Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Family Jewels

I recently gave my daughter my favorite bracelet.  An antique Navaho bracelet that had belonged to her great-grandmother, it seemed like the perfect gift for the day she received her doctorate.  To my surprise, although I've worn it frequently for over forty years, I haven't missed it all.  It's where it belongs and that's how it should be.
     When my mother moved to a smaller place and divested herself of things she wouldn't need, I was amazed at how eagerly she was giving away furniture, china, silver and all the other things she'd treasured for years.  I couldn't quite understand it then, but I'm getting there.
     Yesterday, in anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I decided to start getting the house in order, starting with the breakfront in the dining room.  I was just going to dust, but dusting wasn't enough, so all the glasses in the glassed in section had to be carefully washed and dried, by hand no less.  As I carefully took the glassware into the kitchen, I realized that I have acquired through the years the crystal of several women who are now gone.  Once these dust catchers were treasured by brides and later proudly displayed by the matrons those brides had become.  Later when widowhood arrived and the family house was sold, these things were handed down to the next in line.
     I realized with a start that I was thinking of them as dust catchers.  Yes, most of these glasses are lovely, but they've ceased to be treasures to me.  Still, I washed them carefully, dried them lovingly and put them back on the newly dusted shelves.
      I turned on the light at the top of the glassed cabinet and admired how beautiful it all looked, but I also started thinking about who I was going to give it to when the time comes, which it certainly will.

The following is an excerpt from my novel Careful Mistakes which has recently been re-issued as an e-book by Little, Brown UK.

Jilly is talking to her daughter Chloe as she prepares for an Easter celebration, two days after her father's funeral.

She came up behind me as I sat at the dressing table adjusting my hat.  She held the neck of her robe with one hand as she began poking through my tray of earrings.
     'Better get your clothes on, dear.  We need to leave in about fifteen minutes.'
     "I'm just looking for some pearls, I left mine at school.  All I have to do is toss on my dress.'  She held a pearl swirled with small diamonds, up to her ear.  'Can I wear these?'
     The earrings were a pair Rick had given me right after Chloe's birth.  Dainty and valuable, they had little appeal for me now.
     'I'd like for you to have them, I always meant to give them to you.'  I wanted her idea of her father to be valuable, sparkly.  His betrayal had been against me, not her.
     'Thank you, they're beautiful, but don't you have one of your rules about diamonds?'  She slipped them into her ears and admired the effect in the mirror.
     Chloe was referring to the fashion rules she felt I alone observed.  There were a goodly number of them: a woman over forty can't wear her hair below her shoulders, white shoes must never be worn before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, no white shoes in San Francisco or New York whatever the date, no bare shoulders on a girl under seventeen.
     'There was a rule about no diamonds before six o'clock or before the age of twenty-one.  It seems to be generally flouted.'  None of the usual stuff seemed to work these days.
     'All of your fashion rules are flouted, Mom.  I'd venture a guess you are the only one who even knows what they are anymore.'
     'That is the world's loss, daughter of mine.  I'm going to throw convention to the wind because I was given those earrings on the very best day of my life, the day you were born.  I remember telling your father I would give them to you some day.'  I smiled at the memory of the new family. my new family.  I'd loved the bastard so much.  I was so new in those days.  So grateful that a wonderful man could love me.  So relieved to get a second chance.
     'Thank you, I love them.  I'm going to keep them here, if that's all right.  Thing tend to walk in the dorms.'  She kissed my cheek.
     'I'll keep them for you.'
     She headed for the door.  'Thanks again for the earrings.'
     'Let's start a tradition, Chloe.  Give them to your daughter or granddaughter on her eighteenth Easter?'  I still intended to spend my dotage with grandchildren at my knee.
     'It might be a hundred years away, but I'll remember.'  As she left the room smiling I couldn't help wondering what else she might remember for a hundred years. 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Belonging and having a sense of home are things most of us want and need, but I suspect it's also something of a gift.  It's a gift I've always believed wasn't mine, by the way.  I've felt a bit like an outsider for as long as I can recall, but in a good way.  I like being an observer and that particular activity is best done just on the edge of outside.  Just on the outside is where I'm most comfortable, but something happened yesterday that makes me wonder if I've somehow come inside.
     Yesterday was voting day so I drove over to our equivalent of City Hall to do my civic duty.  I walked in and started talking to Karen who is the Zoning Administrator.  We chatted about her children for a few moments and then she asked me if I was there to vote.  Assuring her that was case, she reminded me that I needed to go over to the elementary school for this particular election so I said my good-byes and wandered over there after stopping at the drug store where I ran into two people I know and exchanged thoughts on the weather with them.
     I went into the elementary school and was handed my ballot by someone who informed me that my husband had already been there hours before.  When I was finished I went to the next table where I greeted my friend Kathy, a Select Board member, and Alberta, the Town Clerk.  Alberta explained to me that I had to say my own name, apparently a new rule since of course, both of these people knew my name.  All three of us giggled a bit when I confirmed my identity.
     Civic duty accomplished, I went outside to find my friend Alana who was putting her mother, also Alana into the car.  We chatted for a minute about my dog, her children and a mutual friend.  A few more steps and I ran into my friend Pat so we chatted about an elderly neighbor who has moved to New Hampshire to be closer to her daughter.  Pat also assured me that the brown barn coat that Cheryl found at her house doesn't belong to her.  We already knew it didn't belong to Anne, because Anne hates to wear brown.
     Leaving Pat, I wandered into the village market where the clerk told me, without my asking mind you, that they were getting another shipment of chicken leg quarters in by the end of the week.  She knows not only that I feed my dog raw chicken, but that she usually has to remind me that I have change coming.
     There is an old Vermont saying that a cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn't make them biscuits.  No matter what, I will always be from away, I will never be a Vermonter, but I think I finally belong.

