I’m listening, but want to ask more questions than you’ll answer, I think. What do I want? What we all want – to be another’s remarkable, and not just a memory from a time. To be the zenith everlasting – to be the beginning that doesn’t pass away. And failing all that, to reach for someone in the night who’s reaching for me in that same moment knowing we’re the music we hear.
One winter evening after the first snow, a cat entered my home. I had wanted a cat and named her Sadie – not because I’d been waiting for a Sadie, but because a Sadie had come in from the cold. Her winter days were spent watching the birds eat suet and napping on my bed in the afternoons. Two weeks after the last snow storm in April, she slipped out the door and followed spring down the brick walk toward birdsong and flowers. She paused and looked back at me, perhaps the only one who had shown her love. Each night to my surprise, she would return when I called her name. Again this winter with the first snow, Sadie curled up on the sofa by the old woodburner to stay indoors through winter…just long enough to want to run free in spring…just long enough to want to return home come end of day.
I finally jostled the drawer free that had been stuck since I bought the old place in Scranton. A letter underneath slid to the floor. There was no return address and the paper was yellowed with age. It was addressed to Miss Jenny Maguire, 23 McGivney Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania. There was no stamp. I sat down and opened it. My Dearest Jenny, I tell myself I won’t write you again. I tell myself I must forget. Every day seems harder than the last. If the nights and days were only ours…if I hadn’t ever loved you…if you hadn’t passed away before our wedding day. What remains of us I have hidden here in the attic. It may be that no one will ever know. Sleep, my Jenny, Jeremiah.
I’d never been to the attic. I’d had no need. But when I looked I saw an old chest and two wooden chairs. The chest held only a man’s clothes from a time I didn’t know. And there was a yellowed silk camisole with elaborate lace at the neckline. This couldn’t be what he meant by “hidden.” But there was a wide piece of wood nailed at an odd angle at the front end of the attic. I removed it as it seemed unnecessary, and there was a large leather-bound portfolio tacked on the underside. Inside the portfolio: Jenny.
She wore the camisole from the trunk. One shoulder was bare. Her long skirts touched the floor. Her clothing looked Victorian. She wore a cloth choker at her neck with a cameo. Her hair in an unkempt bun. Always looking down or away. Of the eight ink drawings, there was one in which she smiled. It is my favorite. Jeremiah had signed each page. I believe this was their courtship, to meet privately where he could draw her like this. I believe this was his heartache that he wanted someone to know.
I researched Jenny and discovered her engagement to a Jeremiah Johansson, a portrait artist who never married. Jenny Maguire died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-two in 1887.
Driving home from a vacation in the North Country this past June, the old wooden sign out by the road simply said EGGS. I told Barry that I wanted to stop. So there we were on a one-lane dirt road through what could have been a Christmas tree farm. The trees were so neatly planted in rows. We came to a fork in the road with two signs: CHRISTMAS TREES and EGGS. Well, I forgot all about eggs and suddenly in summer, I wanted a Christmas tree. So off we went to the left through what was now a Christmas tree farm. There was a building with a sign: SHOUT FOR OL’ HENRY. We got out of our truck and began shouting. A wizened old man with a twinkle in his eye and a limp came round the corner of the building saying, “You don’t have to shout!” Then he winked. He said, “You folks lookin’ to celebrate Christmas?” We felt foolish, but had to admit that’s just what we were going to do. The tree we purchased was the most perfect tree I’d ever seen. On our way home I realized, “Barry! I have no gifts for you!” He laughed. So we stopped at a $5 Store and promised we wouldn’t look in each other’s cart. Now it would be Christmas! If you’re curious, this Christmas (in June), I received five egg cozies, a beach towel and two pairs of flip flops. I gave Barry a rain gauge, some bird seed and a wallet that he still favors – I must admit. Yes, we wrapped our gifts. Yes, we went all out with lights, ornaments and tinsel. And yes, Ol’ Henry sold us that tree for only $3 because he said, “I like you folks!”
I’ve made up my mind about us living together. I woke this morning to thoughts of you that couldn’t help themselves like spring when it’s lush with flowers. There is an urgency to tulips, and as you know, I hoard the many colors at the florist because all are not enough. I haven’t told you, but I have a plan for the front yard to be a field pell-mell with tulips. Nothing orderly, nothing hesitant. I want people driving by to know how love is urgent, how the two people who live here couldn’t help themselves and made a home together in “that house on Osprey Way.” I want them to know my answer was Yes !
We were a spoon lost in their large bed over winters by the shore in the main house employed as caretakers while the owners headed to Boca Raton. Those were special times for us. The showers for two, the private screening room and extensive film library, all the white rooms with their Chagall’s and Miro’s – all ours for a season. The rest of the year, we rented a small suite of rooms above the garages on the owner’s land. During those seasons, we worked at the drive-up Dairy Mart. We each worked a shift six days a week making “milk money.” One night in summer, he asked me, “Are you happy?” I answered, “In winter.” He said, “Me, too.” Then we sat up far too late talking crazy talk of owning the main house somewhere, some way, someday. We didn’t know it then, but summer would become the joy when the future was full, when a thought could take us far beyond the main house into our dreams.
It’s amaretto coffee, it’s an Arthur Miller play, it’s cranking Mozart, it’s a ride in hay, it’s a cashmere sweater, it’s the Times Book Review, it’s an Ida Red apple, it’s hickory in the air, it’s coffee cake baking, it’s a letter from a friend, it’s a crazy quilt, it’s a country walk, it’s the hills changing color and young Gracie who looks up from where she plays on the floor and asks, “He’s everywhere, Mama?” Smiling, you shake your head yes as sun fills the kitchen, and the cat takes her place in an open cupboard.