Wednesday’s Word/Short Story: A Reluctant Partnership, Pt.1.

She was not interested in a roommate but, then, neither was he. Life, however, has a way of upending sure plans and then you have to improvise. Jeanette Minthorn wasn’t good at that. But Lenny Grimes was, and that was to his advantage he’d realized.

When Lenny first lost his job at the factory, it was the last thing on his mind to move and learn to live on a bit of a shoestring. He knew several there who looked their worst fears in the face due to the pandemic–either they got sick or lost their jobs, too–but they had wives or adult children to help out. Even if reluctantly. But Lenny had never been married. He’d been partnered up twice but by fifty-seven, he’d settled into a more companionable routine with Malloy, his terrier mix buddy. All had gone along without incident for a good decade. And then, not. His supervisory position was one he had fought for and enjoyed when promoted from floor work to the floor plus a closet sized office. So when Lenny put his few bits and pieces into a cardboard box and trudged out the door, it was not without grave disappointment, if he also understood the boss’ drastic action. Who buys appliances during a pandemic? Their orders had shrunk miserably. He retreated but with expectations of getting rehired soon somewhere. It was a kick in the pants when it didn’t turn out that way. His aging tri-level house–too big and in need of repairs, just too much to deal with at the moment–had to be rented out. He was not sharing a place with a family of four, the father being fifteen years younger, an optimistic and handy guy who was able to work from home, as was his wife. Their two boys, under ten, were polite enough. It was a quick deal, then he answered an ad looking for a roommate to share a house. May as well not fight reality’s vice grip.

Jeanette lived on a wide, sunny street with a dead end, at which she lived. It bordered a county park, so solitude was the norm even if voices drifted over her back deck. There was a trail bordering her back fence with a tidy line of emerald green cypress; privacy was complete. She had retired early two years prior, so not working had become more the norm. A teacher of elementary aged students, it was a relief to finally clean her desk, turn off the lights and close the door. Education had not exactly prepared her for managing as well as instructing rowdy, unique, inquisitive, demanding children. Though it had been an expansive experience, it had not been her first choice. A few of her younger, single cohorts felt teaching children was good training for having one’s own. Jeanette found it only emphasized her inclination to remain childless. Being married thirty-four years had been enough to handle. Jeanette had tried so hard. In the end, he’d left in the night. Their mid-century, three bedroom, three bath ranch (soon painted blue, cedar accents added later) house had remained hers and at times she found it no longer useful. But could not let it go yet. It wasn’t quite paid off, but she increasingly wanted to downsize. To move on….somewhere else. She determined that renting out a room a couple of years could get her there faster; the sooner she got out from under such upkeep, the better. She turned sixty-four recently and though she felt strong and alert, she also felt the threats of merciless time at her back. And at her neck, as she’d finally noticed in the mirror with a stunned double take.

When Lenny Grimes presented himself as the seventh possibility, she gave in from sheer exhaustion. Never had she imagined it so hard to root out undesirable renters, to pinpoint one who was not only trustworthy but independent- minded. She had little patience for someone carrying the baggage of neediness. Only someone who was self-directed, moderate in habits and a full adult would align with her temperament. Malloy, Lenny Grimes’ dog, was not a bonus, but neither was it a breaking point. She’d lived with one then another dachshund in her marriage, but they’d been more her husband’s doting pets. The last had left with him and fare thee well. Once imagining herself a cat person, it was a passing fancy–she never even got to the animal shelter.

She was quite relieved when they both willingly shared proof of having recently tested negative for Covid-19 and being fully vaccinated. They agreed that they lived carefully out in the world. They seemed quite good risks on the health front in a treacherous time.

Neither of them was the least bit bothered by living with the opposite sex. It wasn’t as if they had any antipathy; they were simply indifferent, especially after meeting one another–they each were entirely not their types. In the beginning, they avoided each other, overall. It wasn’t hard. Lenny went off masked and chipper to the harbor to meet up with a friend or buy a paper, coffee and a simple breakfast at his favorite food truck, Breakfast and Extras–an old habit, he’d said. Jeanette was used to sitting in the breakfast nook, gazing out the picture window into the back yard with a magazine, scrambled eggs with chopped turkey sausage and strong black tea.

They might see one another off and on during the day, but beyond a few neutral if friendly words, nothing else transpired. She was a calligrapher who always had a project going. He was a walker and an enthusiastic reader of earth science and woodworking books, and left to go camping for three days–she didn’t ask where, he didn’t offer info–perhaps two times a month. It worked out well enough for both.

