Thoughts on “A Midafternoon Lunch in New England on a Gray December Day”

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I wrote this four years ago, and, since that time, have often thought about the couple in the restaurant. I hope they are still well, but time when you are in your twilight years moves faster. Time in your middle years moves faster; I know because that is where I find myself today-thinking about that restaurant, that couple, my husband and children as we were when I first posted this, and that gray December sky; the same sky I tried to ignore at the restaurant; the same sky that I see now as I look out my window.

Here is the original post (with a few minor edits).

I was intrigued by the elderly couple who sat across from us at the restaurant. It was her, really, who called my attention. She had to be in her late seventies, perhaps early eighties. And she was beautiful in a hearty New England way. I would venture that she might not have been considered beautiful in her youth, but at that moment, as the beauty of others her age faded, she was vibrant. She was robust, not lithe; her face full and happy; her skin porcelain and glowing. Her eyes were blue, but what struck me most was that the lids did not sag with the heaviness of age. Those eyes sparkled large and childlike. She drank a cocktail and breezily chatted with the gentleman who sat across from her and whose back was to me. I gleaned that he, with his nearly bald head resting upon a neck buried deep beneath hunched shoulders, was older, mid-eighties maybe.

It was a dreary, gray December day, and it seemed that the only place to be was a warm New England restaurant. All you had to do was ignore the view from the window and enjoy the soft lamplight of the indoors. As we shared a bowl of mussels, my husband, children and I chatted about our son’s birthday and Christmas and the wonderful things we planned to do over the winter recess. From time to time, however, I couldn’t help but study the elderly couple across from us.

There was a gorgeous bouquet of peach and white roses on our neighbor’s table. Their anniversary I figured. “How wonderful,” I thought. How long must they have been married? Fifty years, give or take? And still, seeming so much in love. They chatted away, her voice somewhat high pitched and girlish. She reached across the table for her companion’s hand. She smiled and giggled and sipped her cocktail, and, at one point, she belly laughed. It was the kind of deep, uncontrollable, sincere laugh that, unfortunately, you seldom hear. She laughed so heartily that, try as she might, she couldn’t stop herself, and you didn’t want her to stop for the sound of her laugh was so cheerful.

Later, a guest from another table approached the couple to congratulate them on their anniversary. Then she asked how long they had been married, and I waited for the response, certain for it to be forty, fifty, perhaps even sixty years. The elderly lady smiled and said, “It’s our one year anniversary.”

And just like that, the entire narrative I had created for our neighbors dissolved; yet, they were still so captivating, so charming, more so perhaps. Now there were so many questions. What had her life been like? Did she spend the first thirty years of her adulthood in a loveless marriage? Was she widowed while raising young children? Did she have any children? Maybe she didn’t have any. That might account for youthfulness.

The elderly couple continued on, laughing and chatting. I heard her say, “Here we are. Having this lovely lunch in this beautiful restaurant, then we will go home and sit and it will be over.” She reached for her partner’s hand again and smiled and looked at her roses and grew silent just for a moment. But when the waitress came to check on the table, she resumed her happy chatter, commenting that the when she returns she would love it if the sangria had whole blueberries in it. She ordered dessert for herself and her partner-they would share a piece of chocolate cake. She might not have wanted the cake, but she didn’t want the moment to end.

How she worked to hold onto that beautiful late afternoon lunch. I understood. I looked at my husband and our two children. He and I somewhat bewildered to find ourselves in our forties, still with the silly hopes and dreams we shared in our twenties, but different now, tired, worried. And our children. One who has so many struggles and the other who seems to navigate through life with ease but who already shoulders the weight of being the one for whom things seem to come easier. The four of us sharing a beautiful few hours. Just us. In that place. Wanting to stop time. To remain just as we were in that moment.

As the sky outside the window grew darker, we realized our moment was over. Afternoon was gone, having slipped away under a cloak of charcoal sky. Our neighbors stood up to leave. She, tall and straight and carrying her vase of flowers, led the way to the exit. He, fragile and stooped, followed slowly behind. I prayed they would return again for another anniversary.

Melancholy-Like An Old, Empty House

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So, this is what it feels like

          -melancholy.

Like an old, empty house

sitting atop a hill

on a hot summer day.

Inside, it is dead, silent, still.

Like a fever, the heat permeates the walls,

the film covered windows

the narrow stairwell-

meant for the unseen,

like sadness

hiding under smiles.

