Frances I, II, and III

Surrounded by sorting and packing chaos, three stuffed replicas of Frances sit on my worktable. They seem less disturbed by the activity than the real Frances would have been.

Each has a red felt heart on its back side, embroidered with the initials of Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, or Baby Brother. Soon I’ll pack up the stuffies to mail, along with a little note explaining that Frances is gone. She wasn’t friendly to the children, but she was important.

Each Frances is slightly different and wrong in its own way. They looked like her in the paper pattern, but lost resemblance in the stuffing. Little muslin bags of beans weigh them down, so they sit easily, but their floss whiskers sag, and they look disapproving and slightly strange – not cuddly (maybe that’s lifelike). I tell myself the imperfections matter less than their existence.

I’m leery of that impulse, said to grow stronger as we age, to let ideas die, to fail to push against resistance and stalling and overcome inertia. Making these three became important to me as a memorial – the figuring out and stitching were an occasional escape from the tasks at hand, the handwork therapeutic – but also as proof of follow through (at least this time).

The trio stares at me – or past me – multiple reminders of Frances and of making. I like to think of them joining the other beloved stuffed animals with names and history – but I’ll miss them!

 

Good Luck, Serendipity, and “Trusted Housesitters”

How to describe the events I’m thinking about? Luck seems like when my husband can most always find a parking space close to our destination (as I repeat: “we should have left earlier, we will never find a place to park”), while serendipity seems a light-hearted term for important happenings.

But I want to make note of such occurrences – in part because I keep thinking about two recent ones, and in part to counter the opposite kind of event – bad things that come out of nowhere like accidents or illnesses. Plenty of those around.

One night, during a trip in February, with the Ladies Baby and Sweet, Baby Brother, and their parents, we emerged from a restaurant into a rainstorm. We had a walk ahead to get home, and huge, fat drops quickly threatened a drenching. As we turned the corner around a building, a man stood under an overhang and said: “How about an umbrella – just a dollar?” “Oh, look,” he added, “I have two.” I dug in my already soaked purse and gladly bought both.

In the following days, the girls and I talked off and on about Umbrella Man, as we called him, how he appeared by magic to offer us shelter just when we needed it, like in a storybook

Planning for that February trip included much worry about leaving Frances. The mother of our young friend had told me about the website, “Trusted Housesitters.” If you are in need of care for pets and house, you register on the site, pay a fee of about a hundred dollars, describe your home, its location, and pet(s), enter the dates of your travel, and wait.

People (often retired folks who love both animals and travel) contact you and offer their services. The sitters pay their own transportation to you, and they don’t charge. Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. In December a capable woman from Vancouver Island (who lives on a boat in the summer) stayed with Frances and took very good care of everything.

But by mid-January I had no response to my posted dates for February. Belatedly I realized you could search sitters by geography and read their profiles and recommendations, so I took a chance and directly contacted a handful of people with open calendars who live in Western Washington.

An amazing couple answered (their reviews from past sits are over the moon). Adventurous empty nesters who work from home, they don’t usually do local sits, they’ve done housesits in England in the past, but they wrote to say they would be glad to come to the bluff and care for Frances. I was grateful and relieved.

As time passed and Frances began to fail, my instructions and worries multiplied, and our correspondence increased. Our fairy godparent housesitters, as I came to think of them, adapted to all my anxious changes and special requests for Frances’ care. In the end, we didn’t need all my notes, and after a departure delay, we left a sadder, simpler house. The housesitters still came to stay and were so kind to us in a hard time, kindred spirits, now friends. The “Trusted Housesitters” site seems a miracle.

I’m reminding myself here to appreciate such serendipitous moments of grace, such offerings of kindness – and such good luck.

 

Saying Goodbye

Two paintings by the English artist Mary Newcomb depict a woman and her dog in a rowboat just at dusk. In the first panel, the rowboat goes one way, and in the other, with dusk deepened, it returns. In Christopher Andreae’s book about Newcomb, he includes Newcomb’s words (and punctuation) about the scene:

“After half an hour when more light had gone she returned past us, rowing slowly, turning to talk to the dog. The dog sat on like a little black mountain Both were very peaceful and companionable to one another It was a perfect moment.”

Before we even moved to Washington, and the dog Bill and Frances the cat were so much a part of life, I painted an “after” from Newcomb’s painting, replacing the black dog with Frances and Bill. The little painting is tucked in a bookshelf, right by the nightlight we use to keep the stairs lit after dusk. So most days, twice a day, I see it. When Bill died, it was hard to look at it.

And now Frances is gone as well. Because so many of you have read about Frances since the very beginning of “Her spirits rose…,” I wanted you to know.

Frances was abandoned in an apartment with a litter of kittens, and lodged a long time in a vet’s office cage before living with us in Alaska for three years, and then 12 years here on the bluff (“arriving in a little soft-sided satchel and ending in command of all she surveyed” as our older son said). I’m thankful for all the good times she had – and there were many – she loved living on the bluff, patrolling her garden courtyard and sleeping in warm spots and with us.

A friend wrote afterwards to remark how willingly we enter into these arrangements with pets, knowing full well what we’re signing up for (and getting so much), but feeling such pain when we have to say goodbye.

It was time and it was peaceful, but the house is hollow and empty. Not so companionable.

 

Lights For The Darkness

Sweet Baby’s parents recently sent a little video of Sweet Baby sitting on the floor next to her dad, surrounded by toys. She has a plastic flip phone with a realistic (old-fashioned) ring, even a fax tone, and she answers and initiates calls:

“Hello, I’m playing with daddy until Christmas! Bye!” Her dad asks who she’s talking to, “Poppa Jim!” When offered the phone to call back, she says, “No, I call Granny Kaytee.” “Hi. Playing with daddy. Christmas lights in the dark.”

