten people who live and struggle in these places that is the problem? How is it in an era when we can work anywhere with a laptop and a wifi connection that we fail to come up with solutions to this problem?

Every city we passed through we sat in traffic. Outside of Savannah it was bumper to bumper for over an hour. Aren’t there entrepreneurs who would love to live in bucolic places with the outdoors close by? Places with hiking, white water rafting, a couple of nice restaurants, and old mills that could be renovated into trendy lofts for less rent than the big cities?

Is there a way to bring diversity to these towns? How about instead of building a wall we spend money to revive the arts in rural places? Some towns like Colquitt are actually doing this on their own.

This is what I saw and remembered from my road trip. This is my confusion. As the photographer Elliott Erwitt once said, “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”

***Please share your questions in the comments. And if you can think of any solutions, please share those too.***

If you’d like to see more words and pictures from the road trip you can visit my Instagram account.

COMING SOON: How a not very well-off older couple with very little retirement funds took a road trip for two and a half weeks.

**STAY TUNED!** for #howwedidit

A Night In The ER: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a chilly night in November 2008. My oldest daughter and I were in Albany, New York visiting Sienna College. She was a junior in high school, the MVP of her lacrosse team, and Sienna was a D-1 school. Fast as grease lightening and tough as nails, she and her best friend also broke the gender barrier at Exeter High School when they earned a spot as the first two females on the boys wrestling team.

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the campus. She was hesitant about the Franciscan brothers wearing long rope belted brown robes and Jesus sandals. At the entrance to every dormitory was a cross that made her feel uncomfortable. She wasn’t raised with religion although we attended a Unitarian church for a short time. I was raised Catholic so I told her what I knew about St. Francis of Assisi, his vow of poverty and his love for all God’s creatures. At the reception in the cafeteria I dragged her over to one of the Friars and asked what percentage of the students were Catholic and how prevalent was the religious life on campus. He reassured us the college welcomed everyone and no one was required to attend mass.

We left the campus, checked into a Fairfield Inn, then drove to a cozy neighborhood restaurant. She had been complaining of a headache since the cafeteria reception. I told her it had been a long day, she probably needed something to eat. I convinced her to order some soup but she barely touched it. On the drive back to the hotel she curled up into a ball and started crying. When I say this was very unlike her, I truly mean it. I started getting scared.

Several months earlier she’d had a sharp pain in her calf. It wouldn’t go away. She called me at work complaining it was getting worse and nothing she did would relieve the pain. I called her pediatrician, Dr. Loh, the most wonderful doctor I’ve ever met. He was there when both my children were born and to this day they both wish he was still their doctor. I called her back and told her she had an appointment in a half hour. “Can you drive yourself there?” I asked. She said she could. Two hours later I got the word Dr. Loh had sent her over to the hospital for a CAT Scan and she had a DVT in her calf. He later did some testing and discovered she had Factor 5 Leiden, a genetic blood disorder that causes clotting. We soon learned my husband and several other family members, including my younger daughter, also have Factor 5 Leiden. It is what the insurance industry calls a preexisting condition.

This all unfolded after I was laid off from an accounting job I had with a developer whose office was five minutes from my house. I worked four days a week and had health insurance but then they sold the pool company they also owned, the company that provided my insurance, and they laid me off. I spent fourteen months on unemployment but rarely collected the checks because I kept busy with Accountemps. Temp jobs don’t offer benefits and my Cobra payments were $1250 a month. I had to use the small 401K I had to make the payments and this cost me a huge tax hit, too.

Two weeks before Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy I scored an accounting job in a cubicle forty-five minutes from home. The benefits plan wouldn’t kick in for three months. By October, the 401k was depleted and my Cobra insurance had run out. I’d never been without insurance but I thought we could survive two months.

So now it was November and I was in Albany with my daughter curled up in a ball in the passenger seat beside me. I asked her to describe how bad the pain was. “Bad,” she said.

“Really bad? Like maybe we should go to the hospital?” I felt like the bad mother worrying about a trip to the ER without insurance.

“I don’t think we need to go to the hospital. I just need aspirin.” The thought of a blood clot or an aneurysm outweighed the financial concerns. I pulled into an all night convenience store parking lot, bought a bottle of water and some Tylenol and asked the Arab man behind the counter where the nearest hospital was. He tried to give me directions but his English wasn’t very good. He finally said, “Just take a right at the light. You see those blue signs with letter ‘haych’. You keep following. You get there.”

