“What’s senility?” asked the imp at the kitchen table.
“Loss of memory that’s usually associated with old age,” I replied absently.
He laughed and then stopped abruptly, smiling at me at for just a moment. Barely controlling a grin, he looked back at his computer with a strange, happy expression on his face. It wasn’t discretion or valor. It was the smile of someone who is saving something special for rainier day.
One of the pitfalls of living in a rural area is that your kids are likely to run into lots of people who keep livestock – large and small. And after they meet the afore-mentioned chickens, pigs, dogs, goats, you-name-it, they work like crazy to steer all subsequent conversations to the “Can we get chickens, pits, another dog, another cat, you-name-it” question, secure in the knowledge that we do have somewhere to keep them.
Taking your kids to a sheep herding demonstration starring a dog who could melt the heart of a snowman practically guarantees a sudden interest in acquiring sheep and another dog, and today was no exception.
The one difference today was that the dog who inspired the latest request has been inspiring many of author Jon Katz’s recent blog posts, and that piqued my 11-year-old’s curiosity. Unfortunately for him, Thing1 is currently grounded from any electronica, but he saw an opening. Thinking, perhaps, that interest in reading about sheep online (as opposed to polishing the kitchen chair playing video games) was a more reasonable request than an actual sheep (or the requisite additional dog), he casually mentioned he might be interested in Red’s journey to Bedlham Farm.
Trying to avoid repetitive stress disorder from the inevitable refrains of ‘No computer’, we turned to the tried-and-true distraction – ‘what’s for dinner?’ But our five-year-old, also serving out a sentence of no electronica, was ready for this and began quizzing us about Red and sheep and who had herded the sheep before last week. And as we answered, I remembered that the story of Red’s predecessor Rose was waiting at home for us. I dropped a copy of ‘Rose in a Storm‘ on Thing1’s lap as soon as he got home and plopped on the couch. He eyed it with suspicion – it is summer vacation after all – but the little red dog had him wondering about sheep and dogs and farms, and he started casually flipping the pages. I said nothing and left for the grocery store. I got back an hour later and found my normally reluctant reader, remarkably lost in the story of another remarkable little dog.
Once Little League is done, we make it a point to spend our Saturdays dragging Thing1 and Thing2 to at least one art museum or event. We engage in this torture, partly because we want to expose them to some sort of culture that doesn’t come out of an iPod, but also because we love to hear the grumbling as we travel to and from the designated venue.
Today, however, we screwed up. We thought we had the rugrats where we wanted them – we promised an art opening in a country setting and even a little poetry at a show curated by Maria Wulf, a New York fiber artist and wife of author Jon Katz. The two-day event is showcasing her quilts and Jon’s photographs along with work by photographer and collage artist Kim Gifford, painter Donna Wynbrandt, Diane Swanson, and Joyce Zimmerman.
On any given Saturday surrounding the kids with fine art and holding out the promise of poetry and even a talk by one of the hosts would result in considerable push back. But the minute we stepped into the gallery/barn, they seemed to be under a spell. Colorful and popping with imagination, the paintings and collages provided plenty of eye-candy, but when Jon invited the crowd to congregate in the main barn, my husband and I realized that he and Maria were the ones casting the spell.
As a student of Jon’s at Hubbard Hall’s Writer’s Project, I (and exhibitor Kim Gifford) have had glimpses of this magic, and today, watching Maria and Jon share their lives and their art while nurturing the gifts of the other exhibitors, it created a little pocket of joy. And joy is pretty strong magic. It keeps a five-year-old listening contentedly to a poetess. It inspires people in its midst to go out and create their own magic.
My husband works for a place where they claim to be the best strippers in town. It’s a lot more family-friendly than you’d think, though, because they also repair and refinish the furniture once its stripped. Like most small Vermont businesses they offer an array of complementary products like chainsaws and propane, which, in a rural area, makes it a better place to get the scuttlebutt than any beauty shop because everybody – contractors, farmers, and ex-urbanite immigrants – comes in at some point and jaws with the strippers.
It’s also one of the last places in the world where you can get the news of the day and not feel sorry you heard it. So, after chauffeur duty this morning, I popped in for a soda and what I thought would be a quick visit before heading home to work. When I got there, however, my husband was chatting with an old acquaintance who needed a ride from Arlington to Manchester about 8 or nine miles up (and I do mean up) the road. I said I would do it, and, as soon as we loaded up the gentleman’s wheelchair into my car, we headed off.
We met this man over a decade ago because the previous owners of our first house had recommended him as a good source of firewood. We got to know him a bit over the course of a number of deliveries but lost touch when the latest oil crisis spiked the demand for cordwood and we had to diversify our sources a bit. I had not seen him since he acquired the wheelchair, and I sensed that we were both more comfortable with me not asking about it.
So we drove and talked about mutual friends. Who was building this new barn; when that family had moved away; if this neighbor was really in a bad way or was that just a rumor. A former contractor, he pointed out homes he’d worked on and noted changes in favorite projects.
We were still chatting when we got to Manchester, and learning that his ultimate destination was Rupert – another town and a big mountain away – I offered to drive him to Dorset, thinking I would offer to go the rest of the way when we got to there. So we drove the next leg, talking about wood prices and where to get the best ice cream this summer. As we neared the center of Dorset, I noted the lack of a good place to let him off, but he pointed out a place near the country store, and we pulled in.
I was imagining the hot climb he had ahead of him, but before I could say anything, he said, “I’ve been riding all over Bennington County to build up my strength.” And with that he quietly got his gear organized, and settled the matter as he propelled himself down the last leg of the trip.
I know that brownie a la mode last night was not regulation on the diet-I-don’t-call-a-diet-because-it’s-supposed-a-way-of-life (if you can call living without brownies life). But as I was sitting there berating myself and not enjoying the afterglow, I couldn’t help thinking of all the mean things people say about large, well fat, women and the mean thoughts I have about myself everyday.
When I first setup this blog, the last thing on my mind was posting a picture of myself anywhere on the web. For most of my adult life (especially the overweight part), I’ve managed to be in the background of pictures or, better yet, to be taking them. But because the need for speed trumped pride, I decided forgo a cartoon and to use my own picture – chins and all.
I’ve been on and off and then back on the diet wagon too many times to count but someday, as God as my witness, I will have a waist again.
And when I am a thinner woman, I shall be grateful that I can find things I like in my size.
I shall not assume that woman at the next table who has not made it there yet is lazy.
I shall not assume that she has no self-control or self-esteem.
I shall try to remember that her day is as hectic as mine.
I shall remember that being fat doesn’t make her a bad mother.
And I shall remember that the thin woman in the mirror is no more perfect or pathetic that she was when she was me.