When her parents ask for clarification, she (with a little sigh of exasperation), grabs the phone to “redial,” “Hi, Granny Kaytee. I’m just playing with daddy and Christmas lights in the dark. OK? Bye.” She snaps the phone closed with authority.

Well, OK, she’s right! For those of us who live where darkness comes early in the evening and stays long in the morning, dark defines December. And on a morning dim from clouds and rain, when Sweet Baby was here for Thanksgiving week, we lit candles at breakfast. To my delight, each day thereafter Sweet Baby requested that glow.

All the celebrations and realities of the season call for light – warm lamplight, twinkly outdoor sparkles, firelight – and trees! This year will be magic for a nearly three-year old, reading books, decorating the tree, cutting out cookies – and yes, Christmas lights in the dark!

 

Happy Halloween!

I have heard tell that certain little people will be transformed today – in Alaska we’d find one duckling, and one cowboy riding a horse (that part is important, the horse is handsome) – and in California,  a kitty cat with all the feline moves!

I hope you find some cheerful orange this autumn day – Pumpkin pie remains my favorite orange on a dark and spooky night!

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Sweet Baby Explores The Bluff

A week ago Sweet Baby and her family came to visit from Saturday to the next Sunday – a luxury of time. As she came in the door from the Buffalo each morning, we heard a hearty: “Hi Granny Katee, Hi Papa Jim!”

She switches readily between Thai and English depending on her interlocutor – and uses some endearing turns of phrase, “thank you my dada” being one of my favorites. Seated next to me during a discussion about hair color, “my daddy has brown hair, my mommy’s is black,” she then patted my head and said: “cloud.”

Recently a person unknown drove into the fence at the head of our driveway and knocked two posts and the boards asunder. Having lately helped her dad build a pergola in their California backyard, Sweet Baby carried a mallet and trowel and put them to use in the repair. One day we talked to a contractor friend at a building site, and she piped up, communicating urgency with hand gestures while holding a tape measure, saying: “I need a ladder to measure up high.”

The weather was changeable, but we walked many short loops through the nearby woods, where Sweet Baby climbed over mossy windfalls, negotiated tree roots, and initiated game after game of slightly confusing hide-and-seek, “I count, you hide-and-seek!”

Low, low tides meant great beach walking on hard sand. Sweet Baby filled her yogurt container bucket with stones and shells. She slowly overcame her reluctance to touch the giant snakes of kelp her dad waved, and began to carry along a short stub – with bulbous head and topknot fringe of roots – named “Kelpy.”

At Wilderbee Farm we walked a trail behind its cultivated acres, wild roses gone to rose hips, dry mown grass underfoot, and hiding places aplenty. Sweet Baby fed the sheep and, happy to find a friendly animal after the bad attitude of our Frances, petted the huge sheep dog.

She was excited when deer wandered by our windows, and she crouched over slugs to locate their tiny horns. Rabbits, camouflaged against our brindled lawn, froze long enough for Sweet Baby to see their noses and whiskers twitch. From the house I watched her stop with her dad and gently tap the green plastic watering can on the garden steps, to glimpse a frog’s head emerge from the spout.

The final Sunday, a warm and blue-sky day, we spent on Bainbridge Island, walking the trail at Bloedel, eating lunch outside at the bakery, and playing at the Tot Lot. Then, too soon, we headed for the ferry.

Rain returned the next day, and the house seemed quiet and scattered with lonely stuffed animals and toys – but I’m grateful for a grand week!

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Summer Into Fall – Checking Back In

At the very end of August, during that season of national natural disasters, we added a family plague outbreak to the litany. We arrived in Anchorage just as Mrs. Hughes fell to what the pediatrician (two days later when both children had succumbed) declared to be H1N1, Swine Flu.

But in the early days, we had fine grandchildren time – we ate muffins and played tabletop hide-and-seek with the plastic animals at the bakery, and we visited the familiar playground, where Lady Baby tripped across the wiggly bridge and walked the balance beam with utter confidence – activities that once gave her pause.

A week from his first birthday, Baby Brother slithered – that’s really the best word for it – a locomotion also described as a “military crawl” – all elbows, arms, and wiggling bottom and legs. Technically not crawling, a kneeless move, he’s speedy nonetheless – circles the house, investigates, and gets in the middle of elaborate Papa Jim and Lady Baby adventure guy set-ups on the floor. His babble intones like proper sentences, and he says little words like woof, dada, mama. (I wonder what he will call Lady Baby.)

That Monday should have been the first day of kindergarten for Lady Baby. Kindergarten! But it wasn’t to be (maybe saddest for her mom to miss that official day). By Friday a photo showed Lady Baby ready – a missing top tooth and a big smile as she joined her friends at her new school. She’s serious about school – told me she would learn things there.

We brought the flu home, and then I, yet again, managed to morph it into pneumonia. Lost days of reading and avoiding forest fire smoke, with murky air and the sun a red ball sunrise and sunset.

Thank you for all the cheerful comments about the blue and white vase series during the summer break. The gallery has asked for 24 little drawings for December, so there might be a few more. They want more blue and whites, the armchairs, and “whatever suits your fancy” – a wonderful thing for a gallery to request.

And I’m ready to work. Welcome rain left clear days, crisp with chill in the mornings, and sunny warm in the day. Autumn in the Northwest is here.

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