The little dog died. Zenna. We put her down last Thursday, right there stretched out next to Ann in the bed. She was Ann’s dog, half chihuahua, half Italian greyhound—a perfect balance of character. The greyhound mellowed out the chihuahua and the chihuahua lit a fire under the greyhound. She might have had meerkat in her too, because when she wanted your attention, she’d sit up on her hind legs with her front legs folded over her chest. She was often very serious, but just as often she made people laugh. She ran like a greyhound, fast and banking on the corners. She’d greet me by racing up and down the hallway of Ann’s house, over and over, riding the throw rugs like surfboards until she was exhausted. She did this up until the last month or two of her too-short life. She was only ten when she died—middle-aged for a small dog. No one could tell us why she was dying, what she was dying of. For some reason that hurt my heart the most. It seemed unfair (as if fairness came into it) that we should lose her to something unnamed.
Zenna loved a lap, which is why so many of my photographs are taken from behind her head, behind those long expressive ears of hers. I was always trying to see what she saw, trying to gain her point of view. She was such a kind dog. That kindness extended to Ann always, but especially at the end. I’m certain she lived beyond the time when she needed to die, and would have continued to, for Ann’s sake, if Ann hadn’t returned Z’s gift of love with a gift of her own: letting her go.
Often there are no words for these creatures who don’t pursue us with language, but with their big eyes and hearts. These images are my farewell to Zenna, and my wordless thanks. Two hawks and an osprey (an osprey!) circled Ann’s home in the desert as we carried Z’s body out to the vet’s car. The night before, an owl hooted from an ironwood tree close to the house. Zenna was enjoying some cheesecake at that moment, but she cocked her ears, then went back to licking the plate. My guess is that when the birds come for you, the promise of flight is not frightening, but a promise of freedom, release and return.
This is a story about a stutter. Not the soon-to-be presidential stutter, but the stutter of a man named Ted Hoagland, a writer and teacher of mine at the University of Iowa. Ted himself has written eloquently about his stutter in an essay called “On Stuttering,” which I recommend to you, but his experience of his stutter was necessarily different than my experience as a student in his classroom. Every week I walked into the overlit room in which he taught, and whatever hesitation filled my mind, I let go of it at the sight of Ted at his desk, surrounded by arrogant young apprentice-writers who droned on and on before the class began, while he, the teacher and accomplished writer, sat silently, working out what I assumed to be his own hesitation.
We critiqued two student short stories each week, in a way that now reminds me of a cat playing with a mouse for sport. One student named Jeffrey loved the word irony and worked it into his criticism of every piece. “I think you’ve overdone it on the irony here,” he’d say, or “Scrap the ending. Too ironic.” I believe I succeeded in being respectful to every windbag I met in the halls of the English Philosophy Building where we converged for workshops and classes called Forms of Fiction, but sometimes I found it extremely challenging. To watch the windbags’ antithesis at work in the form of our teacher, Ted, was the balance my education needed.
Ted began each class with a short monologue. He’d speak about the themes that appeared in both of the week’s submissions, and the pitfalls both pieces presented and how they dealt with them. He’d thank the students who were about to go under the knife, and from that point on he’d say no more. He was a head-wagger and full body stutterer. His shoulders contorted and his back arched as he tried to speak. I don’t know the technical terms involved in stuttering, but I do know that for Ted, with a stutter as extreme as his was, making himself understood, unless on paper, was a magnificent act of courage. And endurance. Even that short monologue was an endurance exercise for him, and for the class of young whipper-snappers who’d decided they had enough to write about to try and make a career of it. Or they knew enough about writing to imagine themselves right there in Ted’s seat one day. And not just one day, but one day soon.
I understand now, looking back on all of us, that of course we had little to write about and that was the reason for all the talk. All the windy holding-forth that happened in that classroom was the direct result of having nothing to say. And the fact that Ted didn’t interrupt us, didn’t intervene and scold us, or at least beg us to tame our bulging egos, the fact that he sat in silence while we all carried on, strikes me now as its own teaching tool, but a tool we didn’t know how to accept when it was given to us, nor how to use if we could accept it. Silence wasn’t fashionable in our twenties. We believed language was our life. And the subtleties of silence, the wide worlds of difference between deference, defeat, and tact, wouldn’t dawn on us for a long time.
