Friday, August 27, 2010

Things we like to do in Vermont

Coming home to Vermont just to visit has been overwhelming. I can't help but want to try to do every last thing I have missed doing. Things we can't, or don't, do in France. It is a mission doomed to fail. But we have made it to the dentist, and to the swimming hole, and the racetrack, and across the Pawlet Flats a thousand times, and up to deer knoll, and, of course, to Martha's house. 
 martha's shoes

Martha's train

the way to her old school
Pawlet flats, again
washing hands at Martha's
The dentist. No cavities after one year and a half. Smug much?
New England
Dress up time
frog pond
Bernadette, an old friend

Deborah's Falls

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mountain stream

Some days are better than others.
 But when you come home after a long time away,
 and you happen to be home in time to catch the late August butterscotch-sun season,
and you find your favorite swimming hole
and nobody else is there,
and you've got your long lost dog with you,
and oh how you've missed your dog,

and the maple creamee stand on the way home from the swimming hole is still open,

the day seems somehow perfect.
More about coming home, here.   

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A horse, a plow, a sheep, a cow.....

The only thing better than having a cousin with chickens is

having an Auntie who allows the chickens in the house.

Monday, August 09, 2010

When I was a Boy

Much of my childhood was spent trolling the streets, yards and forgotten meadows of our neighborhood with my all-boy posse. Being the only girl, I enjoyed a certain status, as if I had finagled my way past the velvet ropes into an exclusive night club. Instead of sipping champagne and dancing, we drank strawberry Quik, ate Oreos and rode bikes.

I’m not sure what prompted me to rebel against the “rules” of my gender. All I know is I enjoyed living without the limitations that came with pink cotton, white lace, and the very real fear that my underwear were showing when I climbed trees.

From what I gathered, being a girl meant staying on the sidelines, riding a bike with a basket and tassels, and being afraid of rain.

My older brother, Andy, --the lone male child out of five -- aided and abetted my quest to be a boy. He embraced my masculine traits and shunned the feminine ones. If I skinned my knee and cried, he would say, “Quit acting like a girl’.” When my bat connected with the tattered softball and sent it flying over the pitcher’s head, across the dirt road and into the neighbor’s lily of the valley patch, he’d yell “Atta boy, Betsy,” as I rounded first base.

I don’t blame my brother, really, for making lemonade with the lemon life had handed him. The day I was born, he cried upon learning that he had a new baby sister rather than--as he had been promised-- a long awaited brother. As the story goes, my father, perhaps weary of estrogen himself, or merely empathetic, cried right along with him.

I made up for my apparent shortcomings-- that's code for lack of a penis-- with fervor. I built up my already prominent muscles, by attaching a rope to a bucket, putting a cement block into the bucket, then pulling it up, one flight, to my back porch from the ground below.

I was always chosen early for games of British Bulldog because I could run fast and I wasn’t afraid to tackle. I also wasn’t afraid of the “snake pit” behind our house, where we gathered up handfuls of sleepy garter snakes to taunt our mothers and sisters with.

Like a domestic dog that tries to disguise its tame, coddled scent by rolling in scat, the unpleasant, musky smell of the snakes on my hands made me feel wild, dangerous, and, yes, masculine.

My summer uniform consisted of cutoff jeans, tube socks and Chuck Taylors. Like any swindler, I had an alias: “Boobless Bobby Brown.”

In my prime I could pee standing up, a trick I saved for special occasions. I stood beside my best friends Richie, Eric and David, in the back yard, giggling and straining to produce an arcing stream rather than a rushing waterfall. Either way, I belonged.

I have no memories of my parents disapproving of my behavior.(They never saw the standing pee trick.) I never really considered what they thought of my quirks until the day I shared my gender bending past with a friend who looked increasingly shocked until she finally said, “Was your mother ever... you know... worried about you?”

My mom already had three girls. She didn't really care how I chose to dress-- even when I was sent home from the local pool for swimming in cut-off shorts. She never forced me to wear dresses (well, except for that one time). She bought me a pair of chunky Buster Brown’s for boys, once when we went back- to -school shopping. I wore them on a trip to New York City and was elated when the door man at the Statler Hilton called me “young man” as he scolded me for pushing too many, okay all, of the buttons in the elevator.

My aversion to all things traditionally feminine succumbed to puberty. My indifference started to waver one summer at the seashore when I was 12 and became hopelessly smitten with a friend’s older brother. He had sand-colored curls and sea-blue eyes. The muscles in his tanned shoulders rippled like wind on water when he threw a Frisbee.

He invited me to come with him to spy on a pretty girl he had spotted up the beach. Crushed, I went with him. When the girl of his dreams came into view-- tanned, bikini clad and languid on a beach towel-- I saw everything I was not but could vaguely imagine being, one day. My body was betraying me.

Today, that little boy I once was, has gone underground. I have paid money to have my eyebrows shaped and my toenails painted. I own a push -up bra (still kind of boobless) and wear fitted shirts with low -cut necklines. I wore earrings under my crash helmet, while competing in the Olympics.

I occasionally wear shoes that you can’t run or climb trees in, and I’ve been known to tell my daughters I can't roll down the hill with them because it makes me dizzy and I don't feel like getting cut grass in my hair.

