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Remembering the Things that Matter

Delivering a eulogy for someone you’ve known for decades isn’t easy. There’s a bottomless treasure trove of memories, so it’s hard to select the right ones. The ones that will matter to most of the funeral attendees — or that might matter the most to one person? Or maybe that matter most to you, as a speaker? Without the eulogy going on for like two hours. I bet someone, somewhere has set a record for the longest eulogy. Maybe in other countries or galaxies they are very long indeed.

Recently we held a service for sacred Aunt Natalie. Natalie was not technically our aunt, she was our cousin once removed, the cousin of our father. She grew up in Vermont, became a teacher, married a state trooper, and had my two cousins—I mean second cousins. They were the reason my family visited Vermont, and came to love Vermont for more than just her natural beauty.

O, her seasons, all distinct! The fifth season called Mud Season. Stick Season, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, revealing magnificent textural backdrops – and awful housepaint jobs. Grit Season (when winter’s road-sand blows around after the snow’s gone) and Manure Season (when the entire state is fertilized, to our vegetably anticipation and olfactory dismay). Surely there are sub-seasons involving flora or fauna that Dear Reader relishes. Not Black Fly Season.

Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of one season and flash forward into another season entirely. Do you do this? It’s mind-blowing because Vermont is like a different planet in each. I time-travel to the alternate season and think, “Wow, winter: white!” Or: “Summer…wow.”

As with the seasons, I flash back to years gone by. Younger versions of us, the now-gone people still alive — all laughing — us kids up to some mischief. Feels like yesterday. It blindsides me when I’m driving. I cry. As friend Lee says, “It always seems to happen in the car.” 

Back to the cousins. We visited Vermont because our Scottish great-great-great grandparents, blacksmiths, had settled there. The introduction of the automobile caused my dad’s father to pursue other work, in Ohio, where he met his bride. Their summer trips back to Vermont got my dad hooked on ‘mont. Once a parent himself, he got us kids hooked. Back then, kids didn’t get to choose family vacations (as if!). Thank God our parents chose Vermont.

You visit a place not just for her physical characteristics, but for her people. Think of places you’ve been (Maine, the south, islands, Italy) and the locals there with qualities different from people at home, lending that place its particular flava. 

When even one person leaves the planet, the flava of Earth changes, no? Most of you have lost someone close to you. In my (second) cousins’ vernacular, it’s wicked hard.

My Aunt Natalie was born with a spark. Neighbors, hairdressers, toll booth operators … she left an impression on each. You know how some relatives were old your entire life? Natalie always looked to be 50 years old, even at 80. She always wore shorts. But mostly I recall her sparkle and humor and a kind of innocence that seemed like it was from another era. Because it was.

Swimming with Natalie by moonlight in Silver Lake! As my sister said, she had a way of making the everyday magical. She was a true lover of children. Whether you were you pounding out Grand Old Flag on the piano or had sketched an inscrutable picture of nothingness, she’d exclaim, “BeaUtiful!” She made children feel valuable, which I think many children did not feel in decades past. 

Ah, cousins: the gift of noisy fun. Those classic Thanksgivings, Memorial and Labor Days, and of course The Fourth. Something called “bull beans.” Treks via inner tubes to the Barnard General Store for penny candy. Making a game of anything at all. The parents sending us to Richardson’s with returnable bottles to get them “supplies.” We got candy. 

Countless holidays over countless years, always with music, always with laughter. Ever effusive, Natalie would tell my mother, “You make the BEST salads!” My dad would howl, because what’s really involved in a salad? When it was time for my family to leave Vermont, I would cry and my brother would hide, so that leaving became – briefly – impossible. 

Natalie passed bit by bit from our lives.  But these memories remain forever indelible, of an energetic and vivacious woman so greatly loved.  As Dear Reader knows, we never forget those we adored. Our pain at our loss is a beautiful pain. An honoring. As sad as it makes us.

Thank you, Aunt Natalie, for years and years of fun and art and music and jubilance and adventures and hilarity … and most of all, most of all, for your smile and voice and laugh. 

If Dear Reader knows what I’m talking about, maybe today at some point: look up! Say Hello to your people gone by. Tell them you remember, you remember all of it. That you just know you’ll see them again. Good remembering, and good day.

My Favorite Artist-in-Residence

Ha, I know an Artist-in-Residence! At the large, cool, and prestigious Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY. You can take classes with her there, elsewhere, or online.

She makes beautiful art out of single-use plastics and more.

