Summer is its own gift, from the solstice to the equinox, but there is something about the first nine or so days, the June part of summer, that feels most wild and tender. We've made it through winter, and, as in this year, a tempestuous spring. It was cold, we had blizzards, it was rainier than usual, and a friend left this earth. But here right now is the morning sun, incredible warmth, the green marsh, the call of Red-winged Blackbirds, the sparkling Connecticut River, the glass-calm Long Island Sound.Read More
This summer the cats and I spent several weeks at Point O'Woods. Maisie was born in Old Lyme, so for her it was a homecoming. Emelina and Tim, the kittens, had never been, so it was their first time there all together. Being NYC cats, they're used to the confines of a Chelsea apartment. Going to the country was summer vacation for them.
And Maisie returned to one of her favorite spots, a place she used to sit with the old girls, Maggie and Mae-Mae, on the back of the loveseat next to the fireplace, proving that--indeed--you can go home again.
Written in the sky, flying to Phoenix, May 30, 2014 It's been a busy first week for The Lemon Orchard book tour, with much excitement and joy along the way. I haven't been out on tour in a couple of years, so visiting every bookstore, seeing every reader, being on every radio show means so much to me.
Here are some highlights so far, a sort of sideways diary--not linear or organized, just an impressionistic view of the journey so far. I am taking many of these posts and photos from my Facebook page, which I update frequently.
Yesterday writer David Handler and I met at the NPR studios in midtown Manhattan and got patched in to the Colin McEnroe show in Hartford CT. We had a great time discussing books, writing, setting novels in Old Lyme CT, missing Dominick Dunne, and quite a lot more. Here is the link to our conversation.
The day before I'd gone on WVIT, NBC Connecticut Channel 30, for an interview with the lovely Kerri-Lee Mayland. The segment felt good, we had a fine discussion about where I get my inspiration, how The Lemon Orchard starts in Old Lyme CT and moves out to Malibu CA.
More Connecticut TV--On Tuesday May 27 I appeared on WTNH's Connecticut Style with Teresa Dufour. Newlywed (as of New Year's) Teresa asked a lot about the love story in The Lemon Orchard, and she wanted to know whether Roberto was inspired by a real life person. That is always hard to discuss in public, but much easier to write in an essay.
RJ Julia Booksellers was great as always, welcoming me and all readers with open arms. We had a slight but wonderful glitch--the store was fully reserved but without enough books. So on the way out of NYC I swung down to my publisher on Hudson Street, loaded up the trunk of the car old-school, and delivered a few cartons of The Lemon Orchard in time for the event.
Before it began I stopped across the street at Cafe Allegre to meet my dear friends and fellow St. Thomas Aquinas High School alums Paula Gilberto, Janice Tordanato, and Linda Kozikowski Lohmeyer. They have come to Madison for my talks before, and I am incredibly touched that they do that. It's always good to have mini-reunion before meeting my readers.
We had a good talk with gentle yet intriguing questions to follow, talking about the novel and how a Connecticut native wound up in Malibu CA writing about a family of undocumented Mexican immigrants. The answer is very simple--if it comes from the heart the writing is never hard, the stories flow, and inspiration and compassion are everywhere.
I felt a blast of energy coming from the loving crowd and gathered them around me at the podium and we attempted a series of Ellen-style selfies. I thank Janice for being our photographer. Many friends are in the shots, but some are Edyse Smith, Julia Vallati, Janice, Lisa from RJ Julia, and others. Thank you all for making it so much fun.
An hour or so before the bookstore I went to Hubbard's Point for a swim, then met my sister Maureen and brother-in-law Olivier. We grabbed a bite at A.C Peterson Farms--formerly Hallmark--I always call it Paradise Ice Cream in my novels. Here's a photo of Maureen and me at one of the picnic tables, the Connecticut River and Old Saybrook in the distance.
Right now I am heading to Phoenix AZ for tomorrow's signing--"Afternoon Tea with Luanne" at 2 pm Saturday 5/31 at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale.
Sunday 6/1 at 3 pm I'll be at Diesel: A Bookstore in Malibu California We'll have snacks and lemony drinks catered by the Godmother of Malibu.