“Is it a good hospital?” I asked.

“Best,” and he added, very clearly, “Albany Medical Center.”

Back in the car, I gave her the aspirin and the bottle of water. She took it but then moaned, “I think we should go to the hospital.”

I followed the instructions the guy at the convenience store gave me, my hands gripping the steering wheel, my legs shaking, and found my way to the emergency room. When we checked in they asked for my insurance. I still had the card in my wallet so I handed it to the woman at the desk. I waited nervously as she typed the info, afraid of being rejected, but she finally looked up and told us to take a seat, someone would be with us shortly. I knew I’d have to deal with the bills another day but we were in the door.

A half hour later they moved us to a room. A doctor put my daughter on an IV to hydrate her. I explained the Factor 5 Leiden situation. He said they were ordering a CAT scan but it might be awhile. Saturday nights are very busy in the ER. She fell asleep and I sat in a hard plastic chair straining my neck to watch the eleven o’clock news on the small TV hanging from the ceiling.

The doctor was certainly right about Saturday nights. At eleven o’clock all hell broke loose. I heard a commotion out in the hall so I stood in the doorway and watched as a very loud, angry black woman wearing a fur coat and a Russian cossack style fur hat was escorted to a room. She was swearing and screaming, “Don’t you touch me there.” Two male nurses joined the fray and they finally got her settled in a room down the hall. My daughter moaned and I rushed back to her side. She was thirsty so I filled a cup with water from a pitcher. She took a sip then fell back to sleep. I stroked her hair for awhile.

Another commotion arose in the hall. This time two EMT’s and two nurses were rolling a young white man on a stretcher into the room across from me. The four of them got ready to lift the man from the stretcher to the hospital bed. One of the EMT’s shouted, “On the count of three. Gunshot wound is on the left. Ok, one, two, three…lift.” The wounded man moaned. I overheard someone in the hallway say, “Drug deal gone bad.” I stepped out to go to the ladies’ room, passing the room where the woman who arrived earlier was sitting on an examining table, still wearing her hat and fur coat. She was being questioned by two men, one a cop. Someone had taped paper signs to the door and the glass walls. “Keep out. Contamination.”

I walked faster, past a father with his young son whose face was bright red. “He pitched a fever about an hour ago.” The dad spoke with an Hispanic accent. “Last I checked it was 105.” We were all here tonight in the Albany ER. Black, white, Hispanic. Poor, struggling middle class, law-abiding,  and law-breaking Americans. I picked up the pace. The last thing I needed was to pitch a fever of my own.

An aide finally arrived to take my daughter down to the basement where they do the CAT scans. I got on the elevator with them and held her hand, waited outside while they did the procedure, and then we returned to the ER room. It was cold and the nurse brought two blankets, one for me, but it was hard to get comfortable in the plastic chair. An hour later, a doctor arrived and told me the CAT scan looked fine. I asked him if maybe I had overreacted. He said, “If it were my daughter, with the factor 5 situation? I would have done the same thing.”

We got back to the hotel room at three in the morning. There were two double beds in the room but I crawled into her bed, wrapped my arm around her waist and fell asleep.

I’ve experienced American healthcare in all its glory and infamy. I’ve had self-employed insurance and work insurance and for two months of my life no insurance. I’ve had high deductibles and in 1992 discovered my insurance didn’t cover pregnancy. When my second daughter was born two and a half years after her sister I was still paying the bills for my first delivery. We had better insurance by then so thankfully the second pregnancy was covered. My husband has a prescription for a blood thinner that without insurance and the help of a kind Walmart pharmacist would cost $650 a month.

My husband and I recently started watching Breaking Bad. I don’t know how we lived in America for so long without having seen the show. I’d heard so much about it but it was always described to me as a show about a chemistry teacher who starts making crystal meth. During the very first episode, I turned to my husband and said, “This show is about health insurance in America.”

I am not sure if the writers of Breaking Bad succeeded in eliciting empathy from the American public regarding the issue of health insurance, so I don’t know why I even try except for the fact I don’t know what else to do as we careen towards January 20th. What happened to me and my family in Albany can happen to almost anyone on any given day in America.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are itching to gut Medicare. During the campaign, Trump promised to overturn the Affordable Healthcare Act. If he succeeds, roughly 20 million people stand to lose their health insurance.

