Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Lessons from the Past

Yesterday I returned to our old neighborhood in search of abundant flower gardens. I found a few, but, honestly, it is only early May so those were rather high expectations. Lots of vibrant rhoddies and azaleas. I can’t say I was disappointed. The sights were worth revisiting as the warm, lemony sunlight of mid-day soothed and cheered me. But it was more than the flowers, I have to admit. Perhaps I was looking for our more carefree days before the coronavirus, my husband’s recent and surprising job loss, and the very unstable future in our country–and the world.

It was good to walk down those streets, to recall the years we enjoyed an overall comfortable, interesting life. To see people chatting on their porches–we have fewer porches where we now live–and see children playing on the street, even if at arm’s length, as they played basketball and rode bikes and drew colorful hopscotch diagrams. Our current environs rarely include big porches facing wide streets, and there are fewer children about–we live in condo country and also among wooded homes that tend to be more secluded in the hilly acreage.

As Marc and I strolled about NE Portland, pointing out changes and what has remained the same, I thought as I often do that one never knows what the future holds. I’ve long felt this is an aspect of being human that’s exciting: around every corner–every single new day–there is something about to arrive that will challenge or thrill or enlighten. There is new information to be gleaned, an experience worth embracing. At the very least, one that offers a glimpse into the kaleidoscope of our living, and potential wisdom for the next part of the journey. I am not the sort of person who hides (for very long) but who steps forward to see what is next. I want to know things. Despite it being a bit of a risky proposition at times to just step outside and wave hello, I’m doing it.

So I yet choose to welcome the new day. However, I’ve had to remind myself of this during the shut-down of our country, and as we seem to be considering a very gradual re-opening…which concerns so many of us. I admit my cozy blue-and-cream-flowered quilt is tempting to pull up to my chin another fifteen minutes. But I get up before too long. Get fully dressed. (I still take a a moment to choose clothes carefully as I like certain colors at certain times. Old habits…)

Yesterday while cleaning I came across a small journal. It was as if I was to review what I’d lived the past year. It is one of many journals begun and soon abandoned; after 40 I ceased to be an avid diarist so the vast majority have been repurposed, or completed ones tossed long ago. But not this one.

The only entry was written on 2/1/19, a month before we moved from our established city area home to a SW Portland suburb. I read it over slowly.

It seemed I’d had a difficult dream the night before, and during it I felt we were being pushed out of our home, intruded upon by strangers, and sent packing to unknown lands. I couldn’t figure out how to orient myself via four true directions of the compass in my mind, a strange occurrence as I tend to use an instinctive sense of direction. But it had panicked me and I came to a startled awakening. This does seem a most obvious dream to have about moving. And I wrote:

“How odd to feel so lost in that dream… I came to waking too late after being suddenly jarred to consciousness three other times: the ceaseless planning, the work of it, the new locale and its issues, the costs of moving, the details to manage alone while Marc works. Disruptions and requirements that seem a tsunami of change. One more month until we must start afresh–yes, among tall pine trees on a high ridge. It will not as before. The suburbs have always sent me hightailing it in the other direction…

“What does a woman need to live a rich and fulfilling life, regardless of upheaval? Far less than one imagines, materially. I look through my books; surely they are one essential good. I must choose wisely for the smaller space. I finger scores of pictures, tons of old CDs, small treasures here and there…what matters now?

“It is only a change of house. I have done it so many times in my life! Yet I sometimes tremble as I prepare for this one. Why? Does one habitat mean more than the next? I will go simply forward, find my way, as always. Oh, dear God, I surely hope.”

Did I sense any of what lay ahead? I thought we were moving close to our daughter and son-on-law so when they had precious twin girls–high risk for various reasons– we’d be only five minutes away instead of thirty due to traffic jams and distance. But it seemed like something else was afoot despite all the reassurances we had. There came upon me a weight of dread at times, and an urgent need to get our lives in good order. To deal with whatever was coming: it felt as if I was preparing for something far bigger than any of my ordinary plans.

