A Long Week in Review: My Old School and Potatoes

It’s been a week. It’s been a week of intense activity and changes of venue and emotion and heart. It’s been one of those weeks you ask yourself, “How was that just seven days? How?”

Last Sunday I scored a surprise day to myself in my hometown, then went with my best childhood friend Debbie and her family to her family’s farm in Roxbury, CT, which has to be one of the prettiest places around.

We watched hot air balloons and speculated on their landing spots.  We ate Indian wraps and kale salad, then just to make sure we weren’t overdoing the healthiness we wrapped up the meal with ice cream sundaes. They’d had a ten-topping sundae bar the night before (which I missed!), but caramel and chocolate sauces hit the spot, and we our dessert around a campfire.  Lucky made himself at home with the kids on the farm’s fifteen fenced acres (how’s that for both free and safe?), and then the sun dipped, the party was over and it was time to close it down.


I stayed with my beloved Burtons (AKA my second family) for a couple of days, and we walked Lucky, read books, told stories, colored, rode bike and big wheels and chalked up the driveway, where we exchanged notes.



It wasn’t easy leaving…..

I left on Wednesday for Kent to have dinner with Denny Mantegani (who has been a part of Kent School’s campus for thirty years and who is now the Associate Director of Alumni Giving) at the Kingsley Tavern, a restaurant owned by Anna Gowan, another Kent alumna.

Typical of me, I had a mountain of plans I wanted to accomplish in a couple of hours. I wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail near campus, take a drive to the former girls’ campus (my year was the last to have two Kent School campuses) and browse the local bookstore. Oh, and change in my car for dinner, but that’s not the kind of thing I usually allow time for, though it always takes more time than I’ve allotted. All that shimmying out of sweaty clothes and into jeans and a blouse is harder when working around a steering wheel or in between two car doors.

Then I got an email from Denny asking if I had time for a quick tour of the new doors before dinner. We were already having an early dinner—at 5:00 so I could drive back to New York—so she suggested 4:30 for the tour, and I said, “Sure! I’d love to!”

But also typical of me was a delay. Debbie’s oldest sister Dorothy was trying to get to her parents’ house with her kids before my 2:00 departure time, and she pulled in right on time, so then I stayed another hour chitchatting around the kitchen island, and wouldn’t have had it any other way. i wasn’t going to be late-late, just too late to do everything I wanted. There’s a difference.

I headed in the direction of Kent around 3:15 and realized that after the forty-five minute drive I’d have, at most, thirty minutes to explore the area. The weather was rainy and I anticipated a crappy drive into the city so I made an excellent, executive decision: I’d stay at a motel near campus. It was $65 plus $10 for my BFF. That the place lacks in zero curb appeal it makes up for on the inside with a king-sized bed outfitted in nice sheets and a down comforter. (Seriously: it’s the little things.)

Lucky and I raced off to Kent (we were late), so I didn’t see the ten-acre backyard and Housatonic River access until the next morning. If you ever find yourself in the area I recommend the Rocky River Inn.


I’m the secretary for my class and Denny wanted to introduce me to her colleague Tonya, who is now working with the class of ’92, so she joined us for the tour. The tour was great and we gabbed like old friends meandering around campus. We talked about “the old days” and the new dress code and how different it is to have boys and girls on one campus.

My high school is, I swear, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been.


The rain cleared and it turned into a beautiful night, so Denny and I decided to sit on the front porch of the restaurant. I parked in front and opened the window wider than usual, but still only about halfway. Denny and I were choosing our table when I heard a little noise and then saw that the front half of Lucky was outside the car and the back half was stuck inside. His front toes spread on the side of my car and his nails failed (obviously) to get a grip.

He had an “oh shit” look on his face and I stood there paralyzed trying to figure out my next move and what I could possibly do to help, when he somehow compressed his torso and shrunk his booty to squeeze himself out of the car. Then he popped up onto the porch ready for al fresco dining.

