Septuagenarians on the Road: part 2

Checking in is simple when the room has been paid for since January. Now to find it. We are not on the fourth floor where the rest of our family is. We are on the ground floor in a wing that runs out to the back. Okay, down the stairs, whoa! seems like a dead end, turn right, turn left, ah, a corridor with rooms on either side. But a pattern has been established: for the entire weekend we will feel as if we are caught in a giant maze. Figuring out how to get to the right parking lot so that we can bring our bags in through the patio door takes all three of us, scouts and outriders.

And what have we bought for $200 a night? Let’s see. No terry cloth robe as Georgia hoped. No minibar fridge. No queen-sized beds but, yes, there is a ‘cot’ standing on end like an escaped Murphy bed and when it is wheeled over to the window and let down to horizontal, it proves to be at least as comfortable as the beds, if not more. Georgia pulls down the covers on it and discovers she can see the mattress through the sheet. She and I stare in wonder. I pull down the covers on my bed. Same diff, as we used to say. Well, at least the mattress looks clean and works fine. The three of us collapse as one. What a pleasure to feel circulation in our feet.

There is a certain amount of uncertainty, of the sort I would experience if I were at a house party in one of the great English houses. Where to go, what to do? There is no library to hang out in on the chance of meeting others, but there is a lobby and the breakfast tables there. Feeling a little rested, I go back up the byzantine route and find my daughter has arrived, having flown across the continent. General rejoicing. But she is to have dinner with the groom and his father’s family. So back to the room. My son had called in to ask us to eat with him and his girl. Blake has said we aren’t hungry yet.

“I’m starving,” I object. So we go to Applebys next door where my son said they were going. Can’t see him. Have to wait for half an hour in the bar. Finally get our table. Once we have ordered, look over at the people across the aisle who are inexplicably waving. It is them.

Georgia has in fact brought her own terry robe and pjs although she hates them, out of deference and modesty. Blake’s nightwear are his black skivvies, the size of a speedo. Fortunately, his body looks as lean and muscular as it did at 18. He does not notice her eyebrows disappear into her hairline.

Blake has cautioned us so often about how often he gets up in the night that we give him the bed next to the bathroom. Blake sleeps like a log, never stirring all night long. So does Georgia. I do not. After one trip with my tiny flashlight, I lie listening to them. Blake has worked up a snore that sounds on the out breath as if he is being murdered, a desperate cry from a cut throat. I listen to ten such expostulations. Enough!

“Blake, turn over,” I command, sotto voce. He stops. He stirs. He opens his eyes.

“Why,” he asks.

In the morning, we find each other in the lobby and consider the continental breakfast. My son and his wife partake and then take off on their bicycles. The rest of us go into town for real food. And we tour the Emily Dickinson house (see “A Poem a Day Keeps Blues Away”) Then my daughter hands me her iPhone which she has programed to lead us to Shutesbury and her son’s home that afternoon.

But first, we three septuagenarians (one only in training mind you) need to have a time out. The room looks pretty much as it had when we left. One bed is tucked in. The other two not so much. There is another blanket as I requested and extra bath towels, but all of the hand towels have vanished. The ice bucket needs to be refilled if we are to keep the chardonney cool and the desk, dresser and night tables need a bit of a tidy. I set about that chore, devising a sort of kitchen spot around the coffee maker. Georgia choses to believe housekeeping staff had been overwhelmed.

After a delicious lunch of rice crackers and peanut butter, we are on the road again. By now we have established a pattern. I give Blake more warning when he has to turn and he inevitably misses it. On the way back from the town centre, we had a tour of the country after we turned the wrong way on 116, but I take no credit for that since I was silently sulking. That turns out to be a good thing because the wedding is going to be out there.

So I pull out my daughter’s iPhone. No problem, this time.

There are apparently three basic ways to get from the Russel St Ho Jo’s to Shutesbury, two of the involve going back to the centre of Amherst. We go that way. Then something happens. Instead of seeing the map and hearing directions, I see only a green blip moving along a street. As I stare in wonder, all unaware, we pass our turn. I try in vain to enter a new search. It is the same phone as mine. Why can’t I get it to work. The others seem unconcerned. The scenery is green and beautiful, woods, rolling hills, fields. Leverett Rd turns into Cooleyville Rd. The green blip that is us bops along. Then somehow we are on Prescott Rd. I phone the groom. No answer. Their house is in a dead zone cell-tower-wise. They line up their cell phones on one window ledge to try to get a signal. I try again. No answer. I phone the land line.

“You’re where? he asks disbelieving. And well he might. It was a 20 minute trip and we had been on the road 45 minutes. “When you come down a steep hill to a T intersection turn right.”

But there are dozens of steep hills.

