Thanksgiving in the Year of COVID-19

     Traditionally we split holidays with the Alaska grandparents. We do Thanksgiving, so this week would ordinarily bring feverish grocery shopping, planning and cooking for meals beyond turkey day, bed making, toy arranging, and ferry schedule coordinating. I love arrivals – that blissful moment of sighting one family or the other in the festive crowd disembarking the ferry – I’ll miss that.

     And the little moments, when easy companionship happens amid holiday bustle, will be absent this year – making pies or reading books with children, a chance for an extra walk at evening with a willing son, laughing with Sweet B’s parents while wrestling the bird and trimmings, Mr. Carson arriving with a platter of colorful roasted vegetables, and last year, a poolside chat with Mrs. Hughes while kids squealed in the water. This distanced holiday provides no opportunity to plop down and annoy a visiting grownup child sitting quietly by the fire with his book. And the isolation of 2020 presents a real void when the video call ends, and the rest of the weekend looms.

     But I think we can make that call and meal together celebratory – if not like the old days. As my old friend, who lives here and is a psychologist, would say I’ve been “somewhat directive” (seems a polite and professional term for bossy) – asking that the Zoom meeting be set up, suggesting maybe we could do vegan meals, sending boxes north and south to the grandchildren that contained possible table decorations (shopping in my linen drawers and realizing the chances were slim of 16 people at a big table again), candles (can you have a candlelit meal on Zoom?), and paperwhite bulbs for December.

I loved the N.Y. Times’s Style Editor, Vanessa Friedman’s, recent Open Thread Newsletter. She intends to dress up for the electronic event, and writes: “When the news around us gets worse and worse, dressing is a way to use the external to find a note of grace for the internal. That’s worth a bit of celebration.”

 The “thankfuls” of the children around the table are always the best, and I’m curious to see what they make of this year. Sweet Brother won’t speak out, but his birth at top of mind. The young parents always warm my heart with their love for each other and their children. I’m hoping for a better performance than in the past, when I have mostly grown tearful and inarticulate. When the video goes dark, I’ll be glad the families are cozy together in their foursomes. And from this reimagined Thanksgiving, we get safety and the hope that next year we will be together again. Not small things.

     And there is still much to be grateful for – health, those connection-saving video platforms(!), vaccines coming, state officials standing up to the president’s despicable attack on democracy, and a new administration!

And I add a heartfelt thank you dear readers. I have much gratitude for all of you – your comments and caring keep me going. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving in this temporary incarnation!

Strange Times

     And growing stranger and more worrisome and locked down yet again.

     Recently the wordsmith used an expression she likes – “coming apart at the seams,” and maybe the country is. The absurd, dismaying sight of this defeated president refusing to face reality (supported inexplicably by his party), assaults democracy. Our nurses, doctors, and hospitals are overwhelmed by citizens’ failure to contain the coronavirus. The dreaded fall surge turned into the predicted winter disaster. How anyone can think the virus is a hoax or that masks impinge on freedom is so far beyond me as to melt my brain.

As the holidays approach, all seems disjointed – also speeded up. The natural world alone seems as it should be. Recent rain and wind tossed colored leaves into red, yellow, and orange circles on streets and sidewalks. The geese paused for a rest on Eagle Harbor, and continued south. Nasturtiums, blooming so cheerfully once the pumpkin vines shriveled, collapsed. But indoors, my aged wild amaryllis bulb (a gift in the 90s) is blooming now – a usual New Year’s event.

We had tentative plans to travel (each day the possibility grows slimmer), so in the meantime I’ve been shopping locally to gather the contents of Christmas boxes, readying them for the mail. It’s privilege of course – being able to shop.

I wish the legendary Christmas ghosts could appear to Mitch McConnell, and while pointing out his Scrooge-like refusal to help people, terrify him just a little, miraculously transforming him into a caring human! A generous federal stimulus package would be an appropriate response right now.

     I keep trying to express here what haunts me, I suppose it’s the uncertainty. But many things are known to fortunate families like ours – we only need to “rethink these holidays” as Governor Inslee said in his plea to forgo in-person Thanksgiving celebrations.