At first we were the only ones there, but soon other diners joined us and Lucky was, per usual, a hit. Denny and I sampled quite a few things off the menu and shared everything until it came to dessert and I had my chocolate mousse with cherries and she had her shortcake with peaches, and although we’d very fairly split everything down the middle, neither of us made a move to share out desserts. {LOVE IT.}

Anna sat and joined us for a few minutes and we got a picture of Lucky with the girls.


We talked about all sorts of things Kent related, but also about her son’s pending move to Missoula and my writing. “Have you ever heard of Joyce Maynard,” Denny asked, “Your stories remind me of hers.” I couldn’t say no, so instead of telling a partial truth I started near the beginning, “Um. Yeah. She officiated my wedding.” And we were off on another tangent.

The next day I woke up to an email from Denny with specific directions to the new cross country course that she’d told me about, and an invitation from Tonya for lunch. I had a lazy morning and made it to the course with barely enough time to run the three miles in this ridiculously gorgeous setting.

holcombe course

My plan to run three lazy miles was squelched because Mr. Holcombe, the former coach and builder of the course, was there weed whacking. We talked and talked and I thanked him for the stories, but he wasn’t done until he was done. “Wait,” he said, “Let me tell you about the time I was in the Army…”

I kept a stealth eye on the time, and finally had to say, “Mr. Holcombe, It’s been great seeing you, but I have to go.” Then his kicker: “Did we know each other when you were a student here?” I told him yes, but it was a long time ago. He told me it was great to see me.

I ran a quick mile around the fields, then changed in my car and was only five minutes late for my lunch date at The Villager, the hottest lunch spot in town when I was a kid, and still scrumptious and perfectly New England. The date was August 14th, but fall was in the air. I walked Lucky around campus, drove to the old girls’ campus, and browsed around the bookstore.

luck-ma-kentgirls school

Finally, at 5:30 it was time to drive into the city and I braced myself for traffic though I didn’t hit even a smidge. I arrived before dark to surprise my grandmother, who’d been told I was coming, but whose memory is more like a colander than a sponge these days.

The next day we drove five in the car out to Seabright on the Jersey Shore. We hit umpteen spots of traffic that not even the “Beat The Traffic” app could navigate around, and the drive took about an hour longer than it should have though nobody really paid attention to the passing minutes because really, what the hell could we do about it?

We were the five people smushed into a Toyota Camry that the people in neighboring cars must’ve felt sorry for. Gigi drove with Fonzo, her father, in the front seat, and Mimi, Mommy and I sat three across in the backseat. I didn’t dare make eye contact with anyone in another car; I couldn’t have handled a sympathy smile. As we passed around a brown paper bag of cherry tomatoes that I’d bought the day before at a farmstand in Kent I wondered how two adjacent calendar days can have so little in common.

The day before I listened to an Augusten Burroughs audiobook (This is How. So good I’ve also bought the print version) as I drove and felt sorry for the people jammed into shitty carpools while I didn’t have to share a cup holder or adjust the air conditioning. I wondered about the woman driving the SUV overloaded with beach umbrellas and coolers and deflated inflatables, and I wondered about the man with faraway eyes in the passenger seat.

I hoped they’d had a good vacation, but realize there’s a decent possibility they didn’t, and that it might have everything or nothing to do with the way they feel about each other. We can make up stories about the people beside us whether they’re in our car or another car, whether we know them or not. Most times we have no idea what circumstances they might contend with.

One day you’re making up the stories, and the next day the stories are being made up about you. This is life, right?

This has not been a relaxing visit to New York, but I didn’t come here to relax. I came to help my mother and my grandmother get a little situated, though that is a bit like hoping to create peace in the Middle East or resurrect Jim Morrison from the dead. It’s a project with a success rate close to zero. It’s like trying to explain why some people think it’s okay to tell other people who or how to love.

It could be easy to give up, but we can’t. But it’s not about giving up anyway; it’s about looking at the situation from different angles until we find a solution.

A large part of the current “project” is to help my grandmother understand that she’s not as self-sufficient as she thinks. She’s almost ninety years old and can’t be left alone too long and can’t go out by herself except maybe to go around the block in the middle of the day, but even that is pushing it. She won’t use a walked (that’s for OLD people!), but uses an empty, broken-down shopping cart for balance. So talk about pushing it….Oh, and she jaywalks.