Hope to see you along the road. I'll report in along the way, but in case you want to join me, here is the Book Tour 2014 schedule. If you can't make it and would like a book signed, please just contact any of the stores I'm visiting and I will personalize it for you and they will send it to you.
from the minute i heard about the shootings at sandy hook elementary school in newtown ct, a small and beautiful town in one of the prettiest parts of beautiful connecticut where terrible things aren't supposed to happen, i've been thinking about the children and teachers who were murdered and their families.
the pictures of the children break your heart. smiling, happy, talented--a video of one little girl playing the piano and singing.
one of their teachers, rachel d'avino (shown in the photo above), attended the university of st. joseph in west hartford connecticut. i learned this when i called my favorite teacher, laurette laramie, just to hear her voice, and to let her know what she means to me. laurette and my mother, lucille arrigan rice, also attended st. joe's and became teachers. the devotion my mother and laurette had/have for their students has always inspired me. once in 1978 or so a student brought a handgun into my mother's class and drew it on her and the class and she talked him into not shooting anyone, into putting the gun away, into letting her take him to the guidance counselor.
that story of my mother's was just a story--it wasn't headlines, it happened pre-lockdowns, pre-metal detectors. my mother's life was threatened, but she just kept going, caring about her students, getting them help when she could, directing them to the school psychologist because she believed their actions came from inner pain.
i feel devastated to learn of rachel's death. i didn't know this bright and dear young woman, but i feel the st. joe's connection. i'm the daughter of a teacher, and i think teachers are our everyday saints. i know laurette is one, i know my mother was, my friends joe monninger and doreen dedrick are, and i know that the teachers murdered in newtown are: rachel d'avino, dawn hochsprung (principal), anne marie murphy, lauren rousseau, mary sherlach, and victoria soto.
tonight i spoke with my friend sgt. rob derry of the connecticut state police to ask him about the first responders (the "good guys" some of the teachers spoke of)--who had to deal with the trauma of what they saw. he told me that right now there are two state troopers assigned to each newtown family who lost a child, and tomorrow there will be a large law enforcement presence at all connecticut schools. my grandfather was a hartford police detective. i'm in awe and gratitude of the people who devote their lives to public service.
to quote my sister maureen rice onorato: "i've always been so amazed by people who work in schools, who help children every day, children and their parents...every day out there looking out for them." we think of our mother, how much she cared...every day, all through the years. she taught children who had children of their own, and she really helped them know they could go on to better lives. she would come home and talk about her kids, and their lives, and we could feel her love for them.
thank you, love, and love, and more love. oh rachel.
"do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? i always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it." ~daisy buchanan in "the great gatsby" by f. scott fitzgerald.
tomorrow, june 21, is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. i'll watch for it and hope i don't miss it. (i don't think i will...) if my parents were still alive, it would have been their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. they were married in old lyme, ct, where they, and my grandparents, and my sisters and i, and friends and cats and i have watched so many longest days of the year.
we'll celebrate my parents, and summer...and reread gatsby and think of the green light at the end of daisy's dock.
happy summer--and happy summer reading--to all!
(i love the painting above--"summer night" by winslow homer, at the musee d'orsay in paris.)
Now that The Silver Boat is on sale, I have the pleasure of being on book tour, meeting readers along the way. I had a great kick-off event at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison CT. R.J. Julia has supported my novels since the early days, and I'm incredibly grateful. They took a chance on me relatively early in my career, promoting my novels and asking me to read.
There have been other constant supports along the way. The Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library in Old Lyme CT is one--every summer for many years, whenever I had a new novel out, librarian Mary Fiorelli would create a wonderful, imaginative event--I would read or give a talk, sometimes by the fireplace in the library's wonderful reading room, surrounded by paintings done by American impressionists, members of the Old Lyme art colony.
Writing a novel is its own kind of magic. But the enchantment goes to a new level once the book is in the hands of a reader. I'm so grateful to all the booksellers and librarians who have helped bring me and my readers together. It's incredible teamwork all around. I would love if you'd leave a comment here, telling us about your own favorite bookstores and libraries.
