My (Mostly) Happy Place


Those of you who have been reading my rantings for a while know that New Hampshire is one of my top away happy places, as opposed to the home happy places like our garden plots and our amazingly well-situated apartment at sunrise and sunset. It’s New Hampshire that has kept me from being faithful to my weekly blogging duties, but I’m back now with stories to tell.

The happy parts of our weeks in our happy place haven’t changed – the dizzying schedule of lunches and dinners with a long list of friends who have been touchstones in our lives over the last fifty years; the expansive back lawn behind the house we stay in where I’ve sat for many hours pretending to read, while actually listening to the birdsong and the buzz of the insects. I’ve mentioned before that whenever I’m having my blood pressure taken, it’s that scene that I visualize, which I’m guessing is worth 15-20 points on my final score.

There’s the Hancock Town Market, my first stop each morning to pick up the New York Times. I worry every year on that first morning after arrival that they’ve finally stopped carrying it, but apparently there are still enough geezers like me in town to make stocking it worthwhile. When my granddaughter is visiting, she accompanies me on these excursions. She’s now old enough to insist that I stay in the car while she does the buying, which usually includes, with my permission, a treat for herself and/or for her parents. While I’m celebrating this iconic small town New England market, I must include this detail which especially endears it to me. I had stashed away in my suitcase this year a package of King Arthur’s gf pancake mix, which aroused the suspicion of the TSA checkers – powdered explosives? Cleverly concealed cocaine? On my first visit to the market, there was the same product sitting on the shelf amidst a surprising array of other gf products, some of which are hard to find even in Chicago.

Next door to the Town Market is Fiddleheads Café, our favorite place for meeting friends and for a traditional farewell breakfast before our visiting family heads off at the end of their almost annual visit. Last year the owner announced she was done after 18 hard years and the café closed. Losing Fiddleheads would create an irreparable breach in the fabric of the town, but disaster was averted when Eleanor Briggs, an incredibly civic-minded resident of town, bought the café and turned it over to a local chef of stellar reputation, so there it was awaiting us, a key element in what constitutes our happy place.

You may have noticed the (Mostly) in the title of this entry; it’s to that small insertion that I’ll turn my attention, rather than continuing to add more bricks to the construction of the portrait of My Happy Place. Another time I’ll devote a whole entry to singing the praises of The Toadstool, the world’s best small-town bookstore.

First, it rained seemingly incessantly during our stay. Our friend Amy Markus, the Hancock Town librarian extraordinaire, posted a picture on FB of a crying baby screaming “STOP RAINING!” That about sums up our stay.

More important, on the unhappy side of the ledger, we witnessed the continuing decline, both cognitive and physical, of some of our oldest and dearest friends. We’ve suffered our own personal declines which are all too visible to others but looking outward and measuring the losses of people we knew at the height of their powers is an especially bitter pill to swallow.

There were two events toward the end of our stay that bore the major responsibility for that “Mostly” in my title. I’ll begin out of chronological order with the lesser of the two, though it too carried the potential for causing a major disruption of our lives. During our last night in NH, Rosellen awoke with an irritating itch in her arm. You guessed it. A tick had taken up residence, which was really surprising since the rain had kept us indoors for so much of our stay. She managed to bag the tick and bring it to the emergency room the next morning where the nurse on duty confirmed the culprit’s identity and administered a preventive dose of antibiotics and issued instructions for follow-up. Anyone who has read the accounts by Ross Douthat, the NY Times correspondent, of his years-long battle with Lyme Disease will understand the potential that almost microscopic creature has for upending your life. Rosellen’s vigilance enabled her to dodge that bullet.

Finally, the event that overshadowed our stay in NH occurred a few days before the tick bite. On a dark, moonless night, as we were preparing for bed, I thought I saw a light on downstairs. That wasn’t unusual in a house so crazily wired that it often took several minutes to locate the light switches which connected to particular lights. Looking over the railing I saw that we had left the light in the pantry on, but I decided that could wait till morning. I turned to return to the bedroom, whose entrance is just a few steps away from the entrance to the staircase. In the encompassing darkness I chose wrong and stepped off into nothingness and tumbled down a full flight of stairs. The sensation of encountering that void is hard to describe. It’s the ultimate loss of control. The sheer terror of it is something I hope never to repeat. I’ve tried to remember what I felt as I toppled down the uncarpeted wooden stairs – did I smash against the wall as I careened to the bottom? Did my head ricochet against the edges of the steps? All that has vanished, perhaps mercifully.

 The noise of that fall propelled Rosellen out of bed, and she found me at the bottom of the stairs, bleeding profusely for a head gash and momentarily disoriented. She was able to contain the bleeding with a bath towel while she questioned me until she was convinced that my ability to recount the events before and after the fall indicated that there was no cognitive impairment. I managed, with her help, to get myself upstairs to bed, where she worked to keep me awake, as we’ve been schooled to do when there is risk of concussion.

The miracle of this near-catastrophic accident is that, despite my osteoporosis, I didn’t break a bone and that the head injury was superficial. What I’m left with – and this was confirmed by visit to the University of Chicago Hospital on our return home – was nothing more than a severely bruised coccyx aka tailbone. This is not a trivial injury. It makes sitting, bending and gardening particularly challenging and is slow to heal, as I learned once after I took a group of students ice skating. I had never been on skates before so you can picture the scene that ensued.

I have flashbacks of this accident, just as I did – and continue to do –60 years after a nightmarish automobile accident. They’re not exactly flashbacks; their endings are always more disastrous than the real events themselves. This fall down the stairs could have upended – maybe just ended – our current lives. I’m sitting here at my computer at home recounting this frightening tale, but the outcome could easily have been much different. Son-in-law Ben, a trained hospice chaplain, has said that the stories he heard from his patients had a similar leitmotif. “Everything was fine – until it wasn’t.”

So, despite shifting uncomfortably on my computer chair as I write this, I am filled with gratitude that I’ve been granted by the powers -that -be the opportunity to carry on, for the time being, the life I love with the people I love. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving is still months away, there’s always a time for gratitude.

I hope we have another shot at NH next year so we can restore it to its unqualified Happy Place status.

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Marv Hoffman
By Marv Hoffman

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