Saturday, November 24, 2012

Windy lake

The weather changes in a flash. One afternoon winter sunlight low in the sky is magnified too brightly and beams directly into the glass porch off the lake. The next the temperature drops thirty degrees, wind chimes dong coppery, and everything is gray—gray sky, gray water, gray trees, gray cottages, gray geese flying and honking—everything that is except the white caps on top of shuffling waves and foam rickracking across the surface.

It was November like this the first weekend we spent at the cottage with oaks on the hill black-striping the view down to the lake. I was seven and it was 1963. Grandpa had bought the house for Mom and us kids so we would have a place in case something happened to Dad. We owned no home as the parsonage belonged to the church.

There was no TV here that first weekend, but there was a radio, and from it we learned that President Kennedy had been shot. After that Dad decided to take us all home early so we could watch things unfold on the black and white TV.

Of course something eventually did also happen to Dad, and to Mom, Grandpa, our brother, uncles, aunts and our one cousin from Virginia who visited the lake with us in 1966. We euphemistically held their deaths at arm’s length of some future day: Something will happen. Now their frozen faces smile at us from photographs on the fridge, knotty pine walls and shelves.

This Thanksgiving weekend I read letters from the dead in the white scraps of waves. They keep coming and coming from the other side. I couldn’t keep them from coming if I tried. There is comfort in these letters that seem to say over and over, “It’s really all right that something has happened” as they slap and dissolve against our shore wall. Geese fly, honking, in the opposite direction, and the wind chimes are blown every which way imitating their flight, their sound, their life.


  1. November with its wintery changes reminds of the death of all things. I like the image of rick rack foam writing letters from loved ones. My father (age 96) says you have to get used to losing lots of folks you love if you live to be old. He said it in a matter of fact way that showed me he's been able to do this although we worried he wouldn't survive the death of my mother. I was reminded of that conversation when you said you couldn't stop loved ones from coming fron the other side. Especially at this time of year. Thanks for sharing your musings, Ruth. I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful with your new grandson. I'm grateful for you in my life.

  2. A place can do that, fold your days and resurrect the memories. Beautiful reverie.

  3. such vivid language, tested on the pulse -- wind chimes dong coppery ... the white caps on top of shuffling waves and foam rickracking across the surface -- that the first three paragraphs seem the opening lines of a novel that i would like to read

    mircea eliade (perhaps:-) says one of the values of knowing a place through the decades, through a lifetime, is that it keeps us in touch with our dead ... i know this, i think -- whenever we return to the locality of childhood, the dead gather from their mist and speak ...

  4. I love the melancholy here. I *feel* it... And love the imagery - especially the last paragraph. I know my mother probably feels this way too - at the Holidays. Dad gone since 1985 (when she was merely 57) and her mother since 1998. And the rest of us just trying to make it through the day with all the family baggage lurking around the table - not wanting to feel the losses and the lack of family cohesiveness; each year hoping things will *feel* different - shielding ourselves from the loss to come.

  5. Ruth yesterday's weather seem to pull us back to reality (didn't it?)

    The weather during the week gave us a false sense of how easily it can change and so it did. It blew in and reminded us that it's November and like you said about past loved ones. Our love ones are there one minute and gone the next, just like the weather did yesterday. The older I get I am finding myself thinking about past holiday's when my grandparents and my Aunt and a couple of my Uncles were still alive. I still feel they are there with us during those times.

  6. Woke to that cold air reaching PA. Waves of letters. Conversations on Thanksgiving brought some waves here.

  7. A nice piece, Ruth, and I find those comforting letters to be very reassuring. The advice seems to echo the words of Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

  8. My memory of that first year, Ruthie, is coming home from college to see the cottage for the first time. And as Dad took you home early to watch the assassination unfold on TV, all I wanted to do was go home and be with you all. I'll never forget that time in our collective life. I'm sure we all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing.

    I didn't know cousin Marjorie made it to the cottage. There are more memories there than any of us know, I'm sure.

    I would have loved experiencing all that weather with you last week!

  9. Once again you have expressed perfectly and beautifully something that I have been feeling and experiencing. Is it season, the holidays, the place, all of the above that keeps these letters coming, coming, coming....


All responses are welcome.