The honorable bonds of patriarch’s duties ebbed in the first week of July. At liberty, at last, and without constraint, we fled to our summer place, the dog, the cat and I. My soul was hungry for respite, and our Wee Haven in the woods was the prescription required.
My river has taken many tumultuous turns in the two years prior. After running the rapids and plunging over a cataract, I found myself in new and unrecognizable places. Strong currents continued to have their way with my days. This observation I make only as a matter of record and preface to the present, for these currents brought me countless unexpected and cherished moments, filled my days with sunshine and laughter, and the many charms to be enjoyed along the journey.
Now the Sirens of Away entranced me.
“Away from what?” I called out in defense, “What possibly could compel my exodus from Eden?”
The sirens would not be refused, and plied their guiles and filled my chalice with their sweet liquors until the call of solitary reflection became equally my desire.
To break to the summer place is at once a going-away and a leaving-behind. Away carries with it a connotation of escape. Escape from stresses or from the heat of town. Escape from the din of modernity, the money-changers and the marketeers, mechanized monsters and moaning machines of industry, the pious preacher and the pan-handling pantomime. The fun and excitement of Life’s daily carnival commands an admission price of voluntary or involuntary sensory overload. Away implies a distance from which these things cannot reach you.
Leaving always seems like loss, and we doubt our own sense and haste. Escape will not eliminate the tow lines you lay down temporarily. Perhaps Leaving is imprudent now. Irresponsible. Self-indulgent. Selfish. Immature. Childish. Wasteful.
Why do our minds torment us so when it is keenly in the interest of same that we seek to leave?
Sirens or liquors or minds notwithstanding, at another turn Leaving is invitation, begging you, for the pleasure of your company, to abandon your chores and exercises in vanity. Surely you can find it in your heart to sacrifice your precious time battling weeds and balancing books, painting posts and pruning pines.
“Out of sight, out of mind.” Leaving cajoles. “All of your work and worry will still be here when you return, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Suddenly, Away is paradise, and Leaving my utmost priority.
It’s not unlike setting sail on a voyage, in that now there is a time before you over which you have no influence. The sea will not swell, nor the winds blow, nor the currents compliment your course by your insistence. Now you need only tack and climb in the riggings, smell the salt air and listen to the seabirds. For here is Away’s addictive tonic: despite your greatest ambitions, you are required to relax.
The lure of Wee Haven wafts to me like the smoke of the wood stove. Like pre-dawn pancakes on the cast iron griddle. My imagination races at the chances to explore the nooks and crannies of the old rooms, the drawers of heirloom dressers, the attic, and perhaps most tantalizing, the library.
My zealousness is tempered slightly as I climb the stair and enter the hallway. Things of all kind seemed to be scattered everywhere, thrown down without conscious reason. And dust. How long has it been since last I attended to these humble quarters? The answer eludes me and is irrelevant now, and compulsion has me tidying and cleaning before I have even settled in.
Implements of sanitation in hand, I head hesitatingly to the great master bedroom. Its image has been like a guiding star, drawing me hence hitherto, the very heart of my Wee Haven. The brightly colored walls, lit by three big, old-fashioned double hung portals. The creak of the plank floor and rattling of window sashes as one walks about. The huge king bed beneath Grandma Grace’s seven day clock, facing the west windows to watch the dancing shadows painted by the sunset on the walls and ceiling, through the leaves of waving trees.
Without equal is the breeze coming in through those windows and up over that bed, a drug as effective for me as any sedative. Through the summer night I am serenaded by the rustling leaves, the patter of raindrops, chirping crickets and calls of the owls. By the chaotic and boisterous yowls of the coyotes. I am anesthetized by the smell of the Earth, and rain on the wind, dosed with fleeting scents of roses and milkweed blossoms.
Imagination is a great boon to marketers of destinations, for it is always better-imagined in our quest to be Away than is the reality upon arrival. The master suite was no exception to this rule, and as the squeaky door opened I looked upon a dusty heap left by the last inhabitant, and furnishings akimbo and wedged into places incongruous with the space. Now cleaning ensued once again, adding the rearrangement of furniture to which no small amount of time was devoted.
All such industrious activities are a labor of love. For moving the vanity requires removal of the drawers, and the removal of the drawers reveals their hidden treasures. Photographs and hundred-year-old postcards from the McGrattans, prayer cards and wedding invitations, tattered baby bonnets and faded blue ribbons from the fair. Dusting under the bed disturbs a stack of photo albums that must be perused briefly, or perhaps not-so-briefly. Opening the steamer trunk to stow the down comforter reveals a carefully folded wedding gown.
As I grazed through my tasks, the sun began to set, and I strung the lead cord through the hole in the closet wall to have a light in the library’s reading nook. It began as a tidying-up. Just enough so I could walk past without fear of my mother reaching down from Heaven to slap me for neglecting, disrespecting, that which we hold dear to our hearts and are honored to care for; books.
Tidying in a library requires, as a matter of course that does not surprise you I am certain, the handling of some books. It starts with “these need to be put away” and “this goes here”, and progresses through “that doesn’t belong there” and “Oh I forgot all about this” and “would you look at this!” and “I had no idea this was here!”
Sassy June stretched and gave me the yellow eye, breaking the spell after who knows how many hours lightly dusting but mostly reading in the nook. As I let her out I was eager to return to my lair, to the 1910 Gazetteer, to the 1902 Smart Set Magazine touting the greatest of the latest Pan-American Exhibition: electric lights. There were good passages of advice from 1942 and predictions of the future from 1959.
Away does not imply alone. You can go with a companion (of your preferred species) or you can go to an Away full of people, like the beach. I, however, had anticipated sharing my time only with my furry friends during this stay. To my astonishment, I found here secreted within my own walls, hundreds of quiet, patient friends, and familiar names like Cooper and Steinbeck, Parker and Homer, Dickens and Orwell. Folks I’d met before. Away can surprise you like that.
I pulled out an oversized volume wedged atop the shelf of cookbooks, It was The History Of The United States Navy To Present, published in 1915. In it, my mother had stashed some pictures from calendars. Cowboys on the plains, horses, native people. A brochure from Grumbacher led me to believe these were subjects she had wanted to paint. My mother took up oil painting, along with my dad for a while, no doubt my inspiration and incentive to follow suit. It felt like I was reconnecting with her through the books and pages we shared. Much of my life is an homage to my mother. She shaped me, and taught me innumerable things, and continues to do so many years after our parting. It is often I hear myself declare “My mother would have loved this.” I can hear her laughter at our inside jokes, and see her beaming smile, pleased with the ways I am spending my living years. Perhaps our likes are the same, and for good reason. I have always done and continue to do things that might please her. Solely to please her, for she merits such treatment! I never had to do anything for her attention, as it was always given in unlimited quantities and unconditionally.
At last when I sought to exchange the volume in my hand for the next that caught my attention, disagreements were to be had from my spine. Removing my glasses felt like doffing a diving helmet, and one leg was entirely devoid of feeling. The dog and cat, exhausted by our expedition, compounded by watching me work like a mule, had long since retired. I rose, thankful I’d made up that king bed, and looking forward to its feather pillows.
Here I am now at the culmination of day one, or is it the start of day two? It was indeed a wee hour here at Wee Haven when I deigned to close my eyes for a brief rest, and bade good night and good morning to all my dust-jacketed and paper-backed friends. I couldn’t tell you the time. I was overjoyed there was not a working time piece in sight, and vowed that I shan’t care at all for clocks on my escape to Away.
It was then I realized how potent and perfectly-administered were the potions and brews with which the Sirens of Wee Haven had bewitched me.
Take care and keep in touch.