I didn’t know my daughter would suffer from nightmarish postpartum depression for three months, and that a good, solid recovery would take another three. She recently published an essay on her experience; it was harder and scarier than I, her worried, praying mother, even witnessed and I saw a great deal. The beautiful twins’ arrival and first months’ was not to be that happiest of all events during which we’d share energy and time and love in a simple, straightforward, constant manner. It was, in truth, harder than anything I’d ever thought it could be. To see my daughter sink and struggle day in and day out with her mothering and her perfect babies was so painful I couldn’t speak of it…only weep privately. We were not able to be the easy going grandparents in and out of their lives effortlessly as I had experienced with other grandchildren. Yes, I was there for hours several times a week, and my husband and I took care of each other, too. And the babies thrived. In time, life started to slightly brighten and if shadows fell again, the horizon was more discernible; more illumined ways and means came to us with each day’s coming.

And my daughter got better; she labored at it with intense energy, used every resource available, sought support and welcomed daily help. We all learned and adjusted even as there were times of deep pain and worry. I found I understood fewer of my son-in-law’s parenting perspectives as I helped with the babies three days and more each week. In time, since he was not working , he was able to leave and get other things done, or get a needed respite. My daughter had returned to work but sometimes I just glimpsed her on my way out. She was worn out and determined to settle back into routine. I sure had to learn about caring for twins and their family needs on the run; we sometimes compromised a little. The babies were snuggled, fed, diapered and adored. I saw how incredibly strong my daughter–and her husband–were and are. To parent requires courage; to parent with extraordinary stresses requires a warrior spirit and hope beyond hope.

Adversity can do damage but it can also make one very strong, can expand and enlighten person; it can make one tougher yet more tender, at once. I think we each experienced some of that as we plunged on, got past the hardest weeks.

I discovered things about myself as a mother, and as an individual–how much more I was willing and able I was to endure greater fear and uncertainty, how much more love came forward when I felt tapped out, how much deeper my faith in God would become. How I will not give up my belief in better times, even now in my later years after sorrows galore, not give in to fear or worry or pain for more than a small time. But I let my deepest heart feel it all.

There was nowhere to run, after all. I was living it with them all, was smack in the middle of our real lives. I was not going to turn away from not only the crises but the miracles.

There are times we must, I think, allow ourselves to feel our brokenness, to admit our frailty so that we can be ready for more healing once again. Because it comes if we embrace the process. If we are ready to grow further as individuals. And looking back can only help us understand a bit more. The rest is staying steady as we can in the moment and moving on.

We have lived in our woodland home now for over a year. It is a place that has come to so well suit us. I see how important it has been to have vast reserves of nature’s wonders right outside our door; how much more healthy to have miles of sinuous trails for walking or short hikes; how soothing the river with its timeless flow of waters; how cleansing the winds from the western mountain range and foothills. It is quieter in all the right ways, and birdsong never ceases to bring a smile as I awaken. It is gentler here, and we have needed that.

I feel gratitude daily, even moments of joy despite these chaotic times, and deep grief for those who are suffering. It'[s all of it, isn’t it, our human living? And we will keep on, until we do not. I have come close to death several times, and each time I wonder how it happens that we each leave or we stay. But today remains the gift right now.

I don’t know if we will live here beyond next March. Who knows where we all will be this time next year? It has always been unclear, hasn’t it? This time it is a viral scourge, next time it may be something else entirely we must face and cope with. It depends now on how COVID-19 rules our culture, economy and health, yes. And if my husband will find another good job or if we can or simply must retire sooner than later. If we can remain fit and able as we have been, overall. But every place I’ve had to move– despite challenges– knowledge has been gained, fun has been had, friends made. I hope I have left some good will. Wherever we are, we lug ourselves along, as the saying notes. So I best take care of my soul, mind, and body–this life I still have depends on it. So I draw nearer to those I well love. I still offer my kind greetings and support to friends and neighbors–and you, dear reader, if you will have it via my weekly stories.

Blessings to you, do not despair but find the good in the living you do.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Move to Something, Somewhere

The photo is deceptively personal, full of the sense of a certain communal peace, an idyllic setting most would love to insert ourselves within even for a short time. It is my home, so I should know. Or, rather, it is not my actual property; I do not live on either side of those river banks. But it is within my territory since we moved from the close-in city neighborhood to the current spot. And it is much like this–green-treed, near water, seemingly far from the constant din of city life heaving itself into consciousness. Here, the conscious mind is alive with nature and at a distance from much else, and this results in a stunning quietude.

But it has felt like living a small mystery, being here, and every day when I first look out the large opened windows or take walks along serpentine pathways that surround acreage, I am surprised.