I hear that some years ago Ted lost his sight, and through a risky operation it was restored to him, but during that time he lost his stutter, or most of it. What an extraordinary development for a man, a writer, who has always expressed himself within the safety of the written word. To venture out into the spoken, but with the understanding that less said is often the greater gift. A lesson for all of us.
What fascinated us that summer was Mr. Burden’s bomb shelter. We came across it deep in the woods one day, a squat gray concrete bunker with heavy metal doors that stood open. Inside, four or five spacious storerooms filled with cans of food and water. We’d never seen water in a can before. The place was filled with novelty and mystery.
It looked to me like Pharaoh’s tomb. There were rows of geraniums planted on the roof. “To disguise it,” said one of my older cousins. “From the air,” added another. “But no one has a garden of geraniums,” said my sister, the future botanist. “They’re houseplants. Have you ever seen a garden of geraniums?”
We decided Mr. Burden wasn’t a detail man. He’d ordered a roof garden to disguise his bomb shelter from enemy planes, and if geraniums were on sale that week, he got geraniums. Inside, it was cold and echoey. I tried to imagine the Burden family holed up in this uninviting place while a nuclear bomb destroyed the world around them. It took out their friends, their enemies, their schools, their livelihood. It took out their home, their gardens, their artwork. It destroyed huge swatches of the natural world that gave them joy. The fires ignited by the blast burned right up to the door of their bomb shelter. The geraniums didn’t survive. Nothing did.
I was only ten, but I’d had a Cold War childhood. Earlier that year, the Cuban Missile Crisis put New York City in the crosshairs. I stood at the window of our Manhattan apartment and looked out at the eerie urban glow and wondered if Khrushchev really wanted to kill us all, and if so, how fast that would happen. I was initiated enough to understand the scope of destruction carried by nuclear weapons, and I felt the communal dread and fear. Air raid drills and fallout shelters were part of my vocabulary. We’d been ducking into our lockers at school and heeding the sirens for a couple of years.
So to come upon the bomb shelter, the manifestation of dread and fear, was almost a relief. Here before us, set in concrete, was the enemy, the danger, and our constructed response to it. Here was the way to fight evil, because good and evil were much in fashion back then. We relied on one to sanctify the other. We were children, and that made sense. Apparently, it made sense to the adults in our world as well. The great divide between right and wrong must have been alive in Mr. Burden’s heart, given the effort he expended creating his tomb or fortress. Later, when none of us wanted to return to that place in the woods, the reason we gave was that it was ugly. No one wanted to admit to being afraid of it and what it stood for. Instead, it was ugly.
I urge us to consider every possibility besides the ugly one in our dealings with those among us with whom we disagree. While good and evil are tempting paradigms, they’re more convenient than accurate, and in the end they lead to inconveniences from which it’s difficult or impossible to recover.
I’ve been sleeping outside recently, and I don’t know if it’s the stars talking to me, or the wisdom offered by this particular moment in the vast space we call time, but I’m beginning to grasp the absurdity of the value we place on money. Maybe the word “value” is what’s absurd. It calls into play a hierarchy that’s entirely human-created. Take the stars, for example. Not only do they not know they’re stars, but they have no preference for stardom. What surrounds them and consumes them isn’t of “value,” it’s just what surrounds and consumes them—and it’s not even that. In the words of the old Buddhist joke, language is the horse we ride. We forget we’re riding it. It sets us up for valuing one thing over another. It sets us up for seeing things as things.
Shells, turquoise, gold, tea. These have all been used as currency in the past. I can imagine a future, right around the corner, where the ability to walk, to see, to laugh are our new currency. A good memory, a torn grocery receipt, a leaf under the car. Equal value. Imagine that. A pig’s nose, a lump in a throat, a whip being whipped, a frown being frowned.
Like language, which deals in concepts, and replaces objects with the idea of objects, money separates us not only from our experience of the world, but from each other. Money has become an uber-concept, moving from copper, nickel, silver and paper, to plastic, to numbers in the air. Some people’s numbers have more value than others? They’re numbers in the air! 64 is of greater value than 63? I don’t understand it. What I understand is that two fish feed more people than one fish.