One May morning after he’d been there six weeks and two days, Jeannette languished at her spot: her deck. She was pulled up to the glass-topped table with a half-full mug of tea. She’d been slow to start, and sunshine spread itself over oak trees and a big magnolia, the last of raindrops glistening and fat on leaves and blooms. She had little urge to move faster. Sometimes being in the middle of moments slow like molasses was the best place to be. But she had not expected or looked for company as she heard blissful birdsong, welcomed a pervasive peace that lay on her as light hands on her shoulders.

“Thought I’d join you,” Lenny said and sat down with travel mug of coffee in hand, Malloy curling up beside his feet. “Got up earlier than usual to meet my buddy Fred at the harbor, then decided to come back–never really hung out on the deck, just a look-see now and then.”

She looked at him and nodded, a slight frown appearing beneath wispy grey bangs. “I see.” If he thought this was her private domain, he was right. Then again, he paid rent and she hadn’t said it was off-limits, had she? She ought to be considerate. Generous. She turned her lips up in an almost-smile, teeth clenched.

His eyes swept over the neatly mowed yard, moved past the cypress soldier trees–he thought of them as frozen at attention –which he had never liked much, and then the magnolia and oaks, which he did appreciate. There were almost no flowers. There may have been daffodils once, but otherwise–wait, there were four irises, lavender, standing cheerful and tall in a back corner. A saving grace. He sorely missed his lilac bushes, the towering big leaf maples. He used to garden, once. The thought triggered a happy smile.

Jeanette noticed his assessment and wanted to seem more welcoming. “You have a nice yard at your place?”

“I do, and hopefully will when I get back. You never know with children what could happen; it’s a big yard, plenty of room to romp, though.”

“Oh, you do know with children, they’ll tear up the grass and pull leaves off, make every bush a hiding hole. You likely won’t recognize it when you return.”

Lenny laughed, then saw that she wasn’t joking. “I thought you taught children for years.”

She nodded and shot him a look from under her brows, left one raised high. “Exactly.”

Was he getting friendly for a specific reason or only to pass the time? She knew he wasn’t being rude in his reaction to her teaching history–nearly everyone assumed teaching the young was a joyride or one wouldn’t do it.

Lenny sipped his coffee, looked at his watch. Time to wrap this up and revel in the great weather.

“Enjoy the trails by your house?” he asked.

“I have. A pretty woods, and a nice, open, often wet meadow. Quite hilly areas to pump blood through the panting body. Benches. Picnic tables on the far side. I’ve lived here a long while and know it well. Now it is overrun with people.” She sighed and shrugged, blue cardigan slipping off her shoulders, her hands pulling it close again.

Lenny shifted in his seat, unsure at this point how to react; she was humorous at times, but who knew when it was sarcastic? He stood up and slapped his thighs once. Malloy opened lowered eyelids and promptly stood beside him, tail wagging a little, sensing another outing. An anticipatory bark jumped out of him as Lenny took the leash from his back pocket.

“Think I’ll go exploring. You interested?”

She pulled back and gaped at him. “Heavens, no. I have a calligraphy project to begin and the morning is already underway.”

“Okay, have at it. I need my daily power walk. Keeps everything working right.”

Lenny pushed his chair back in and left. He was surprised he felt mild disappointment. Who didn’t like a walk in a park and a chat on a morning like this one? He was aiming to be a congenial tenant, better that than feeling resentful at the change of fortunes. After all, they shared an attractive house–his was more of a shambles if he was honest. Hers, well, it smelled good and decorated with things he’d never have considered. A jolt to the senses. His was “catch as catch can” and a functional background.

He tipped his baseball cap at her and disappeared around the side of the house.

“Have a good day, Lenny,” she finally got out as he trotted off with Mallory–who looked back at her, tongue lolling. She suddenly waved at him, then felt ridiculous for doing so, though he gave a yip in response.

Jeanette felt her initial mild alarm recede fully after fifteen minutes more. Why on earth, however, would he sit right down and talk with her? She hadn’t rented her generous third bedroom with an en suite in order to make friends. She got quite enough contact with people online, and managing her growing Bespoke Calligraphy business, and when making crucial runs to stores that left her worn out and obsessed with the ever-floating virus. She thought she’d left the germs back in the classroom, but no. She retired for more.

