Happy Mother's Day!

with mom at the old saybrook train stationI miss my mom.  I think of her every day.  There are so many things I want to talk to her about.  She had a unique sense of humor and I'll catch myself laughing at sights or phrases or stories that I know she'd so enjoy.  So much of what I love in life came from her: gardening, swimming in the ocean, cooking, poems, English literature, art.  I didn't inherit her talent for drawing and painting (although both my sisters did,) but I do have her love of art galleries and museums.  So often I'll see an exhibit and think of her, and wish she were there to see the artist's work with me. She loved the beach, and I'm sure that's one reason I'm happiest with bare feet, walking along the tide line.  We would spend summer days building sandcastles, finding shells and sea glass, swimming to the raft, crabbing at the end of the beach.  Often she would sketch while my sisters and I played and swam; frequently we'd all be reading, covered with sunscreen, lost in our books.

When I grew up and moved to New York City, I'd take Amtrak to Old Saybrook CT nearly every weekend.  My mother would meet the train, no matter what time it was; Sundays came too soon, and I'd never want to leave.  The photo above (taken in 1988 or so) shows us at the train station, waiting for the train back to NY.  I read her expression and know she wasn't ready for me to leave.  The picture brings back that moment and many emotions.

She died way too young, after a long illness.  After her death I was filled with memories of nurses and hospitals and the great sadness of losing her slowly.  But time has passed, and you know what?  I rarely think of her illness anymore.  The gift of time has been that I remember my mother being young and healthy, painting nearly every day, writing every night.  I remember watching Julia Child on Saturday afternoons, then cooking dinner together--sitting around the table at Hubbard's Point, enjoying the meal with my sister and her family, laughing and talking and feeling that it would last forever, that our family would go on forever.

I wrote about her in an essay called "Midnight Typing."  It appears in the collection What My Mother Gave Me, edited by Elizabeth Benedict.  Please comment below for the chance to win a copy of the book as well as a canvas tote bag printed with the cover of The Lemon Orchard.  I'd love to know about your mother, hear your stories and memories.

[UPDATE 5/12: Congratulations to Leela FitzGerald, our Mother's Day winner!]

The Locals

Whenever Old Lyme threw a literary gathering, the writers would usually be the locals: Dominick Dunne, David Handler, and me.  What a thrill I felt to be included with them.  And I was always as entertained as the audience: they were as smart and funny as storytellers come. All three of us set novels in town; Dominick's fictional Old Lyme was Prud'homme, David's is Dorset, and mine is Black Hall, with the beach area of Hubbard's Point.

Earlier this summer when David and I discovered each other on Facebook, we had a happy online moment.  It turned bittersweet as we spoke of Dominick and how we miss him.

Old Lyme's light is dreamy, reflecting off Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, and all the tributaries, ponds, salt meadows, and marshes.  Lyme Street runs through the village, lined with charming saltboxes, stately white colonial houses, stone walls, and gardens, one more seductive than the next.

There's an unquestionable reserve about our town, mystery behind the picket fences.  Such a delicious place to set novels.  No wonder David's are mysteries.

David has a brand new blog; I read the post while away from Old Lyme, and it made me homesick for everything about the town.  I hope we're asked to speak together again before too long.  I really want to hear him tell the Sid and Nancy, well more Nancy, story again.  Also, and I bet David doesn't know this, the reason I got a Fender Stratocaster is directly linked to why his character Mitch Berger first acquired his.

Dominick was wickedly witty and kind and direct and famous.  He knew everybody and traveled all over, and I think he really considered Old Lyme to be his sanctuary.  I loved his writing and consider his Vanity Fair article, Justice, about the murder of his daughter Dominique, to be one of the most riveting, honest, unforgettable pieces I've ever read.

What a time, what a town.  I want to stop by the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library and get lost in some research, and I definitely need to play my Strat more often.

Random wonderful thing

A great beach friend from childhood and, in some ways, even before--our parents had been friends when they were young, and our grandparents before that--posted on my facebook page today.  We were reminiscing about Helen Hubbard--a neighbor who lived on the Point, and for whom my fictional beach town "Hubbard's Point" is named. Betty reminded me of how we used to crouch under Helen's window to listen to her practice.  Helen was an opera singer and voice teacher, and when she sang it was beach music--as much a natural sound as seagulls and wind blowing through the pine needles.  Once or twice a summer she would give recitals and invite grownups from the Point.  That didn't stop us kids from sitting outside and enjoying the performance.