For one thing, it is a wealthy enclave. Let’s call it Lakemont. It is a city set apart from the Portland metropolis or other suburbs. And we are not wealthy, so it may seem odd that we are here now. We do alright, could’ve done better if we’d planned differently (if life hadn’t thrown curve balls, if the economy hadn’t nosedived in 2008–if-if-if!)– and will likely manage when we’re fully retired. But we certainly don’t aspire to occupy the manse-like or maybe a bit more reasonably classy homes that characterize the city, each nestled within ubiquitous trees. I like to look at them–I enjoy such variety of architecture– but we’ve been apartment dwellers awhile. And so we now appreciate our spot within green, birdsong-infused expanses.

It was a joke that I even looked here as the deadline pressed upon us beginning in January. The goal was to vacate the old place and inhabit the new by 1st of March, in order to be much closer to one daughter undergoing a hysterectomy (so we could have here with us to support recovery days after the move), then another giving birth to twins 6 weeks later (so we could help daily). And, too, my husband was leaving for a long business trip within days of relocating.

So it was with urgency that I searched for something affordable–not at the top of the limit, not too cheap–and roomy and comfortable enough, with walking areas close by, too. I wanted to get to all within five minutes. There was little to be found anywhere within five miles of them. Places were way too small, worn out, lacking in sidewalks or parks nearby, or way too expensive.

And then an advertisement on a website caught my eye. What– in Lakemont? So fancy, no way! But I kept going back to it–looked at the square footage, the prices, rooms. And that location. Under 7 minutes drive, depending on traffic, to the daughters.

The decision was made after a visit and a long drive about the neighborhood. When sharing that, people we knew couldn’t believe we’d choose to live there. Far from our city’s fab bustle, for one thing, which we’ve enjoyed decades. Wouldn’t we be lonely? And Marc and I are aging hippies, still working on living more simply. Moderate, overall (but I am still well in more liberal zone), in lifestyle and ideological choices. Far more invested in various intellectual pursuits and nature’s delights/activities than money or–really, just forget this–status. Those simply do not cohere with who we are–and would not , still, if there were greater means.

And yet. This apartment felt like home even empty, like it would be the best place when all was said and done. We called the movers. I was ready to go. Now, each morning we open our doors and windows to refreshment of mind and body.

Today, after visiting my new, more pricey dentist, I reflected on the costs of that choice. I do think of money some, though I cannot deny one tends to get what is paid for. How much more do I get? Well, the solitude and tranquility of rolling woodlands, for one. Every time we step onto the long, deep balcony–a treat–we are inspired by towering trees, bird watching, bright summer skies; the lack of fire/police/ambulance sirens and not-infrequent night-time gunshots and late night revelers weaving home from bars around the corner. Our old area was pretty well heeled, but it was deep within big city stuff. Which we were comfortable with, overall. And which, strangely, we no longer miss much. We can always get fast into the city to attend a concert, visit the huge farmers’ market, stroll amid colorful jumbles of humanity and events.

It, though, sometimes feels as if we are living a charade–even though this matters much less than proximity to family now. No, I do not drive a Tesla or Mercedes; yes, I adore my worn Teva sandals; and we enjoy sandwiches and Italian dishes and chicken/veggie/rice pots with a seltzer water, not rare prime rib or fancy French cuisine (okay, a French bakery for week-end brunch) with fine wine or whatever else is eaten and imbibed here.

As I drive about, I grow more accustomed to circuitous streets, aged woods, cleaner parks, valley and mountain views, lake and rivers. It is a sweet relief on tough days, a sudden happiness on easier ones to enjoy these.

I watch the other women at church, at the library, on the trails or on quiet streets and wonder who I may meet, who I might become friends with here. I don’t care how much money is made, who you know. I care how you act. I smile at all; I often enjoy a smile returned, a hand raised in greeting. I look for graciousness, a friendly sort. I hope at least some are genuine… as well as basically accepting of varieties of persons, genders, statuses, religions, races–or at least courteous, kindly. Do I ask too much? Though I am short on time and energy, anymore, I think of ways to reach out.

It is true that Lakemont is known as a mostly white community; I was looked at askance for moving here by some since we do have an interracial family. And an extended family of eccentrics, creatives, and those challenged in varying ways, most all of whom are generous and can be zany fun. Maybe a few of our friends forgot what matters most now: to be closer to family, with a room enough for all to gather; to be situated within nature’s bounties–walk outside and find peace as an antidote to a multitude of life stressors. We’ve lived in well over a dozen places and a high priority has generally been to stay close to nature. Now, again, we are. So we embrace change even as we learn to adapt.

