by Jennifer on December 29, 2008

In the middle of a hearty and discouraging stack of bills, a handwritten envelope stood out.

It took me half a beat to process the provenance of the script, but when I realized that it belonged to my friend (and former landlady) in Connecticut, I dissolved into tears (a thing I’m letting you see me do a lot lately, sorry). Half in relief – she’s getting on in years – and the other half of me so happy to have my fingers brushing against a touchstone from my middle past.

Mary’s handwriting falls somewhere between pretty and puzzling,  grand and unapologetic, a mix I find charming since it reflects her personality. And I happen to like trying to figure out what she’s written. This time, her Christmas card contained a short note about her current tenants, one of whom shovels the sidewalks for her, and the other man who lives in the front apartment – the one that used to be mine. And then she wrote either “Both very friendly” or “Not very friendly,” and I can’t be sure which it is, whether to be relieved for her or sympathetic, especially if Not Very Friendly Tenant is living in my old place (and hey mister, be nice to Mary or get out of my apartment).

Every year, I tuck photos of my children inside a card addressed to her, along with a small, bright hope that they can meet her one day. She’s a wonderful lady. I especially want my daughter to meet her, a woman who has lived her life on her own terms for longer than anyone I’ve ever known. If I’m lucky enough to reach the age she is, I hope I will pull it off with as much grace and self-reliance as she does.

I wonder what Mary would think of this life I’ve made since I drove away from her house that day, ten Octobers ago. I know she was worried for me as I headed into great unknown (a surprise pregnancy). I know she once had high hopes for me and for what I might accomplish, and I think she imagined that I would stay in the East and make some kind of living as a writer. (Her faith in me was always stronger than my own.)

But life is life, and life begets new life sometimes. In my case, it did, twice. It still startles me, even now, to know that I was part of making these two sweet people, these two smart, funny, sometimes exasperating people who become a new version of themselves with every year, every day, even.

Raising children is hard. Marriage is hard. There are rewards, yes, and a thousand (more) small joys that add up to something so big that you can’t see it all at once and maybe won’t be able to see until a day in the future when there’s more to see looking back than forward. But goddamn, it’s hard sometimes. Anyone who says any different? I don’t believe you.

When I think of those rooms – and that house – I have this very physical sense that I can reach over the last decade to pick up that year, to take in hand the parcel of who I was and bring it forward to now.  To bring before into after. To hold it close to the chest like a baby bird that you know is injured and might never fly, before it knows it for itself, when it still has the heart to struggle against fate. To whisper over and over against the soft feathers of it, it’s going to be okay, even though I know that in many ways it won’t be. And that almost none of it will be easy.

This year, in the late spring, I want to take a trip back East. I’ve started to lobby here already for the time away. The chances are fewer, as time passes, for me to sit down with Mary again and turn back through the pages of these years. The two of us at a small table beside the window in the kitchen of her old and lovely house. Mugs of tea to warm our hands and a long, meandering chat to warm our hearts.

I would know Mary anywhere, even far away from Woodbury, Connecticut – her white curls, shaped into a bob, her clear blue eyes, a classic trench coat with the collar turned up, maybe a string of pearls at her throat.

I’ve wondered if she would even recognize me now. Maybe not from a distance, out of context – but up close, like that, I know she would. Not just me, now, but the me from back then.

And maybe, standing before the mirror of that place and the friend I’ve missed, I might even come to recognize myself.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

slouching mom December 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm

How lucky you are to have crossed paths with her. And how lucky she is to have crossed paths with YOU.

slouching moms last blog post..He’s got the Christmas spirit.

anymommy December 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Hard to do sometimes, isn’t it? Recognize ourselves I mean. It’s damn hard, don’t let anyone tell you different. I hope you get to take that trip in 2009.

anymommys last blog post..Head Games

flutter December 29, 2008 at 6:18 pm

this is absolutely gorgeous, babe

flutters last blog post..2008 can suck my…

jenrantsraves December 29, 2008 at 6:41 pm

I had a landlady like that. I am so thankful that I took the time to sit and have tea, sitting and chatting with her, hearing stories about the amazing life she lived. Hope you get to see her again.

the mama bird diaries December 29, 2008 at 7:11 pm

This is so true and beautifully said… “There are rewards, yes, and a thousand (more) small joys that add up to something so big that you can’t see it all at once and maybe won’t be able to see until a day in the future when there’s more to see looking back than forward.”

