I couldn’t be happier today.
After a London winter and spring (and what passes for summer) full of social work stresses, Lost Property dramas, bellringing challenges, worry about family far away, and most crazy of all — the British government’s hanging onto our passports and visas until TWO DAYS before we left! — we are HOME.
Of course, being home includes its own craziness, like the car not starting and the hood staying firmly locked so we couldn’t charge the battery. Then the electrical system of our little farmhouse means that we couldn’t turn on the air conditioning with anything else plugged in, or else the power goes out. Which it promptly did. But we chose to concentrate on things like the very last tiger lily of summer…
And then there is the enormous, ancient fern bed that with absolutely no effort on my part somehow reappears every single summer. I look at it at Christmas time, empty and bare and gray, and think, “This will never come back.” But here we are.
Our relaxing state began with our journey out of London when lo and behold, we were all bumped up into Business Class! Woo-hoo! That is certainly the way to travel… comfy chairs with lovely footrests, a handsome man to bend toward me and ask, “Orange juice or champagne, madam?” Wafted aloft in the lap of luxury, I could feel all my worries melting away. John leaned over and touched a button and I was lying down! I fell asleep almost as if I were in my own bed. Heavenly! I wish I could get used to it.
We landed, popped into a rental car and drove through the stifling, almost visible heat to stay with our friends in New Jersey, Livia and Janice, our traditional twice-yearly reunion. How wonderful it is to be in a place that never changes, with friends who never change. And after all, they collect stuffed giraffes.
So many memories of our 23-year friendship with these wonderful ladies, in this immense stone house where all the sheets are white, all the floors are gorgeous old wood, all the meals are delicious (rich, pink gazpacho). I thought about the time I came to visit with Baby Avery and we put her to bed in a mahogany drawer, in a sideboard. We remembered the Fourths of July with Avery in a white dress smocked with an American flag. The magnificent Millennium New Year’s Eve black-tie party, and lately, all our visits to and from London, enjoying a single-malt Scotch in their never-changing old-fashioned white kitchen. The most peaceful house in the world.
We stayed awake as long as we could, gossiping and catching up, listening to Livia and Janice appreciate Avery as they always have, as a real person. Now, of course, she is nearly adult! “She is practically perfect in every way,” they agreed, which is a very nice thing for a mother to hear.
In the morning we woke early and raced off to the Maple Leaf Restaurant in nearby Maplewood, where John and I lived as newlyweds (I was too scared to live in New York!). With perfect “two eggs with sausage and cheese on a roll” in our hands, we went back to the house and gobbled, loving the New York tradition, the perfect breakfast EVER. And after a bit of time watching Andy Murray try to trounce Roger Federer (good luck with that), we were off.
Because it was time to take Avery to her long-awaited, highly-anticipated photography camp in Brooklyn!
In the simmering New York heat, we all stood for a moment on the sidewalk with all Avery’s belongings and looked up at the rather imposing university building where she’ll be spending the next two weeks.
In the icily air-conditioned lobby, we joined the queue with all the other kids and their parents, signing her up and watching her hang her ID and priceless dormitory key (actually there is a price on it if she loses it, but let’s not think about that) around her neck. We went up to her room and settled in a couple of things before realizing there was no more reason to hang around, and that it was time to leave her there. At least she has her books.
I wished we could have stayed to meet one of her three roommates, but I had to admit it was time to leave her to her independence. We got a hug and went, crossing the bridge, thinking of all the opportunities she’ll have in the coming days, all the experiences we won’t share. It’s just the beginning, I know!
How the house seemed to shimmer in the heat! We opened the front door to the familiar Red Gate Farm smell: a combination of old books, leather chairs, woolly rugs, and something like the ancient remains of thousands of log fires over the 201 years of its existence. I walked around familiarizing myself with this most precious place!
We unpacked and settled in, I cooked dinner, we had a cocktail on the terrace while waiting for the AAA guy to come and restart the car after its long winter in the little red barn. And then the struggle to stay awake began!
We made it by simply wandering around appreciating our beautiful, crazy, idiosyncratic little house. Who could complain about doing the dishes with a view like this over the sink?
I woke up this morning (too early!) and we started in on the various tasks we always do together — swapping the glass front and back doors for their screened sisters, weeding the terrace and blowing all the leaves and dirt of a winter and spring away, doing a mammoth grocery shop (while thinking lovingly of our neighbors Anne and David who filled our fridge with the ingredients for a midnight snack, an early breakfast, bless them)… All through our chores, we kept saying how mindlessly happy we are to be here.
“Everything is so American!” we kept repeating, trying to capture what we mean by that. And you know how much I adore my adopted homeland of England, so it isn’t that I don’t love my life there. But there is something shoulder-relaxing, breath-slowing, heart-smiling about being here. It sounds like a cliche, I suppose because it is, but the air is warm, the sky is blue, the red barns welcome us home, the green, green American maple leaves and hydrangea tree wave gently in the summer breeze. Even the white picket fence seems to say, “I know, I’m such a cliche, but aren’t I charming? Haven’t you waited all winter to see me?”
So we are home. All the annoying tasks we know we need to accomplish: laying a path from the driveway to the back door, shoring up the ancient stone wall — while avoiding the poison ivy that clings to it! — weeding the pond of all the greens choking it and its family of minnows, all these things await us in the coming six weeks or so. I don’t mind. It’s nice to swap over one set of problems for another, and for the foreseeable future, I’m happy to tackle whatever comes my way, back home in America.
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