This afternoon I seriously muse on this feeling of dislocation–is this the right choice made, can this be a true home for us, at least awhile?–that may be closer to resolving as each week passes. We are intent on making it so but I wonder what really lies ahead. For it is not just new housing. It is an emotional and spiritual territory that is different for us. The birth of our daughter’s twins was not an easy event. It still is not but rather a most intricate dance, a breath-taking journey, and a time of consternation, too.

I remain restrained in what I share here but this has been a period of upheaval and worry and of deeper, broader love. A daily laboring toward better but healthier times. Prayers are said every busy day, and in the still deep cup of night, there come tears. Yet pitching in to help a new mother is standard labor no matter what comes. We hold those new ones so close, helping feed and diaper and soothe them, usher them toward better slumber, a gentle security. Tapping reserves as we go, and finding, too, small cheer here and there, moments of victory. Things will get better in time, always it takes time, we tell each other and offer love songs to the grand babies, these heartbreakingly wonderful ones.

Becoming a neophyte mother is a monumental transformation, perhaps more so when a bit older–and so is becoming a new father. Why does modern society insist it is roses and moonbeams and laughter from the start? Or gloss over many variations, including those of endless confounding, exhausting days and nights, plus the hugely unexpected? There is such judgement, so very high expectations, and there even seems a lack of empathy, at times. Birthing into this world is a risky venture for every parent and that each infant undertakes–in this case, two–and for some, more so than others. A risk but additionally opportunity to discover ways to thrive. To become one’s self more profoundly– as the little ones will do, too.

My daughter asks questions I cannot answer well enough. I sit with her, work beside her. And there is a well of silence as she summons courage to sort it all out. Her husband is stalwart, stressed, yet I witness their bravery every day, am overwhelmed with respect as well as love. I feel the ache of things paired with beauty of the twins’ lives, and want to obliterate any harshness that dares to impede the rooting of happiness. They are resourceful adults, are so conscientious, and will prevail. Rather, commitment to parenting will; it is that mammoth push that initiates movement in right directions.

Being a 69 year old mother and a grandmother is no walk in perfect weather, either. It is accepting the storms and waiting for transparent, lush rainbows. It is having faith when faith is pummeled and the bones are hurting, tired. And one wonders if one did the best thing or the worst; if one was a smart young mom or a foolish one way back then, if too misguided, impulsive. We can only have done what we did and let the past be past. I have this one day to carry on with my life tasks and missions, even if insignificant to others. I also stand right beside or protectively before my family; that will never change.

Those of us who have lived longer lives know what that stone lighthouse means as it prevails, shining and defiant, amidst all weather. There is a print of such, right above the bed. I look at it each day, then I pause on my balcony, scan branches for juncos, hummingbirds, chickadees, stellar jays, listen to wind song and squirrels scrabbling. And I do know why I am here: we were blessed to have been led to this haven. In truth, I knew it was critical to move as close as possible to this part of our family. The reality is that these are very hard and beautiful times… and here Marc and I can gather sustenance like blooms of light.

We are never sure of well being in this world–so why do we persist in believing life is so finely wrought, a story brilliant and bursting with wonder? Because it is this, too, whether we can perceive it or not. Because we can make it so if we become open to such, and realize persistence in becoming a more compassionate and courageous human is key. How can we live well without these as guidance? To be brave we have to put one foot in front of the other, not win awards for major heroics. And seek a helping hand as well as offer one. We must not attempt this life alone, not for long.

We arrive here with expansive heart and eternal soul, a calculating mind and so well-outfitted body; we have been given excellent tools. Thus, we carry on, with even thinnest of hope as a tether and perhaps a plethora of fears striving to sink us. We create ways to celebrate what small gifts are found and shared even as we know that, yes, it is true, once again tears will come. I am too well acquainted with grief, as sooner or later all of us are. Yet I will corral potential for better and brighter, within and without. There is no other worthy choice than to reach for and grab hold, then get on with it. Whatever it takes. This has aided me well for nearly seven decades. So often we must simply stand firm when shaken, take a first step when we can. And I count Divine Love as my most constant companion for those endeavors. My truest compass is God.