*

Melancholy, like an old, empty house

where the sun emanates a jaundiced glow

and the dust and ghosts

and memories

sit at the table awaiting tea

to be poured into cups

stained with past regrets.

*

But the time to drink is over

and the thirst that remains

is eternal.

 

Lake and Ocean

Morning

This lake, she is so pretty.

I paddle out to her center

and rest

knowing that she is deep,

born of the glaciers,

springing forth from a time when all was ice.

*

But, with this dear lake, there is nothing to fear.

The years have warmed her

and made her gentle,

yielding

small.

*

She is quite small, a fact I didn’t realize

until I found my way to her heart.

I look around and there is nowhere to go

(I thought there would be places to go

but no

not really).

*

I can paddle out straight in front of me

to the old amusement park.

Or I can veer left and visit Elsa

the charming elderly lady who lives in that cottage with her jaunty puppy.

Or I can head right

into the cove

which is lined with the homes of soft-bellied financial analysts

whose dreams reside in the past

when they were once stars

on athletic teams

from high schools

in towns

with lakes quite similar to this one.

*

Or I can dream of the ocean

whose waves rant and taunt and beckon

and where all I can see

is the horizon.

Complacency

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It is impossible to be unhappy on this beautiful day.

The sky is clear and blue

only blue-the perfect compliment to the newly sprung leaves of verdant green

under whose canopy I sit and appreciate

the gentle breeze and glorious sun

whose rays sneak through this lush umbrella

to kiss my skin

-softly, gently.

*

It is impossible to be unhappy.

Is it not?

*

But the breeze-it lulls me to sleep

a dull dreamless sleep

which I do not wish to enter.

*

I long for a sharp and bitter wind

to jolt me awake.

*

My eyelids are heavy.

My limbs carry the invisible weight of complacency.

*

But it is just so pretty

and comfortable

sitting here.

Just sitting.

It is impossible to be unhappy.

 

A Simple Decision


It was between navy and silver violet. She had to decide which before she could proceed. Anne had no aptitude for design, but Christopher left it up to her. The only thing he requested was that she not replicate her mother’s home.

Anne wished her mother, Lucy, were there to help. She had an eye for decorating. Anne remembered when her parents moved to the house on Highland Street, how her mother chose fabrics and patterns with such confidence. Lucy liked traditional design. Anne knew she would disapprove of the silver violet. It would be so different from the hunter green and mahogany colors her mother selected for her own family room.

Different was what Christopher wanted though, and Anne wanted to please him.

But, did Anne like silver violet? She didn’t know. Sometimes Anne didn’t know her own mind.

Damn it. Anne always needed help making decisions. Growing up her mother was forever telling her to change her clothes, change her friends. She was usually right, although Anne still didn’t understand why her mother would sometimes slap her for her missteps. Anne could never hit Lily.

For Christ’s sake, she was forty-three years old. Why was it so difficult to make a decision for herself? Her seven-year-old daughter could say what color she preferred. Lily would prefer silver violet. She would be upset if Anne chose the navy.

Decision made. Silver violet.

 

Existence

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Like mist over a lake that lifts and dissipates

into the air, so I disappear.

Like spring snow that, once it has landed, melts

into the earth, so I disappear.

Mist, snow, myself- things that last for a moment and then are lost,

perhaps never having existed at all.

These things that skim the surface of this world and then fade into the dark and endless sea of nothingness

or eternity

require proof, a stake to claim that they were,

or that they are.

Sometimes a simple photograph suffices.

As for my shadow self, I need words,

words on a page to prove that I am here

somewhere in this vast place

over which I hover, longing for an anchor

to hold me steady.

 

Today

Today the light shone-the sun beaming through a clear, blue November sky.

As I walked I thought of Mary Oliver and her words:

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,

and remind you of Keats,

so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,

he had a lifetime.

* From Oliver’s “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” which is published in her collection Blue Horses, The Penguin Press, New York, 2014

But today I don’t need the darkness.

It has done its job.

It has been my constant companion and I am grateful, for darkness has helped me to see this

this beautiful day.

And all I can think is,  “Live.

Live.

It is the only thing you haven’t done;

not really.

Perhaps you tried, but

only in the space of shadows.”

A lifetime should not be reduced to a blot on a page.

The story is elsewhere

on clean, white paper.

written in a pen that doesn’t bleed.