He took a sharp left out her driveway and then a right on a footpath until he came upon a post that indicated the county park was accessible ahead. He’d have to bring Fred out there. It was more tranquil than his urban house, with its constant racket of cars and passersby and the train that ran three times daily. He wouldn’t mind being on more easy terms with Jeanette; it’d make this pause in his life more bearable. But, then, a person who did calligraphy–he’d had to look that up after he’d met her and desired to live in her sweet house–was not likely a person who’d ever enjoy his company. No matter. It was a good deal for now and he was grateful.

It was time to get to work so Jeanette stood and stretched, her long, narrow body loosening and pulling taut as she reached high, albeit with effort. She had more inquiries to look over, and had to sort requested quotes and then map them out on fresh paper, inks and pens to get readied at her drafting table. A luxury she was anxious about buying and what pleasure it now gave her to work there. Who would have thought she’d get back to calligraphy at this time of life? But then, who would have predicted a pandemic of such proportions? And that she’d share her house with a man again after a decade of living alone? Clearly, she had things to learn, the first two being: one can never rule out anything, and one must develop a more open mind.

It might be a good summer despite the hollow sadness of the pandemic. Lenny and Malloy about, greater financial security and these resurrected creative impulses. But the thought of a renter-rentee kind of friendship…? That was going quite a lot too far. Business arrangements might be pleasant enough but it was still business, after all.

Monday’s Meander: Cross Cultural Wonder

Come with me to Portland’s Japanese Garden for an infusion of tranquility. I was determined to experience a few good excursions with Marc before he started a new job–and this was top of my list. I have posted photos for this garden 1-2 times a year; springtime holds it own magic.

First designed and developed in 1961 and opened in 1967, it is a place of respite and fine delights. Long considered one of the most lovely, authentic Japanese gardens of the world, it sits high and lofty within Washington Park (within larger Forest Park). The relatively new Tea House is pictured above left. Further construction has expanded its offerings, with educational and event buildings. More may be learned here: https://japanesegarden.org/about-portland-japanese-garden/.

View of downtown Portland, in front of the above exhibit building.
Crushed stone has swirling pattern raked in it, not apparent here.

We completed our sweet almost-otherworldly walk, then took a look at the International Rose Test Gardens nearby. A small teaser below.

We will return when those majestic blooms show beauty at greater advantage, in full bloom. Hoping your week is full of color and light.

Friday’s Poem: Evening Visitation

(Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

I am leaning over the table, alone,

in the open theater of air.

Evening sun slinks off, offers deep light

and shadow. May is alive, its perfume

weaving about green-heavy trees

which rustle and settle into early dusk.

I feel thankful pain has left me for one moment

when a hummingbird’s thrumming wings

announce its arrival.

A small pleasure. But it will pass, as ever;

I do not look up.

Until it hovers right before me,

emerald head ablaze, for

five seconds and holding.

I feel its purposeful energy

in a blur of breeze and then it is

then ten seconds as it gazes into my eyes

with its own, large, gleaming,

almost indecipherable.

I see it; it sees me;

I am netted. Taken out of the cage of time.

My heart lifted out, polished clean.

Can this last for a lifetime? But the visit

over, it dashes blossom to bud, departs.

I look about for a sign of divinity,

a final flourish for such a moment.

And know that it came,

was wholly here,

and came, perhaps, for me.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Rattail Lake, 1975

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

It was a summer marked by complex relationships, steamy weather, trips to lakes near our Midwest college town. Ned, my first husband, was completing a Masters in Sculpture. I was knee-deep in mothering kids (one twenty-six months and one seven months) and chores. And writing even a few lines a day at the table in the dark (the overhead light cast a dim yellowish tinge), linoleum-floored dining room. Infant Joshua and toddler Naomi made a world near my feet. Naomi scribbled with every crayon on butcher block paper, played with puzzles, built block towers. Josh chortled, worked on crawling and blew bubbles with milky spit. It was a messy nest of humans. I tried to keep it intact while Ned came and went.

