After I post this on Monday morning, Rosellen and I will be heading to the airport for our first pandemic trip, destination New Hampshire. Regular readers know that the state has been an important part of our lives ever since we originally moved there exactly half a century ago. We lived there for eleven years and since we left, we have returned for some part of the summer for thirty-eight years, until the demon virus forced us to ground last year. So, we’ll be back trying to start another streak, though reality suggests that this one will be shorter than 38.
New Hampshire has been an important part of our lives for a whole raft of important reasons. It’s where our daughters spent important growing up years. It’s where I had the opportunity to practice and refine my skills as a teacher and teacher educator. During our New Hampshire years, Rosellen experienced some of her greatest writing successes. Last but not least, we became gardeners, always a bit fumbling in our efforts but good enough to brighten our summers wherever we’ve lived subsequently.
We love walking the trails in the woods, the views of Mt. Monadnock – hardly the most majestic elevated peak on the planet, but a lot better than the relentlessly flat terrain that has surrounded us in both Houston and Chicago, seeing the constellations in the sky which are invisible in the light-polluted city, the occasional turkey or deer that crosses in front of our picture window, the ritual trip every morning into town to retrieve the New York Times from the country store across from the Hancock Inn, the visits to the town library, the little town beach rimming a lovely lake which lately has not been safe for swimming.
But what we’re really there for is our friends, which returns me to the theme which seems to surface no matter what the manifest subject I appear to be writing about. To paraphrase the words spoken in a famous political exchange, “It’s the relationships, Stupid!” Some of our friendships extend all the way back to the beginning of the half century, others perhaps half that long. Weeks before our arrival we begin to construct what we’ve come to call our “dance card,” an elaborate process of scheduling lunches and dinners with the whole checklist of people we’re eager to catch up with after a year apart (two years this time because of our Covid absence.)
Almost everyone in this circle is an expat, a transplant from a variety of urban settings. Many were drawn to the region by the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat that offers month-long residencies to creative spirits who then chose to settle permanently in the area. Even though we see each other for only a few weeks each year, there’s an intensity about these relationships that sometimes surpasses that of our more regular relationships in Chicago. It’s like the long-distance marriages whose cycle of departure and return rekindle the passion that can be dulled by regularity and permanence. Together, we have consumed countless ears of local corn, portions of salmon and varieties of blueberry concoctions. It often takes months back in Chicago before we can confront another slab of salmon.
But things are changing. First, some of our group gave up the welcoming homes in which they hosted those conversation-filled dinners in favor of retirement communities in Peterborough, the market town of the region and the place where we lived for most of our New Hampshire years. Now their home dining rooms are replaced by communal spaces where we eat surrounded by strangers and unsuited for evening-long exchanges. Death has begun to nibble away at the edges of our circle of friends, blessedly, I suppose, not Covid deaths, but deaths that cap long, well-lived lives. Among the living, memories have begun to fray and, in some cases, people have disappeared into the fog of dementia so thick that we are no longer accessible to each other. We have learned to recognize the early signs of stories repeated too often and too close in time, reminders about dates and times of meetings that have to be repeated numerous times because they now register on the brain only as very lightly recorded penciling. Still, the place and the people reside deep in our blood and weeks in advance of our departure our senses are already split between our “real” city lives and the country world we so love.
All of this serves as an elaborate build-up to the news that you will have to do without my wise words for the next two Mondays. This is the first break since I began almost 90 entries ago. It’s an enforced pause because the house we stay in has no internet access. The town library is the only welcoming public space that does, and even though the librarian is a dear friend, it’s not the kind of place you want to spend hours staring off into space waiting for the words to come. If you really need a fix, I invite you to visit the website to catch up on some you skipped the first time around because, admit it, you haven’t been tuning in every single week. Enjoy these weeks which are the very heart of summer and by the time I start up again, we’ll already be on the down slope.