Betty and her sisters and brother and my sisters and I were across-the-road neighbors, and pretty much inseparable from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  We loved summer and each other.  The beach was OURS.  As I wrote back to her, we swam and laughed all day.  Mim, my grandmother, and her great-aunt Florence would hang out together too, tell old stories, go for swims in their skirted bathing suits and white bathing caps.

When Betty's family visited Ireland--often--they would come home with Irish linens, wall-hangings, and tea towels.  My cottage is still filled with the many gifts they brought us.

Her family had a party every Labor Day.  Such a bittersweet gathering!  The weather would still be summery, but fall and school and--especially-leaving the beach--were in the air.  We'd walk down the steep steps from their cottage to glacial rock ledge sloping into Long Island Sound.  Black-eyed Susans, bright pink sweet peas, and lavender flowered spearmint grew at the top of the rocks.  A picnic table would be set with plates of sandwiches, platters of sliced honeydew and musk-melon, and--the piece de resistance--Aunt Florence's soda bread and blueberry buckle.

We'd make that party last as long as possible, because as soon as it was over it was time to pack the station wagon and head up to New Britain for the school year.

As Betty says, our memories are a treasure in themselves.  She is so right.  Just connecting with her today makes me remember everything, and smile, and feel so happy.  I wish I had a picture of us all as children--if I did, no doubt our hair would be wet, someone would be adorned with seaweed, there'd be sunglasses, flip-flops, and a few Good Humors in the picture.  And we'd be doing our best and not succeeding to keep from laughing.

Secret path

Hidden paths don't reveal themselves often.  They're best when you stumble upon one far from home, away from the familiar.  Taking a walk you might catch sight of of a shadowy opening, calling you to duck through a canopy of interlocked branches, or through an up-island gorse-covered dune Do you accept the invitation, follow the path?  I've done that many times.  They've led to buried treasure.  Not pirate's gold, but beautiful sights I wouldn't otherwise have seen.

On Swan's Island, Maine, through the thickest pine forest, the almost invisible narrow path paved with soft, golden needles, leading to a private crescent beach.

In Normandy, uphill through an apple orchard, to the crest with a view of wildflower fields, once painted by Boudin and Monet, sloping down to the English Channel.  Other byways through gardens, Impressionist landscapes filled with light and flowers.

In Ireland, in Youghal, following a path within sight of the River Blackwater, coming upon a medieval church dating back to St. Declan and the year 450.

Another day in East Cork, the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, a steep climb from the road, leads along the coast, high above the sea, with views of small islands grazed by sheep and goats, sea birds including terns and fulmars riding the air currents, white gannets plunging down into the rough blue sea, and the Old Head of Kinsale shimmering in the distance.  That walk, and a day spent in Kinsale, provided much inspiration for The Silver Boat.

Our own Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, a mystical experience every time I take it, whether on a brilliant September day, or a snowy December dusk, or the hottest August morning.  Cliff Walk has figured in at least three novels of mine (Angels All Over Town, What Matters Most, The Geometry of Sisters) and probably more...  It hugs the coast for ten miles, past mansions of the gilded age on one side, the wild Atlantic on the other, through tunnels, past Marble House's Chinese Tea House.

Perhaps most dear to me, and not at all far from home: the secret path in all my Hubbard's Point novels, leading to a hidden beach where people fall in love and pick beach plums to make tea and jelly and see shooting stars and take midnight swims under the full moon's silver light.

(Painting by Claude Monet, Garden Path at Giverny.)

Child's Vow

I am thinking of someone lost to me.  The stories we told each other, the ghosts we summoned.  We thought it would last forever.  I don't even know what "it" is: our home, our closeness, our lives together.     As she would say, "Nobody knows how I feel."

To love a place so much it hurts.  When I go there I am haunted by someone ten miles down the road.  Our mother used to say, "You'll have many friends, but only two sisters."  Hey--Willoughby Moon.  Going to keep this up forever?  This seems an appropriate day to ask.  M's summer birthday.

A favorite poem, and I know you get it.  The beach is the valley our fathers called their home.  Lost love...