My best friend Betty Jo and her spouse, John, also had a baby boy. We swapped breastfeeding info from the Le Leche League that I seldom used–my milk ran fast. We commiserated, congratulated each other on mothering naturally, hippie college-educated parenting. And I struggled with no longer being a student, restless and dreamy while doting on my children. I stood in the doorway, one on my hip and the other stuck to my ankle and looked up and down the street, at the green arching trees. How they shook and shimmied in the June wind, a duet of mysterious movement. The greenness was big enough to blind or thrill me with delight. We walked to the park with stroller bumping along,

I felt too often alone, but I was not alone. Most of our good friends lived on Pine Street or a couple blocks over in ramshackle two-story houses that students claimed with their communal lifestyles, Or as young families like us. It was good fortune to rent the green house on the corner. It had tall windows and decent sized rooms; worn, creaking floors and stairs; a grassy lot for a hibachi cook-out or to string the line for wet clothing and endless cloth diapers. The children reveled in the comfort and safety of lush grass. But it was July and getting too hot, and I wanted to get away. Get out awhile. I persevered through thunderstorms and mosquitoes and flowers bursting open and wilting. Then August came to a close and there were intimations of fall, the air crisper, the leaves drier. I was about ready to rethink nursing, a bit tired of milk saturating all, breasts almost too heavy for my slim length to carry. His big hunger which fattened him up, powered his engine to rev up more.

That sonn-upon-us winter was long. It carved an ice cave for my creative urges and I took shelter as I could. I wrote, danced with the babies, played my cello, dreamed of spring and another summer. I thought of lakes I adored as a youth, and my longing held scents of wildflowers and damp stones. I met with women friends to discuss feminist literature and plot how we could be the solution to inequities. I wrote poetry and taught the children songs, made art with them and romped, built igloos with packed snow, and melted tender flakes on our tongues.

The saving invitation didn’t come until the start of next summer, before we moved, close to when Ned got his Masters. Betty Jo invited us to meet up at Rattail Lake and was eagerly accepted. It was her parents’ property, a childhood haunt she shared at times. The children stayed with grandparents that 2-day week-end, a gift that surprised. Betty Jo’s and John’s son Jarrod was going along. I carefully packed bottles frozen with the last of breast milk, favorite toys, books and summer togs. As if it was a long trip. I looked back at them as we drove away, at their large blue eyes.

It was a private lake. Despite the name–I disliked rodents a great deal–it was a haven. A handful of family cabins nestled deep into woods surrounding the water. All were isolated. It was a closed community of fishermen and fisherwomen, of hunters, of solitary souls, of hardy people. And it felt like I had stepped into a foreign land.

Although I’d spent parts of countless summers at northern Michigan lakes, it was much different. Often crowded and more noisy than not: speed boats and water skiers (my self included), kids shouting as they let loose on the shores or dove from floating docks, dogs barking. Or plenty of organized activities, lots of fine arts. I loved all that. But this was another experience. Full of pine-tinged shadow that fell across bumpy dirt roads that meandered into nowhere to be seen. Chains across private drives, silence broken only by birdsong, the sounds of someone chopping wood, an occasional gunshot in the distance. It was a land where no one ruled but those who came claimed their piece. All others, beware–or, at least, step carefully.

It made me tremble inwardly as daylight thinned then vanished in jeweled hues beyond treetops. The foreignness sank in deeper; soon, it thrilled me. Ned was at home there; he had grown up in the country on open land and woodlands close by. I had grown up in artsy or church summer camps–and a town set apart by well cultivated charms. Betty Jo and John were at ease as they had hunted and fished often, knew the acreage. Jarrod ran around half-naked; his parents seemed unconcerned about voluminous insects or his peeing on leaf piles (no potty training that week-end) or his bringing wild berries squashed in chubby palms. It all spooked and beckoned, then soothed me. It was the nature I admired and needed, and wilder than many places I had been. We tramped through trees, watched for fish as John tried and failed, sat on the dock and kicked our feet in green-blue water, stirring up the murk. The first evening was spent cooking over a fire, singing along with John’s guitar, growing drowsy under dome of night as embers glowed.

I thought of the children more often than expected–how they would be mad about the wildness, too, I imagined. But the elixir of freedoms made me warm, and anticipatory of more.

The next day was hiking (Jarrod in baby backpack, as we all carried our youngest ones into nature), eating simply at a splintery picnic table, walking barefoot on the beach, lying on holey blankets in sunshine, talking, laughing, sharing a drink or a joint. Our friends offered familiar fondness and thought provoking conversation. Out in the rowboat, Ned smiled easily, arms and chest flexed with muscle as he rowed, attitude confident. Calm. I liked looking at him; he knew that I did. My turn with the oars unleashed surges of energy. The wooden boat carried us over the light chop of water’s surface and into a dazzling sphere of sunshine. I felt our good fortune, wanted to seal it inside me: we were young but not too young, strong of mind, will and body, and brimming with life. And I couldn’t wait to sit at my typewriter when I got home–to keep it all close.

