Life – at least, MY life – is made up of a cast of characters. Some walk onto the stage to provide drama, to advance the plot. Some are inserted to give the main character (me) a problem to solve, a crisis to handle. Some just want to have a seat at the dinner table and contribute to the conversation. Some wander onstage to provide the nuisance quotient, like the chipmunks at Red Gate Farm, after you’ve fed them innumerable peanuts. They eat a hole through your shed door in search of more.
But my favorites among the cast are the dramatis personae who make you want to watch the play, for the play to last longer, maybe even to see it a second time. They are the life enhancers, and happily in the past week my life has been full of them.
Last Saturday, we drove up our quiet country road after dinner with my sister’s family to find about three hundred cars parked along the shoulder. “Somebody’s having a party,” John remarked and it wasn’t hard to see who it was: the family with all the teenagers, whose driveway contained about another six hundred cars. I felt the knell of doom.
Just as John had gone to sleep that night and his mother and Avery and I were puttering around in the desultory way of people who know it’s bedtime but don’t want to give up the fight. There was a knock on the door. I thought I was hearing things and did nothing. Then I heard it again, and thinking it was someone from across the road with a toddler-related emergency, I opened the door, to find a very handsome teenage boy on the step.
“I’m really sorry, but I just reversed into your driveway and took out part of your fence,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t want to just drive away. I’m really sorry.” John’s mom assessed the situation and decided that a man was required, so poor John stumbled downstairs to handle things. “Why don’t you give us your details on this card, and we’ll deal with it in the morning?”
While the boy wrote down his name, address and phone numbers, I tried to judge whether or not he had been drinking, and decided I couldn’t. He wasn’t lurching around or belching or weaving, and seemed perfectly able to wield a pen. “You are really a responsible person to take the decision to tell us what happened,” I said sincerely. “It would have been so easy just to drive away.”
“Oh, there wasn’t any question of that,” he said, and I let him out the front door.
In the morning it was clear we weren’t going to be able to throw a couple of nails at it and solve the problem.
Before we could even begin to worry, the dad called and came over to assess the damage. “I’m a shop teacher,” he said, “so this is no problem to fix. Something Tyler and I can do together. Help him take it seriously. We’ll be over in the morning.” And they were.
Within two hours, the section of the fence he’d driven into looked far healthier than the rest of the dilapidated structure.
“Gee, I wish you’d run over a MUCH larger section!” I said. “That’s a really mature, responsible way to handle the situation, and you should be proud of Tyler, and what a great job you’ve done as a parent.” The dad took this in stride. “Well, he’s off to college next month and it’s a nice feeling to know he can step up to an unpleasant situation, and do the right thing.”
The state of the world might not be as grim as it sometimes looks, with people like Tyler and his dad out there.
Of course, an evening with my nieces Jane and Molly convinces you of that.
Then, there’s our neighbor friend Mark, who pastures his horses in the meadow that stretches behind our house. Out of the goodness of his heart, he rode over on his big bush-whacking tractor one impossibly hot and humid afternoon, to try to rescue our stone wall from maurauding climbing weeds. Here’s before.
I took him an icy bottle of water and we chatted about the fierce desire of all green plants to take over the universe. The next day, John put on every long garment he could find to fine-tune the job, trying desperately to avoid the plentiful poison ivy.
And the next day our Land Trust friends brought over an even more serious machine for John to play with.
Over the next few days, he became obsessed with clearing every scrap of brush and tree that even LOOKED like it was in the wrong place.
Meanwhile, neighbor Kate and I did cartwheels together, in the Olympic spirit.
And Kate discovered, as only someone very small can, a treasure in the ancient steps up to our house. How have we lived here for eight years and never noticed a kitty print?
How glorious the meadow looked that day, steaming gently under the blazing August sun.