A month after that night in Albany, the $3700 bill for the four hours in the ER had arrived, and my health insurance finally kicked in. I already knew I hated the job in the cubicle but I ended up spending four years there sitting for healthcare. The start date for my insurance was December 25th and I put the individual cards in everyone’s stocking that Christmas.

H.L. Mencken may have been right when he wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Unfortunately even those of us who didn’t want this will have to share in the misery of breaking bad.

***Please share your American healthcare stories in the comments below and let your representatives know if you have concerns about repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act. I am only one small voice but together we are stronger and louder.***

#bebrave #speakup #stayinformed

Hinsdale, NH: A Slice of American Life

We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend

I needed to drive to Walmart in Hinsdale to pick up my husband’s prescription which required a drive down to Brattleboro and over the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. You know you’ve left Vermont when you pass the state liquor store and the fireworks shops.

At the pharmacy a seventy two year old woman used a three footed cane to navigate the shelves filled with prescription bags. She told me her sciatic was acting up. When she asked for my husband’s birthdate she said, “Oh! That’s today. Tell him I said Happy Birthday.” “Yes, he’s 59 today,” I replied. She laughed. “In my next life I’m going to be 59 forever.” I wondered what circumstances in her life had led her to a job standing on her feet all day at a Walmart Super Store at the age of 72. Did she need the money to pay the rent or the insurance deductibles or the prescriptions she needed? Whatever her circumstances, she was witty and sarcastic and making the best of her situation.

Out in the parking lot I passed a car with two flags attached to the hood. Don’t Tread on Me and the U.S. flag. The back of the car was covered with bumper stickers. Impeach Obama. Trump for President. If You can Read This You’re In Range. Make America Great Again. It’s 3 a.m. and Hillary’s Already Telling Lies.

I’d been driving to this Walmart since we moved to Vermont in May. I decided it was time to see what else Hinsdale had to offer besides Walmart, bottle rockets, and cheap booze so I left the parking lot and headed south along the Connecticut River to the center of town. On the outskirts I passed a couple of next door neighbors with opposing political points of view.

hinsdale-trump

 

hinsdale-hillary

Hinsdale Headline: A 38 year old Hinsdale man was accused of raping a 14 year old girl he knew. He locked her inside a house and tied her up before raping her. He was released on $10,000 recognizance bail due to the fact he had cooperated during the investigation and when told by the police they were ready to press charges, turned himself in. The man lived with his parents and bail is continent upon him continuing to do so.

In Vermont, most people have taken down their lawn signs now that the election is over and we are learning how to live with the results. Except for the Bernie signs and bumper stickers which are everywhere. Don’t blame me, I too voted for Bernie and feel sad and helpless every day I hear about another Trump appointment. I guarantee Bernie would not have chosen a Treasury Secretary even remotely connected to Goldman Sachs.

The population of Hinsdale is 4,046. 1,548 people live in the designated downtown area. Pisgah State Park and Wantastiquet Mountain State Forest are inside the town limits so there is some excellent hiking around here. The farmland is also described as excellent.

hinsdale-main-st

Main Street Hinsdale, NH

Hinsdale Headline: A 24 year old local woman has been charged with possession of heroin with intent to sell and pleaded not guilty. Police found 130 “bindles” – small packages or bags – in the car she was traveling in. She was pulled over on Brattleboro Road (where the Walmart is located). because her drug counselor was driving eleven miles over the speed limit. The woman was sitting in the back seat and one of the police officers recognized her from a previous arrest for driving with a suspended license. A warrant has also been issued for failing to appear in court so she was asked to step out of the car, which she did while pulling 2 bindles (equivalent to 20 bags) of heroin from her bra. The police asked the driver if there were any more drugs in the car and he said he saw the woman place a large quantity in her coffee cup where allegedly the officers found an additional 110 bindles. Two more bindles were found in her purse. The driver told the police he had come to Hinsdale to pick up the woman and drive her to Connecticut to continue her rehab. She is being held on $50,000 cash bail but the court approved $30,000 personal recognizance bail if she is accepted into the Cheshire County jail’s electronic monitoring program.

hinsdale-one-dollar-treasure

Main Street Hinsdale, NH

The media is now analyzing what went wrong with their election predictions. They blame the faulty polls, the DNC, Hillary’s emails, the FBI chief Comey, the fact people wouldn’t admit they were voting for Trump, and angry white men. They also blame each other. It was Fox. No, it was CNN. Rarely do they admit they all ignored the candidate drawing the largest crowds. Bernie Sanders. They were too busy making sure Donald Trump dominated the airwaves because he was good for business. His tweets were breaking news.