Yet the boy still lurks inside me. I saw him reflected in my brother’s tear-filled eyes when he-- now a justice of the peace-- presided over my wedding. (I'm still not sure whether the tears were caused by nostalgia or the sight of his little brother in a wedding dress.)

And the boy surfaced one day about eight years ago when, hugely pregnant with my first daughter, I waddled past the neighborhood small-engine repair garage, a place I had frequented as a child:

“Hey Bobby,” Grub, the mechanic, called out, chuckling.

I blushed. I had been caught, red handed, acting like a girl.

This post was inspired by the nonsense being written about a particular little girl who likes to wear boy's clothes. The title of this post was lifted from my favorite Dar Williams song, a song I still cannot hear without getting full body chills.

The image is Esther, age 4, a tough girl in a princess dress.

Friday, August 06, 2010

An unexpected blessing

You never know what's going to move you. Like yesterday, for instance:

We were in Vezelay, a medieval French hilltop village, that looks as if it sprung out of the ground one thousand years ago, just pushed itself through the top soil into the form of a beautifully chaotic, stone mess.

On the very top of the hill is a basilica which claims to harbor some of remains of Mary Magdalene, or Maria Madeline as she is called in France. From what I have seen, which is encased in a six-inch long tube and placed in a lighted grotto behind glass down in the crypt, it might be her pinky finger bone.

I may sound irreverent--I’m not traditionally religious-- but, I am not immune to the intrigue of deep religion and ancient churches. It’s hard to go into one of these places, behold the massive stone arches that reach up to the heavens, feel the cool hush, smell the burning wax candles, hear the sound of your feet walking on smooth stones where untold millions have walked before you, and not be taken in by the sheer... immensity of it all.

So I always get a bit God goggled when I’m in this place as it is, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

As we walked along the gravel path that led away from the side entrance of the basilica, Isla sat down on the grass to get a pebble out of her shoe. With a sigh and a groan, I squatted down next to her and undid her buckle, shook the pebble out, shoved her sweaty foot back in and started to do the shoe back up when I noticed Isla waving to someone.

I looked up and saw, walking towards us, a young Franciscan nun in long gray robes.

“Look at her,” Isla said as the nun came closer, smiling.

“Yea,” I said. "Look at her. She looks like some kind of a princess, doesn’t she.”

While I continued to struggle-- trying to find the blasted hole in Isla’s shoe strap- the nun came down some steps and kept walking towards us. I thought she was going to pass us, but then something  poetic happened.

She stopped, bent down and put her hand on top of Isla’s head for just a split second. Then she ran her hand down the side of Isla’s face and turned it under her throat and cupped her chin, in an incredibly intimate way a parent or lover might when trying to memorize their loved-one's face. (I can't remember the last time anyone has touched my face like that.)

She looked in Isla’s eyes. Isla beamed up at her. They both smiled. No one spoke. I turned my head towards her, but could not meet her eyes. You can guess why. I was starting to cry.

Before my tears even found the rim of my eyes, she was gone. I kept my head down, as tourists passed by us, pretending to still do up Isla’s shoe, and did my best to collect my pathetic self.

A trillion thoughts flashed through my mind:
Does she do this to all children she sees, or did something about Isla, “invite” her to?

Did she just sense that I wouldn’t mind if she touched my child, or was it more impulsive, less rational, than that?

Does she ever have doubts about devoting her life to God and never becoming a mother?

What is it like to make such a bold commitment-- though parenting may be equally bold?

What is it like to live such a simple, focused, pared- down life?

And, what is it like to not have to choose your clothes, ever, for your entire life? (Sorry. I had to lighten up on the earnestness.)

Would I have found any of this so touching if it had just been any old woman passing by? Or if it had been a monk?

I don't think so.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Turning our heads towards the sky

If we hadn't, finally, hit the back roads the other day, we might have missed seeing this sunflower-filled field, which stretched, like the ocean, towards the horizon, before the sunflowers got too tired to hold up their heavy heads any longer. Imagine if your head were full of seeds?

(That church is not really leaning, I am.)

(Isla was like an addict in a pharmacy when she got a load of these flowers. "Can you drop me off here, so I can pick some?" she asked.)

This light, real sunlight, not just the muted daylight that has been substituting for it for the past two weeks, came sneaking into my window and lurked for a while in the hall, beckoning, making flickering liquid promises, the other morning.

By the time we got organized, the familiar troops were assembling in the sky, threatening to slide the velvet gray curtain closed once again.

"You know why they're called tournesol?" Esther said, standing in this meadow.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because they turn their heads towards the sun. '"Tourner,"' means turn and "sol" is short for "soleil," which means sun."

"You are a clever possum," I said.

"And 'sol' also means the ground. When the sun isn't out, they point their head to the ground."

We've been pointing our heads to the ground for far too long, feeling sorry for ourselves because our "vacation" had ended. But we've suddenly remembered our life here in France is essentially an extended vacation. Shit, we've still got half our stuff in bags.

We've got nothing to hang our heads about. Nothing at all.

More enlightenment can be found over here.