Friday, July 14, 2023

Book Stack ~ June 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

I started this month with a couple of fun mysteries by JS Borthwick, a writer I'd never heard of--despiete her having been a Maine writer--until I ran across her works in a used bookstore. I read her first and third installment of her Sarah Dean series. They're pretty entertaining, in the traditional mystery style, with some humor mixed in. I especially liked The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites, because it has a bird-watching theme, although I admit to getting confused by the many many characters. The Student Body was amusing because of the college that's a thinly veiled fictionalization of one of Maine's elite schools.

After that, I moved onto books related to our summer trip to Slovenia and Croatia. The first was The Hired Man, by Aminatta Forna, a novel follows the story of a man in a remote Croation town, who hires on to help restore the nearby abandoned house that a woman from England and her two teenage children move into. As he repairs the house and helps the daughter bring to life a covered mosaic, he revisits in his mind his childhood and young adulthood, recounting a friendship with the two children who lived next door and how one of those relationships blossomed and the other deteriorated. It has the tightly wound suspense of a mystery, as we sense that something very bad happened, but we don't know what or why.

I admit to not reading all 1,000 pages of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, the classic travel account of Yugoslavia by Rebecca West, written in 1937. But I did read the parts relevant to our vacation, or a little less than 300 pages. It's a fascinating account of the region's history, people, and landscape. Maybe I'll read the rest when I get home.

Finally, I read Rick Steves' Europe 101: History & Art for the Traveler, by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw. I took two semesters of Western Civilization in college, but that was a lot of years ago, and not a whole lot of what I'd learned stuck to the old gray cells, and I never took the opportunity to take Art History. So reading this book was both a great refresher and an introduction to art and architecture about which I only had a glancing knowledge. It's also laced with dorky but amusing dad jokes (eg., they call the Medieval dread with which the end of the 10th century was approached "Y1K." Har har.). It inspired me to want to visit a LOT more of Europe, where much of the continent's art and architecture are housed. Gotta keep on traveling.


Friday, July 7, 2023

Look, Ma! No Hands!

Twenty-two years ago, I sat on the purple velvet couch in our sweet apartment in Gardiner--the one with the high ceilings, tall windows, and claw-foot tub--with a hot, sticky, diaper-clad baby glued to my own hot, stick body and a fan blowing directly at us in our second-floor apartment in with all those south- and west-facing windows. It was July and it was hot, and that hot, sticky baby didn't want to be anywhere but glued to me. 

I'm certain that in that moment, I believed I was living my permanent reality--that I'd been glued to a hot, sticky baby since the beginning of time and I would be glued to a hot, sticky baby for all of eternity. At a time when he wouldn't even let me lay him down of his blanket on the floor (where surely it was cooler than it was attached to me), I couldn't imagine that one day he would walk and talk and ride a bike. Perhaps, if pressed, I could have acknowledged intellectually that yes, one day this little ball of sweat and misery would one day graduate college. But viscerally? No. We were as we always were and always would be, eking scant relief from an oscillating fan. I had no way of knowing that every hot, sticky day he was imperceptibly but inexorably moving away from me.

And then that day passed, and the next, and the next, and, more than 8,000 days later the inconceivable (in that moment) happened: the baby had become a man. His bald head had grown blond hair. His blue eyes stayed blue. He had learned to walk and talk and ride a bike. He had gone to school and learned to drive and traveled around Europe on his own. On the day after his twenty-second birthday, he walked across a stage and accepted his college diploma.

I brought a box of tissues with me to graduation, expecting (after a weepy moment at baccalaureate the previous day) to be a blubbering mess. But as it turned out I felt no sadness or nostalgia, but only pure joy and pride and amazement. Perhaps it was that the college had pulled out all the stops to make it a lively, joyous occasion (to the extent of ensuring--somehow; I'm certain they have the resources to do it--that the rain poured only during the night and that both baccalaureate and graduation took place in spectacular sunshine). Perhaps I was distracted by the logistics of orchestrating a large and varied group of people who had come out to celebrate with us. Perhaps any sadness I might have felt was tempered by the mountain of his personal possessions that we'd moved out of his dorm room and back into our house over the previous days.

Whatever it was that brought me that sense of peace and rightness, as he made his way among his cap-and-gown-clad peers, I knew that those long days over twenty-two short years had led exactly to where they were supposed to. I couldn't have been happier, and I didn't use a single tissue.

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."
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