Hinsdale headline: A 50 year old man has been accused of home improvement fraud. He allegedly accepted more than $50,000 for a project located in Vermont but never did the work. The Brattleboro State Police arrested him in Townsend, VT without incident and the accused man did not post the $5,000 bail. He is currently at the correctional facility in Springfield, VT.

In 1875 George A. Long built a self-propelled steam vehicle in Hinsdale. It was referred to as the Long steam tricycle for which Mr. Long received one of the nation’s earliest automobile patents. Hinsdale was also the home of a paper mill that manufactured tissue and toilet paper.

 

The oldest continually-operating post office in the United States is also here. It was established in 1816 and is located on Main Street. A popular greyhound race track was a draw to the area but it was closed in 2008 due to competition from casinos. The facility has since been demolished.

hinsdale-post-office

Post Office Hinsdale, NH

According to the website Best Places the unemployment rate in Hinsdale, NH is 2.80%. That’s damn close to full employment. Future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 37.57%. The state of New Hampshire has no sales tax or state income tax. Income per capita in Hinsdale is $24, 362 with a median household income of $48,015. The average price of a home is $150,300 but mobile homes are available for as low as $13,000. 88.4% of students graduate from high school. 43%  of students are economically disadvantaged.

Hinsdale Headline: A 37 year old Hinsdale man allegedly jumped through his neighbor’s windshield and faces four charges in connection with the incident: criminal threatening, resisting arrest, reckless conduct, and criminal mischief. Police said his behavior was due to a drug-induced psychosis brought on by “two drugs mixed into one”. The drugs he took are unknown. The incident occurred when he was walking down the street and saw his neighbor driving toward him. He sprinted at full speed toward the car and hurled himself through the windshield, landing partially in the passenger side. After being extricated from the vehicle, he started to growl and the responding police officer had to use a taser to subdue him.

hinsdale-waterfall

The Falls that once powered the mills. Hinsdale, NH

The only coffee shop in town appeared to be closed. Despite the neon Open sign, the shades were drawn and no cars were parked out front, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to anyone in Hinsdale. When I took a photo of the waterfall that once powered the mills that are no longer here there was only one other man walking his dog in the small public park. He stared at me in a suspicious sort of way. As I walked through the small town taking photos the rain picked up. A couple of people ran into the post office but other than that the streets were quiet. A sign in front of the Congregational Church had an ominous warning: “Watch and Get Ready. You Don’t Know When the Master Will Come.”

hinsdale-war-memorial

Memorial for Hinsdale residents who fought America’s wars.

 

On November 8th, Hillary Clinton won Hinsdale 917 to 733 votes. Surprised? Yes, I was too. I admit when I Googled election results I expected to find Trump had won here. I’m not a politician or a public policy expert. I don’t know what Trump voters were thinking here or across America on Tuesday November 8, 2016 but I am living with the results of the election and I worry about my daughters who are just setting out on their lives as young adults in a very divided and troubled nation.

I left town heading west toward Route 91, referred to as the Heroin Highway around these parts. I am trying to find answers, trying to keep an open mind, and digging deep for empathy and understanding. I’ve visited a lot of these towns throughout America. I have seen the forgotten places and the people who are hurting. I am searching for hope in what feels like an angry, bitter world.

hinsdale-former-glory

Hinsdale, NH Home circa 1800’s

TATTERED FLAGS: FRYING BACON NAKED

Months ago, I started a tattered flag photo series on Instagram. The flags are not all literally tattered but in some way they are a symbol of our tattered nation and the election of 2016.

vfw-hall-shelburne-falls-ma

VFW Hall Shelburne, MA

Last week I was visiting my older daughter in Lake Tahoe. She and her boyfriend, along with my husband, like to golf. It’s not my thing, so on the days they hit the golf course they would drop me off in Truckee where I wandered the streets. I find the most interesting photos are hiding on the back roads so I walked along the railroad tracks and the side streets where old houses are tucked in together, imagining them buried in snow, snuggling to keep warm.

truckee-barber-shop

Historic Truckee, CA

I am a lifelong liberal. The prospect of a President Trump is beyond the borders of frightening. However, from my perspective, the powers that be — the wealthy donors, the respective political parties, the Super Pacs, the media — have given hardworking, taxpaying citizens an election without a choice this year. I honestly feel like someone grabbed me by the neck and shoved me up against a wall and said “you have to vote for her.”