I'll be appearing in Charleston SC at the Post & Courier Book and Author Luncheon on April 21st. Between now and then I'll be guest-blogging, doing radio and TV interviews, including Better TV--my segment airs tomorrow, 4/13; please check their website to find out where you can see it in your area.
After Charleston, my book tour will take me out west. I'd love to see you! Thank you in advance to all the wonderful book people hosting me and coming out for The Silver Boat.
Madison, CT R.J. Julia / 7:00pm Friday, April 8
New York, NY Barnes & Noble (Upper East side)/ 7:00pm Monday, April 11
San Francisco, CA Belmont Library / 7:00pm Tuesday, April 26
San Diego, CA Warwick’s / 7:30pm Thursday, April 28
Los Angeles, CA LA Times Festival of Books April 30 / May 1
St. Louis, MO St. Louis County Library / 7:00pm Thursday, May 5
When my mother came to Paris for her chemotherapy, it was her very first time on a plane. The trip was full of meaning. Lucille Arrigan Rice, my mother, was one of the greatest readers ever to live. She had been born and raised in New England and never traveled beyond Washington DC to the south, Quebec City to the north, and New York City to the west. Her reading had taken her everywhere in the world so perhaps she hadn't felt the need to visit places other than through literature. The cost was also an issue; it wasn't so uncommon for teachers, typewriter men, and their children, to think flying was only for the Air Force and rich people.
I was living in Paris and couldn't bear not being with her during her treatment for a brain tumor, so I arranged for her to have chemo at the American Hospital in Neuilly. She loved Paris immediately; she'd felt a bond with the city since, when pregnant with my youngest sister, she'd spent labor reading Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris goes to Paris, and eventually the baby grew up to marry a Frenchman (here is the baby and her husband, Maureen and Olivier Onorato, in Arcachon, France, where they lived their first year of marriage many moons ago.) (Photo by Amelia Onorato,) Anyway, the Gallico book is a magical reference tool in our family, so my sister's marriage, and now my mother's visit to Paris, all seemed quite blessed and cosmic, but that is another story.
My mother was enchanted by Paris but wanted to go to England. Her grandmother, Gertrude Gibson Harwood Beaudry, was English, so we'd grown up with teatime, silver spoons commemorating Queen Elizabeth's coronation, and a habit i shared with my sisters of practicing English accents while walking on the golf course, pretending it was the Yorkshire Moors. I also invented an imaginary English family, wherein my father was the fabulously dashing Max Gardiner, I had nine brothers and no sisters, and my own bay thoroughbred, on whom I rode hunt seat jolly well. But that too is another story.
Flying across the Channel, my mother was moved to remember my father's service during WWll, how his squadron had given air support to the troops landing on Normandy beaches on D-Day. During our London stay we would visit places my father had stayed on leave from the base at North Pickenham, including a Catholic church hit by a buzz-bomb while my father was at Mass.
Upon landing in England, my mother's smile grew huge, as if she had finally come home. We took a taxi to the Basil Street Hotel, where we had a tiny suite and our own butler. My mother tired easily, so she had to drink bouillon in bed and sleep a while before we could set out to see London.
I had planned an itinerary that I thought she would enjoy, but it went out the window as soon as she woke up. "I want to go straight to Doughty Street," she said. "What's there?" I asked. She looked disappointed in both herself and me, as if she'd failed me in my education and I'd failed myself by not enquiring further. "Charles Dickens' house," she said.
We went straightaway. Dickens had lived in the Georgian terraced house at 48 Doughty Street for two years: he and Catherine moved in right after their marriage in April 1837. Home to the Dickenses and the three eldest of their ten children, two of their daughters were born there. The family moved to larger houses as Dickens became more successful, but none of those other residences survive.
The interior was Victorian, and we wandered--my mother blissfully--through the morning room, drawing room, and brilliantly scholarly library. The house contains the most comprehensive collection of all things Dickens, including first editions and a painting, Dicken's Dream, by R. W. Buss, the artist who'd illustrated The Pickwick Papers.