She can hardly remember one minute to the next, so when she says she’s self-sufficient she forgets her panic attack of the previous day when I wasn’t home from walking Lucky by 8:00. Most of the time she forgets if she’s had lunch. She sometimes introduced me as her niece. She clearly forgets that she drank three cokes in one day when she says proudly, “I’ve really cut back on my soda intake.”

Another part of the puzzle is trying to get her house cleaned out. And if not her house then maybe the basement. Or at least the garage. This is not just a matter of elbow grease; it’s a matter of getting the goods past the guard.

My mother and I slaved away in the basement and came up with several enormous bags of garbage and a few healthy carloads of books, housewares, clothes, etc. to bring to the local thrift store. It went fine until, which is exactly how long things usually go well for: until they don’t.

I could go into extraordinary, agonizing detail about it all, but this is what it boils down to is this: my grandmother is a hoarder. She’d not hoarding live animals or garbage, but she’s still  hoarding. She’s filled her apartment, the basement, and the oversized two car garage. We used to refer to her as a “collector,” but that’s not a strong enough word for the amount of collectibles she’s amassed.

During the night Mimi dragged at least one of the garbage bags and a kiddie pool into her apartment. She used the kiddie pool as a sorting area for her treasures including, but not limited to, hundreds of curtain hooks from the kind of heavy drapes that were popular sixty years ago.

Cousin Gigi called and Mimi told her that my mother and I tried to throw away her curtain hooks and she was pissed. Gigi asked if she needed them and where she planned to store them. Aside from my mother and myself, Gigi is one of very few people allowed inside Mimi’s house, so she knows how limited the space is. “I may or may not need them but they’re mine and I’m keeping them,” Mimi said, “I don’t know if I have a place for them or not, but if I need to I’ll hang them around my goddamn neck.”

This is not good.

My mother and I are struggling because we aren’t exactly on the same page though we desire a similar result, and overall it was a terrible day.

Frustrated by a lack of forward motion, I went through some books that were mine when I was a kid and that I were mine to get rid of if I wanted to. It’s ironic, because I have a storage unit in Missoula, filled mostly with books, and now here I am in New York, getting rid of the only thing I really have here: books. A box of my books that was accidentally left behind.

I took out the good ones (Little House on the PrairieBeezus and Ramona) and boxed up the junky ones (Sweet Valley High). Then, in an act of stubbornness, I walked that box six blocks to the thrift store. I used my whole body to carry that box, and it only got heavy when I stopped moving.  I carried it like an offering or a totem. I carried it like it meant something because it does. I carried it because I could. I carried it because i needed to.

We are part of our families, but we are not our families. As children we’re limited, but as adults we don’t have to do things the way they do, the way they’ve done, or the way they want us to. Mimi watched me pack the box and she inquired about where I was taking it, but I was clear; “These are the books I don’t want. I’m giving them away because someone else might like these books. These are my books to give away”

Neither Mimi nor I like to be told what to do.

I made a peace offering of a delicious (wild salmon) dinner, and we ate on the patio like nothing was wrong. Nothing except my grandmother asking me three times in less than a minute if I wanted more potatoes, and each time I told her “No thank you, I have enough.” My mother made a joke and kept offering me potatoes and we laughed because it’s funny and because it’s not and because I’d already cried enough for one day and it was simply time to laugh.

After dinner my mother walked Lucky and I sat on the stoop with Mimi. We didn’t talk about getting rid of anything or moving anywhere or anything besides the moment, which is the only place she can really be.

She asked me when I’m going home and instead of repeating all the details I just said, “I’m leaving Wednesday but I’ll be back soon.” She’s asked me ten times since then when I’m going “home” and when I’m coming back.

But last night she sat in her chair and I sat on the step. I wrapped myself in a too big Irish wool cardigan that I found in the basement, and she was thrilled that I found something down there that I wanted. She cried about the fact that her head is mixed up, but said it doesn’t bother her so much except when other people don’t understand.

She sang “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” and we held hands. She told me that she’s proud of me for being so strong. I thanked her for being so awesome.

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

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