“I know. I know. I will. I promise,” I answer in a strangled voice, gasping for air. The night before one of my afternoons in Truckee, before the weekend of the hot mic that revealed some disgusting locker room talk between Trump and Billy Bush, I finally stopped procrastinating and registered on-line to vote in Vermont. The next morning I received a reply. “Congratulations, you’re registered to vote.”

I posted the news on Facebook along with my doubts, concerns, and trepidation. Within seconds a ‘friend’, someone I only know through another friend I met after I wrote a blog about his book, called me a BernieBot and said “Fuck you, Enjoy President Trump.” It’s unsettling to receive these kinds of things so I started shaking, immediately deleted my rather innocuous post, and before I could block him, he blocked me. These are the times we live in. So much for civility and freedom of speech. This guy is voting for Hillary and so am I, albeit reluctantly. Politics is a blood sport these days.

In Truckee I took so many pictures my phone battery died. I was in need of an electrical outlet. The Bar of America seemed like an ironically appropriate place. They had outlets all along the walls and their menu offered The Stiff Drink. “Oh come on everyone asks for one, so here it is, with a Bacardi 151 float!” After last night’s emaiI, maybe I could have used one of those but instead I ordered a margarita. A passing train blew its whistle as I took my first tart limey sip. The Orioles were playing the Bluejays and at five o’clock the place was filling up fast.

train-in-truckee

Train passing through Truckee

This is a small town. The owner of the bar traveled from table to table talking to the locals. A guy passing by on the sidewalk knocked on the window and waved at two couples sitting at a table behind my barstool. “That’s my barber,” one of the guys told the other three. Another couple sat down next to me and ordered a half dozen chili rellenos standing up in shot glasses filled with a pink creamy dipping sauce. They also ordered boilermakers. The husband dropped his shot glass of whisky into his mug of draft IPA and some of it spilled over the side. “You did it wrong,” his wife told him. “You have to sip some of the beer first.” She proceeded to show him how it is done, perfectly.

The husband had a long gray ponytail and the wife looked like a friend of mine I met while working at the Inn. I quickly struck up a conversation. They are building a house up in the mountains outside of town and the wife showed me pictures on her phone. I told them about our house in Vermont and showed them pictures of the collapsing foundation and the renovation. Their kids had attended a private boarding school in Concord, MA so they were familiar with New England. We discussed my Rhode Island accent and I told them I never thought to change it but wished I had.

“Regional accents are good,” the husband said. “So, Vermont. That’s where a certain senator with the initials B.S. is from, right?”

I wondered when we’d get to the topic of the election of 2016. It seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Did he mean bullshit when he used Bernie’s initials? Despite that possibility I decided, What the hell. The couple was friendly and I’d ordered my second margarita. I decided to go there. “You mean Bernie Sanders? Yeah, I voted for him in the primary when I was living in Connecticut.”

“So did we!” they said simultaneously, the husband slapping his hand down on the bar. Phew! A barroom brawl avoided. It seemed as if the three of us breathed a collective sigh of relief which released the flood gates holding back the desire to talk about the underlying hum of anxiety that has gripped the nation.

“Trump is beyond awful but I don’t trust Hillary,” he said.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. We have to vote for her,” she told him.

“No we don’t. We live in California. He’s not going to win this state.”

“I’ve contemplated the same thing.” I admitted. “He won’t win Vermont either and we’re dealing with an electoral college so we could lodge a protest and not vote. Still, I’ve never not voted. Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t vote.”

“Do you really think it’s working now?” he asked.

“No, not even close, but we have to protect the Supreme Court.”

“Do you think she means what she says about Citizens United?”

“No. Maybe…” I laughed nervously. “We can only hope, right?”

They nodded in solemn agreement and we changed the subject to the new Thursday night football uniforms. The wife and I didn’t like them. He did.

truckee-and-trump

Truckee, CA

One of the pictures I took in Truckee was of a flag hanging from a porch with a Trump/Pence sign on the front lawn. It was snuggled between two houses, both with Tibetan prayer flags strung along their front porches. Do we assume the Tibetan prayer neighbors are liberals and the Trump family are bigots? It’s hard to imagine voting for Trump and ignoring all the atrocious things he says, but maybe they are low information voters who aren’t tuned in? Maybe they get all their info from a certain news channel? Are they tired of politics as usual? Do they think an outsider, a businessman who doesn’t pay taxes, will improve their lives and clean up Washington? Do these neighbors get along?

