Time away

One of my cousin Pamela Lawton's Window Collection paintings.

I give you fair warning, this post contains exactly one reference to gardening. There. You can't say I didn't warn you. It has three parts: Family, Friends, and Floods. They're not strictly accurate divisions, since family turned up in part 2 as well as 1, but I couldn't resist the alliteration.

I. Family

Those of you who have been doing your homework (i.e., reading my posts) know that I've been in the Northeast. The occasion was a family gathering in Massachusetts to honor my father (yes, I know, the third such gathering). I spent it talking with cousins, second cousins, first cousins once-removed, step-cousins, step-cousins twice-removed, and all possible permutations thereof, as well as the occasional sister, uncle, and nephew.

My husband spent it playing with the many children in attendance, earning for himself the exhausted thanks of most parents there, and the exalted title of Pied Piper. People watched in awe as he and a troop of kids ranging in age from four to sixteen disappeared up the streamside path towards the waterfall a mile away, then reappeared two hours later with all the kids' knees and tempers intact.

My mother (yeah, yeah, step-mother) Connie had designed a wonderfully simple ceremony: as we entered the barn, each person took a flower from a big vase. After our opening song the floor was open. Anyone who wanted to came to the table at the front of the gathering, put their flower in the vase standing ready there, and spoke about my father or about others in the family who had died. Almost everyone came forwards, including many of the children. There was a lighting of candles, a couple more songs, and then we trooped in to dinner.

This was the first-ever full-fledged gathering of the tribes—both my father's and step-mother's families. We had tried out this intermingling on a smaller scale in Toronto, for the ceremony at the university there. Gardners far outnumber the Moores, but apparently failed to scare them off, because even more Moores (sorry) came to Massachusetts than to Toronto. It's a remarkably congenial blending, which one particular moment brought home to me.

It occurred during the ceremony. Many people mentioned my father's wit; several spoke about the importance of the younger generation. One referred to this gathering as a changing of the guard. And then someone else said that under the circumstances, perhaps we should refer to it as a changing of the Gardners.

A collective groan greeted this apt pun, right up Dad's punster alley. But it was a Moore, no blood relation to Dad, who said it.

II. Friends (and more family)

Husband Steve and I topped off the family weekend with two and a half days in NYC, a social and cultural whirl during which we hooked up with two sets of old friends we'd not seen in decades, saw two cousins who'd been with us in Massachusetts, got to the Museum of Modern Art, the Met, and the Cloisters, and watched half of As You Like It.

Half? I'm a sucker for Shakespeare, but I generally prefer to see a whole play, and this production (by Pulse Ensemble Theater) had some terrific acting, so no, we didn't walk out. As an added bonus, my cousin Pam's boyfriend (Vincent Bagnall) was playing the evil brother Oliver. (The fact that I didn't like him at all onstage proves that he was doing a great job, especially as I quite liked him over coffee afterwards.)

Shakespeare in the Parks is free (always a plus) but vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. This venue was an open-air cement amphitheater by the Hudson, and once the sun set and the heat subsided, it was lovely. I did want to see how Vincent handled his transformation into a good guy, but a terrific rainstorm shut down the show and just about washed actors and audience into the Hudson, so that was that.

My cousin Pam is known in the wider world as the artist Pamela Lawton, who creates stunning stained-glass-like paintings and teaches at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which brings with it certain perks. When she offered us free tickets to both the Met and MoMa, we accepted. We're not proud. Even better, she took us to the Met when it was closed, which means that we were the only people standing in front of Vermeer, Degas, Van Gogh, and we were with someone who knows the museum inside out.

One of my more boring cousins, Pam has organized art teachers to work with people who survived the tsunami in Sri Lanka, war in Afghanistan, and Katrina in Mississippi. That's what she did on her off days, before the recession dried up all the funds. (See Making Art Everywhere.)

We were joined at the Met by another cousin and her family and all trooped off to an Indian restaurant where two turbaned men with long, grey-white beards sat cross-legged in a window alcove, one tapping a pair or small, resonant drums, the other drawing a short bow over a stringed instrument. When my cousin Griffin's mother called during dinner and learned we were at an Indian restaurant in the east Village, she asked, "The one with the live music?" She used to come there, thirty years ago. Same restaurant. Same musicians.

Over dinner, I asked Griffin (formerly known as Debbie–and don't ask how that happened, because I don't know) how she'd ended up in Austin. That's when I learned that she'd spent a year touring with Stella Parton (Dolly Parton's sister) in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and had then helped Dolly and Stella in the early shows at Dollywood. There's no telling what these cousins will get up to if you don't keep your eyes on them.

Tuesday morning we made a flying visit to the Cloisters (the Unicorn tapestries!) at the upper end of Manhattan, where I noticed that nightshade was mis-labelled. I found the label "Deadly Nightshade" on the other side of the same plot, in front of something I didn't recognize. (That's the one reference to gardens in the post. Savor it.)

I had lunch with an old friend from Berkeley, the amazing writer Margaret Diehl, who helped me put together the best writing group I've ever been part of. We've been out of touch for years, which was a mistake. Astonishingly, it appears to be a correctable one.

III. Floods

Now it is necessary to talk about the weather, which had been uniformly muggy and way too warm for this heat-sensitive soul. Aside from that brief, fierce thunderstorm in the midst of the play, we had had fair weather. Until our last afternoon, that is.

It was just starting to rain when I joined my friend Margaret, rained straight through our lunch, rained on Steve and me as we walked to the subway with our luggage two hours later, and was still raining when we emerged around 4:30.

Then it started to pour. We were trying to make a 6:15 flight. Given the hour and the weather, we decided to take a taxi to the airport rather than the bus we'd planned on. But given the hour and the weather, there were no cabs to be had. Well before we finally climbed into a taxi (we called for one at a public library), we were wading through six-inch deep streams running in the gutters, and when we finally got under way, there were times I was afraid all that water would swamp the car. When I lifted my head from wringing out the edges of my skirt, signs flashed warnings about flooding.

Astonishingly, we reached the airport before our flight had left. The first thing we did was change our clothes, though it was hard to find anything dry in our soaked luggage.

Of course there were delays all over the airport, which was therefore packed with tired people impatiently texting each other. The miracle is that despite an hour-long delay there in NYC, we made our connection in Minneapolis and got home pretty much on time. Once there, we opened our luggage, hung up our soggy clothing, and went to bed.

What a relief to be back in Montana, where humidity is unknown and the air lets you pass freely through it, not clogging the lungs and the pores. as it seems to in the Northeast. What a relief to be home.

4 Responses to Time away

  1. I’m so glad you made your connection. I felt like such a schmuck being unavailable. So glad you went to the Cloisters. I love it there!

  2. I’m glad you had a safe trip, minus the hassle of the delays. I’m sorry to hear about your father, wish you all the best!

  3. No worries, Sally. I feel it’s a proof of this friendship that we can say “No” to each other. Of course, I’m also designing a small explosive device which when opened will spray flour all over your house…
    Thanks, Karina. I’m doing okay. Seeing family was good!

  4. Well, I must say I’m not at all surprised you went through all 3 parts with a sense of humor and a modicum of finesse! And I thank you and Steve for still finding abundant time to spend with us to go along with the abundant food and laughs. We miss you already and are looking forward to our next westward visit.

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