Rooms with a view

by Jennifer on May 28, 2008

(There’s a meme floating around that asks, among other things, “What were you doing 10 years ago?” It’s a question to which I can give a specific answer because my memories of that time are so clear.)

The summer before, I had moved into a perfect, lovely apartment in Woodbury, Connecticut (the town is called the Antique Capital of the World), on the second floor of a 200 year old house. The three main rooms were connected and ran along the front of the house, facing Main Street, and the kitchen and bath were at the back of the house. I found out soon enough which of the boards in the wood floor would creak, which windows needed a piece of wood to hold them open. The windows let in worlds of light.

My landlady was strong and self-assured, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She had lived alone in that house for decades, quite contentedly (thank you very much), without ever feeling the need to remarry after her second marriage ended. For some reason she liked me and offered me the apartment on sight, at a time when I needed a comfortable place to land. We became friends quickly, and our long talks over tea became an entertaining and comforting ritual.

Her name was Mary, and she was in her early 70s when I lived there. But there was nothing old-ladyish about the way she dressed. She lived frugally and shopped almost exclusively at secondhand stores, but she would find stylish trenchcoats, crisp white shirts, wide-legged trousers, and great accessories. She wore her white hair in a chic bob, and her skin was luminous and tight, without the aid of any doctor’s hand. In her younger days, she posed for at least one painter, and a portrait from those sessions hung above her fireplace. She was beautiful, then and now.

When I moved in, I had just left my first husband. In that apartment, I spent that winter and spring mostly alone. Blessedly alone. I took the time to sort out the end of my marriage and to conduct some personal archaeology. The rooms were cozy, warm, and old. I needed that sense of age and history just then, and had somehow lucked into finding it. It was good to know that things could last, instead of feeling as though the grace of a moment or the strength of a promise began to fade with every moment that followed, the way curtains begin to fade from the first day they are hung in a window.

I had a wide view of Main Street and the holiday parades that passed by in full view as I sat in one of the windows. Just up the road was a drugstore that Marilyn Monroe frequented when she was married to Arthur Miller. In fact, Arthur Miller would sometimes ring Mary’s phone number by mistake–it was one digit off from a number he called often. She came to know his voice and would tell him that he had gotten the number wrong once again.

That apartment was my favorite of all the many places I have lived. It suited me, and I liked who I was becoming in those rooms. I plotted what would come next and was sure I had it figured out. From that apartment, I drove alone in my Jeep to Montana and came back feeling certain that I would move there. That I had to move there, I loved it so much.

I was sure that I knew the sum of all the miles left inside me and where they would take me.

But life doesn’t care much for arrogant certainty, at least in my experience. Of course, it’s possible to say that you’re going to do a thing, to plan, and then to do it. But I’ve been known to get in my own way, as most of us have at one time or another.

I met Mr. H in March, and when I Ieft that apartment a little more than a year after I moved in, I was pregnant with my son. The DNA that would eventually produce the hundreds of freckles on Boy’s sweet face was already busy making fingers and toes and the brightest smile I would ever see. Mr. H and I were heading toward something I had not planned or even thought I wanted. Yet I was excited from the moment I found out I was pregnant. And scared out of my mind. There are days when that is still true, when I’m sure I don’t know how to guide both of my children into the current of their future.

Now, ten years later, I think of the place where the entire course of my life, our lives, was altered, in an upstairs apartment of an old house, and I think of all the souls and lives that passed through those rooms before me, and since. Marriages that drew long lines of time in those rooms. Children raised. Love celebrated. Absence suffered. Togetherness endured. Sons and husbands sent off to war (so many wars in 200 years). Illness, and maybe death. How many of its inhabitants spent quiet moments staring out the same windows I did, or tiptoed around the creaky floorboards?

In the life of that house, the time I spent there was a blip, really. I took what it offered and filled the rooms with the energy of my life for those months, with new life, even. I left with the weight of that life inside me, a weight that made the one on my shoulders (made up of my fears) much easier to bear.

That year and that house gave me a new friend in Mary. I miss that house, and I miss her. When I write to her now, I hold my breath until I receive a reply. She isn’t young, and nothing is ever certain. I’ve learned that much.

I’ve learned, too, that although plans are useful, they aren’t guarantees. We don’t always, and maybe not often, get what we think we want. I’ve learned to accept surprises, and to roll with them. To love them, even. Constantly, the view changes. The landscape changes, and though I don’t always know my way, I know I am not lost.


David McMahon honored me by choosing this post as Post of the Day on his site, Authorblog. David is a Melbourne-based journalist, photographer, and best-selling author. Please take a moment to stop by his place and check out his brilliant photographs and the stories he tells to go with them. Not only that, but he has the best one-liners and can turn a pun on its head better than anyone.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to find his site knows that he is a generous promoter of blogs he enjoys, and he chooses his favorite posts each day and shines a light on them in his daily post called Post of the Day. Please take a moment to go over and say hello!

