01 May 2014

May Day

I enjoy the tradition of hanging a May Basket
on an unsuspecting neighbor's door.

(Although if you do it often enough,
how unsuspecting can they really be?)

This morning a light rain was falling as I tip-toed through my garden,
snipping grape hyacinth, forsythia, cherry blossoms, and myrtle.

Hail, sweet month of May!
Hail, bright month of May!
Bring sunshine with thee,
Chasing clouds away.
March has left us sighing
In cold and chilly blast,
April's tears have fallen,
May has come at last!

26 April 2014

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...

Queen: Slave in the magic mirror, come from the farthest space,
through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak! Let me see thy face.
Magic Mirror: What wouldst thou know, my Queen?
Queen: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? 

When I was very small, and would visit my paternal grandmother's house, one of my favorite pastimes was standing on a small stool to look into her "Snow White" mirror.

It wasn't a "Snow White" mirror, of course, since no one spoke back to me despite my conjuring. All I saw was my own round, freckled face peering back at me.

But it certainly looked like the mirror that the wicked Queen questioned in the faery tale.

When my grandmother passed away, my aunt asked if there was anything of hers I would like.

"Her Snow White mirror!" I said, knowing she would know immediately what I meant.

At times I have been tempted to paint it... perhaps a soft white for more of a cottage look. But then, you see, it would no long be the Snow White mirror. And so it remains as it was. Gilded, baroque, perhaps a bit forbidding, and magic in its own way.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall
Who is the fairest one of all?

25 April 2014

A bed's history

When I was fourteen years old my parents purchased a maple bedroom suite for me: a Boston rocker, a cricket stool for my feet, a dresser, and a four-poster bed with a canopy.

Over the years I have brought this suite with me to any number of dwellings.  A third floor walk up apartment; the cottage I was raised in; a two-room basement apartment; a bungalow near the bay; a second-floor flat; another second-floor apartment; a first-floor apartment; a two-floor townhouse in a late 19th c. Queen Anne revival Victorian; and finally to my little cottage.

They are still, to this day, the only pieces of furniture in my cottage that are not second hand. I am their original owner.  That cannot be said for any other furniture I own, given my penchant for foraging flotsam and jetsam from family cellars and attics, church sales, sidewalks on trash day, second-hand stores, and garage sales.

Sometimes I have the canopy on the bed, usually when I feel the need to be cozy and enclosed, and most often in winter. Indeed, I once fashioned bed curtains out of lace panels and felt like a faery tale princess in her trundle bed whenever I'd pull them aside and creep under the sheets. Other times I remove the canopy, giving the bed and the entire room a more airy and simplified look.  (If, indeed, any part of my cottage could ever masquerade as simplified, given my tendency towards happy clutter.)

The mattress has been replaced, of course, and the latest structure is so thick and high I actually have to use the cricket stool to get in and out of bed. An occupational hazard for those who barely tip the tape measure at 5' 1".

I rarely, if ever, read in bed.  It's not for lack of trying, simply a knack I could never master as I would invariably end up either with a sore back or, worse still, a sore chin from books falling onto my face when I nodded off.

I have conceived and then nursed a child there, welcomed lovers, soothed little ones who were ill or having nightmares, gathered grandchidren under its covers (they always tend to sleep on the diagonal for some reason, making sleep nearly impossible), and recuperated in its comfort after surgeries and long illnesses or the random winter 'flu or cold.

I have prayed or cried myself to sleep in its folds. I have rested on my side and watched films, hockey games, or my chuckle-headed Red Sox. I have dreamt there, both good dreams and bad. I have lain awake and gone through lists in my head or watched the moon creep past the window or listened for the haunting whistle of trains bound for New York or Boston.

It has been lovingly dressed with vintage bedding belonging to my ancestors, carefully pressed and laundered, and depending on the time of year, its underbelly has been a hiding place for Christmas presents, Birthday gifts, or Easter Baskets.

In short, it has been the one physical constant in my life since I was a young girl, a concrete reminder of my adolescence, young adult years, and middle-age, a touchstone hearkening back to every intimacy, every child I cared for, every dwelling I inhabited. A possession that I, and only I, have owned.

23 April 2014

The Stonehenge Incident

Our train trundled over the British Channel (The longest rail bridge in England, he told me proudly) leaving behind the grey, stern hills of Wales and crossing into gentle mounds of English greenery. We had been spending time with his family in the rolling green of Shropshire, so this rail journey had been revelatory. How much rougher the Welsh countryside had seemed with rock jutting menacingly from the earth.  

The town of Newport seemed particularly grey and forbidding and  I felt warmly embraced by the lush gentleness of Southern England as we drifted back to her.  

Passing through Bristol, we soon found ourselves rolling through the historic city of Bath, our faces pressed to the window as we watched as the crescent-shaped marble buildings dissolve behind us while our train glided into the welcome verdure of Wiltshire.  

