The Treehouse Chronicles: The small stuff that fills up the stories of our lives
rying to leave home on a holiday is not as easy it seems. It would seem that we could simply pack a few bags, say a few goodbyes and be off. Not us!
Most of the 52 weeks of our year go by in a kind of formulaic parade: waking to the day, gathering our forces for work, re-gathering those now dwindling energies to make dinner, curling up with a book and before gaining many paragraphs falling into an impenetrable sleep — a close-to-humdrum existence. Or is it?
Not exactly, for since we are privileged to live on the island, we all know I’m leaving out spectacular mornings watching the “rosy fingertips of Dawn” paint the horizon (description courtesy of Homer) or long walks along the sandy island shore to the pounding rhythms of the sea. In truth, living is so amazing here on a day-to-day basis that He-who-shares-the-spaces-of-my-life often intones: “I don’t have to go anywhere else. This extraordinary island is surely enough for me.” (In words more or less to that effect — and I certainly grant the truth of his sentiments.)
Those who have followed our saga know that in our family, he is often called the “armchair traveler,” preferring exotic field trips via National Geographic to travel necessitating actual motion. So how is it that every now and then we slip an adventure into our lives?
No romantic barge excursion
I admit that this reversal of the usual order, this thing called travel, generally comes in the shape of an annual visit to the western branch of our family: our youngest daughter Nancy, her husband David and our irresistible grand-dogs, Target and Scooter.
Now, this is not travel on the level of a romantic barge excursion through the rivers of Europe, or even a trek through the museums of London and Paris seeking culture. This is us in search of family fun and connectedness and whatever is new and interesting that can be introduced into the bargain.
I was about to tell you about the forces of opposition marshaling against our leavetaking. Though nothing like the blizzards of 2011, this year pulled out a different scenario, which began with me finding our car in the Galilee lot with its brake pedals down on the floor. I cannot imagine exactly what the car had been doing between having been parked a week earlier and my discovery of its suddenly critical condition. (Doesn’t it make you wonder about the inanimateness of inanimate things?)
Not to be daunted and holding my breath all the way, I drove the ailing auto at something like 10 miles an hour to Northrup’s for rescue. (This is a really terrific auto repair place in Wakefield.) After owner Bill Northrup went to re-park it — moving it only 10 feet — he said to me, “You must have been terrified driving this thing!” This briefly transcendent moment ended all too soon, when I learned that it would be no insignificant task to restore our car to rights, and it could not be fixed before we were to leave the state.
Nor could He-who-usually-comes-to-my-rescue get off the island. So it was that after a winter that was so mild it was worrisome, and just a few days before we were to leave, March contrived to throw a characteristic tantrum: winds so wild as to cancel the boat. There we were: he on island and I stranded, without car, at the Hampton Inn!
Saved by the brilliant thinker-on-his-feet
Worries piled on worries: would He get off on Sunday? We were to fly out Monday morning: would we have to cancel our flight? The whole thing was just too much! However, brilliant thinker-on-his-feet that he is, my admired companion suggested a car rental.
This would certainly help me keep family commitments and continue to make mainland preparations for our trip — in the event it would actually come to pass. So it was by the skin of my teeth, and just minutes before early afternoon closing on Saturday, that Enterprise, as good as its advertised word, came to pick me up. (Though this is not meant to be a commercial, the three merchants mentioned here deserve kudos for instant availability, dependability and kindness.)
Eventually, my kicker-of-tires and protector-of-other-essentials did get off island, and we were soon winging our way westward-ho. You will perhaps think how absurd it is that anyone can spend so much time talking about the insignificant incidentals of life. I am here to respond: it is these very insignificant incidentals that clutter up the minutes and hours of our lives.
I might have been reading Proust
Don’t I know I might have spent those moments that were lost to useless anxiety on reading the second volume of Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” where I left off the monumental tome years ago? Or I might have done something useful, like visit someone I love, or make vegetarian lasagna, or even make vegetarian lasagna for someone I love.
It always comes down to the small stuff that we’re told not to sweat. However, it is the small stuff that makes up the transformative daily stories of our lives. Like the time that my sneaker lace got caught in the treads of an escalator going up. Frantically trying to extricate my foot from the sneaker as we rose closer and closer to the top, I managed to wiggle out just in time to trip off the top of the restless treads and fall in a heap on the second floor of a now-defunct Jordan Marsh store.
In the end, my sneaker could be removed from the escalator only when the mechanism was turned off. I cannot even describe my chagrin or the degree of red on my red face. Just the same, by the time I calmed down enough to drive home, I had a story to tell my family — who fell all over themselves convulsing at my haplessness. And it didn’t end there; they went on to regale their friends with a new tale beginning, “You’ll never guess what happened to my mother!”
So it is that I feel it’s in the midst of telling stories that we infuse our lives with meaning — though the nature of that meaning may be left to conjecture. For me there is something remarkable in the transmutation of mundane embarrassment to stand-up-comic hilarity. For a moment or two, I become something other than my usual familiar self to those who know me, and even to myself. “Who is that person making others laugh?” we all wonder.
The truth is that our kids don’t really think I’m very funny — that is, in the aggregate — though they do laugh at individual tales. Like the time I told about how on one trip to California I found myself in a bookstore during a light earthquake. “Oh,” the thought instantaneously flashed through my mind, “they will say of me, ‘How fitting! They found her under the rubble of books in the ruins of a Barnes and Noble.’”