Leaving sunshine behind in Leelanau County, traveling under grey skies to Grand Rapids, where snow in the air and on the ground grew heavier and heavier, we made our way south as far as Benton Harbor. The highways were not cleared of snow, so travel was slow. Roads and parking lots were deep in snow, also, a foot having fallen in 24 hours. We found a dog-friendly motel, close to restaurants and shopping, and stopped to make camp. Our Steak and Shake waitress, Kimberly, made the evening memorable. With so little traffic moving on the roads, the dinner hour was very slow, so we had time to visit at length and hear all about her daughters, the birth of the younger, how she and the baby almost died, and much more. With all the challenges life has already handed her (at the age of 34), she is very much aware of the difference she can make in other people’s lives, in her waitress job, by letting them know that someone cares enough to try to brighten their day, and this awareness guides her in her work. She is happy that her older daughter attends the school she herself attended, the girl’s teacher this year one of Kimberly’s childhood teachers. She is giving her children the best foundation for life: love, education and the involvement of two parents. She spoke of her children being her gifts. “You’ve been our gift today,” I told her. Before we left, she and I were hugging each other, tears streaming down our faces. What a good, strong, lovely young woman!
The next day was sunny, the highways cleared of snow, and we had an easy drive to my mother’s house in Joliet. How good to arrive at last, safely! A young man who grew up next door long after I had gone away to Michigan was outdoors with his wife, launching his small children downhill on sleds in the vacant lot between the two houses, half of which my father sold to his father years ago. My sisters and I sledded down not only this hill but, with a good, strong start, further down another slope or two below it. Many things change and become almost unrecognizable, but some things don’t change.
My mother is moving gingerly on her bad knee, but if she has surgery (looking more likely all the time) it will not be, she is assured, a full joint replacement but only the reattachment of a detached piece of cartilage, so that’s not as bad as it might be. The three of us had all afternoon to relax and visit, with no real work to do, and later on my sister and brother-in-law brought dinner: homemade lasagna, red wine, green salad and a pan of brownies. Sarah drank more water than usual during the day (helping herself from the cats’ water dish), and that meant more times I had to take her outdoors in the snow, but overall she behaved well. Brother-in-law Ben, who grew up without ever having a pet, admitted he is now a convert to dog ownership and recalled his first meeting with Nikki, our old dog: “When I said ‘Sit!’ she sat! No dog had ever obeyed me before. She showed me that all dogs didn’t have to be obnoxious.” Nice to think that our old girl, providing a positive and pivotal experience like that for Ben, paved the way for Ben and Bettie’s adoption of Gracie, their black lab. My mother’s cats, on the other hand, as when I visited with Sarah in May, did not mingle with the family—with a dog around!--but stayed in the front bedroom, not venturing through to their basement litterbox until Sarah was behind a closed door.
My mother has been reading An Irish Country Christmas, by Patrick Taylor, M.D., whose books are set in northern Ireland, and A Good Yarn, by Debbie Macomber. There are so many books, I reflect, both fiction and nonfiction, written on the subject of knitting these days! What is it all about? Knitting is hardly a new phenomenon, but these books are, as far as I know.
It’s an hour earlier here in Illinois, and I wake up early, anyway, so it was about 5 a.m. when I brought my book out into the living room. Last night I’d read a bit from The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith, to David, but he was sleepy and couldn’t keep the characters straight, especially as I like to read the dialogue in what he persists in calling “dialect,” adding, “like an actress.” Well, I love African accents in general and these characters in particular, and all the names of towns and streets sound quite beautiful to me. This is the eighth book in the series. The story begins with Mma Ramotswe, the main character and founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, starting her day at home. “It is useful, people generally agree, for a wife to wake up before her husband.” Two pages later Mma Ramotswe is remembering her childhood, thinking of
…the view from the National School up on the hill; of the paths that wound through the bush this way and that but which had a destination known only to the small, scurrying animals that used them. These were things that would stay with her forever, she thought, and which would always be there, no matter how bustling and thriving Gabarone might become. This was the soul of her country; somewhere there, in that land of red earth, of green acacia, of cattle bells, was the soul of her country.
I am up before my good husband, as usual, and the first pot of coffee is brewed. Across the road from my mother’s house, the old fields that used to grow corn and soybeans (in alternate years), the fields across which I watched thunderstorms and sunsets and beyond which I imagined the Wild West, are now all given over to streets and houses and yards. As Mma Ramotswe sips her bush tea and remembers grazing cattle, my morning coffee heart returns to the woods and orchards of northern Michigan. Isn’t it strange? My childhood memories are of my childhood dreams of living in wide-open country spaces. I am nostalgic for my present life rather than my past.
Later—Sarah had her first visit to a dog park. Seven acres, about a dozen dogs running around when we arrived. She was somewhat overwhelmed at first but quickly regained her composure and had a wonderful time.