Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28

Today marks the arrival of Hurricane Irene, or its remnants, in Upstate New York. It is also the anniversary of Dan’s death. I like to think that he enjoys the cosmic irony of this. 
I wrote Dan's obituary. Since I had had no control of anything for three months, I took control of his obituary. Here is most of what I wrote for the newspapers: 
The cause of death was primary central nervous system lymphoma, with which he had been diagnosed in June. 
 . . . graduated from Saint John’s in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and attended Columbia University on a full academic scholarship . . . 
. . . worked from home as a freelance book editor, specializing first in U.S. history and more recently in textbooks for emergency medical technician trainees  . . . also the “quizmaster” for “Time Classroom,” a publication of Time, Inc. . . . chaired the Zoning Board of Appeals for the Town of Claverack and served on the board of directors of the Rip Van Wrinkle Basenji Club. 
Among his many interests were running, hiking and boating. With Michael Makynen, a friend from his Saint John’s days, he canoed the entire length of the Connecticut River, from the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, over the course of two years, in weekend trips. 
. . . also a superb avocational chef, who studied with Virginia Lee, Diana Kennedy and David Lawson . . . enjoyed the arts, particularly music and dance, and was an avid filmgoer who could remember details of movies he had seen years before. Until the onset of his illness, he did the New York Times crossword puzzle daily, in ink, in 10 minutes. 
In addition to his mother and sister . . . survived by Debby Mayer, their two basenjis, Cooper and Lulu . . . and many friends who sustained him and Ms. Mayer during his illness.
Mr. Zinkus was a generous donor to several local nonprofit organizations; those who wish to remember him are asked to make a donation to a charity of their choice. 

What I e-mailed to friends was this:
He’s raising a glass with Walter . . . 
He’s reading poetry with Linda . . . 
He’s cooking and arguing politics with Joani . . . 
He’s running with Bambi . . . neither of them falters, neither of them falls. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Little White House by the Side of the Road

OK, I’ve not been swamped with requests, but there have been a few, along the lines of what L. said, that as a non-dog person, she would have liked to see a photo of the house that I moved from in the last post, rather than yet another photo of the dog. 

Somewhere amongst my papers I have a small photo of the little white house by the side of the road when Dan and I bought it, but I can’t seem to find it, and this blog is about moving on, isn’t it, not about rummaging around looking for old photos. 

So here’s what I offer for the house I moved from in Scary Thing #1. I took this photo as a record of the yard renovation I was having done, adding gardens to the front in an effort not to mow so much (joke on me, gardens take much more time than mowing lawn). At the left is part of the attached garage, an amenity I now lack. The white building that can be partly seen through the trees on the right is the home of my neighbor who bow-hunted (still does, I assume) (see last post). 

The front part of the house was originally the one-room schoolhouse until the districts were consolidated in the 1960s. Only one family had owned it before us, and they had added onto it, including the half-story upstairs. As I said in the last post, we redid practically every inch of this house and the outdoors too, but we could never figure out how to get that @#* eagle off the front, which the sellers had bequeathed to us, so we just left it there. 

At Christmas I took to wrapping the little front porch in chili pepper lights—never mind. Here it is, what is no longer mine. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scary Thing #1

In which I finally arrive at the scariest thing I have done since Dan died. Numbers 10 to 2 are in earlier posts.

Sold our house. 

Despite all its implications of dismissal and rejection (don’t need you anymore!), despite all the smart financial reasons for staying (I paid off the mortgage and then put that amount into my retirement fund every month), I moved on. 

I didn’t expect to. I loved our house. Dan and I had replaced everything, from top (roof) to bottom (septic tank). We had recreated the bathroom, enlarged windows, added a screened porch and deck. By myself, I had the kitchen remodeled. The house stood “finished,” needing only the continual maintenance every house requires. 

I loved our pretty, quiet road that didn’t go anywhere. I knew the neighbors, and if they were odd, or imperfect, so are we all, and their presence still provided assurance. 

In the field beyond our fence were two posts where our basenjis were buried. On the posts were engraved oval plaques, one commemorating Bambi (“Huntress, Gourmand, Wit”), and one Cooper (“Dignity . . . Always Dignity”). I had mixed a little of Dan’s ashes with Cooper’s, and I hadn’t thought I could leave those graves. But by now the physical remains had blended with the earth, and I could take the plaques with me, tokens of their spirits.

So long, country life . . . 
Because the house, its gardens and field, its three acres of woods, were all in the wrong place. Once, I was pleased that Lulu (the remaining basenji) and I could take a two-mile walk without seeing a soul, not even in a passing car. But with Dan gone I grew tired of driving for every single thing I had to do, and I yearned for more human contact. Visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, by myself one August, I walked each night after dinner for an hour or more, on sidewalks, under gentle streetlight. On the second night I saw several of the same people. We recognized each other in the dark with a “good evening!”  and I thought, that’s what I want. To say hello, to pass the time of day.

One night that October I let Lulu out into the yard. She raced around the fenced perimeter, disturbed by something, and wouldn’t come back into the house, so I joined her outdoors. By the light of the harvest moon I could see that my neighbor, who bow-hunted, had got a deer and hung it from a tree limb in his backyard. He stood silhouetted next to the vertical deer, so I waved. 

“Good work!” I called. 

“Yup!” he said. “Got one.” 

“Lulu tipped me off!”  

He chuckled. “Yeah, them dogs, they know.” 

And I felt a pang of fear. We had moved here, Dan and I, in part because we wanted to live in a place where everyone wasn’t exactly like us. Where I now wanted to live, I wouldn’t have even one compost pile, and I would never have that conversation. 
 . . . Hello, city digs!

Was I making a mistake to yearn for a world of sidewalks and streetlights? It was very scary. But that’s the American way, isn’t it: you light out for the territories, and then years later, Mama wants a house in town—a sign, as the poet Frank O’Hara wrote, “that people do not totally regret life.”*

That same October, I dreamed about Dan. We were inside our house, preparing to leave. As we moved to the door, he said, “I’m glad I was here.”
I was glad to be there too. But now I wanted a place where my walks with Lulu weren’t filled with memories so much as new sights. My solo exploration skills were honed. Accustomed to the branch I had found myself perched upon, I was ready to move off it, onto a higher one.

*“Meditations in an Emergency”