My impulse is always to make plans, and realistic COVID influenced plans can be certain. We can adapt and do things to let our families know we care and guarantee some joyful, seasonal normality for the children. Assuming the Internet stays strong, we can promise festive Zoom exchanges, making them somehow different from the “regular” (and cherished) Zoom or FaceTime moments.

     I hope.

J for Joy and for Joe

Alerted on my morning walk in a quiet neighborhood by a wildly honking car, my phone revealed that CNN had called Pennsylvania for Biden. By the time I was exchanging tearful exaltations with a stranger, AP and all the other outlets had declared as well.

For an interminable four years we’ve known daily despair and anxiety, suffered reckless incompetence and cruelty, and watched norms of decency and international accord shattered.

I know fewer than five million votes (and a sturdy win in the Electoral College) separate two visions of America, and a mountain of work remains to fully restore our government. But the American people did the job – overcoming the president’s disinformation offensive, the voting obstructions erected by Republicans, and the coronavirus plague – to vote. The people did “fire the liar,” and democracy held. Let joy ring!

Saturday night was a time to savor the national and world-wide celebrations of hopes for better times, the end of a malignancy, and a “time to heal.” Our yard sign says what Biden promised in his speech: Decency, Truth, Hope.

Oh – and then there is Kamala, fully prepared to take her place in history with her litany of firsts, inspiring and delighting every little girl and woman – and the men who care about them.

Bring on Thanksgiving please – sequestered and odd it may be – but we have SO much to be thankful for!

 

Dreams Really Do Come True – Maybe

     Now we cross fingers and hold our breath. Today’s the day – or today and the next while.

     But the first COVID Halloween happened successfully – adaptations and resilience all around from kids and parents. Some things were just as they’ve always been – Dorothy posed in her red shoes with Toto in basket, the Cowardly Lion stood bravely (and at just nine months, that’s a feat!), a Yeti stalked the streets (a perfect costume for a frigid Alaska All Hallow’s Eve), and a Skeleton Warrior (not just an ordinary skeleton) armed himself with a plastic pumpkin).

     Good luck to us all – specially for these four and their cohort whose future on a functioning planet is at stake!

 

“Their Finest” Hour and a Half

     In a happy accident (born of trying to escape Alexa’s decision to play heavy metal music instead of a requested BBC show), we discovered “Their Finest,” a British movie from 2016. Beginning with jerky World War II footage of factories full of women making armaments, it settles into the story of Catrin, a young Welsh woman come to London with an artist love interest – and her unexpected transformation into screenwriter. From a book titled “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” it’s a movie about making a movie, about imagination, about women’s work – and about romance, of course.

     In the story, Britain’s Ministry of Information Film Unit wants to make a movie to inspire the war effort, and decides on a fudged (by Catrin) version of a true story about two daring sisters, who nick their drunken father’s boat, and, heroically join the rescue effort at Dunkirk.

It’s fun to see the primitive sets and lights (movie magic being made in the olden days), watch the script being written on the fly using clunky manual typewriters and much verbal sparring (as many cups of tea are drunk from real mugs). Hired to write “slop” (the term for women’s dialogue), Catrin turns out to be more clever by far than her male writing colleagues.

     I enjoy Bill Nighy’s flighty mannerisms, and his role here as a washed-up actor long past fame perfectly suits. He’s charming, old fashioned, and silly, full-of-himself and kind. He takes in hand the non-actor American hired for his good looks, and the hope he might inspire Americans to enter the war.

     “Their Finest” seemed a wonderfully long movie, and we spread it out – grateful during our own scary and uncertain days (unleavened as yet by time and creativity) to have this escape each night. There is joy in Nighy’s version of “Wild Mountain Thyme,” sung around a pub piano with the whole film crew – and joy in the theatre audience’s reaction to the movie.

And joy is good right now.

Total Transport from Now

These weeks leave us anxious, holding our breath, too worried to hope, but desperate to hope. A terrific book changes the subject.

