The Block Island Times

Time to Go Home

By Martha Ball | Jan 18, 2014

My dining room table is old, the kind with a leaf or two or three, down now to one, which I consider some minor victory. It collects paper in a way that surely defies science and leaves me every month or so sorting, which really means realigning piles of paper, as I search for one particular thing.

That’s when I rediscover the things I should have thrown away, today two plastic bags with “We Care” emblazoned on them, and everyone knows when that is the preface nothing good can follow. The bags, now put where they belong, in the trash, contained a corner of a mangled check and enough of a return address to ascertain the sender, me.

It is a lesson in paying bills ahead of time because the Post Office might just almost destroy that all-important insurance premium and sort of lose it before finding the pieces and sending them pack in that ultimate insult of an envelope. “We hope you understand” is part of the text and, of course, I do, these things happen in the best of operations. It is the insurance company that neither cares nor understands, not that it seems any incentive for them to accept electronic payments.

Well, I meant to put them in the trash, more likely, I will toss one and pin the other to the wall, a reminder of the emptiness of corporate words as well as one to pay bills with plenty of lead time.

The Post Office does give as well as take away. Later that day I found in my box one of those keys to a compartment in the locker-like wall of boxes large enough for smallish parcels. Inside was a package from my cousin, for a year now, I realize with a start, my oldest cousin, the mantel that was for my lifetime rested on her older brother, Nick.

She always sends something, a sweater I would never buy that turns out to be the perfect color, one of those little fleece blankets that is so much warmer than one would imagine looking at it, and other . . . stuff. One year, it was a pair of cow slippers, another a birthday present arrived in June with her brother. I opened it, found a Lucille Ball lunchbox and blurted out “whatever am I going to do with this?” Nick said simply “Connie” as if I had asked a really, really dumb question, even for a non right-winger.

Amazingly, a turn of the calendar later a notice appeared on Block Island Bulletin Board, someone looking for... old lunchboxes! It wasn’t old but it fit the bill and I had no guilt knowing she’d think its finding yet another home great fun.

This year, almost three weeks after Christmas, came a box filled with softness and comfort; it was a Hallmark commercial without the requisite product placement and it could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Then the rain came, almost erasing the earlier memory of a sky soft with layers of blue and gray, the type of dawn that leaves those of us gathered for Sunrise Service on Easter finally having to admit that our part of the world has turned its face to a morning gone undercover, lurking behind an opaque wall of clouds. It was the depressing January rain that gives a look of death to the sleeping earth and encourages any dirt not well secured by roots to turn to mud. The field was spongey underfoot, the road springy between puddles.

Following are the nights we hope for a drying breeze to take away the worst of it while we sleep and — it being Block Island — that wish is often granted.

Autumn, my almost six-month old almost golden retriever, sits in my entry, protected from the rain, then sticks her nose out the door and barks when the wet hits her. Once out she is the picture of “in for a penny, in for a pound” not seeming to notice she is getting soaked as she lies on the grass gnawing at some root or piece of wood or horrifyingly unidentifiable piece of plastic found in her explorations of the old shed.

She comes in only under protest, and lets me rub her with an old towel.

She is a baby, still, and hasn’t yet quite learned the great dog art of shaking water from her coat. She starts then stops herself, but be it fear of instability on her feet or simply not understanding, it is instinct making her do something she had not intended. And every time it happens I think how many more days will I have before she catches on and I am grabbing her before she sets her coats to rippling and sends spray all over the room.

Finally, it clears, and a big moon, joined by a handful of the strongest stars, turns the drying earth to a weirdly colorless landscape where I can never be sure what traces of color I truly see and what I know to be there. There are huge puddles in the last bit of Mansion Road, from the corner to the hill that rises to the site of the old foundation. Wherever the moon is hanging it is not shining on the water as it will be when I turn to go home and my only alert of the huge pool before me is the splash of Autumn’s feet, the point at which I conceded to needing a flashlight.

We do not normally go down to the parking lot, around the remains of the foundation, but there is something different about the site in the moonlight. The retaining walls seem to rise higher against the sky, and the site that has been familiar literally my entire life is suddenly eerie, the ghosts of Manderley and Thornfield Hall rising from ashes cooled decades ago.

In the brief time it takes to walk from my house to what we still refer to as “the Mansion,” the clouds have weakened and more stars have joined the moon for their nightly dance across the heavens.

It is getting late, I tell Autumn, like it or not, it is time to go home and go to bed.

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