I recall Dickinson’s poem, “Because I could not stop for death”:  “We passed the school where children strove/At recess in a ring/We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain/We passed the setting sun.”  It has been over an hour. In my desperation, I imagine realizing that “The Horses’ Heads” really are turned toward eternity. And then, magically, we are there.

Slouching out of the car, and more or less ignoring a warm welcome, we fall into mutual recrimination. Georgia assumes all future navigational duties none of which will, according to her, involve technology. I am happy to retire.

She gets us back to the hotel with hand written instructions. Rehearsal dinner is just up the road, although I would have headed in the wrong direction. The wedding site, we have already found.

The return trip just means reversing the route we took to get there, so I have no role. As we near Buffalo, I begin to worry. How to get through the city to the bridge? I say nothing. Blake has driven and sailed everywhere and anywhere and never got lost. (Maybe confused as Davy Crockett would say, but not for 3 days.) Blake has an intuitive sense of direction. Let him be. Then we are off the highway onto city streets. Arrrrgh! I think, but I stay silent. Blake drives without comment, and drives and then, there it is the high ramp up onto the Peace Bridge.

Just one more slight snag – we head off the Queen Elizabeth Way following a sign to the Keg, a steakhouse of note. Can it be this far from the highway? A ship moves slowly through the Welland Canal blocking our path. Blake drives on. Fifteen minutes later, the Keg appears, a Canadian idea of a highway restaurant.

A Poem a Day Keeps Blues Away: Dickinson and Amherst

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer house than prose –

Emily Dickinson

It was a family wedding that took me to Amherst Mass. last weekend. I had never been there before although I felt as if I had because I had read so much about its famous poet, Emily Dickinson. She is the one who wrote those enigmatic four line stanzas beginning with such lines as “A narrow fellow in the grass” or “Because I could not stop for death” or “I taste a liquor never brewed”. Her poems turn up in high school and college anthologies and seem at first glance simple enough, but they are full of surprising insight. The lines I have just quoted, have a hopeful sweep upward at first glance. Ok, it’s a dull day, rain forecast, I’ve got that emotional hangover from a glorious event, but -look- here is a little poem that reminds me that the “prose” of this morning is not the whole picture, that I too can “dwell in Possibilty”. (Yes, grammar check, I do want a capital “P”.) Dwelling is not visiting.

Dickinson goes on to describe the beautiful house that Possibility gives with its fairer windows, more numerous doors, and gambrelled roofs that the ordinary house of prose cannot provide. She is talking about poetry, of course, but you don’t need to know that at first. You may figure it out after a few readings but you don’t have to.

Dickinson didn’t title her poems. An early editor Mabel Loomis Todd, did put titles on them and “corrected” the quirky punctuation -dashes- We don’t approve of that now, we Dickinson aficionados, and in modern texts, we have to look up poems by their first lines. The “right” books of her poetry are published by Harvard University. Amherst College has many of the original manuscripts, but Harvard holds the copyright.

We made the long drive -almost 10 hours, what with traffic- from Toronto to Amherst while others were flying in from the west coast, Texas, Arkansas and the Yukon or just skimming up the throughway from NYC, arriving on Friday night. The wedding was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. What now? Five of us met for breakfast in the Lone Wolf, across the road, more or less, from the Dickinson museum. What to do became obvious.

The docent led us to past the dining room to the library.”Isn’t this where Austin used to meet Mabel..” I began enthusiastically and bit my tongue. It was too late. The docent pegged me for a know-it-all who was spoiling her story by getting to the scandal too soon. Dickinson’s brother, who lived with his wife in the Evergreens next door, met his mistress here in the house where his sisters lived. Since he supported both houses, he presumed such rights apparently.

As our little group followed the leader from room to room listening to her stories, she kept throwing questions at me. Did I know that the Dickinsons had lived in another house in Amherst as well? I nodded.  They fell on hard times early on, she said, but bought this house back eventually. At least, she didn’t demand an answer from me. Later the others laughed at that. I was too busy melting into the background to care at the time. When we came to the last room with its display of how Emily experimented with different words -“gables of the sky” for example, instead of “gambrels”, the docent asked one of us to volunteer to read the poem posted on the wall. Silence fell. Well, it needed to be read aloud. “I will,” I said. What have I done, I wondered. I have no idea what this poem means. I began and the most surprising thing happened. “I dwell in Possibility,” I began and the poem read itself through my mouth until it closed with “spreading wide my narrow Hands/ to gather Paradise”.

Here’s an idea: read a poem. If there’s no book of poems beside your bed – an excellent sleep aid -it’s easy enough to find one on the internet. Better yet, read it aloud. Better yet, read an Emily Dickinson poem aloud. It will surprise and delight you.

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