     When they came to visit in the Before Times, friends of our younger son brought Caroline Van Hemert’s book, “The Sun Is A Compass: a 4,000 Mile Journey into The Alaskan Wild.” Van Hemert was their high school classmate, and her life took a turn – she made her life take a turn – that none of them expected.

     Van Hemert’s book is the tale of the trek she and her husband made in 2012, traveling those 4,000 miles under their own power – by foot, by ski, by canoe, raft, and rowboat from Bellingham in the Pacific Northwest to Kotzebue on the shore of the Bering Sea.  

     Trading time in front of a computer studying data for her real love – the outdoors and all it contains – Van Hemert describes the decision to attempt this epic journey. In one of my favorite passages (and there are so many), Van Hemert and her husband, as they leave the coast and head into the mountains, sit on a snack break and together identify birdsongs. She writes: “But today the graphs and calculations fall away as I inhale the scent of dirt and spruce needles. Out here I am half scientist, half disciple. I’ve left the laboratory far behind and, with it, the need to quantify and contain. In its place, I’ve reconnected with the simple act of observation.”     

Observation, yes, and treasuring every day. Toward the end Van Hemert writes: “In life we’re always closer to the edge than we like to admit, never guaranteed our next breath, never sure of what will follow this moment. We’re human. We’re vulnerable. With love comes the risk of loss. There are a million accidents waiting to happen, future illnesses too terrible to imagine, the potential for the ordinary to turn tragic. This is true in cities and towns as much as it is in the wilderness. But out here we face these facts more clearly, aware of the divide between today and tomorrow. And, for this reason, every day counts.”

Picturing her exhausted in the tent at day’s end, scribbling in her journal, I marveled at how she kept the saga’s rich detail in mind. She is the finest of writers, scientist and poet, with an ability to capture the landscape, the animal life, and the action. And her knowledge of and love of birds is thrilling.

But you can’t help reading it as a page-turner as they traverse this unthinkable distance, by sea and river, over glacier and mountain, and hummocks of tundra. Crossing shockingly cold Alaska rivers, frigid with glacier melt in tiny packable rafts, encountering bears and a caribou migration, and surviving hunger, a terrifying dunk in the Arctic Ocean, and discovering the kindness of strangers.

     I often identified with Van Hemert’s parents, supportive with love and logistics, but uneasy as the left behinds. It tickles me that now Van Hemert has children, she will learn what it’s like to be the one at home. Our younger son wrote to me, “I can’t imagine what her boys will do to one-up her, but I’m sure they’ll figure out something.”

     As children do. And same for Lord B – Professor Snape now – adventurer-to-be!

“Putting Up” and New Postcards

     Local squirrels worry not about the pandemic or the election, they scurry about, gathering and stockpiling their winter supplies. Following suit, I’ve given away and stored away all 27 pumpkins from our little patch. Pumpkins gone north to Alaska and south to LA, they decorate the porches of friends who may or may not make pies.

Pumpkins to my neighbor who recently gave me some of the big bag of onions she brought back from Eastern Washington, where the summers are hot and tasty onions grow. She recommended freezing them after chopping – something I’d never known to do. Handy!

     Pumpkins for our friend of the fine blueberry patch who said come to get apples and pears, and when I arrived, also offered tomatoes for sauce and a pepper, “off the scale hot!” I sent it on to the Sweet Bride, who says no pepper is too hot for Thai taste.

So far, I’ve baked a first pie, and made pear butter with most of the pears (and painted one), and a plan for applesauce. And also new to me, tomato sauce – if you briefly boil the tomatoes six or so at a time, the skins slide off, then cook down. Now to make pasta sauce with these cooked tomatoes.

     And for a winter scheme, this week Sweet Baby began our new alphabet postcard project. A friend accuses me of too many words, my return postcard proves her point.

Needs Must, Just Deserts

     This weekend those two phrases kept floating through my mind.

     Our old friends came to dinner on Friday night. That used to be such an ordinary event, but not since March. We ate in our friends’ beautiful garden in the summer – one night in spring the fireplace provided warmth, but it never seemed welcoming here – our patio too hot on a summer evening, our back deck so small.

