Almost like the other new year on the secular calendar, we look backward as well as forward in the “What I did this summer” back-to-school essay assignment.
We drove to Vermont this summer, and I filed this report. We stayed at an inn and were the only guests. The lady in charge, Tina, served elegant breakfasts in a formal dining room under a crystal chandelier. Thick ceramic bowls, elegantly sliced bananas and plump purple blueberries for our cereal, and deep mugs for the coffee, with cream in a pitcher.
She had a rescue dog, a mongrel with a playful Frisbee, but it had killed and eaten the parlor parrot.
Our hostess had just returned from a visit to Costa Rica, where she had seen a viper grab a frog and heard the victim scream as it was being consumed.
“Nature is not kind, although I try to believe that it is gentle, against all evidence to the contrary.” I said this to lady Tina, who rewarded me with a hug, a tear, and even a kiss, for my conversation about conservation.
Out beyond her property there loomed a vast mountain, a deep gorge and a rolling hillside lawn with clover – not signs declaring the presence of poisons to preserve the neatness of an illusion of “nature.” She had a collection of animal sculptures to decorate the grounds, a kitschy touch I found amusing and reassuring.
We drove past any number of antique shops. I chose to stop at a barn with a wide display of sundry objects.
Not to be an annoying window shopper, I offered to purchase a few items. One was Irving Howe’s study of the Russian Jewish immigrants who became Americans.
“But I’m reading it. Come back in a few days when I’ve finished it,” the clerk declared.
“How about that Seabees cap?” I asked.
“Can’t sell it, it belonged to my brother, who died last year,” he answered.
“I guess he’s a hoarder, not an antiquarian,” declared my wife/travel companion.
Decidedly, this Vermont is a strange and wondrous Shangri-La, I mused to myself.
This senior citizen guy was wearing a woman’s hat decorated with lace, speaking with Yankee irony and wit, and mixing sarcasm with good-natured hospitality. He asked my name. “Fink,” I said.
“A good Irish name,” he responded.
I summed up and told my total tale as we packed up and loaded our car for the long drive home.
“My mother and father were eloping from Montreal in 1926, mid-August. They stopped at bed and breakfast inns along the way. I have a couple of snapshots from a box of negatives I discovered in the attic after their passing. Any chance it could have been right here?” I mused to Tina.
“Very likely,” she encouraged.
It is a Jewish tradition to marry after the Tisha b’Av mourning for the victims of the Spanish Inquisition and the destruction of the temple.
My mom and dad met in Montreal at the marriage of his widower father to a widow whose niece was a beautiful guest of honor. My dad fell in love at first sight of her! The Jewish concept of “fate,” or “destiny,” has a folkloric Hasidic charm.
We were enchanted by Vermont: it had a touch of Safed, the city in Israel, with its quality of light and eerie mystical moods.
“Look! There’s a dusk hot-air balloon – this must be Oz,” my wife declared in wonderment.
I have a postscript and a footnote at the approach of Labor Day: My beloved mother was born on Aug. 2. She gave birth on Aug. 2. She died on Aug. 2. I light two yahrtzeit candles for her, one on the fifth of Av and the other according to the Roman calendar, to preserve the magic of coincidence. All my yahrtzeits, like fireflies, softly illuminate the charms of summertime. So I look backward sadly and forward hopefully. As time goes by.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.