June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
So we went to Woodstock, VT, for Memorial Day weekend, after a week of ferocious emotions, drama, a half hour spent stabbing my notebook with my favorite carbon steel knife, which is now permanently bent. Ah, love. Don’t worry, though, I’m much better now.
The country was beautiful, greener than you can imagine, green as spring on LSD when you’re 16, with rolling hills and sudden, conical mountains. The river bent and flowed, seemingly everywhere, gleaming in the occasional sun. Woodstock is a town of glorious 19th century houses, some with wide porches, river frontage, and outbuildings, some like wedding cakes with clever architectural frou-frous the proper name of which I don’t know; they looked like struts or brackets. “Christine would know,” said Philip. “If Andy were here, he’d say ‘Call Christine.’”
It’s getting easier to speak of her and of course, after 11 years of jealousy and worse feelings, now I miss her. It makes no sense, but that’s how it is. Let’s just say, she was a person of interest, one whose every mood and life event I was told about. I guess it’s like those fictional characters you don’t like but think about long after the book is over. Naturally, this makes me more determined to write from my darker side, something I resisted when I was young out of fear that I was a pretty girl with the soul of a chained monster. It’s worse to be a middle-aged woman with the soul of scared rabbit, isn’t it? No. But I wasn’t a monster when I was young, just misinformed. Christine wasn’t a monster either, but chained, yes, certainly.
Saturday we drove through the mountains, stopping in a bookstore/café where the middle-aged locals were lounging over coffee talking not about deals or career battles but rather debating, in a liberal spirit, the existence of God and the afterlife, referencing both Richard Dawkins and the recent literary novel Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife with that casual ease I remember from, oh, 1982. I spent some time looking through four volumes of Ogden Nash, browsed old children’s books for my mother, but couldn’t decide if any were worth buying. It was a source of deep contentment, all those books of different periods and subjects jumbled into a few tiny rooms: impeccably clean and orderly but full of that serendipitous spirit that used to guide my reading—and still does, but now computer-mediated. It was better once (1982?), when books were things before they became experiences.
Onward to Middlebury, a college that did not accept me, and then south, listening to alarming radio news about a fierce storm (70mph winds, lighting, hail). “Look on the map,” said Philip. “Where’s Addison County?” “We’re in it,” I replied. We scooted, black clouds drifting ominously behind. I was a little sorry we evaded the storm. Why should we get to escape? The weather is angry at us all.
It was sunny back in Woodstock. We had a nap then went for dinner to Hanover, N.H., home of infamous Dartmouth College (infamous to Philip because it’s uber Ivy League; to me because my stepfather went there—enough said to those who know my history, and the rest of you, never mind).
Big mistake. No parking, the food was bad, the “cocktail” piano player didn’t know any Gershwin (or, really, anything else), and some malign influence caused Philip to speed exactly when he was supposed to slow down and he got a heavyweight ticket. That last bit happened on the way home, on the outskirts of Woodstock, but he blamed it on New Hampshire. Regardless of my years there, which were not all bad, he’ll forever think of it as the state of the Manchester Union Leader and unwarranted influence on Presidential elections. I didn’t speak of pines and rocks, or the lake I still think of as the king of lakes, the one and only lake, the lake that loved me. Well, maybe I did, a little. I attempt reticence about my privileged childhood around my still angry (“You think this is bad? You should have seen me when I was young”) working class sweetie, but on the other hand I have to listen, repeatedly, to how happy he was in junior high with his gang of buddies—a time when I was nearly catatonic from trauma and had no friends.
The lake? Winnepesaukee. The name alone puts it far about Lake George and Lake Placid.
In any case, Woodstock, where I went to boarding school at 15, has its own memories: Jerome in his black cape, sitting on the back stairs with me as we tried to figure out how to handle a sudden drunken night of intimacy; stealing horses from the barn one moonlit night and riding bareback with Kathy, who didn’t know how to ride either; outdoor English classes on sunny days; the ungodly beauty of bare-chested boys with hair to their shoulders and those young, young eyes.
These memories are just fragments, flickers. I can’t pull up whole days or nights with dialogue and why and how. Even so, they mean so much. They have that meaning that I’ve always believed, if I managed to evoke it in a work of true literary merit, would escape the second after it was netted. Because the point is not what things meant, or who we were; what came of an event or didn’t; the point is not a story, but only that it happened and we were there.
Jerome, Dede, Kathy, Ken, Amy S., Amy W, Caitlin who has never for a moment been forgotten, Cedar, Faith and Charity—didn’t know either well, but Faith was the smart, rebellious one, Charity the beautiful Christian known to be charitable with her following of smitten boys—and from afar, clever Jeff, sarcastic Phil, charismatic Lori, and many others.
What happened? Green nights, wind, horses, boys, girls, magic, whisky, pot, pranks and tears; and continuing social terror, which was, for one of the very few times in my life, a fair price for what I was given.
In honor of the brilliant and neglected Mr. Nash, and my new diet:
The Clean Plater
Some singers sing of ladies’ eyes,
And some of ladies lips,
Refined ones praise their ladylike ways,
And course ones hymn their hips.
The Oxford Book of English Verse
Is lush with lyrics tender;
A poet, I guess, is more or less
Preoccupied with gender.
Yet I, though custom call me crude,
Prefer to sing in praise of food.
Just any old kind of food.
Pheasant is pleasant, of course,
And terrapin, too, is tasty,
Lobster I freely endorse,
In pate or patty or pasty.
But there’s nothing the matter with butter,
And nothing the matter with jam,
And the warmest greetings I utter
To the ham and the yam and the clam.
For they’re food,
And I think very fondly of food.
Through I’m broody at times
When bothered by rhymes,
Some painters paint the sapphire sea,
And some the gathering storm.
Others portray young lambs at play,
But most, the female form.
Twas trite in that primeval dawn
When painting got its start,
That a lady with her garments on
Is Life, but is she Art?
By undraped nymphs
I am not wooed;
I’d rather painters painted food.
Food, Just food,
Just any old kind of food.
Go purloin a sirloin, my pet,
If you’d win a devotion incredible;
And asparagus tips vinaigrette,
Or anything else that is edible.
Bring salad or sausage or scrapple,
A berry or even a beet.
Bring an oyster, an egg, or an apple,
As long as it’s something to eat.
If it’s food, It’s food;
Never mind what kind of food.
When I ponder my mind
I consistently find
It is glued