In the excerpt below from my novel A Twist of Light, published by Little, Brown UK and recently re-issued as an e-book, young Lizzy Sinclair finds herself staying with the English relations of her foster mother and navigating the language differences the best she can.

Foreshore, West Sussex, July 1967

'Let's see if we can find a pair of wellies that fit.' Tarquin had led her to a room off the kitchen that was hung with dozens of coat-hooks holding an assortment of jackets, sweaters and hats.  The floor was strewn with rubber boots and canvas shoes.
     'What's a wellie?'  She'd changed into jeans and a loose white cotton shirt. At Beryl's insistence she'd abandoned the costume of unremitting black she'd adopted for university. Her suitcase seemed like someone else's, with its whites and colours neatly stacked by Beryl's hands.
     'This is a wellie.' He indicated a green boot with the toe of his stockinged foot. 'Necessity for where I'm taking you.' He looked at her shirt. 'We'd better find a jumper for you as well. This isn't California, but you knew that didn't you?' He handed her a worn blue cardigan from one of the hooks. "This looks as though it will probably fit.'
     'Thanks.' She pulled the cardigan on and pushed the sleeves up to her elbows.
     'It's low tide so I'm going to show you your first real piece of English history. Isn't that what you   read at university?'
     'It was my minor.' She was surprised he knew that much about her. 'But we say "studied" instead of "read".'
     'Between loo, study and kip, we're doing pretty well talking at all.' He handed her a pair of boots. "Try these, they look about right. I just checked the tide tables and St. Mary's should be showing up just about now.'
     'What's St. Mary's?' She leaned against the wall to pull the boots on.
      'It's the old parish church. Went underwater sometime in the seventeenth century, but you can still scramble around the ruins when the tide is low.' He watched her for a moment. "How are those?'
     'They fit like socks on a rooster.' Liz put her booted foot in the air, shaking it back and forth.
     'Certainly conjures an image. Do many barnyard animals wear clothes in America?' He dropped to the floor, looking for a smaller pair.
     'Only the modest ones.' She slid the boots off, balancing on one foot.
     Tarquin put his hand on her calf and worked her foot into the smaller boot. 'How's this?'
      'Better, thanks.'
     He patted her thigh, just above the knee. 'All part of the service. Now the trick will be to find the mate.' He pawed through a pile of seemingly identical boots. 'Doesn't make the job any easier, the fact that Mother can't bear to throw away anything that might have five minutes of use left in it. Here we go, Cinderella. Let's have the other leg.' He held her foot for moment before guiding it into the rubber.
     'Thanks' Liz took a tentative step. 'Is this really necessary? I feel like a duck.'
     'Rooster, ducks, you're a basic, earthy sort, aren't you?'
     'I suppose when you grow up with the smell of fruit-packing plants and cow shit, it has some effect.' She looked at his face for signs of a reaction, regretting the use of "shit". He's probably never spewed a vulgarity or even acknowledged the by-products of colon, man's or animal's.
     'Well, basic or not, you look charming. Not the least duck-like.' he tossed the compliment to her from over his shoulder.
     'Are we ready?' Liz felt the colour rise in her cheeks again. She suspected the comment was given freely because it had no value to him.
     'Follow me.'