     But on Friday it felt exciting to be welcoming friends after so long, and, though we’d be outdoors, I cleaned house. I made a pear dessert, totally simple and really good. (Halve and core pears, place in a baking dish cut side up, sprinkle with crushed walnuts and cinnamon, drizzle a teaspoon of honey over each, and bake 30 minutes at 350°.)

To figure out “outdoor dining,” I’d been inspired by Lady B’s mother’s tale of a little farmers’ market-like canopy and a gas firepit in their Alaska back yard – and my old friend’s plan to expand her covered porch or set up a table and chairs on the existing narrow one – and figure a way to add heat as the winter descends. It is going to be a long winter – needs must.

     On Friday, I separated the tiny patio tables, placed starters on each, and laid another little table with a cloth, a water jug, and glasses. The purple footstool from the front porch became a landing spot for pizza boxes (our dinner).

     The sky cleared of fog and smoke by late afternoon and the sun warmed the little patio, but the sun soon disappeared behind neighboring trees. I always forget how suddenly real darkness descends in October. The solar fairy lights came on, the moon rose (a lovely pale yellow instead of smoke-filtered orange), and by the end, most all our house candles, in various holders and unused all summer, glowed at our tables.

We ate and talked of our families, the difficulties of any plans for the upcoming holidays, and the week’s mind-boggling events. That other phrase “just deserts” comes to mind, along with hopes for survival, and the (probably useless) wish that this development might grow some empathy for those who have suffered and change minds toward universal mask wearing.

     We have probably seen our last 70° windless, rainless day, but even wearing down jackets, and sitting next to the car, it was a candlelit, bistro-someplace-else evening. With no hope of a repeat, the memory glows – a quartet of old friends, food and wine, in the midst of a pandemic.

Needs must can make magic.

Postcards – Flowers and Vote Blue

I’ve been writing postcards this week – the last summer flowers to Sweet B – and postcards (with a whale image and “One vote can make a whale of a difference!” on the front) to likely voters identified by groups who have worked since the last election to flip the U.S. Senate and influence state politics.

A while back I expressed skepticism about the value of such cards – but I was wrong, and it seems a great idea to be doing something. My old friend, who lives here, has been penning postcards for the local Indivisible group for some time, and she told me how to participate.

The writing reminds me of being disciplined in school in the old school days, made to write 25 times on the blackboard: “I will not talk to my neighbor during class.” (That particular means of discipline is probably long gone, along with the blackboard – not a Zoom problem.)

During a first winter storm the last few days, I walked to pick up more postcards with rain dripping off my hood, stepping on fallen chestnuts, giant maple leaves, and around puddles. October always transitions us toward winter, but this year worries about a predicted COVID-19 surge and Election Day chaos amplify the seasonal dread of darkness and cold.

Fall is here. Winter is coming. The first debate is tonight. It’s all upon us. But it could turn out OK – let’s keep that thought!

It Takes and It Takes…

Some time ago (during my considering-only-myself attempt to visit Alaska, which didn’t pan out), our Alaska daughter-in-law remarked that she kept thinking about how much the coronavirus has taken from all of us. She put me in mind of the Hamilton lyric, “it takes and it takes and it takes.” The lyric refers to death, but in my mind it’s the year 2020. All of it. An ungenerous, vicious year.

And now one of our own has a big loss. A faithful reader, Susan, who lives in the Oregon woods near the McKenzie River, had evacuated from fire danger, and now learns from a search and rescue team that her house is spared, “undamaged,” but their lovely studio-guesthouse is gone.

Both grief and relief – thankfully they are safe, the house remains, but in an altered landscape a beloved structure is gone, leaving an awareness of how very close the destructive flames came. To her message, Susan attached a link in memoriam – a post her daughter wrote about the little house in the heady days of Red House West.

Proving the rest of Miranda’s lyric painfully true, “…death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints” – the death toll from COVID-19 reached 200,000 this weekend, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died Friday night. The tiny giant of a jurist is gone. I love this tribute, an essay by Nina Totenberg, because they were fast friends for five decades.