These questions are impossible to answer and if you think any of these divides and issues and problems are going away after the election you’re a better dreamer than I.

The following night we were in South Lake Tahoe and had dinner at an old-fashioned Italian restaurant that played Frank Sinatra, had a large salad bar, and a 1950’s Italian trattoria vibe. I asked my daughter if she’d registered to vote. Yes, and she’s voting for Hillary.

“We need to get you registered, too” I told Rich. “We’ll do it when we get back to the room.”

We discussed the election for a bit although Rich hates discussing politics. A woman two tables over called out, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help overhearing some of what you were talking about just now. So…” She hesitated. “Do you mind? Ummm, you know… I was just wondering… Who are you voting for?”

Rich nudged me under the table. The Don’t Get Started nudge, but I ignored him. “We’re voting for Hillary. Reluctantly, but the alternative is unthinkable.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “We are, too. But his..” she pointed to her husband, “his co-workers at the distribution center where he works are all voting for Trump and it’s so scary. We were beginning to think he might actually win this thing.”

They live over the border in Nevada which at the time I am writing this has Hillary up four percentage points in the polls. We talked for awhile. “I don’t see how he can win,” I said, trying to reassure her but what do I know? The waitress brought our bill and we got up to leave. “Good luck to all of us,” the worried woman from Nevada said as we walked toward the door.

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Trash Heap Providence, RI

Lost in all the profanity and bullying and obscenity of Trump over the weekend of the hot mic locker room conversation and the debate that embarrassed a nation was also the news of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches. My heart sank when I read about it. It left me with an anxious feeling in my gut. All that trepidation and doubt that brought about the hate email I received.

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Winnemucca, NV

On Wednesday at the Salt Lake City airport while waiting to board our flight my husband struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a New England Patriots sweatshirt and a U.S. Marine baseball cap. They talked about Tom Brady and how he was on fire during Sunday’s game. A man with a mission. I joined in and added, “There’s no stopping him when he’s pissed.” Rich asked the Marine where he lived and he told us Rhode Island. We got into the where in Rhode Island are you from conversation. I grew up in Warwick, he grew up in West Greenwich, his wife was from Cranston.

“We live in Vermont now,” Rich told them.

“Aaaah, Bernie country,” he said. “We voted for him. He won Rhode Island. I couldn’t believe it.” He said this with a smile full of wonder then frowned. “Now we got a mess on our hands. Trump’s a raving lunatic. And her….I can’t bring myself to vote for her. Don’t trust her. I’m sitting this one out.” His wife nodded in agreement. I didn’t say it out loud but I thought to myself, Bernie was as pissed as Brady but politics is a different game than football. And yes, I know, if you want to bring deflategate into the discussion some would say both games are equally rigged. Such is the world we live in.

A guy wearing a Korean War baseball cap came over to shake the Marine’s hand and said, “Thanks for your service.”

“Well, thank you too,” the guy from Rhode Island replied.

“I always make a point of thanking another vet.”

It was time to board our plane. We were flying Southwest. The veterans had an A boarding pass. We were a C.

Before I could vote, when I was sixteen, I rode my bike to McGovern headquarters in Warwick, R.I. to phone bank for George McGovern. I was twelve the day RFK died and I cried. My first presidential vote went to Jimmy Carter in 1976. It’s been a long forty years and a lot of elections haven’t gone my way but that’s how democracy works. I have canvased and phone banked for Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other Democrats over the years. I’ve contributed small dollar amounts to campaigns. I sent twenty seven dollars to Bernie times four. I have never not voted, even in the mid-terms. Raised by a U.S. History teacher, I understand my civic duty. I know my vote is my only voice.

I am afraid for my country and the state of our democracy. Of course, I am with her.

On the flight home I sat next to a man flying to Missouri and reading USA Today. One of the headlines was Trump at War With GOP. Our descent into Chicago was bumpy and turbulent. Surrounded by clouds, there was zero visibility behind, below, and ahead of us. The landing came in hard and fast. It seemed the flight was a metaphor for the 2016 election.

Arriving safely at our gate, the steward welcomed us to Chicago and said, “It’s a crazy world out there. Stay safe, be kind to one another, and pay it forward. Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling chicken and don’t fry bacon naked.”

