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Welcoming Life

July 2013

It Takes A Cottage

For almost sixty days, this grand cottage on the coast of Maine has been my family's home. My great-grandfather, William Henry Wilder, built this cottage at the turn of the century for his family and six succeeding generations have been grateful for his gift.

It is a family home. One that my family shares with my niece and her husband--by splitting the summer in half. Our stay begins in late May (as soon as weather allows the water to be turned on without freezing the pipes) and ends July 31--two days from now.

Each year, 67 and counting, as the time to pack the cars and stow our personal items in the attic draws near, I am struck with a bit of melancholy. I believe I started to sense a kind of sadness about leaving even when I was a small child. I especially remember being told by my parents that I could NOT bring anything alive home with me. Usually, I disobeyed, the evidence discovered when live periwinkles, starfish, and who knows what else began to smell--I just had to bring part of the sea with me.

Now, I bring memories with me to mull over as I review the two months of experiences. I pack up images in my head to take home, rather than sea treasures. I've shared over the last several weeks some of the images , such as "jumping for joy" and different generations clasping hands together at the water's edge. 

There are so many more.

I associate sounds as well as images when I think about the many splendid moments--like the echo of laughter during a badminton game, or the squeal of delight in trying to maneuver a homemade raft in choppy water, or watching a small laser sailboat capsize on its mooring during a torrential rainstorm and hearing the confident voices saying--"no problem, we can right it easily."

These are the images, but there is more to their richness . There have been pure halcyon moments--like seeing my two children together under this old roof playing a game they've played for years around the dining room table, and this year being joined by some of their children. Or watching older cousins helping to teach the younger cousin, how to navigate slippery, seaweed-covered rocks and look for barnacles ("those white things") to help secure footing. And watching my son-in-law and daughter-in-law show their love for this adopted summer home.

Above all, my packed-up memories are ladened with gratitude to those who came before with the vision of creating this family place, and now to those who will secure its future. My wistfulness of thinking about closing the door for the last time this summer turns very quickly to savoring the memories and looking forward to opening the door next year to begin it all again.

Ode to Joy

When I posted this photograph to FB, a  friend commented "Ode to joy".She was right, a lyrical poem could be written about the joy captured in this image. Nine friends and a dog had been asked by the various family photographers to gather as a group so that we could hold together a memory for them and us of the preceding days of their enjoying each other's company--laughing, boating, listening to music and playing a crazy game on their Iphones and Ipads that involved a lot of frantic shouting. Once we had them gathered, my daughter, Katie, asked them to jump. And they did and when they did-- "jumping for joy" never held such meaning.
For a week, I had the privilege of enjoying this group of friends---hearing their laughter, watching parents and children make memories together and new friendships being forged. I feel younger, lighter, and happier just having been a tangential part of their summer fun. Their joy was contagious, and this photograph will help make the feeling permanent.
Fifty six years separate the youngest and the oldest participants in this week of fun (I being the oldest). The whole experience helped convince me (I didn't need much) that one of the best things in life is mixing generations--not separating them; at least making the goal of one generation learning from the other and sharing their joy.


 Good times go so fast. I took this photograph a week ago of my son and my three grandchildren on the rocks in front of our Maine cottage. The fog was just lifting, so hopes were high that the "messing about in boats" could begin. The sun did shine and the "messing" began.

As I stood on the porch, getting this image into focus, I was looking at the fifth and sixth generations to stand on these rocks. I am the fourth. Each of us has come to this place in the first months of our lives. While I know I am blessed to watch my grandchildren and children experience the beauty of this place and honor its heritage,I am also acutely aware of the fleeting moments.

This morning, I watched my son's car pull out of the driveway headed for home, and tears streamed down my face. I did not want to shed them, but there they were reminding me of how fast the previous five days had flown by. The solace was, we didn't squander any of them.

We laughed around the dinner table, we played a card game that we play every year, we rowed the boats, swam in what we never admit is frigid water, held hands so we wouldn't slip in the seaweed,  took in just about everything our surroundings offered and acknowledged how precious it was to have three generations under one roof. The hustle of the good times continues, friends and family are ready to make more happy memories for the next few weeks.

My nostalgia lingers, though. I try to push it away, but the memories of the recent week and years past creep into my thoughts. For now, I need to sit with them--just for awhile. Not so long that they dampen the happy times ahead, but long enough to absorb the echoes of the laughter and the conversations-a respectful pause to relish memories, thereby making them less fleeting.

Healing Road

Tomorrow I say goodbye to a friend--a non-human friend--a car. I am sad about saying goodbye. I've never been attached to a material object before, I work hard at managing difficult transitions. But when I heard the service rep at the car dealership say to me that my car was "totaled" after having been caught in one of the flash floods that hit the NE last week, I was bereft.