I was overjoyed to see early editions of Dombey and Son, a novel my sisters and I loved for its own merit but also because in Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger, it was the novel Zooey was reading at the kitchen table when Jesus appeared and asked him for a small glass of ginger ale. A small glass, mind you.
My mother adored Dickens. Not just as the literary giant he was, but also, simply as an avid reader, because he wrote such engaging, addictive stories. My mother said, "He wrote such cliffhangers. The books would be published in serials, and readers would be waiting at the loading dock to pick up the next installment." It thrilled her to know that he had written The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and part of Barnaby Rudge while in residence there.
After reluctantly leaving as the house/museum closed for the day, we went to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which was both charming and incredibly touristy, because a woman in the museum had told my mother that Dickens had frequented the pub. My mother couldn't eat, she was too sick, but she leaned back and soaked in the atmosphere, imagining Dickens at the next table--perhaps writing, perhaps thinking of his latest chapter.
Our next stop, the following day, would be at Samuel Johnson's house, as she was quite obsessed with Dr. Johnson and was, back in Connecticut, caring for a stray tiger cat she'd named Boswell after the diarist and author of The Life of Samuel Johnson. But today, in this post, I savor that memory of my mother and our visit with Charles Dickens. It is, after all, Dickens' birthday... Lucille would be the first to bake him a cake.
There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by. I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye. I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.
We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland around the banister, place another over the mantle, and drape one over the front door. Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door. We'd bake Christmas cookies. One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father. If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun. It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.
Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things? Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right. My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound. That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.
In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments. My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree. When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that. On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.
Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round. We kept the old traditions but found new ones. We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire. We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.
On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.
Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.
At night we'd go outside. Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder. The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us. We'd laugh and go in.
So many gone, but strong love still here. My little sister and I have each other. Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us. We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too. We carry them with us.
Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way. The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness. That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.
There's beauty in every life, every single day. Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it. To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down. Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is. There's someone who loves you. There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap. There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky. Position the starfish at the top of the tree. All will be well.
[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This year I'm missing my sister Maureen--she and Olivier went to France, to say bon voyage to his brother and sister-in-law, leaving Bordeaux to open an inn in Indonesia. Missing my nieces, too--Mia will be with her friend, and Molly will be with her husband Alex and his family. We'll all be together in spirit, as well as with Rosemary...sometimes that's the best even a close family can do.
Thinking of Maureen and Olivier in France, I remember having Thanksgivings in Paris. The day would start by reading Art Buchwald's yearly-repeated column in the International Herald Tribune. Then I'd make dinner, including a not-so-easy-to-find dinde, for all my American friends there. There'd always be at least twenty...
I'm very lucky, though; a young friend, Nyasha, is coming down from Massachusetts to spend the holiday with me. I love having visitors from out of town, and I'll enjoy showing her all my favorite NYC places, and having a special dinner.
Growing up always had dinner with my father's sisters and family--Aunt Mary, Uncle Bill, and Billy Keenan, Aunt Jan and Uncle Bud Lee--either at our house in New Britain or the Keenans' in Elmwood. When it was at ours, we had lots to do to prepare. Wednesday was a half-day at school, and my sisters and I would run home to help our mother and grandmother.
We'd go down to the basement to get the good china and crystal glasses, and we'd wash everything till it sparkled. Mim would bake pies, and we'd help: apple, pumpkin, and mince. One of us would make cranberry-orange relish--a recipe via Ocean Spray from the Whitneys, the family across the street for whom I babysat--and another of us would bake cranberry and date-nut breads.
The three of us would help polish the silver, and fill bowls with nuts in their shells. My grandmother had a turkey platter, a green oval with a splendid turkey, its tail spread and preening, displayed on a hutch in the dining room. We would take it down, the only time all year, feeling excited to know the next day it would be laden with turkey.
(Photo below from right: Tom Rice, Bill Keenan, Mary Keenan, me, Billy's elbow, Lucille Rice raising her glass, tiny corner of Maureen's hair.)
After dinner, my father would lead a walk on Shuttle Meadow golf course, across the street. It was always wonderfully bracing and damp, and usually cold, and we'd tromp through the rough toward the brook and ponds, to see if any ice had formed yet. Given my father and Uncle Bill's humor, there'd be lots of laughter.