Under Saturn by William Butler Yeats

Do not because this day I have grown saturnine Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought Because I have no other youth, can make me pine; For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought, The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks are spurred By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen, And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard, And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died Before my time, seem like a vivid memory. You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay - No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again, And surely after twenty years it was time to come.' I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.

There's No Place Like Home (An Earlier Perspective on the Subject)

Another perspective on Hubbard’s Point… There's No Place Like Home

By Luanne Rice

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that several years ago I bought the beach cottage where my family spent every summer; this proverb is that dear to my heart.  A small grey-shingled house perched on a rocky ledge overlooking Long Island Sound, it is shaded by oaks and pines, smelling of salt and beach roses.  After a long winter in New York City, I walk through the kitchen door, and a lifetime of memories floods over me.

My maternal grandparents built the house in 1938, just in time to withstand the brutal hurricane roaring up New England’s coast.  My father’s family owned a cottage just up the road; he met my mother the summer after he returned from World War II.  It was a rainy day, and he and his mother were sitting on the screen porch.  As the family story goes, my mother went striding by (I love that they use that word—“striding”—I can just see her) in a yellow rain slicker, and my future grandmother urged her son to go after her in the car, and offer her a ride.

He did, and they got married, and my sisters and I were born.  We lived inland during the winter, but every June we’d pack up the station wagon and head for the beach.  My grandmother let us plant the window boxes; my mother gave us each a section of the herb garden to plant; my father taught us how to fish.  My cousins would be a two-minute walk away at my grandfather’s cottage, and we’d all go swimming and crabbing together.  We looked forward all year till the August meteor showers, when we’d lie on the beach and wish on shooting stars.

My Aunt Jan has a party every year, on the date of her father’s birthday.  Pop died long ago, but the last weekend in August, his house and yard are alive with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“Home” can encompass more than a dwelling—it can be a gathering, an activity, a state of mind—a moment that tells you who you are, where you come from.  During last year’s party, I took my cousins’ children—twelve of them—for the time-honored Rice family tradition of blue crabbing in the swamp, at the far end of the beach.  Armed with nets and drop lines, buckets and bait, we waited till the tide was right, and then trudged through the tall grass to the creek.

We lined the banks.  Sun beat down on our heads.  I remembered my father telling me to be still, that my shadow would scare the crabs away.  I could almost feel my sisters beside me, our bare feet silver with silty mud, thrilled by the sight of blue shells skulking through the shallows.

Last summer, it all came back.  Nothing can conjure childhood memories like hanging out by a tidal creek with twelve young cousins.  I felt so happy to show them what I knew, to watch them catch and release more crabs than we could count.  We took time out to watch egrets in the pond, to follow an osprey as it circled overhead.  Two of the older kids went exploring, and found the Indian Grave that my sisters and I had often visited so many summers earlier.

Many of the people I loved so much are gone.  My grandparents, my mother and father, some of my aunts and uncles and cousins.  As often as memory makes me smile, it makes me sad for those I’ll never see again.  I think that that is one of the secrets of life: to know that it all goes by so fast, that sometimes we have to let go of people we love before we are ready.

Ergo: the ruby slippers.  Thank goodness we all have a pair.  Your mother’s brownie recipe, your grandmother’s quilt, the picture of you and your sister at the State Fair.  Click your heels three times…

My cottage has withstood many hurricanes since 1938.  So have I, so has my family.  I’ve lived in big cities and small towns, made more mistakes than I can count, roamed far and wide, lived a complicated life.  One thing I can always count on is the feeling of peace that overtakes me when I climb the steps, up the hill to my cottage.

I see the 1938 penny my grandfather pressed into the step’s mortar; I smell the rosemary, thyme, and mint from my mother’s herb garden; I feel the salt breeze that has so often blown my troubles away, that has inspired me with countless stories…and I feel in my heart what I know to be true: there’s no place like home.

No Woods

The area is called Point O' Woods, but now it might as well be called Point O' No Woods. The new houses have air-conditioning—who needs the sea breeze, and who needs shade? Instead of the rustle of leaves overhead, walk down the road and hear the low, constant hum of a big air-conditioning unit.

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Safe Harbor

Haunting and powerful, Safe Harbor is an unforgettable story of family bonds, love lost and found, and of a painter's unfolding vision of herself, as an artist -- and as a woman. Set on the timeless New England coastline that Luanne has made her own.

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