For a few years I lived in a farmhouse in Iowa. Like many old farmhouses, it was a winter haven for mice. They made their way in and out through the many holes in the walls. One evening I came home, stepped into the kitchen and turned on the light. Something over at the stove caught my eye. The front burner appeared to be moving on its own, a slow circling movement I had no context for and therefore no language. Without language, I was invited into the direct experience of what I saw. This, I believe, is the definition of mystery.
As I watched, I felt a kind of excitement that wasn’t burdened by anticipation or fear. It felt like a pure and very present experience of vibrant curiosity. It lasted only briefly, and then the moving burner revealed itself to be a large bull snake, uncoiling from the warm place it had hoped to spend the night. Thought, language, value returned immediately. Along with the snake, the energy of the moment was gone.
I’d like to suggest this: Every time you grab numbers out of the air in exchange for a thing, a purchase, an hour of labor, consider the real value involved, not the value assigned. That makes this world less about money and more about connection. Not just human connection, but the interplay of, simply put, everything.
It’s a word my sister used after the death of Justice Ginsburg, when it became clear that the administration would be moving ahead as quickly as possible to fill her vacant Supreme Court seat. My sister, who lives in Australia, often wakes up these days to a round of staggering news from her homeland, and puts in a pre-coffee call to one of us here in the States. It’s three in the afternoon by our clock. By now we’ve had some time to digest whatever the day has thrown at us. But that day was hard. That loss was larger than most. There was little comfort we could offer each other, and by the end of the call we had worn out our grieving and were both feeling angry and defeated by the willingness of those in power to rush through a nomination that will change the way laws are decided in this country for the next two decades. That’s when she used the word. She said, “It’s unseemly.” And I said, “If you’re looking for seemly, you’ll have to look somewhere else. As political leadership goes, we are living in a time of almost unimaginable unseemliness in this country.” Her two boys needed breakfast and we hung up shortly after that.
We all arrive with our ideas and opinions, which on the low side of things turn toward judgments and a failure to understand. We are all capable of “unseemly.” But here’s the good news. That word has an antonym, and if we’re honest and look around with a fair mind, there’s plenty of “seemly” to witness in the world. It sometimes comes in the mail, via eBay, like this one. Three sentences, written in a shaky hand. It arrived in a package containing four watchbands:
My apologies for my tardiness in my handling and shipping your
watchband to you. So I have enclosed 3 similar style watchbands
(free of charge) in the hopes that you will forgive me as this is not
my usual practice in business but I was in the hospital and was not
in the frame of mind to have put my store on a leave of absence,
but that is not your problem so I wanted to make it up to you! Thank
you for your understanding and hopeful forgiveness,
Marie Smith of Colorado Springs is an example of humility, good business, and seemliness. In the future, whenever I need a watchband, you can be sure I will buy it from her. (Though with her generous gift of four watchbands, I’ll be 87 years old before I’ll need to call upon her again. Thank you, Marie.)
Unseemly isn’t what we are, mostly, though it’s the one booming voice in a quiet room. It’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, as the homeless guy’s sign said in black crayon on cardboard: Come on man. This sucks. That’s honesty, no doubt, but for many of us, seemly is something we can adjust within ourselves. Our circumstances have given us the choice. It’s a tool to go high (when they go low). That old-fashioned word, seemly, let’s make it fashionable again. Let’s do it for Marie Smith, in the hospital, worrying about my watchband. Let’s do it for my sister in Australia who feels the grief of distance compounded by a fear for the future of her homeland. Let’s do it for Justice Ruth Ginsburg and all the well-intended lovers of the Constitution of the United States of America. And for ourselves, our girls, our boys. Our world. This pear-shaped spinning object of great beauty, depending on us as we depend on it.
What is it that eases my heart every time a train rumbles by? The predictability? The knowledge that when this one comes and goes, another will replace it? The sense of connection-by-track to the enduring cities of Los Angeles, Chicago, and other great metropolises of this nation? The understanding that through fire and snow, sickness and death, the engines move undeterred across our immense landscape? That nothing will stop it, except robbers looking for bags of money, and they are a thing of the past? That all the things that bring us to our knees right now will not bring the train to a halt? That the sound and vibration are surprisingly comforting, like being held and rocked inside an enormous tunnel by a fleshy, unapologetic body?
Often I wake up in the night, thinking the house is falling down, only to come to my senses and understand it’s a train. There is no feeling of panic. I have no sense of impending disaster. I reason with myself: the house is falling—again. No, it’s the train, the first engines dragging and the last ones pushing. In between, there’s only the steady heartbeat of wheels scouring the track.