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Akelamalu May 28, 2008 at 3:28 am

What a beautiful post Jennifer. I feel priviledged to be able to share such a special part of your life, thankyou. x

Akelamalus last blog post..Drying Out………

D / Momma May 28, 2008 at 3:35 am

What a beautiful post, Jennifer. Well written and heartfelt. I’m glad that you still keep in touch with Mary. She sounds like a Katherine Hepburn character! It’s always fascinating to me that we find exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Peace – D

D / Mommas last blog post..Normandy, or How to Change a Man

Mary Alice May 28, 2008 at 3:58 am

Jennifer that was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

Mary Alices last blog post..Make Me Brave for Life

Julie Pippert May 28, 2008 at 5:08 am

Sigh so beautiful. What an amazing time, a new path. You had us all there.

Daryl May 28, 2008 at 5:47 am

You are such a wonderful writer, conveyer of feelings and your posts always draw me in so that I feel like I am there ..

I dont think you need to worry too much about guiding Boy and Girl .. I think you are teaching them by example..


Daryls last blog post..s is for snowy santa

Brenda May 28, 2008 at 5:58 am

Excellent writing. Great title. You’re the one with whom I first watched that movie. (At your bidding.)

Jan May 28, 2008 at 6:15 am

That was apartment therapy. It sounds like a wonderful piece of heaven. And the lady, sounds very unique and mysterious. I loved how you were able to let us feel as though we lived there in a blip too.

You are a joy to read. Thanks for the take back to 10 yrs. ago..

Jans last blog post..Graduation time

Ducky May 28, 2008 at 7:35 am

Awwwwwww. My little Boy. Let us never forget that if it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t be here. 🙂

Remember that TV you had there?

tysdaddy May 28, 2008 at 7:38 am

“personal archaeology”

What a loaded phrase, Jennifer. Excellent post.


tysdaddys last blog post..Role Play

Treasia May 28, 2008 at 8:12 am

What a beautifully well written and heartfelt post. My hubby and I were talking the other day and the told me “the only thing constant in this world is nothing stays the same” and it just reminded me of what you wrote.

Treasias last blog post..We Named her Free

Jenn @ Juggling Life May 28, 2008 at 10:07 am

Really beautiful and well-written. I’m sure Mary remembers you with affection.

Dharmamama May 28, 2008 at 10:44 am

Wow, Jennifer – I feel like I was there with you! Such evocative writing. I treasure my single, exploring, before kids time… more than 10 years ago! Your post took me back.

Dharmamamas last blog post..Life is Good when You Have Sex & The City… or something like that

Ree May 28, 2008 at 11:56 am

Lovely my friend.
“Mr. H and I were heading toward something I had not planned or even thought I wanted.”

Oh, boy, you know I know that feeling.

Rees last blog post..Hot Fun

Kimberly May 28, 2008 at 11:58 am

That is one of the most beautifully written posts I’ve read in a very long time. How lucky you were to find Mary at a time when you needed her and how lucky she was to have a friend like you who has cared enough to stay in touch years later.

Thanks for lovely post.

Kimberlys last blog post..Wordless Wednesday: Rain, rain go away

Madge May 28, 2008 at 12:04 pm

good grief. what excellent writing!

can i come to the first book signing? thanks.

Madges last blog post..Winner!! Winner!!

Mrs. G. May 28, 2008 at 12:33 pm

What a beautiful post. It makes me long for a few of my old apartment days-some really good stuff can happen when you are young and alone.

Mrs. G.s last blog post..One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Coco May 28, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Oh, so lovely, Jennifer. I could practically see Mary and smell the air floating in those windows propped up with wood.

Also, I LOVE the phrase “personal archaeology”. I hope you don’t mind if I shamelessly steal it sometime.

Cocos last blog post..Sick and Tired

cce May 28, 2008 at 1:53 pm

This one caused a lump as I sit in an old bedroom of my very own old house and decide whether or not to leave it. The moment in your life that you shared, between marriages, at the end of something sad and the beginning of something good is a place I hope I get to AND soon. Thanks for taking me there today. You’re memories of that space have made me hopeful.

melissa May 28, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Great writing. I think you found the perfect spot and caretaker to restore yourself. I love the description of both place and person –and the after story about meeting Mr. H.

melissas last blog post..Field Trip

david mcmahon May 28, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Trust me, you’ll NEVER be lost, Jennifer.

david mcmahons last blog post..Shelf Esteem

Ann from Montana May 28, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Lovely post….

Ann from Montanas last blog post..Sweet, sweet smell of love

slouching mom May 28, 2008 at 5:57 pm

so evocative, this post. mary sounds like a person i’d like to meet.

slouching moms last blog post..The Peacock Flower

the mama bird diaries May 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

the mama bird diariess last blog post..making a love connection

Lisa May 28, 2008 at 7:40 pm

That is so lovely–you really told a fabulous story!

Lisas last blog post..That Mommy Quiz

Ann May 28, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Simply lovely. Evoked so much for me. Mary made me think of perhaps Hepburn – or, actually, Slim Keith came to mind. And that house and its impact drew me back to my own “old houses” and all that had happened within their walls. I find my memories much more potent in houses who already hold their own memories. Potent in almost the same way that smell can be. Thanks for sharing.