We each sooner or later make a move for something more or different, to somewhere else. To find out what’s next. We are just travelers in one way or another. May we make the move count. Make it wholehearted. I am taking it all in, creating my story while mending ripped portions and weaving in new pieces with many others’; then, the whole of it is richer. Heartier. May it be, oh God, enough, as I praise this life that yet allows me to live it with opened hands: let me have every, I mean every single moment.

Hair@2, Tailor@3:30, Reading@7


As Eva stared at the cracked ceiling, her throat tightened but it was not her soft navy plaid scarf pulled too tight. She was feeling things. She’d so regretted that her very grown up children had never seen her act, specifically not in any role other than that of “mother.” And, of course, that was not an act but a daily devotion, a way of living, a tale made of scenes whose very genesis was unknown to any of them. They had not witnessed her life on any stage other than the most pedestrian, the household on Tremont Street. It had often worried her, that the three of them wouldn’t realize how she loved being an actress long before they came along. But now instead of regret, a chill along her spine telegraphed terror to her crowded consciousness.

Eva lay with neck against the cold curve of a shampoo sink at her favorite salon. The stylist’s gentle massage of hair follicles loosened a few memories, emotions she had kept at bay for weeks. It wasn’t meant to be so important. It had started out as a whim, this foray into drama, a silly bet between friends. She had seen the ad for auditions at the community theatre, then her best friend had challenged her and Eva had tried out. And gotten a small part. But no one knew about it except Nils and he thought it was just for fun, too. Until she ended up liking it far more than any of them had planned. Well, Eva knew better. She knew that once she got out there, the passion reignited as she felt the heat of the lights and heard that applause, it would be too late to turn back.

She remembered how the two boys, Dean and Todd, and their sister, Cam, had made up plays, dragging out her scarves, a box of old clothes kept readied for donations to charity, odds and ends they pulled from drawers and closets to design a set. It might be a remake of a fairy tell one week, a story of their own making, often confusing and lengthy, or a puppet show. Eva always jumped right in, trying to improve on their designs or themes, employing her sewing skills at times, showing them how to tweak a walk or speech until finally, when Cam was ten, they forbade her to take part. When Eva, astonished by their lack of gratitude, asked why, the answer was simple: “It’s our’s, mom. You get to watch, though.”

And they were right. It wasn’t her story or mini-production, nor her privilege. So she never told them she used to act, how she had left southwestern Michigan for Chicago and took acting lessons and began to get good parts. How she had been planning on succeeding as she knew well she had a strong will, even at twenty. And then she’d met their father’s eyes across a gleaming lobby, then across a dinner table at a restaurant, then… Well, in due course, Nils and she made changes they could not have foretold at that initial eye-to-eye rhapsodic moment.

Her head was swaddled in a fluffy white towel and she was led to a swivel chair. The wind rattled the building’s ancient windows and she imagined it might snow, luxurious, dangerous drifts of it covering roadways so no one could get to the theatre. It would be a reprieve if nature intervened. This was not feeling wonderful, not at all. What had she been thinking?

Vi, her hairdresser, smiled at her in the mirror. Eva tried to avoid seeing herself; she looked like a cousin to a wet chicken. It was her eyes, looking too small, unblinking as mild shock registered and her public persona vanished. The washing always erased part of her protection and left her vulnerable to random pricks and pinches of life, she thought, and so she looked down. She felt too much, that’s what it was, and she couldn’t hide it without help. A lifelong problem.

“So, the usual?”

Eva nodded, tried on a smile.

“Even with the big to-do tonight? I thought you’d want elegant or daring. You still have pretty, long hair. How about an updo? It’s soon to be New Year’s Eve!”

Eva froze. “Grey hair, long or not, is still grey hair… don’t change anything, Vi. There’ll be enough for the family to contend with as I step on stage. They may slink out as soon as the lights go down as it is.”

Vi put hands on hips and cocked her own pink-haired head. “No way! They’ll at least be happy for you. I’m happy for you, girl. Not a bad move at all, you trying out for that play and now this–what is it? Some reading, you said?”

“Reader’s theatre. We read from scripts on stage, but not with scenery and all the frills. It’s…well, spare, which can make a story more intense.”

Vi snipped locks here and there, then turned the chair. “I never saw anything like that. Might be interesting. Like radio? You see it in your head? No, that’s not right, you’re on stage…well, the important thing is it’s you, their mother, up there.”

“It is rather like radio, how smart to think of it. But what is something is that my husband will be coming. He didn’t get to the play.”