Lunch with Alyssa! It’s one of my favorite scenes in my life play, each summer. She makes me feel cooler, more interesting and infinitely more optimistic, just by being with her. And to add to the fun, she brought Ivy into the mix of our friendship. Ivy, who hired me to write for her beautiful, peerless magazine, “Vintage.”
We met at a totally funky Russian restaurant, Mari Vanna, where all the salads came in cut-glass parfait dishes and the bathroom was papered with back issues of “Pravda,” overlaid with graffiti. We ate dumplings stuffed with everything under the sun – potatoes, mushrooms, sour cherries! - and paper-thin slices of eggplant stuffed with we have no idea what. “I didn’t want to ask,” Alyssa said. “If you don’t know, you just eat it.” We drank beetroot-infused vodka and lukewarm coffee and solved all the problems of the cultural world.
There is nothing in the world like an old friend – someone who knew you when your child was a baby, who lived right alongside you during the aftermath of September 11, who brought her new baby to visit your fledgling art gallery, whose daughter was the stalwart mainstay of your child’s birthday party guests.
And Ivy… she is a true cultural visionary, a person who looks around her with intensely creative eyes, spanning the worlds of food, design, literature, travel, and sees how they can all be brought together under one cover. The next issue of “Vintage” is just around the corner!
Together they helped me survive my slight anxiety over having simply LEFT my only child on a New York City sidewalk with a vague set of instructions on how to find the subway and get downtown on it! We have to let Avery do these things, after all.
On the way back up to Red Gate Farm, we stopped off on the Upper West Side to pick up Jessamy, kitten of the world from two summers ago, now happily the petted daughter of our friends Alice and Connie. It didn’t take Jessamy very long to remember Avery.
What a beautiful child she is.
Finally, it was time for a trip down memory lane, for me… in my long-ago, misspent early middle age, I was a gallery owner in New York City. Now, as any gallery person will tell you, the best AND worst things about the work are the artists! My dears, the egos! The necessary hand-holding, the need to stay completely sober while listening to a lady tell you about her paintings whose medium is a mixture of human ashes and her own breast milk.
I am not making this up.
But every once in awhile, my space was graced by people of humor, perspective and genuine brilliance and spirit. And among these were Staci and Craig, husband and wife, painting team and among the most generous people I will ever meet. How my heart broke when I moved to London and had to leave them behind…
And here, seven years later, they have re-invented themselves as the brains behind my beloved food-writing gig, HandPicked Nation! On Thursday, they arrived with Tomiko, the best editor I’ve ever worked with. (And Lulu the dog.)
The table looked lovely, though I say it myself. Avery and I set it together.
Vichyssoise served in my new plummy cabbage bowls!
Piles of pork ribs with my secret rub…
Three bean and pepper salad, tomato and mozzarella salad with pine nuts, lemon zest and red onion. It turns out that bean salad is much prettier to photograph before you dress it, so Avery went to work. These guys have been incredibly appreciative of her efforts and she gets credit on the website – thank you!
I was so busy laughing at Craig’s dry humor that I forgot to write down anything he said, and so busy eating that I never got a decent photo of us all. But in bits and pieces, yes!
In the thick, hot, sticky air, Craig filmed me being interviewed by Staci. How daft I sounded I will not know until the clip is aired on HandPicked, but I’ll be brave and give you the link when it happens.
Staci remembered when she first met Avery. “There she was, five years old, at the gallery. She introduced herself and then said, ‘Would you like to see the basement? The space is quite usable.’” Poor Avery, her childhood blighted by an art gallery. Avery and Tomiko bonded on the subject of Doctor Who, and Avery and Craig on the subject of the Leica camera, which is inching away from being John’s as the days go by, and toward being Avery’s.
Their ambitions for the website are so exciting! I love being given the chance to put a frame, a set of words, around my cooking experiences and pop them up on the web for posterity. They, like Ivy and Vintage, have vision. I can only sit back and admire.
What fun we had.
Red Gate Farm sizzles in the August heat as I size up my summer play, full to the brim with my favorite characters.
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