It comes into my dreams in the same sinuous way it takes a corner. The other night it carried me to the river, the Colorado, and left me on a high wooden platform that wasn’t stage or dam, but a scaffold of sorts over which people were dragging their boats. Looking down at the river below, we gasped. The river, the lifeblood of the Southwest, was only creek-wide. You could walk across it. You could throw a barstool across it. “Still,” said one man lugging a kayak, “it’s the right color and all.” I wanted to tell him the deep clear green wasn’t the right color, actually, just the color we’d all gotten used to.
It was no dream the two summers I worked on a fire crew up in the Crown King district of the Prescott National Forest. They’d helicopter us in, we’d scrape line all night, then they’d tell us to walk out. We were seven short people, wore the same length jeans, and we’d hike out of there singing “Hi ho, hi ho.” Jean was the only other woman on the crew and she taught me how to get in a good nap when the fire died down and the air cooled off toward morning. Dig a trench, fill it with hot coals, throw dirt on top of that and lie down. Though I was just as likely to stay up with the boys, listening to their stories about life in the mountains. If we weren’t out in the burning woods, we’d gather in the Crown King saloon on a Saturday night and listen to the not-so-bad band singing Eagles songs and Crosby, Stills & Nash while the old-timers two-stepped. I was, for a brief time, a band member myself. Banged the tambourine.
Which speaks nothing of the terror of working a fire—from ahead of it if you’ve got the maneuverability and the wind cooperates, otherwise anywhere you can lay down a line. Meals Ready to Eat and frozen canteens of water. For me the scariest thing was knowing I had a fire shelter in my pack, it looked like something you’d wrap a baked potato in before throwing it directly on the coals. That shelter frightened me more than anything else about that summer (except the 1979 Castle Fire that started in Crown King’s backyard). Knowing that I had on my person a tube of tinfoil whose purpose was to keep me alive as a fire ran over me—knowing I was supposed to keep from scorching my lungs by breathing with my face in the dirt while the fire raged around me—something in this allowed me no comfort, no peace of mind. It was, had I known then what I know now, the opposite of what the train offers, holding and rocking me inside its great fleshy heart.
For years I had a chair I never sat in. “It’s the wrong color,” I said. “Pale blue and yellow. I can’t sit in a pastel chair.” So it sat by itself. Occasionally we piled blankets on it and yoga mats and meditation cushions. It took up quite a bit of space in the living room. It faced a window onto the busy street. For people-watching, it occupied prime real estate, but I didn’t sit in it. Nobody sat in it. “Those pastels,” I said.
I grew up in floral and pastel surroundings. My mother made slipcovers for all our chairs, and for reasons in line with the 1950s, she favored unobtrusive, non-declarative shades of green, blue and yellow. If roses were available against a background of beige, we sat on roses. I was in my late fifties before I understood that walls could be painted rich, deep colors and the house wouldn’t fall apart. We go to what we know, and other people are there to reroute us if we allow them to. I’m going to suggest we’re in a stubborn time in our country right now, simply because we keep going to what we think we know. And it does, to our surprise or satisfaction, keep producing the same outcomes. Until we reject those outcomes, we’ll continue to not sit in the pastel chair.
My mother moved out of the ‘50s along with everyone else. I was in college when she started using Marimekko fabric. Marimekko designs had big bold shapes, often in black and white, or a red or bright orange—seldom blue and green, and never yellow. In her own clothes she moved on to natural-colored linens that were quiet without being pastel. As her children left home she began to take risks, to move into unknown territory, and I must say there was a deep beauty about her boldness. Boldness, I saw, didn’t have to be loud, didn’t have to shout; it was a frame of mind that dared to explore a new way of being. We, as American people, lack boldness at this moment. Our trenches have deepened over the last four years and we’re digging in, going with what we’re sure we know, living in a vanishing past. We’re operating out of fear, a great wealth of it, suppressed and gone awry. Change, yes, both noun and verb. Change!