“Really? Why not?”

“He was away on business.”

“Ah.” Snipsnipsnip. “He’s always on business, isn’t he? I mean, so you say, often.”

Eva was spun back around to face the mirror. She could barely see herself through long bangs she had grown out.

“Yes, nothing new.”

“Well, this will be a change, then.”

Eva thought, yes, that’s the problem, we are not about surprises, but gave a half-smile from beneath the fall of hair and fell silent.

After her hair was dried and Vi had convinced her to try the updo and Eva saw it suited her well, she left and headed to the tailor’s. The new dress she had splurged on didn’t fit quite right on the curve of the left hip, the curve that she found more generous than she had expected. She pushed open the door and a pleasant bell announced her arrival. Mr. Avanti rushed forward.

“Mrs. Wainright, hello. Your beautiful raspberry dress is ready. Let me get it so you can try it on.”

In the dressing room she shivered and held the fabric up close–her dress was burgundy, so why the dreadful comparison to a child’s crayon? But once she stepped into the flourescent light, she saw what he meant. It looked like a somewhat deeper raspberry sorbet that she sometimes indulged in. It wasn’t quite what she had wanted but it was unique.

As she stepped up and before the mirror, Mr. Avanti shook his small, neat head, a grin changing his face from merely lined and pallid with weariness to nearly incandescent.

“You see, it fits well now, just skims the body, and how right for you, this color!”

Eva looked at the three-view mirror, saw her left side (the seam corrected so it fell against her full thigh without any error), then her right (quite the same as the other), then full-on. Was she like an ice cream cone turned upside down, perhaps?

“The color, a little young? A little garish?” she asked.

“Lively, good drama, if you are asking, Mrs. Wainright.”

“I wonder…Nils likes me in classic clothing, you know, neutral shades. Mostly navy, grey, ivory, black. Or tweedy, even, if you recall his taste…” She made a little face, then laughed to herself.

“Yes, ma’am.” His own expression was replaced by a pensive look.

“But it’s for an event, did I tell you?”

“Yes, New Year’s Eve tonight. In an hour I go home to prepare for mine.”

“How lovely. You and Mrs. Avanti going out dancing?”

He blushed, enough so that Eva felt foolish being so personal.

“Yes, true, we are going to the ballroom, we love to dance all night.”

Eva studied him, then the dress and murmured, “Wonderful, you are probably very good at it.” She ran her fingers over the draping neckline, thought it a bit low. The jersey fabric was silky, graceful.

He nodded, then rechecked seams, hem, the fit of shoulders. “All perfect, and the color…may I say, he will like it.”

Eva turned to him. “It’s for a performance I am in. A sort of theatrical thing, you see. He hasn’t seen me in something quite like this, at least not for decades! And my children will even be there.” Eva felt the sudden pulsing pressure of tears against the rims of her eyes so turned back to the mirrors, then composed herself, stood taller, head up, lips pressed together until they were pale and thin.

“That is remarkable, performing! Very good, Mrs. Wainright, no worries, you are a vision!” He cleared his throat. “I mean, a good dress, very well-made for you.”

“Yes, perhaps.” She breathed in and out slowly, commanded the tears to recede. Her reflection nodded gratefully back at his reflection. “You did such a fine job. I must hurry now.”

“Indeed, big night. A new year!”

Eva changed back into black jeans and boots and sweater and sat on the little bench. Her heart was fluttering. Was she having stage fright before she even got there? No way was that going to get her. She exited fitting room, and paid for the alteration.

“Happy New year, Mr. Avanti!”

“Happy New Year, have a splendor night!”

Eva sat back in her car and chuckled at his kind error of speech. Splendid, not splendor, yet maybe that’s what he meant. It would be above and beyond her hopes to have any splendor happen, to feel like it was a risk worth taking, that her family would truly appreciate it. Even find her good enough to be proud.

But this performance was first and last not even for Nils, not for Todd and Dean and Cam. It was for herself. It was her desire to act, her dream reclaimed. She hoped it was a real thing, something she could pursue even now, in a small way. She had started off in the community theatre, down this acting path, a few months ago. Had said nothing to most people, not even her children. Until last week.