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Leaving Midway Airport, Chicago

As I write this blog, I feel nervous and hesitant about posting it. Is there someone else out there whom I will piss off because I’m not enthusiastic about my choice? Although Hillary is more than qualified, I don’t see this election changing much of anything for middle class America. It’s politics as usual and there’s some really big money involved. I felt a lot better when millions of us donated $27. We knew the candidate was beholden to We the People. I hope I’m wrong. I would love for Hillary to prove me wrong. I will gladly eat crow if I am wrong, but it seems to me the problems we have will continue to fester and I hate to think about where we will be in 2020.

There are a few things I do know. Kindness is rare but it can still be found if you look hard enough. We can all learn a lot by talking to strangers. We live in a period of history when no one feels safe, and that may have something to do with the fact that at times it seems this country is frying bacon naked.

Lessons From the Road: A Slice of American Life

The drive from Lake Tahoe to Park City, Utah along Route 80 is like traveling across the moon. It is an eight hour trip through the middle of nowhere. A full tank of gas is a necessity. It is important to remember this if you ever happen to be traveling this stretch of highway.

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Route 80 Nevada

The landscape is desert sand, sagebrush, salt flats, train tracks, and an occasional cluster of trucks, RV’s and Port-a Pottys gathered together for a dirt bike rally. Exit signs mark various locations, such as Hot Springs, a place where smoke rises from the desert soil like hot water from a steamy tub but the springs are not a destination. A pipeline runs in a mile long circle and what appears to be a power plant stores energy from thermal springs. Rich and I speculated on what exactly was going on there.

Below the sign for the exit was another sign: No Services. Exits with gas stations are far and few between. If you’re ever driving Route 80 across Nevada, keep that in mind.

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Rock formations along Route 80 Nevada

Economizing, we had rented a small bright red Yarvis. The golf clubs didn’t fit in the trunk so we put the back seats down. It also had a wimpy horn that Rich tooted every once in awhile, making a sound like the Roadrunner. However, the little car that could did occasionally reach ninety miles per hour. Most of the ride we tried to keep to the speed limit of seventy-five. The gas tank was much smaller than we are used to. If I ever rent a Yarvis again, I will remember that.

On the radio, we found a local talk show that filled us in on What’s Happening in Winnemucca, Nevada. Bill, a lifelong town employee passed away recently. He worked at the Water Department, and then Parks and Recreation until he retired. He enjoyed golfing and playing with his grandkids. The local schools in town are being redistricted. One school district has too many kids and the other has too little, so students living at the new apartment complex over by the Good Morning Furniture Store will be sent over to the underpopulated school.

A burst of green would occasionally appear on the horizon and we’d drive by what looked like turf farms or a stand of cyprus  running along a driveway leading to a group of trailers or a small ranch house. A woman on the radio sang, “I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you.” Rich thought she sounded confused and changed the channel.

There are four exits for Winnemucca, population 7,396.  At the second exit a sign on a building announced Beer and Brothel. Get Off Now. “I suppose that could be interpreted in more ways than one ,” Rich said. The gas stations advertised slot machines but we had a half a tank. The full tank theory hadn’t occurred to me yet. Remember that?

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Winnemucca, Nevada

It was a sleepy, quiet Sunday afternoon in downtown Winnemucca. We needed to stretch our legs and find a restroom. I suggested the Winners Inn and Casino where the New England Patriots game was on the TVs. It was Brady’s first game back. Unable to pick up the game on the radio we watched a few plays. Slot players sat alone dropping quarters in machines on a blue sky day and only one blackjack table was occupied with a woman wearing a flannel jacket and stiletto heels and a chain smoking young guy  in a leather jacket and baseball cap. Leaning his elbows on the table, he looked anxious. He hit on a sixteen. Although my husband never gambles a good friend of his does and he whispered, “You should never hit on sixteen.” The dealer, a woman a little older than me, won the hand and swept his chips away. A rancher in blue jean overalls and a white T-shirt headed into Pete’s Kitchen, a 24 hour diner.

Outside I took a few photos. The bar across the street from the parking lot offered an all day Happy Hour. Back on the road, we picked up a good radio station outside of Elko. Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, and Canned Heat’s Going Up the Country. The trippy music set the scene for desert mirages until we lost the  signal and found an old episode of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. On the west bound side of the road, a tractor trailer was flipped on its side. Two police cars and a couple of auto body shop guys were loading the cargo from one truck to another.