Visit the web page in the screenshot by clicking on the below:

Taming the March Hare

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a heck of a time concentrating, prioritizing, and just generally getting stuff done this month. It’s not that I’m not doing things, I’m just not getting all of them done.  I can’t wrap my arms around it. 

I’m not blaming it on cabin fever, endless shoveling, Covid fog, menopause, or dementia. I’m blaming it on a world so fraught with troubles that I can’t sleep, which really screws up your mood and cognitive abilities. And blaming it a bit, of course, on the March Hare.

To refresh, as some of you know I’ve written about this leporid before: the expression “mad as a March hare” – “mad” as in British for loony – comes from the bizarre boxing matches, leaps, and chases during the hare’s mating season in March. Other hare facts: they live mostly in the west, cannot interbreed with rabbits with their different number of chromosomes, and are mostly nocturnal – except for in March. 

Hares have never actually been domesticated, so the title of this column refers, in part, to doing the impossible. The impossible, in my case, means trying to keep on top of everything, at work and at home, in March. Sometimes it feels for a brief moment as if things are going smoothly, doesn’t it? I call this “the illusion of control” and it is very satisfying indeed when it occurs. “Is everything under control?” I ask people. “For now!” some answer. Take it and run (or box, or leap) with it while it lasts.

This column’s title also refers to navigating the madness — March itself is crazy. Many months can be, but March is reliably so. In like a lion? And sometimes out like one. Perilous mud hazards that freeze overnight into death grooves? Definitely. Feeling serene, as if all is right with the world? Definitely not. Occasional warm-ish days, the school kids in shorts in strong winds? Yepper. The flip-flopping weather makes us nutty. I’m naming this Transitional Confusion. We’re boggled. Well, the first move in taming a problematic situation is just acknowledging that there is one. Then knowing how to let what’s entirely out of your control run free (or box or leap). 

March is also the peak of skunk mating season, which is not an astonishing visual event like the hare’s, but an olfactory one. Little fellers are OUT. The woodpeckers are at it, too. That’s a real auditory nuisance when they choose standing seam as their instrument of choice. 

Sick of winter, with its brutal holiday winds, soggy muck, and epic snowstorms? I said to my Vermont-born neighbor, “It’s snowing again Tuesday! A heavy, wet snow!” as the plow leaves a wall of cement-grade sludge at the end of our driveway with each pass. My neighbor’s laconic, Vermonty response: “We’ll get there.” 

True. That’s calming. But first: mud season! It’s like mourning. There’s no way around it; you just have to go through it. Major seasonal transitions, these, from snow to mud to gorgeous SPRING. Expect confusion.

How to Manage Transitional Confusion and Generalized Weirdness

•If you don’t feel like doing something that badly needs doing, just do something else that also needs doing, but maybe a hare less. Then you’ll feel like a winner, not a loser, even if not the right kind of winner.

•I asked my dentist why my dental floss smelled so bad (no idea why I huffed it…chalk it up to March). She said, “Because you’re scraping off plaque that is fermenting.” It ferments from bacteria. And if that doesn’t get you to floss, I don’t know what will. Cram flossing into your to-do list?

•Go to the movies. So sane-making. The smell of the popcorn, the trailers promising future fun, the snickering with your seatmate, the movie itself on a big screen in a dark theater. Best of all, perhaps, the Shared Experience in a roomful of strangers—some of whom laugh at things you didn’t catch as funny, some eating noisily, some openly bawling at the ending (guilty as charged … of all three). As we isolate in our homes, streaming and watching TV, the Shared Experience with strangers is lost entirely. But when you leave the theater, you feel refreshed somehow by this magical communal outing.  For Dear Reader that probably means Randolph, which boasts the oldest cinema in Vermont, or maybe Montpelier, Waitsfield, Barre, or Hanover. Rutland’s remains closed, alas. Grab a friend and go! You won’t regret it. 

•Make or see art? Get materials and tools from Brainstorm Art Supplies in Randolph and make something, or just soak up the cool vibe in there. Listen to music. Visit galleries. Cook, before it gets too hot to.

•Go outside, close your eyes, and just listen. You’ll hear crows, jays, geese, insects, weird trillings and whirrings, gruntings, and soon: peepers! Savor the freshness of the chill air.

•Retire sooner at night and read a book – or a feature story in this paper. So you can awaken earlier in top form, fit to endure morning skunk bouquets and Woody Woodpecker’s relentless rattlings.

The word “hare” cries out for a listing of punny salon names, but luckily for Dear Reader I’m out of space. Feel free to submit your favs.

We’ll get there. Good day, and good transition.

Ann Aikens

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