Of course, Nils had been informed early on, as he would notice her absences–when he was around. At first surprised and annoyed that she’d be gone much more often, he finally said it was a relief that she’d located an outlet for her “restless energy, for all those latent creative tendencies now that you are in retirement.” Which meant he’d missed the point, didn’t understand her so well as she thought, and had seemed to forget what real acting had meant to her long ago. But at least he hadn’t complained. He uncharacteristically held her close more than a moment and even kissed her before ambling off in search of his new pipe.

It was an early performance, as it was dinner theatre. There would be drinks and appetizers at the forty-odd scattered round tables as the actors gathered on the smallish but atmospherically-lit stage. They were reading an assemblage of poems about winter, the tendency towards rest, the hibernation that precedes transformation. Changes that cannot always be named until they are upon us. The new year rising up in the deep, wide wake of the old, the future unfolding even in the passage of this moment.

Eva had loved this idea from the start, even suggested a few poems and prose excerpts. Since she was on the board of All Girls to Women, the charity to which they were giving all donations, they had encouraged her to participate in the development of the program. At least she suspected that was it at first. But in time she heard some good words, even encouragement to pursue more acting possibilities. She had grown under her new friends’ tutelage and support. But that didn’t mean she felt perfectly prepared. Freed of queasiness that dogged her right up to the last minutes.

The boys were coming from the north end of town, Cam from the east and would meet Nils there. Eva left long before Nils, after he had admired her in the raspberry dress and new heels, an unusual purchase. She’d felt relieved, a little more confident. She could do this thing ahead of her, then maybe more. But she was happier leaving the house than she was upon entering the restaurant. It seemed insane that she could allow herself to be made a fool.

Any second thoughts were dispersed as she waved at her cheerful cohorts. They circled up and headed to the dressing room to do some relaxation exercises. Everything was set; she was as ready as she would be.

They soon gathered together back stage and waited for their cue. The crowd beyond coughed, chattered, sipped and ate while they tried to steady their heads and hands. Recessed lights dimmed above the tables and spots of blue and silver bloomed on the small stage. The MC introduced the group and the crowd welcomed them as the four of them walked on, then sat on stools set before podiums. After relative silence settled about them, the first reader, a man, stood and let his baritone voice tell of the strange richness of winter nights, the brittle brightness of its mornings, the way we wrap ourselves up in comforts and people and wait out the waiting, the lengthy and trying drear of the season.

Eva was ready for her turn in the sequence of poems and prose. She saw nothing, no one beyond the stage. She leaned forward into the faceless space, spoke deliberately, then let emotion mold each phrase as she surrendered to the poetry: a prophecy of new beginnings amid tenacious remnants of the past, every syllable a promise of more enchantments, the soul of each stanza a fragrant balm. She closed her eyes and it was as if her powerful voice rose from a place too long forgotten, from a life that was bigger and far better than she was. And she again fell in love with this, the longing to act, even as it fell for her.

And so it went, forty-five minutes of readings, the audience responding, clapping and whistling, then again silent and breathless, then erupting once more.

Backstage, Eva found herself not wanting to emerge from the tiny room where they had prepared. The others rushed off after congratulating each other, gone to loved ones and other special affairs. But then a sharp rap landed on the door and she opened it.

“Mother, that was lovely, really good!” Cam hugged her quickly and tightly.

“Great stuff, I had no idea!” Todd, more reticent, patted her on the back, then put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed a second.

“Mom, why have you hidden such talents from us all these years?” Dean lifted her nearly off her feet with his bear hug, then stood back a few paces. “Is that why you were so attentive to our make-believe?”

Eva felt herself unwind under their fondness and laughed and talked with them readily. It was good, such appreciation, their coming to witness her efforts and finding them acceptable. She knew they wouldn’t have hurt her for the world, good work or not.

And then she caught sight of Nils at the door.

He stood motionless, not watching their family, not speaking, but simply staring at her as if she was a rarity, a ruby throated hummingbird right next to him, a night-blooming moon flower, an exotic jewel. Eva stopped talking, let their three lively adult children chatter on. She crossed the room and stood before him, just a foot between them, warm breath mixing with his. He took her forearms in his hands and slowly pulled her to him.

“Hello, Eva,” he whispered in her ear. “Dear, darling Eva, so glad to have you back.”

“Yes,” she whispered back, “hello, Nils, here I am.”

It seemed they stood together with eyes closed an eternity in that embrace, and it must have been, for when they looked around they saw the room held no children, and the dim hallway was empty. Eva put her arm around Nils’ waist and he, hers, and they walked out, closing the door firmly behind them.