Yesterday, the final day at the lake for our California family, some clouds settled about, and there were rumbles of thunder here and there. It was the first day in their month-long visit that wasn’t hot in bright sunshine, and it was the kind of mellow day the parents needed for laundry and packing up. The kids spent a lot of time hanging with their Dad, who had just flown back to the lake after crisscrossing the country on business trips. They resumed the ping-pong competition, talked him into jumping off the dock with them, and spent ever so long a time, just sitting next to him on the bench by the water, towels wrapped around their shoulders, chatting. We finished off the night by watching TV together, as our team, the Oakland A’s, won yet again.
While my family has been here this month, each morning in the early quiet at my computer, I’ve clicked on to old posts of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. After his fall from grace, he must have negotiated rights to the archive, going back many years. The days of each month are listed numerically across the page, and starting with 2002 (the year we moved into the lake house), I’ve read each poem for that day–just because it’s a good thing for me to start a day with poetry. There have been days this month, along that line of numbers, that I’ve been so tired and wondered how I’d have the stamina to make it to August! In the middle of the month, our numbers swelled here when the Billings family joined us, and there were six adults and six grandkids, and as the now 12-year old Anna texted me a few months ago, “Wow, Grandma–you’re going to have a lot of meal-planning in July!” Add in visits from friends, and the whirlwind 22-hour road trip to the Washington coast for Fletcher’s college visit, this month has been big and broad and full to the brim. When I read those poems this month, on the days that strung across the page, July 27th was on the very last line. Now, suddenly almost, it is here, and the Californians left this morning.
We walked them up to the driveway to say our “I love you’s” and to hug each other goodbye, and when I watched all those little arms waving out the windows of their old blue minivan as they drove up the hill, I needed Don’s arms to hold me steady in my tears. I’m used to this ‘shaking the island’ feeling when my families leave, all so far away from me. Getting the house immediately back in order is always an antidote. Don goes off with the vacuum and mop bucket, and I head for the bathrooms and get the towels going in the laundry. I start upstairs in the dormitory room, knowing I’ll find something left by the kids, or see where they left a book they were reading, still feeling their presence. We both go back to our separate selves and quietly go about our duties, knowing now is not the time we can talk. It’s been a beautiful soft and gentle day today, with a thin blanket of gray clouds and moisture in the air, and sloshing of the water. Soon enough, we’ll talk about the fun times we all had together, and how the kids are growing and changing, and how lucky we are. We’ll talk about how we are getting older.
…Like a huge bassoon, the inbound ferry sounds,
shaking the island. To leave here all must ride it.
Some before others. Some at summer’s end and some tomorrow,
Some never to return, and some to come back,
summer after summer, weaving a bright thread of constancy,
into inconstant lives. Babies will change
into children, children will awkwardly grow up,
girls will find their slender beauty stolen,
and mothers will wake up grandmothers, they will wake up.
Pursued by change, they will run to the end of their lives,
No other choice left to them, and plunge into
An element darker than sunlight, darker than night.
–from On the Island by Elizabeth Spires