Dinner at the Keenans's was great, not only because we were guests and had only to bring the pies, but because Billy had these toy horses that I loved and wanted to play with long after it made sense age-wise. When we got older and could drive, "the kids"--my sisters, Bill, and I--would go to the movies. Billy and I were recently reminiscing about seeing Silent Movie at the Elm Theater. Dom Deluise's line, "I need a blueberry pie badly" made a particularly deep impression.
Billy was a football player; if he had a game we'd go see him play at Northwest Catholic. Later, when he went to Amherst College, one of my teenage highlights was to head up there with his parents and my sisters, tailgate in the parking lot, and feel like hot stuff because we knew Billy. (Photo of Rosemary, me, Bill Keenan.)
This year Thanksgiving falls on November 25. That is a bright and shining occurrence. It happened once many years ago. Mrs. Whitney, my "other mother," (and currently bookseller extraordinaire at G. J. Ford ) gave birth to her second daughter, the exceptional and luminous Sam--aka the best midwife in the west in my novel Dream Country. Sam lit up our lives from the minute she was born, and continues to do so while being the best midwife in the west, raising her daughter (my goddaughter) and twins, and telemark skiing in the mountains of Park City, Utah. (Photo of Sam and Sadie)
We all attended Vance School--from my mother to my sisters and me to the Whitney children (aside from Sam, the birthday-Thanksgiving girl, there are Tobin and the twins Sarah and Palmer.)
Every year all the classes filed into the auditorium, and we'd sing We Gather Together and Over the River and Through the Woods. May you all be gathering together with your families and friends, all your loved ones.
Cranberry Orange relish:
1 bag cranberries; 1 seedless orange; 1 cup of sugar. Make in two batches: chop up the orange and put half plus half the cranberries and half the sugar through a Cuisinart, food mill, or grinder. Then do it again. The relish will be delicious and you will be happy.
The photo above is of Maureen and me in the kitchen at Hubbard's Point.
My father joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was twenty-one, from a close family in Hartford, Connecticut. When the time came for him to report for training, Thomas F. Rice, Jr. went to the Hartford train station and joined a long line of other young men, ready to board. The line was single-file, until it got to my father.Read More
Connecticut is next to Massachusetts and my sisters and I had strong imaginary connections to the women, a.k.a the witches, of Salem. We had more local witches as well--the weathervane atop E. E. Dickinson's Witch Hazel factory in Essex, CT, always a favorite sight when my family would drive down Rte. 9 to the beach.
And the young Connecticut "witch" Kit Tyler, age 16 in 1667, the heroine of one of my favorite books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.
The book frightened and thrilled me--to think about such prejudice and hatred, and to read about Kit's strength, independence, loyalty, and ultimately, faith that the truth would out. The novel and its characters felt very close to home--Kit first landed in America at Old Saybrook, just across the Connecticut River from our beach cottage in Old Lyme.
Maybe it was Kit's story that always inspired me to dress like a witch for Halloween. Each year I wore the same thing: Mim's ancient crinoline black slip, lace up pointy-toed boots, and a black velvet opera cape that I had actually sewn, and who knows why?--the only opera I'd ever attended was I Pagliacci, at the Bushnell Theater, with my seventh grade class from St. Maurice School. But there came a time when my sisters and I got seriously into capes, and we sewed them, complete with hoods, silk lining, and hand-tied black frog closures.
It was all very dramatic. Trick-or-treating down Lincoln Street, with the Whitney children (my second family and beloved babysitting charges) holding our hands in the darkness, I think we envisioned ourselves crossing some moor in Puritan times, fighting oppression and casting spells whilst collecting candy.
Halloween didn't used to be so commercialized. Plastic pumpkins were rare--who would even want one? We carved elaborate jack-o-lanterns, placed candles inside for scary illumination, and toasted the pumpkin seeds. Some families actually handed out crisp apples and we liked getting them. (At least in my memory we did. Probably not as much as Snickers bars, however.) The holiday was a melange of fun and gravity; candy and costumes mixed in with our Irish Catholicism--All Souls Day, All Saints Day, All Saints Eve, All Hallows Eve, with a dash of Celtic Samhain tradition as well.