Thank you, Justice Ginsberg, for all you did for the equal rights of all people. We owe you a debt of gratitude beyond measure, and oh, oh we will miss you.

Annus horribilis.

Seeking “a Kernel of F***ing Worth”

This past week I finally learned what the numbers attached to the AQI (Air Quality Index) mean: 1-50 Good, 50-100 Moderate, 101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, 151-200 Unhealthy, 201-300 Very Unhealthy, 301-500 Hazardous. This morning as I write (and please let these numbers be better by Tuesday when this posts), friends in Portland have 294, further south in Oregon the numbers are all above 300 and hazardous, our Los Angeles family 157. We hover around 200.

The West Coast, except blessedly Anchorage 17, burns with unprecedented wildfires. Human stupidity (both in the big picture by failing to act on climate change and in small, careless ways, “wreckreation” and gender reveal parties!?) leaves forests and houses and towns destroyed, yellow twilit skies and acrid smoke, the number of deaths not yet known. Lies and rumors complicate already impossible firefighting. Heartbreaking stories tell of mass evacuations and homes lost, including those of firefighters. I can’t imagine the terror of waiting in a shelter or car or motel after evacuation, wondering about the fate of one’s home.

And that’s, of course, just part of what faces us. The Woodward revelations last week that Trump knew how virulent the virus was and how it spread. He lied about it and people died. Every day reveals the administration’s corruption and manipulation of the agencies charged with keeping us safe. And then there’s the danger that this mendacious man might win reelection.

“And still we go on…” – that’s what Patti Smith says in this clip from Smith’s Instagram account my painter friend sent last night: (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CE-uBSrAmiS/?igshid=8p1nrnzzbkbf).

In her quiet, unadorned way, Smith is so very articulate, just says what is. That we go on, feed the birds, drink coffee, make masks and jam, are thankful for safety (if we have it), but anxious and unsettled, made miserable by so much suffering.

She made me smile with her humanity.

Please stay safe.

 

 

Summer Revisiting

The beginning of September brought a return to summer heat, and everything is dry, dry. A handful of flowers remain to draw for Sweet B’s postcard project, crocosmia, tall purple salvia, tiny cyclamen. The lower leaves of sweet peas grow crinkly and pale, but a few stragglers still bloom up top. The old, indomitable rose bushes put forth a second flush of blossom after a mid-summer pruning. So many orange orbs of pumpkins show through huge and tattered leaves – nearing their allotted 110 days. Maple leaves begin to fall.

The solar twinkle lights shine and only a glimmer of light shows in the sky, when I take my seat by the window in the morning. And with the light, neighborhood birds appear – the tiny house wren who’s been near the patio all summer, often startled when we walk through the rosemary into her space, juncos, and lately a blue jay. Hummingbirds check out the last flowers and dip and dart into the little fountain. All summer I’ve heard mourning doves, watched them visit the birdbath, then fly high to the top of a huge fir tree. Their cry sounds like somewhere else or something sad.

The other day I walked through town to drop a package at the Post Office. Every other conversation I passed contained the word COVID, “if it weren’t for COVID,” we could do this or that. Masked tourists and locals queue by the ice cream shop, and masks cradle chins of people eating at outdoor tables, separated under umbrellas in the middle of town.

Winter is coming to this COVID year. Light bulbs reveal they are burned out, like light bulbs always do in the fall, but no gaggles of backpacked kids walk by our street. We’ll be more indoors, with flu and darkness. In my head I try to turn it around, what if we kept our masks on and didn’t get the flu, didn’t make each other sick with colds?

What if we settled in to enjoy all that’s newly on the screen? The brochure for the Seattle Arts and Lectures series came, and all lectures (including Maira Kalman and Tana French) will be available online. We missed Lord B’s birthday, but could watch our older son’s Zoom trial – with participants in different towns, even different states. My husband’s university classes are online – no long trek by ferry, train, and foot to the campus.

But I don’t think I can make it work – not with all the misery the government seems too broken or heartless to address, not with people dying, little businesses folding, civil unrest, and the threat of retaining the unspeakably bad president, with his political vaccine and cruel words and actions.