We had left Shropshire early in the day, stopping in Church Stretton for a picnic by a creek before riding on to our destination: the cathedral city of Salisbury. Our plan was to arrive late in the evening, check in at the guest house where we'd reserved a room, and then find a pub or cafe where we could enjoy a late supper. We would tour the city and the cathedral the next morning and then take an early-afternoon trip to Stonehenge before setting out on our return journey to Shropshire.

We were only 45 minutes away from Salisbury when he suddenly turned to me. "How reckless are you feeling?" 

"Why...?" I countered, already dreading his response. 

I'd already been the victim of several of his 'adventures', including an unplanned journey to Paris. He shifted his weight and peered at me with an intense conspiratorial look.

"How's this...?" he began, ticking off the items on his fingertips, "We arrive in Salisbury at around nine o'clock tonight.  We find a chippy for supper and then go off to a pub and have a pint, staying until closing. Then we buy a few tins of lager and some crisps and hire a taxi to take us to Amesbury." 

Amesbury is about eight miles north of Salisbury, I thought to myself, fearing why it might be in any way significant to our plans

"Go on," I said, growing more anxious as the scheme unfolded and wondering why he hadn't yet mentioned our room at the guest house.

"According to this map," he whispered, struggling to unfold the BTA guide and nearly decapitating the people in the seats directly in front of us, "... according to this map, we have only to walk another ...eh, two miles..." He ran one finger over the map.  "...yes!  Just another two miles further west from Amesbury and we'll be at Salisbury Plain!" 

He looked at me triumphantly and I stared at him, waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

"And.....?" I asked.

"AND," he said with a grin, keeping his voice low, "we can find a nice dry place under a hedgerow or a tree—something really cozy—and we can spend the night there together!" 

My eyebrows shot up in horror but he continued before I could protest, patting our sack of leftover picnic supplies with relish.

"We'll have something to drink, and a bit of food to nibble on, and we've got that wonderful dustbin liner to lie on to keep out the cold and damp...” 

I’d had the inspired idea to purchase a dustbin liner at a shop in case the ground was damp for our picnic. I feared now that this 50 pence purchase might have been a tragic mistake.

“.. and we've got our coats to put over us so we'll be quite warm and cosy...." he continued cheerfully, ".... it's a lovely June night, after all." 

I blinked and stared at him, incapable of getting out little more than his name. He cannily ignored me, working himself into a frenzy of hoarse enthusiasm with each detail, trying to keep the nearest of our rail companions ignorant of what was, no doubt, an illegal plan on a variety of levels.

"We can wake up at around three o'clock in the morning—in time to see the sun rise over Stonehenge.  I mean, think about it! Seeing those prehistoric stones at dawn! We can tell our grandchildren!" he sputtered.

He perched on the edge of his seat with excitement while I brushed my hand over my eyes, hoping I was dreaming and that when I looked up again, I'd be staring at him across the breakfast table in our B&B.  His voice continued as if in the dim distance. 

"There really aren't any terribly negative points to it, if you think about it..." 

Right, I thought, unless you count possible arrest ... or death from exposure. 

“...and tomorrow morning,“ he continued, “I promise we'll come into Amesbury and have a slap-up breakfast somewhere.  My treat!  What do you think?... " 

I looked him in the eyes to see if he was serious.  He was. 

"You don't want to know what I think," I warned. 

He winked and nudged my arm with his. 

"No really... what do you say..." 

"I say you're completely mad," I murmured, snatching the map out of his hand and folding it deliberately. 

He nodded and looked out the window, biding his time. He knew when all was said and done I was no match for his Hardy Boy adventures.

When we arrived in Salisbury and exited the rail station a fine mist began to cover us. I could see the lights of a Fish & Chip shop several blocks down the road. 

"It’s raining," I said, hoping that would put an end to our plan.

"No," he assured me, taking my arm and steering me down the road to the Chippy, "it will stop.... it's just a mist." 

"This isn't 'mist'," I insisted, huddling against him, "in America we call this rain!

"If it gets worse by the time we leave the restaurant," he soothed, "we'll go on to the B & B as planned.  I promise." 

I looked up at him skeptically, wanting to believe him.  Walking into the restaurant I ordered two large helpings of fish and chips and then sat and waited while my lunatic dinner companion scouted down the road for a pub. Within moments he returned with a small box of cigars, sliding into a booth next to me. We both hungrily tucked into supper. 

"I've found a pub," he announced between mouthfuls, "we can go there afterwards and have a pint and relax before we set off for you know where.

I swallowed another pieces of fish and peered out the rain-soaked window, wondering what the inside of our Bed & Breakfast suite looked like.  Was there a fire on the grate? Chintz curtains? A short plump landlady ready to bring us cups of hot tea and plates of biscuits?  

Finishing up our dinner, we walked down the road to the pub, a heavy "mist" still falling about our ears.
To be continued....