When I moved away from the house in which the pastel chair ruled our lives, I astonished myself by taking the chair with me. With one amendment. I took it to the upholsterer and asked my friend, Lynne, to come with me to pick out colors. I wanted rerouting; the whole situation needed rerouting. I exercised boldness and together we chose a magnificent red, a red subtly laced with orange and black, without one trace of blue or yellow in it. This chair—The Red Chair, as I call it—is now the chair I sit in to write. This morning, thinking about America from my perch in The Red Chair, and feeling the last soft days of summer breezing in through the window, and watching the play of light in the apple tree just beyond the window, I felt settled for the first time in half a decade. I felt sorry instead of disbelieving and angry. I felt myself as part of a great unknowing, willing to unknow. It is the boldest move we can make, to give up our investment in a fixed present, a familiar present, whether comfortable or not, and launch into an unknown that does not promise one damn thing except the satisfaction of daring to explore a new way of being. If there’s a chair in the room, please do what needs to be done to sit in it.
Impossibly, one Christmas my mother gave me a raccoon coat. It was not a new coat, but neither was it the worse for wear. The fur, or pelt might be a more accurate word, was not moth-eaten or sorry looking, if a bit dull, and my mother had replaced the entire lining with the same brilliant blue fabric that covered our living room chairs. She had rebuilt the coat from the inside and she presented it to me that Christmas, the Christmas I was twelve, with a beam of pride that broke my heart. Because the last thing in the world I wanted was to walk out into the jungle of New York City and through the doors of my school wearing a bunch of dead animals on my body. The last thing I wanted was a raccoon coat. I thanked my mother profusely, overdoing it to cover my shame. It was the shame of ingratitude, the anticipatory shame of arriving as I must in front of 610 East 83rd Street, my school, and being the laughing stock, the butt of the joke, the blushing target of everyone’s unmerciful teasing. Juanita Dugdale had worn a modest fur hat to school one day and for that she was crucified. I knew the consequences and my mother did not. Her plan was to save me in style from those cold New York winters, but in fact she was throwing me to the wolves.
My older sister’s best friend, Kate, was the first to land a dart. She looked me up and down and smiled dangerously as we stood at the bus stop together. “Height of prep,” was all she said. I remember the sting of it to this day. But I was grateful for the efficiency, the brevity of her blow. Others were not so reserved, or rather not so accurate in the delivery of their poison arrows, and several seemed genuinely confused as to whether or not the coat was made from our own pet raccoon, Mr. Peepers, who had come and gone in our lives several years before. I came home from school and stood as I always did in front of the cracker and potato chip closet above the built-in oven in our kitchen, and cried. I had not even bothered to take off the coat and I stood and hung my head and blubbered into the scratchy fur that came up to meet my face. Here it was, this hideous coat with its beautiful, elegant, blue as the blue sky lining, hand-sewn by my beautiful, elegant mother, and I had to choose. I had to either bear the shame or refuse the gift, which at that moment felt like refusing the gift of life she had also given me. With all its difficulties and uglinesses, I hadn’t refused that gift, had I? the gift of life? It was difficult and complicated, even hideous at times, but I had chosen to concentrate on life’s beautiful blue lining and now, I decided right there in the kitchen, I would do that again.
I was going to write about the Richmond statues this week, and the writing and rewriting of history, which is what history is—an ongoing draft of a story from different points of view. But I decided instead to write about flowers. Not because, like my line-toeing ancestors, I don’t want to ruffle feathers. I do, in fact. Healthy feather-ruffling leads to conversation and greater understanding, and what we need more than ever right now is some patient listening and a good exchange of ideas. But I haven’t been in a position to patiently listen to why it makes sense to venerate the heroes of a coalition against which we were at war, many of whom believed in a system of ownership of and forced labor by other human beings. I would like to listen to someone in whose mind that makes sense. I am curious to know how that makes sense. I would like to listen openly rather than shut my own mind to this difference between minds.
Notable: By the time of the Civil War, slavery wasn’t confined to the Confederacy. The Union had slave owners, too. The border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia were slave owning, and they continued to be after Abraham Lincoln’s famed Emancipation Proclamation. The president declared the slaves within the Confederate states free, but left slave ownership intact in the useful, resource-rich border states that supplied the Northern army. He did what he thought the war effort demanded, and played his political cards. He went on record as saying, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Food for thought.