In Elko we stopped at Burger King and got the two for $10 Big Mac Meal Deal. Several miles back Rich said we should get gas at the next stop. After we ate we got back in the car and onto the highway where we blew through Wells fifty miles down the road. Twenty miles east of Wells, Rich shouted, “Shit, we forgot to get gas.” The next town was Wendover, fifty five miles east. The red light came on twenty miles after Rich shared this dire news so we pulled into a rest stop to ask a guy in a truck if he had some gas. Everyone drives around with gas when they live in the middle of nowhere, right? No, not necessarily. If you’re ever driving this road, remember not to take that for granted.

“Wish I could help you, but you’re not going to make it,” the guy in the truck said. “There are no exits between here and Wendover. You can’t even turn around and go back to Wells.”

Luckily, we have Triple A so we gave them a call. They found someone in Wells but it would take about an hour for him to get to us. We  immediately started arguing and blamed each other. I said it’s the driver’s responsibility to keep an eye on the gas. He thought I should have reminded him about the gas. On the bright side, there was a restroom in the parking lot. I walked over to use it and Rich paced back and forth along a dirt bike trail. When I returned a woman in a beat up old truck filled with a kitchen table and chairs pulled in to take her sheep dog for a walk. Her short hair was carrot colored and she was wearing a sweat shirt that said, “Over the Hill? I think you have the wrong person.” She appeared to be in her mid-sixties and was driving a faded blue station wagon, the passenger side dented.

We told her we had run out of gas and on the off chance, we asked if she had some. “Oh gee, I wish I did. It’s happened to me before so I should be prepared, and by the way, I know the Triple A guy in Wells. He’s a good kid. I was married to a gambler and you know what they say. Fill your tank before you go to the casino. You might not have gas money when you drive home.” It has happened to me before, too. I should have remembered the road trip to Florida.

As her dog sniffed around the parking lot, she told us she was moving to Ogden, Utah. She lived back in Elko for twenty years, “the longest I’ve ever lived in a place. My husband said we had to move there and then four years later he dropped dead. I had a good job so I stayed. But now my daughter in Ogden has scleroderma. You know what that is?”

“Some kind of auto-immune disease?” I asked.

“Yes. Your skin stiffens and turns to leather. Your feet curl up, you can’t walk, your face stiffens up, you can’t eat. Your organs, too. I’m moving out there to help her die.”

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Forty-five.”

We talked for awhile about life, bad luck, and her plans to take a road trip with her daughter while she could still get around in a wheelchair. Another dog owner pulled into the rest area and his dog jumped out of the car. Her dog got nervous and she said, “I better go. He’s afraid of other dogs.” We wished her well and then she was off. We never got her name. After she left, we didn’t return to bickering. I rolled down the windows in the car, got out my laptop, and started writing. Rich called some friends on his cell phone and spent the better part of the hour’s wait talking on the phone.

The tow truck driver arrived about forty minutes later. He was a handsome young man who had been working at the tractor trailer rollover all day. The truck rolled over one and a half times but the driver suffered only a broken wrist. “He was lucky,” he said, then told us the cost for the gas would be $11.25. The service call was covered by Triple A.

We got on the road and texted our friend Steve in Park City to let him know what happened. He said he’d have cold beer, red wine, and beef stew in the crockpot waiting for us. Thirty-five miles later we saw the town of Wendover in the distance. A mirage with neon casino signs blinking like stars against a pink and blue sunset sky. In the distance was the Utah border and the Bonneville salt flats. It appeared to be a large lake but as we got closer we realized it was an alien landscape flat as a pancake covered with thick crusty salt that looked like snow. To the west the scene was interrupted by mountains, to the east the salt flats appeared to go on forever and you could almost see the curvature of the earth.

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Wendover, Nevada

The view turned to darkness as the sun set and the stars came out. The moon which was just a sliver four nights ago was now a full half moon. I stared out the window at the passing taillights and thought about how running out of gas isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, how their journey will play out. Losing my Mom this summer was sad and I miss her but my loss pales compared to the road that lies ahead for the stranger I met at the rest stop. In a fortunate life, our parents pass away when we are adults and we don’t have to bury our children. The mother I met In Nevada was moving to Ogden to help her daughter die. A cheerful, friendly stranger at a rest stop who I will not forget, delivering a message to not sweat the small stuff when traveling the road of life.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.