But nothing prepared me for the gift of the night.

I pressed my nose against the screen door. The moon rose, and as it showed its fullness it gave off a luminosity I had seldom witnessed, the dense blackness of night a-shimmer even at blurred edges. Waves slapped at the shore in an uncommonly fine rhythm; my ears awakened to its ethereal symphony. Inside the cabin was thick with food fragrances and woodsy heat and voices. Everyone was finishing fresh apple pie Betty Jo made because that’s what she did, earth mother doing it all. She was putting Jarrod to bed; he wasn’t having it. Ned and I wandered outside but John held back.

We didn’t speak, just sauntered down to water’s edge, stood with bare feet submerged in the lake. Admired the sky with starry maps of the universe, his arm around me. It had been some time since his arm had come to rest around my waist so tenderly. He was a man of action, of iron will, of few words, a lack of sentimentality. He cared within silences and touch.

Then, with nothing other than a look crossing the dark, we began to peel off jeans shorts and t-shirts and all the rest. Flung them on the shore. I had not ever skinny-dipped; he had, as if it was nothing. It was not nothing to me. It was moon madness and I surrendered, mesmerized. The water was a wash of cool silk as we jumped in and submerged, swam out further, laughing. I dove deeply many times, propelled myself up to the surface, Ned following, finally tagging my foot with his grip. The soft bottom of the lake cushioned my feet and made me think of fantastical creatures. We rose together. His face, I thought, was truly wonderful, at times heroic, his wiry body divine. His eyes were clear and in them was that old flame of love; it flashed under moon’s illumination.

How could I not have married and had children with him? We lived like that: we swam side by side into deeper water, separated, then came back to one another. We forgot at times what we had; that night, we knew without doubt. We recalled who we were apart and to one another. Together.

John called out, then Betty Jo; soon they, too, were all pale flesh and splashing, laughing and hooting. And so four of us were swimming unencumbered, happily foolish, unmoored by power of a summer-owned night, and so it was meant to be. Yet we were mindful of respect for one another within the hour’s freeness. We were beautiful creatures in that lake and knew it, bodies and spirits loosed of demands, constraints of necessity. A brief plunge into what was left of our youth, perhaps. But almighty moon let its rays lay upon us as stars sparked and winked. It divined something more for us. The air was a whisper and the wind near-unbearably sweet. It was critical magic. A rescue from our times, the outside world with its wars and hatreds and pain wrapped in the earnest guise of protests and riots. Our children were clasped to our hearts as we carried on with each day–but sometimes we had to have arms for one another, too. Room to think and be, anew.

A part of our ambitious lives had been rent and we swam through it into appreciation. Into a joy sorely missed. To have friends such as those was to cross a sturdy bridge from one side of living to another–from hardships to promises of greater plenty, from separateness to continuity of love, from faltering young adulthood to a richer personhood for us each. We wanted to succeed out there, but we needed to know wholeness. To become human beings worth our words, worth the sacrifices.

It was a night I began to reclaim some of my own self. So, too, Ned and our friends. We could go on after that, stronger and better. We visited the cabin on Rattail Lake in autumn’s splendor and winter’s snowy paradise. But it was one short weekend that remains one of my clarion bells after forty-six years, ringing with an upwelling of hope, fresh delights. Lake enchantment.

Monday’s Meander: Lilacs, Rhoddies and More at the Farm

I decided I must give you flowers, lilacs, specifically, but also rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, peonies, irises, viburnum, wisteria and more…I am not a current gardener–some years have passed since we had a nice plot of land to grow much. But I appreciate all green growing things, flowers especially, now more than ever. My balcony is loading up with more potted flowers each week. And junco pair already took over my hanging fuchsia plant for nesting activity…

But today I’m at a favorite spring destination: Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, Washington. I post pictures every now and then but not last year. It was a pleasure to be able to re-visit at last. We may have been a bit early to take in all the bloomed varieties but it was worth the visit.

The farm is located on 4 acres of land, purchased in 1877 by it’s namesake’s parents. Huldas work with her lilacs expanded in 1905, and she added 14 new varieties. After she died, the Hulda Klager Lilac Society bought and maintained the gardens. The home and potting shed were refurbished. No tours of the humble but lovely house due to the pandemic, but I have often enjoyed a walk-through. Altogether a stop in WA. we have to make each year when we can.

I hope you also find the tour lovely and tranquil.

Please click through the slideshow to finish.

(An empty chair is for everyone loved and lost. Love never ends.)