Our front hall had a very tall grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs keeping watch over the household. No one could wind it but my father and the clock defined the nights in regular chimes reaching everyone’s ears in everyone’s bedroom.There was a front hall table made of lustrous mahogany where mail and packages were placed daily.The legs of the table looked like a young girl with four legs curtseying all at once. I know because I spent a lot of time under there waiting for God knows what. My favorite part however In this wonderful area of our house was the front hall closet which no one could put anything in except for my father. It was his personal closet for his overcoat and his hats and his umbrellas and his galoshes. I don’t remember hearing we weren’t supposed to go in the closet so I went in the closet quite a bit. There was a shelf the hats were on that had a thumbtacked piece of decorative ribbon that was ruched: something I had never seen before. I took some delight in pulling a piece of it off and seeing what it felt like. My father had four or five coats in there and most of the coats were some range of the color gray. There were cashmere coats, and wool coats, and cotton coats, and canvas coats. The coats had a big life and seemed to go out a lot. Sometimes alone, and sometimes in pairs the coats went out in the world: across oceans and in airplanes, office buildings, and houses not ours, down inside boats, outside on sidewalks. They always came back home slightly different than when they had left. I knew this because when I went in the closet I would stand up inside each coat starting with my head going into the bottom because they were buttoned up, you see, and I would shimmy myself up to usually just the lowest button because my father was very tall and I was still short. I would stand there and breathe in the outside world imagining where he had been and who he had seen and the smell of old Spice would anesthetize me against the real world. In the closet I created whatever I wanted sometimes for hours. No one ever looked for me. I stood so still inside a coat I became a part of its life.
I was thinking about the loyalty of the round gray stone outside my front door this morning. Preparing patiently to be washed by the rain. Not objecting to an occasional kick and the resulting change of side to the light. The stone sits outside my front door for as long as I want it there: it suffers movement silently, hears word it shouldn’t have to hear, and feels the hot sun and the cold evening chill. The stone is an object, this is true, but you can count on it every day and every minute to remain there where you placed it. Unlike the brown palm tree who sheds its leaves and is reborn each spring. Unlike the rose bushes that flower and die and flower again, unlike the spreading moon lighting the bleak mountain, the stone has no such cycle of life. It simply sits in wonder and allows the world to happen all the while retaining its dignity: all the while retaining its loyalty and most of all, its truth.
Once, long ago, I wrote a poem on Thanksgiving about a couple who were standing on a stone wall outside their house. They were wearing matching Fairisle sweaters with wreaths around their necks and were in their fifties. A bird swooped down and took the husbands sweater in his mouth and flew away with him. The wife was too embarrassed to explain what had happened so she spent the rest of her life ignoring the fact that he was gone.
Why am I telling you this story? I have no idea. I think I am telling the story because on these overly loud and food filled holidays I wonder if I made the right choices as I find myself not surrounded by family but surrounded by friends. It seems more peaceful this way. I am staying at a wonderful hotel in Half Moon Bay where the ocean pounds the shore constantly and it is impossible not to stop and look in wonder every minute one is outside. I am grateful to be here with friends having a good time and enjoying my life. I see many families here who are apparently happy with three or more generations of family milling around. Some of these families are noisy and some are quiet. I like the noisy ones. I have always longed to be Hispanic as those families seem to have the most lively fun.
Our Thanksgiving as children was generally over in one hour. My parents won the contest for the fastest eaters in the east. On Thanksgiving there were butter shaped turkeys on the butter plates and ice cream in the shape of a turkey. The butler carried all the platters to our table where we were each served in turn. If we went to my Grandmother’s things were usually more interesting as there she set up a children’s table where there was much less supervision. I was still sitting at the children’s table when I was 40.
I sat next to a lady at lunch whose husband was playing golf so she was lunching alone. I like to chat up strangers. Out of the blue she told me she and her husband had run away from Sacramento to escape their families. I said I understood and commented that there were many families who tried to escape each other even when living in the same house.
I love the clear truth of Thanksgiving and the comments of strangers. Hope all of you are enjoying a calm and peaceful time whether alone or with a group.
The heat falls onto us mid morning and children lose interest . Remember the sounds of summer: airplanes and barking dogs The Good Humor man’s truck, An echoing television from an open window. The hiss hiss of the sprinkler whipping around its three pronged heads.
I remember the damp, soft grass, a white eyelet nightgown, finding treasures in my Grandmother’s drawers while she napped. I stole a thimble but it didn’t help me.