Emily R December 29, 2008 at 8:52 pm

what a lovely post.

Emily Rs last blog post..See you on the flip side

Jenn @ Juggling Life December 29, 2008 at 9:50 pm

You must take the time–the importance of it to you is so apparent.

Jenn @ Juggling Lifes last blog post..Taking The Road Less Traveled

Minnesota Matron December 29, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Lovely. This is life — the people who touch us.

Minnesota Matrons last blog post..Good-Bye Grandpa Don

Milena December 30, 2008 at 6:07 am

I’ve been gone for a while haven’t I? And then I come to find this. You in tip top (what an understatement) writing form and in your inner self as unchanged and true as I know you and read you to be. Thanks for the constancy Jennifer. You might not see it from this distance but I, recognize you.

Make the trip. Go see your Mary. She’ll say the same thing.

Milenas last blog post..Seen and Heard

maggie, dammit December 30, 2008 at 8:07 am

Love this so much, particularly the last line.

maggie, dammits last blog post..Because We Can.

Louise December 30, 2008 at 8:57 am

You’ve said it out loud to a LOT of peope; you HAVE to go visit. Not a hope, but a requirement.

And I wonder how you would describe my handwriting! I hope I don’t see a post about that someday!

Louises last blog post..I’m Down

Daryl December 30, 2008 at 9:27 am

And if you come East you better stop here on the way or else!

Daryls last blog post..toonsday husbandisms

Eric Daniel Self December 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

You illustrated the shared connection the two of you had/have very well. I think I’d like Mary, too.

melissa December 30, 2008 at 12:08 pm

That’s some handwriting! I love that you keep in touch with her–how cool is that?

melissas last blog post..the 9 o’clock news

tysdaddy December 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Yeah, this is a beautiful piece of writing. It may have been a strange and bumpy ten Octobers since you saw her, but you’ve grown, and I imagine she’s bursting at the seams with pride . . .

tysdaddys last blog post..This Is Our Need

Manic Mommy December 30, 2008 at 1:30 pm

It’s so strange to think of how many people pass through and impact our lives. And then we move on. I hope you get your trip.

Manic Mommys last blog post..Holy Dustbunnies!

ByJane December 30, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Nice…really really nice.

ByJanes last blog post..It’s Boxing Day in Britain

Madge December 30, 2008 at 3:48 pm

I’m sorry, you lost me when you put “marriage” and “rewards” in the same sentence. jk.

Madges last blog post..Really Random Stuff

Suzanne December 30, 2008 at 9:31 pm

I know she will recognize you. I hope you make that trip this Spring.

Suzannes last blog post..Work In Progress

JCK December 30, 2008 at 11:38 pm

Oh, I hope you make this trip, Jennifer. This is the 2nd (I think?) piece I’ve read that you’ve written about Mary. She sounds really amazing.

And YES, marriage is hard. And mothering. All of it.

Your writing captures it all so well.

Happy, Happy New Year, my friend!

JCKs last blog post..And then the Doctor reels backwards toward JCK’s open chart and double-checks JCK’s age.

Mrs. Chili December 31, 2008 at 12:38 pm

If “back east” means anything in or in the vicinity of New England, will you please, please, please let me know ahead of your arrival so we can meet? Please?

Happy new year to you, my friend; I’m looking forward to a 2009 with you in it.



Mrs. Chilis last blog post..The End of the Year Meme

Ann December 31, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Loved hearing about her – and I adore her writing on the envelope, it’s of another era and creates such longing in me. I hope you can visit her…

Anns last blog post..What’s For Christmas Eve Dinner?

Dharmamama December 31, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Raising children was hard when I used to believe I needed to control anything. I now control only my own self and reactions, and it hasn’t been hard in quite a long time.

Dharmamamas last blog post..Christmas Tree Perspective

V-Grrrl January 2, 2009 at 10:31 am

The gift of old friends is that they embrace all of me–the grrrl i was and the grrrl i am and the grrrl i’m becoming. i hang on to them because i don’t dare let go–we need to carry each other into the future.

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