Oh, no way to end a post. What about bulbs – those hopeful packages – can we plant them now and picture a better time in the spring?

 

Blackberries

Forty years ago, when I first looked for property here, a patient realtor drove me around. Sometimes we’d stop and graze on blackberries in brambly thickets, warmed by the sun and tart, bits of wildness on a cultivated island.

Blackberries grow in bunches, a couple ready to pick, alongside others still red or pink – food for another day. Sequential ripening benefits scavengers of all kinds. On the bluff, shaded by huge firs they never fruited, but only stretched thick, aggressive canes armed with sharp thorns, over the salal onto the driveway.

Wild blackberries are often deemed thuggish interlopers, best controlled by goats. But in this summer of our discontent, I see them as a gift. On the big street near us, passersby stop to pick from a hedge thick with berries, deep purple stains the sidewalk below. One morning, when I asked what she’d do with them, a woman gathering blackberries along a quiet street said muffins – and to freeze and eat in the winter. She recommended a handful on the top of sweet lemon cake. My neighbor and another friend make freezer jam – and inspired me to try.

On a commuter path nearby, blackberry vines entwine themselves in the lowdown branches of a young cedar. I passed that patch repeatedly before noticing a dark spot, then another. The cedar boughs protect a little from the sharp barbs of prickles snagging clothing and skin.

The construction behind us (thankfully paused since early summer) destroyed giant tangles of berry bushes, but a thick patch remains – alive with birdsong all spring. North facing, those berries have been slow, but now, encouraged by weeks of warm sunny weather and one downpour rain day, they ripen.

Sweet B quickly learned to discern ripeness by a gentle tug, and with her parents gathered berries for pie from the hedgerow in our little neighborhood. On her dad’s shoulders, she reached high up, where dark clusters dangle, and her mom topped our blackberry pies with crusts of woven lattice.

It was summer.

 

If Only

What a difference if only a portion of hope expressed last week at the Democratic Convention could be realized. Of course, I’d rather achieve the whole array of positivity – inclusion, justice, decency, kindness, honesty, love, belief in science. We all know the litany of problems we face.

The convention both exhilarated and exhausted me. So many moments to tug at heartstrings – so much that was personal from the Bidens themselves, to the testimonials of ordinary Americans of all colors, religions, and sexual identities – healthcare workers, farmers, factory workers, small business owners, and lifelong Republicans. A young woman, who with barely contained fury, blamed her father’s death from COVID-19 on his only “pre-existing condition,” his trust in Donald Trump. A state roll call of American diversity like no other – and better – and because of the format, no balloons or interrupting cheers and applause, the speakers spoke directly to us.

Other democratic presidential candidates (the ones “voted off the island” according to Cory Booker) weighed in with good humor and camaraderie in a Zoom grid, and they made manifest the potential for a strong new administration. In his speech, Bernie vigorously warned of the danger we are in and the need to act together. Hillary quietly and ruefully addressed us, Nancy Pelosi asked what’s stopping us, then answered “Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump” (placing enabling Republicans atop the blame list), AOC reminded that there will be more to do, and Gabby Giffords showed the country what real resilience and perseverance look like. As always, Elizabeth Warren gave her all, smiling about hopeful plans. And, oh boy, the Obamas, and Kamala!

Even Joe Biden’s forceful acceptance speech seemed in the room with us. He called out Trump’s failed presidency, but articulated our yearning for normalcy. He enumerated the possibilities ahead if we tackle our problems with a return to American can-do – beginning with the virus. Can you imagine rapid testing, universal mask wearing – the containment of this plague!

Biden’s life story tells of devotion to this country and family. The speech was as a president’s should be, and perfectly preceded by the teenager who bravely described his encounter with Joe Biden (leaving no dry eye), and the importance of their commiseration about stuttering.

Commiserating – how do you feel about talking about the political side of what is happening – the rehash we do with friends and family? Sometimes we are weary of the whole thing, but often the fellow feeling is comforting.