Let me be clear--this car was eleven years old with 187,000 miles. But that's the clue, it was eleven years old--the number of years it had carried me around since my husband died. It was my first major purchase without the guidance of my husband--although, my son and daughter played a role in helping me choose the car (which only added to its cherished status). It was time to say goodbye; probably five years ago would have been the right time to say goodbye, but I couldn't part with it.

Just about the time I bought the car, my son, Rob, recommended a book to me written by Neil Peart, drummer/lyricist for the band RUSH. The book, Ghost Rider:Travels on the Healing Road was a travel memoir that he wrote about a 55,000 mile journey he took on his motorcycle after the deaths( in the same year) of his 19 year old daughter and his wife. He was lost in grief.

The year the book was published, 2002, was the year my husband died. I read the book and while I did not hop on a motorcycle, I did hop into my new car and traveled to five cities in Canada--alone. I write about the experience in  Above and Beyond Wellfleet, and how healing the journey was for me. I decided to take this trip to escape the first holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas)without Larry. That meant I was traveling through Canada through wicked snowstorms and on icy roads. My car never flinched at the challenge--that's when I think I developed my first friendship with a  "thing" rather than a person.

Over the past eleven years, my friend has taken me down many highways. It has seen me sing at the top of my lungs and heard me gush to myself about beautiful scenery. It made me feel safe and independent--two crucial aspects of learning to accept my new role as "widow."

Tomorrow, I will go to the dealership and remove my personal belongings and probably pat the hood, and mostly likely I will cry. Somehow it doesn't seem right that it will end up as scrap. It will always be in my museum of memories.

The intervening eleven years when we first hit the road together on my journey have been good years--hard in some ways, but as I say goodbye tomorrow I will also say a quiet thanks to my traveling companion who shared many a strengthening adventure with me.

"Messing about in boats"

In Kenneth Grahame's beautiful book, The Wind in the Willows (a CBW favorite) The Water Rat says to Mole, "There is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Ratty was right. My head is full of memories of watching my children, Katie and Rob, learning to maneuver the outboard motor boat, doing shallow water drills. Until they mastered the technique, which was watching for rocks, cutting the motor and tipping the motor up out of the water, they couldn't get their "captain's license", until they could do that without hesitation. They each  passed with flying colors and now they will begin the training process all over again with their children.

Our Maine cottage is the perfect (well almost perfect, there have been some adventures) training ground. The Bay is protected by a series of nearby islands-so boundaries are established for first solo voyages. A dinghy is tied up on shore to hop into if a problem seems to be developing. One might guess that the grandmother's eyes (that would be me) are always on the lookout.

The motor boat is the "let's go on a picnic or fishing" boat. The dinghy is like the "training wheels" boat. BUT the boat that means the most to our family is the boat in this photograph. It is a Jim Steele Peapod. Steele was considered to be one of the best builders of small wooden boats on the coast of Maine--by which that pretty much means the whole wooden boat-building universe.

My family had admired the beautiful boats for years. My daughter took the admiration to another level. One day when we were having breakfast at the cottage, she announced that she was going to go to Brooklin, ME, take her toddler son and find Jim Steele and ask him to build a Peapod for our family. She found his house, knocked on his door and after the proper introductions (Ethan's smile helped), she asked Mr. Steele if he would build a Peapod for our family. She explained that the Peapod would honor her and her husband's anniversary and the Peapod had long been a dream of her grandfather's and her recently deceased stepfather. He was kind, but allowed that he was retired. Katie gently kept the conversation going. Finally, Jim said, in a very measured Maine way, perhaps if you wrote me a letter and explained why the Peapod would mean a lot to you, I will consider it.

Done. Katie came home, told the story and said "mom, time to start writing." I did. Jim Steele read the letter; he built a Peapod for our family. He and his wife delivered the Peapod to us the following summer, on a perfect day--cool, crisp, bright sunshine--Northwest wind. We sat on the porch with his wife Pamela, ate tomato sandwiches and watched his creation bob up and down in the water.

We knew that we would always treasure this boat and be grateful to this master builder. We did not know how much we would treasure the moment of sharing our time with him on the porch. He died several years later--too young at 70.

Jim Steele built 178 Peapods. Ours was one of the last. Katie had the foresight to ask him to put a brass plate on the inside of the boat, detailing the provenance. One wooden boat admirer (Bob Barancik) wrote after Jim Steele's death--a national treasure is gone. But not his boats. They will outlive anyone reading this column by at least a century or two." 

The Peapod is a worthy boat as well as a beautiful boat. Several years ago, it carried a friend and me all the way around Friendship Long Island--emphasis on the word LONG. We started out on a rising tide, beautiful sunny day and came home at low tide with threatening thunderclouds and rain. Don't ask me what I was thinking. I won't do that again. But I will row to my heart's content nearer to home, I will watch with pleasure the boat filled with grandchildren and family. And just as lovely--I will watch it sit in the water, as a beautiful piece of art, honoring the legacy of  a kind, generous and brilliant man.

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