Anns last blog post..A Berry Causing Foodies To Lose Their Sh…

Emily R May 28, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I really wish I could hang out with you in person.

Emily Rs last blog post..Expertise

Sandy (Momisodes) May 28, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Yet again you blow me away with your writing. This brought me back to my own days of living single and exploring the world and finding myself. What an excellent post 🙂

Sandy (Momisodes)s last blog post..Summer Cut (Make-over)

flutter May 28, 2008 at 9:33 pm

far from lost, beautiful girl

flutters last blog post..Darned Top Chef

shooting star May 29, 2008 at 1:58 am

nice read!!!!
came to our blog thru david mcmohan’s…..

shooting stars last blog post..blast from the past…but not quite the same thing!!!!

Hilary May 29, 2008 at 5:04 am

That was such a beautifully written post. A room with a view inside of your heart.

Hilarys last blog post..After Dark

San May 29, 2008 at 6:15 am

Jennifer, this is beautifully written and it struck a chord in me. Your experience of being surprised by life, in pleasant and profound ways, reverberates in my heart.

The way you gather up your experiences in the rooms of that Connecticut space and weave them with the past and future is lovely. Inevitable as freckles on your child’s face. I see that David recognized this as Post of the Day. MOST deserving.

Sans last blog post..666: The Mark of the Meme

Anali May 29, 2008 at 9:05 am

This is a beautiful post! Congratulations!

Analis last blog post..Scene From A Staycation

ByJane May 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm

David McMahon knows his stuff!!!

ByJanes last blog post..New Post Up at MidLifeBloggers

polona May 29, 2008 at 2:39 pm

what a great post! a personal account wonderfully written!

Crazycath May 29, 2008 at 4:09 pm

“The DNA that would eventually produce the hundreds of freckles on Boy’s sweet face was already busy making fingers and toes…”

What a beautiful way you have with words Jennifer. This is why you make POTD. You are a joy to read. And thank you for sharing this piece of your life – it is lovely to see how the twists and turns are, at times, gentle curves and slopes that just guide us down an alternative route…

Lovely tribute to David too – also richly deserved

Crazycaths last blog post..Typoglycaemia

Jules~ May 29, 2008 at 4:59 pm

This is a beautiful post Jennifer. I felt like I was quietly beside you on that window seat as you re-formatted your world. Thank you for writing such a piece.

Jules~s last blog post..Lost in Translation….

Hatchet May 29, 2008 at 5:13 pm

That was lovely!

Hatchets last blog post..Growing Challenge: Planting Season

Shashikiran May 29, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Bold. Poignant. Dreamy prose. Loved it.

Shashikirans last blog post..Kenchammana Hosakote

Tara Wermuth May 29, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Jennifer, seriously I want to buy your novel now, and a 200 year old house as well. I’m so glad I got around to reading your blog! Thanks for sharing, I’ve misplaced your email address, but fortunately for me I remembered your blog. Hope your still loving your hair!

Tootsie Farklepants May 29, 2008 at 9:49 pm

This definitely deserves the recognition! And how cool that Arthur Miller called Mary…by mistake…. frequently!

Tootsie Farklepantss last blog post..They Done Gone Tampered With the Snacks

HRH May 30, 2008 at 6:25 am

I loved this! I have goosebumps. I love when you write about you. I now am in need of more details…before and after this year…maybe a book full.

HRHs last blog post..Come bask in my dotcomness…

JCK May 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

Your writing just slays me, Jen. Slays me. I’m off to visit that man with excellent taste.

And I am SO happy for you that you had that special time to yourself upstairs to Mary, who got wrong number calls from Arthur Miller. Delightful!

JCKs last blog post..Mommy, I think it is like a hot tub

Carolyn May 30, 2008 at 9:44 pm

I’m finally getting around to commenting on this post. It’s so breathtakingly beautiful that I was afraid to say something for fear I could not do it justice. This post, my friend, proves you have a book in you and need to hurry up and finish it so I can be the first to buy it. Your writing is effortless and haunting and evocative and gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this part of your life. I can’t wait to read more of your personal archaeology. Awesome.

(And talk about talking a nasty old meme and making something worthwhile out of it. Wow!)

Carolyns last blog post..sugar. now with more sugar!

Landon May 31, 2008 at 11:15 am

I think this is my favorite post – ever.

we_be_toys June 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

I can see why he reccomended it – I loved reading this! When is that novel coming out girl?

we_be_toyss last blog post..Well Look Who Just Crawled In

ces June 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

congratulations to you! and thanks to david! sorry i was a bit late…just saw my nomination link a while ago:)

cess last blog post..Wordless Wednesday: my filebox

Jenny, Bloggess July 13, 2008 at 5:41 am

Featured on Good Mom/Bad Mom on the Houston Chronicle.

Jenny, Bloggesss last blog post..BS Sunday

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