A friend mentioned maybe feeling optimistic, another became energized by the selection of Kamala and by the convention, saying she’s ready to help change happen. One said while watching the convention she felt less alone, and realized how it might be different if everyone voted. And if our votes are protected, and somebody makes the replaced occupant leave the White House. Over and over people mention the strength that would come from being united.

If only.

(I’m hoping Sweet B would be OK with my addition to her drawing of the two of us riding a unicorn, because she made a Black Lives Matter sign to wave from her front yard after seeing a small protest in her neighborhood in LA. The unicorn with its kicked-up leg, looks energized!)

Put a Stamp on Your Letter

“Seven Little Postman,” by Margaret Wise Brown and Edith Thacher Hurd, was one of the many books scattered around our house after the departure of Sweet B and her family.

It tells the story of a little boy who writes a letter (with a secret) to his grandmother. Because he seals it with “red sealing wax,” we can follow the letter in Tibor Gergely’s illustrations as it’s slipped into a familiar letter box, arrives at “a big Post Office all built of rocks,” and moves through various modes of transportation (including a train where postal workers sort letters by hand “through gloom of night, in a mail car filled with electric light”). Finally, it reaches the seventh little postman who “carries letters and papers, chickens and fruit, to the people who live along his route.” At the last house is the little boy’s grandmother, who “had been wishing all day he would come to visit.”

The book dates from the 1950s, and I’ve been reading it aloud since the early 70s, but never have I cried. It was that kind of day. From teary farewells before the camper pulled out of our driveway, to the cleanup of toys, dollhouse, costumes, painting supplies, and crib – the sadness of a visit ending combined with grief over the crippling of our country’s beloved Postal Service.

Because of the fragility of nearly everything these days, no contact with distant loved ones gets taken for granted. Every single day held joy – the ordinary joy of children and grandchildren living nearby.

With wonderful weather we paid a last visit to the bluff, made meals using a huge store of tomatoes brought from the LA garden and ripened along the way, churned homemade ice cream to accompany blackberry pie from neighborhood berries, picked blueberries at a friend’s house, fed stubs of Romaine lettuce to the llamas at another’s. We kayaked and paddle boarded on Eagle Harbor, exploring coves I see daily from the shore. We visited new beaches and old, settling on a favorite and returning multiple times with sandwiches and beach chairs and plenty of opportunity to build castles and search for shells.

Sweet Brother began the visit limited to a quilt on the floor, often rocking back and forth on hands and knees but not moving. But by our last dinner – using an effective and endearing locomotion, a scooting combined with a hip hitch – he easily propelled himself past the table where we ate and into the kitchen or the living room. He’s a real person to us now – a sweet baby – ever fascinated with his sister. Her one set of tears brought a crumple of his little face into downturned mouth and empathetic tears.

And Sweet B – we ran out of time – so much done and so much more we could do. She drew and drew and drew – beginning every day at my worktable with some complicated picture or another. In a big step, she learned to operate the sewing machine with supervision, using the tricks learned from Lady B’s class last summer. She put together a little doll-size quilt – stitching around each square! She painted rocks for the garden, and with her dad painted a square of mural on a wall inside our garage.

We read so many books – old picture book favorites and chapter books, Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie” a hit. There we learned the word “melancholy” – just in time to use it to describe the last few days. It’s utterly greedy to want more, for the visit to last longer, to live closer together. But there you go.

When the letter with the red sealing wax is delivered, the granny finds out the grandson is “coming to visit on Saturday,” and that he is bringing one of his cat’s new kittens! (That’s too much to wish for.)

But I can wish we had a president with honesty, decency, and leadership – and wish that the Post Office could be like it’s always been in my mind (though now with mail carriers instead of just mailmen) – much as described in the poem ending the book:

                                           SEVEN LITTLE POSTMEN

                                Seven Little Postmen carried the mail

                                Through Rain and Snow and Wind and Hail

                                Through Snow and Rain and Gloom of Night

                                         Seven Little Postmen

                                         Out of sight

                                         Over Land and Sea  

                                         Through Air and Light

                                         Through Snow and Rain

                                         And Gloom of Night —   

                                        Put a stamp on your letter

                                        And seal it tight.