It was New England, therefore spooky with bare branches raking the cold sky, piles of dry fallen leaves underfoot, the sound of wind whistling through the swaying trees, but also reverent, in that we felt and heard the ghosts and prayed for them to be released from this life into the next.
Then I moved to New York. Halloween in Chelsea makes me happy. So many brownstones, pumpkins, set designers who go to town on their own houses. The late great Empire Diner always decorated for holidays, Halloween included. I miss Renate and the diner. Grrr, things change, and good places and people leave.
So here's to the Whitneys, now trick-or-treating with their own children; the Witch of Blackbird Pond; the spirits of Lincoln Street; the ghosts of Chelsea; the Empire Diner; and hobgoblins everywhere. Happy Halloween. Please enjoy a good apple and a Snickers bar for me.
"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." ~ From "Howard's End" by E. M. Forster Many years ago, when I first started submitting short stories to magazines and journals, Daniel Curley, the editor of Ascent, sent me the above quote. I was young, and was positive I knew exactly what it meant: the necessity and desire, both in real life and fiction, of making close ties. It seemed so obvious to me, such a clear life's path, that I tucked it away more as a motto than as guidance and admonition.
It was easy to do. My mother and Mim, the grandmother who lived with us, were still alive. I was in love, and couldn't imagine ever parting from him. Both sisters and I were so close we had our own language and, I swear, saw the world through the exact same lens, through each other's eyes. Childhood friendships were intact.
Life was sheltered and insular. My sisters and I had the same first grade teacher, Miss Convey, as our mother. Every summer our family went to the beach, a Brigadoon set apart from the world by a train trestle, staying in the cottage our grandparents had built. We played with the children of people our parents had grown up with. Those connections comprised our world.
I moved out and on. And on and on. Long story, but don't we all have long stories? Even so, I still go to that family cottage, and I'm still friends with the girl I walked to school with, the boy I learned to swim with.
Now I find the Forster quote more philosophical, and I see a shadow behind it. There's loss in life--people you thought would be with you forever go another way and disappear. People break up, move away, get hurt. It's easier to pile on emotional armor than to keep an open heart. Only connect! Maybe not...
Yet writing this makes me feel very connected to friends and family and people I've never met. All the readers who visit my site, tell me they love my books, share their own connections with my stories and the characters who populate them. How lucky am I?
Still, there are people long lost to me. I think about them and wonder where they've gone. Sometimes I dream about them. Sometimes I regret their leaving or my leaving or things we said or things we didn't say. Some of them were very close to me at one time; others might have no idea the role they played in my life.
Here's one of those: Billy K. We went to Vance School together. He lived in the Children's Home, a large brick building on a distant hill, that I could see from my bedroom window. We were friends because we both had freckles. I'd stare up at the Children's Home and wonder why he was there. Had his parents died? Had he been taken from them? I asked my parents if we could adopt him, and they said we couldn't. He had a sweater with a hole in its sleeve, and I'd see the hole getting bigger and wonder why someone didn't mend it for him.
Maybe he's out there. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he read this and knew it was about him? The internet makes connecting not only possible but ubiquitous. People from the past find each other. It's nice to make contact, take a trip down memory lane, catch up on life's happenings. But I feel "Only Connect!" is more than internet-deep. It's true love, real love, enduring friendship, and the hard work involved in holding on, holding tight.
Still, I would love to know about Billy, a boy I haven't seen since fifth or sixth grade, to hear how his life has been.
The day was brilliant, and the wedding took place by the sea.
Molly and Alex had written vows that included references to water--they had met in it, the pool at Connecticut College. And it flows and surrounds and falls from the sky and brings everyone and everything together. As they spoke to each other, they held hands, and just behind them the cove glittered in sunlight.
The day was joyful. We were so happy for Molly and Alex, and to be together in such a spirit of love, to be with people so open and positive. People had traveled long distances to be there: from California, Texas, even Wales. The weather was pure September: warm in the sun, cool as the afternoon progressed.
