My husband and I went to our son's
reading tournament last week. The kids competing in the event sat in
two groups on the floor in the center of the room, leaving parents,
siblings and grandparents to find seats in the student desks shoved
in a tight and hazardous bunch at the room's perimeter. To my
immediate left, a woman played a gambling game on her iPhone,
sharp red fingernails stabbing at the screen to stop the wheels from
spinning, hopefully revealing a lucky combination of cherries or
apples or the number seven.
To my right and a bit forward,
something much more interesting was going on: There was a man with a
bushy grey beard and long silver hair spilling down his back and onto
the black windbreaker he wore. The windbreaker was adorned with the
name of a local boxing group and a pair of red laced-up gloves. The
man wore a baseball cap and reading glasses. He held a yellow
mechanical pencil in his right hand. In his left, he held a letter,
tri-folded and opened and closed many times. It was written on both
sides of two sheets of unlined paper in neat rows straight as the
rows of peas and carrots and green beans my father marks in his
garden every spring.
The man looked at his letter, stroked
his beard, then added a line to his own letter, composed on a small
tablet. His pencil scratched and paused. Scratched and paused, every
word weighed and considered before being added to the paper. The man
set the pencil down. He clapped as a student correctly responded to a
question. He unfolded the letter and examined it. He picked up his
pencil and pushed on the eraser to send out more lead before
I wondered about the content of those
letters. I tried in vain to read them. I wondered what type of person
takes the time to write a letter these days.
I miss letters: Letters contain promise
and hope; love and mystery. After receiving a letter, I want to read
it over and over again, savoring each word like a chocolate egg,
sweet and warm, before tucking it away in a hope chest to return to
later and be reminded of home.
* * *
My husband and I just bought a
hundred-year-old home in a small Ohio village. We won't have the farm
I'd hoped for, but we will have something we never found in this
suburban development where we recently received a form letter from
our association lecturing us about the quality of our faded mailbox.
Instead of living in this planned community, we'll have real
community where the kids still walk to school, where neighbors go out
for dinner together, where the farmer delivers his produce once a week,
and where people sit on the front porch watching the world go by.
As we work through the roller coaster
of emotions over showings, contracts signed and withdrawn, and home
inspections with four kids and two drooling dogs in the car, I feel
as if we're living with one foot in the present and the other in the
future, a future that will inevitably take me to my past: my Ohio
roots where things seem less complicated and where life moves at a
more leisurely pace.
* * *
The glass man showed up the other day
to give me a quote to repair a small hole in the outer pane of a
window. He wore a bushy white beard and glasses that date back to the
"Where you headed?" he asked
in an English accent as he pulled a folding wooden measuring stick
from his front pocket.
"Ohio," I replied.
"Oh. The Other State," he
said, looking at me from over his glasses and gesturing vaguely to
the west. "Why would you move there?"
"I was born there," I told
him. "Grew up on forty acres."
He nodded, "You farm people are
all alike." Then he laughed. "It is a beautiful state. But
I can't say the name. It comes out Ho-eye-oh." He scratched some
notes and scratched the head of the service dog my son is raising.
"He's a good dog."
"It's his last day here," I
replied. "He's going to be a service dog. But..." I
gestured around the house: Its perpetual neatness. The sterility
where the dog can't drool or shed or chase after tennis balls. "With
the move and all..."
At that moment, the doorbell rang. The
woman who would finish raising the dog before he's put into training
arrived. "I feel so guilty," she said, scratching him
behind his ears. "Taking him away from you."
Moving is like that. New beginnings,
yes. But also the letting go of some things that we love. For my son,
school friends and the pup he's raised for the past eight months. For
my daughters, their part-time jobs and their friends. For my husband,
his colleagues. And for me, my writers' group--a steady group of
women writers who've met regularly for the past six years to critique
each other's work and talk about life and books and family.
I gave the dog a final pat and watched
him trot down the sidewalk without a backwards glance and I knew with
a heart simultaneously heavy and light that he was going to a good
"Municipality get you on this?"
The glass man gestured. "I had to replace a window for an old
lady not too long ago. She had to put the house on the market because
she couldn't afford the taxes on the house. Hairline crack. I had to
call the inspector to ask where it was." He shook his head.
"Fifty years in the business and I'd never seen anything like
it. I just charged her for the glass."
He measured the hole in my window. "My
wife and I went to Ohio once. We got out of the car and I put her on
my left side. I'm deaf in that ear so she can talk as much as she
wants." He grinned, eyes twinkling. "We stood on the
sidewalk, studying some brochures. And two people--two different
times, you understand--approached us and asked if we were lost. If we
needed help. Here," he said, "people wouldn't stop to help
you. They'd steal the brochures right out of your hands." He
folded up his measuring stick and tucked it into his pocket before
writing me a quote, slipping a piece of carbon between pages in his
receipt book, so we would both have a copy.
I walked him to the door and waved
goodbye. The branches of the pine trees scratched the blue sky. The
daffodils were in bloom. The trees were budding and life had that
beautiful feeling of newness to it and I was glad.
And I knew my family was going to a
good place, too.
We're going home.
Labels: Community, Creative non-fiction