Notable: In half of what I’ve read about Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and perhaps the best-known general, North or South, of the American Civil War, he seems like a pretty good guy. By that I mean fair, morally put-together, and capable of great feeling for the young men he ordered into battle. Also, by marriage, a slave owner, and not necessarily a kind one. He married the daughter of George Washington’s adopted son who inherited the Washington family’s slaves (yes, that George Washington), and a year-and-a-half into the Civil War Lee freed them. Notable: They were free and the slaves in the Union’s border states were not. Food for thought.
How we respond to the complexity of our fellow human beings, how we accommodate or damn them, is of great interest to me. But I was going to write about flowers. Why flowers? Because they’re beautiful, and when I tear them from the ground and place them in my house, they give me pleasure. Simple. I don’t have to accommodate or damn them. I don’t have to struggle with their complexity. I can just enjoy them, and more and more, as the turning of the world becomes less and less certain, or I should say, as the innate uncertainty of all life becomes more visible to our clouded eyes, or as someone recently said, as people become more and more themselves, we could use a little beauty, a little rest from confusion, conflict, loneliness and doubt. We could use a break from what we know we have to accept. Not right now, please. Five minutes more. Oh, take a look at those flowers!
But the last word must go to Robert E. Lee who, it’s said, objected to the idea of raising Confederate monuments. He thought it wiser “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.” He would, it seems, advocate the toppling of the statues, including and especially his own.
Last night my sister did the math. If she lives to be eighty years old, she’ll have five more biennial visits to the family summer place in Maine. Five. Five more family get-togethers on an island we’ve known since we were kids.
We were Zooming, all five of us, from Australia, California, Arizona, Minnesota and Connecticut, and we took in the news with appropriate sobriety. My youngest brother said, “Maybe you’ll live to ninety.” My sister, the Minnesotan, said, “Sure, but who’s going to drive me?” She’s afraid of flying and has big dogs besides. My youngest brother said, “I’ll drive you.” My older younger brother said, “I’ll drive you.” My youngest sister offered both her sons as drivers, even though that’s dicey and we all know it because Australians drive on the other side. I said, “I’ll drive you, but by the time you’re ninety I’ll be eighty-eight.” Not a good idea, we decided. “I’ll take the plane,” I said. “Maybe it’ll be safe to fly by then.”
It feels good to talk about mortality before it starts to weigh you down. Especially in a close family of people who will miss you when you’re gone. I can’t yet imagine life without my siblings, though my older younger brother tried to slip out in his thirties when he was mugged and suffered traumatic brain injury. I feel some relief to be the second oldest in our lineup. The grief of loss has long felt heavier to me than the fear of death. If we die in order, and there’s as good a chance as any that we won’t, I’ll only have to grieve my older sister. Sometimes I try and imagine stepping into her shoes, but it’s fruitless. Her shoes are hers and mine are mine.
I once had the pleasure of driving Heid Erdrich, the poet (though as things go, perhaps better known as the sister of Louise), to Tuba City to teach a poetry class to 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders. Crossing the Little Colorado River she said, “There’s a lot of similarity between Ojibwe families and the old Puritan families of New England.” I was interested and asked her to say more. “Well,” she said, “for example, my people gather in the summer in our summer hunting grounds. It’s the time for family reunions, for celebrating those who survived the winter and mourning those who did not. It’s a sacred time, a time for remembering where we come from and memorializing our kin. The old New England families have their summer places where they go to do the same.”
I’m a New Yorker, so not exactly of an “old New England family,” but close enough. We had a few Puritans who drifted up to Massachusetts a long time ago, but the rest were relative newcomers—Scots, Germans and a large handful of hungry Irish who got off the boat and stared at those Irish need not apply signs for several decades before they got a foot in the door. But as soon as the door opened, they followed the same instinct to come together, always just about the time the mosquitoes showed up.
So for all of you with a lake house memory, or a shore house memory, or if you’re experiencing, as I am, the thwarted seasonal urge to get together with family, know that you’re in good company. In the northern hemisphere, at least, the loss is being felt. My solution is to revise my definition of family to soften the feeling of longing. A friend came over the other day and brought me an apron she’d made. Family. Another friend loaned me her grommet set. Family. Another said, “Here’s a loaf of bread. You look like you could use it.” Family. We’re trying to help each other. We’re happy to do it. I talked to my sister on the phone and said, “Look. Five get-togethers is five get-togethers. That’s not so puny. And if you have five, I only have six. If that’s what’s on offer, we’ll take it, right?” “Right,” she said. “We’ll take it.”
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