The wedding began with a moment of silence, for beloved friends and family who were not there. Alex's stepmother Deb played cello and Maureen and I noticed an osprey fly overhead. It was a moment, probably not that meaningful or significant, or maybe it was. How hokey, to look up in the sky and see a fish hawk and get choked up thinking of who wasn't with us.
Molly held a bouquet of blue hydrangeas. She'd woven the stems with a bracelet made of sea glass given to me by her mother. I remember the day Molly visited the cottage at Point O'Woods and spotted it on my bureau. She'd gone straight for it, picked it up as if it had called her. I suppose it had. She didn't have to ask--I gave it to her.
Maureen and I sat in the front row. We'd been instructed to by Molly, who wanted us in her line of vision. We are her aunts, her family. Mia, her cousin, was a bridesmaid. Alex's family embraces her as if she was their own. All the toasts and comments and conversations and actions say as much. They have taken her to their hearts. It was moving to see.
Michael, who officiated, spoke about the mysteries of water and of life.
The reception was held under a tent. It was festive and fun, and with Twigg at our table full of laughter and stories. He and Audrey Loggia were also "family of the bride." The food was delicious. The band began to play, and Alex's aunt Penfield came for me and Maureen and told us it was up to the aunties to start the dancing. Which we did, no problem.
P.S. Arleen, I posted the picture of Molly's gold shoes on my Facebook page.
September is the most beautiful, still so full of summer, warm sands, salt water holding onto August heat. The humidity drops, the sky is clear. Bright blue, high clouds or no clouds. Achingly gorgeous sunsets, topaz, violet, and maroon. Sometimes hurricanes come in September. We'd ride them out at the beach, leaning into the wind. Waves would rise to cliff-height and crash down, seething white over the sand, across the boardwalk, into the boat basin. And then the weather would clear, and we'd clean up the branches and leaves and broken windows. My house was built in 1938, survived the famous hurricane that devastated our area, and all storms since.
Early September brought conflict, i.e. school. It required a complete alteration of mind and mood, a radical revision of self, to go from the beach's freedom to school's schedules. We learned a lot in both places. But to this day I know I was one person at the beach and another once school began.
Yesterday a friend and I walked through the city. We headed downtown from 23rd St. The day was hot. Tenth Avenue reflected the heat. We were on our way to a meeting. Business, like school, starts up after Labor Day. I wore loafers and real pants, not jeans. My teeshirt wasn't torn or gigantic or from Surfrider. It looked vaguely legit. I sat around a big table with bright, creative people who talked about exciting things. I had a coffee. My friend brought amazing cookies. We all partook as we discussed. I particularly enjoyed the carrot cake cookie. It felt good to be part of a whole--the way I always wanted school to feel. My desk, the cats notwithstanding, can feel lonely.
Have I mentioned I was a September baby? I, and other September children with whom I've spoken, always feel renewed this time of year. One dearest friend and I have birthdays separated by just a few days and for many years have managed to celebrate them together. She lives in LA and I live in New York but that never seems to matter.
On September will go. Soon I'll be heading east on the way to my niece's wedding. By dusk I'll be swimming in the Sound. I'll have a massively festive reunion with whomever we're lucky enough to see. The cottage is inhabited by ghosts, no joke, and we'll be glad for their company. One early morning I hope to walk the beach, through the marsh, up the hidden path.
The air will be warm but not as warm. I'll smell the leaves changing. The air will be spicy with rose hips and young grapes. The bay will flash silver with bait. I'll swim as often as there's time. My thoughts are already deeply with my niece, for whose wedding we'll be gathering. It's the main thing. Sometimes, with such a big, important event on the horizon, this one in particular because it's so dear, so incredibly tender, it's hard to imagine bothering with all the minutia of the days leading up.
But life being life, there's a lot to do before getting to that moment. It's a moving meditation, the way of September. Ineffable beauty. Deep dreams and memories. Things to do. Including swimming. Attempting to fathom the unfathomable. Attending a wedding. Celebrating Molly and Alex. And to quote my sister Maureen who was quoting someone else, "love, love, love."
Try to remember. Thank you, Jerry Orbach.
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