Sitting in the stuffed, upholstered chair that I grew up in, reading now as I did as a child, curled up in the chair, I am sad that my parents are gone, but pleased to have rescued this chair from my childhood. I had it repaired and recovered a few years ago by a skilled friend.
I’m reading a book by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of my favorite authors. It’s called a novel, yet each very brief chapter reads like a short story, expressing some feeling, regret or self-deprecation, occasionally delight at a landscape or neighborhood, or an interaction with a stranger. I’m inspired by her voice, introverted and insightful, by the way she looks around at her world and how her writing reflects her inner self. I pause to look outside the big windows on either side of my house, visible from my perch.
I walked by the lake this morning while the sun warmed the air, but it’s chilly now. A breeze is blowing, clouds are gathering, an afternoon shower probably on the way. The leaves of the quaking aspen that surround my house tremble; it’s mesmerizing to watch. Lean and graceful, white bark glowing in the waning light marked with black lines that sometimes look like eyes, slender branches reach out into the yard and the cool air, as if pointing or gesturing. The evergreen tree that graces the window over my desk is also moving, brown and black mottled trunk motionless, with long branches of green needles bowing up and down. There are no birds or squirrels in the trees right now. It’s quiet but not still.
A dear friend passed away last week, fading slowly with Alzheimer’s, interacting with the world and the people in it less and less. My father suffered from the same disease and I watched its slow progression change him. Barbara was a vibrant person, vivacious, irreverent, creative, an artist. One of her paintings hangs on my wall. Her clothing was as colorful as her personality: black jeans and tops with a dazzling splash of a scarf of many hues, handmade beaded earrings dangling, boots below and spiky blond curls above, red leather gloves in winter (she had many pairs). I befriended her after her husband died, soon after mine had passed. I had met her and her charming historian husband at a gathering in my town, and asked if I could visit her, feeling that we had much in common.
Besides being a fun-loving friend, she was my art mentor. Her artist’s sense guided me when I worked on my digitally altered photographs (Altered Landscapes) to prepare them for my first juried show submission (I had two accepted in the exhibit). She knew everyone in the art scene in her hometown of Fort Collins, where she had taught at the university; we’d pop into shops and studios to see their work. And wandering the galleries of Taos with her was to see it through new eyes.
The last time I saw Barbara, pre-covid, I went to her town to visit, a two-hour drive from my home, and took her out to the funky, off-beat eating joint near her house we had been to many times before, giving her in-home care aide a break. The first time she brought me there, a swing band was playing and we danced along with a dance club; we were the only ones who didn’t quite know what we were doing but it didn’t matter. We usually walked the few residential blocks, chatting along the way, but this time I drove, fearing that the disorientation would be unpleasant for her and unsure of her physical stamina.
At a bare wooden table by a window, I ordered my usual grilled ahi tuna soft taco while she looked over the menu, bewildered. “I’ll have the same,” she declared, confident that whatever I chose would be all right. She asked me the same questions many times. I gladly answered, describing the daily doings of my life at a time when she rarely left the house. And we laughed and laughed, happy to share each other’s company, even though nothing was all that funny.
Nestled in my reading chair, watching the trees dance, I’m reminded of a poem I wrote when I stayed at her house once. She had a cozy second home in my mountain town, and generously invited me to use it whenever I was back for brief visits while teaching abroad.
two stand together
branches entwined as if
he tall dark sturdy trunk
needles sharp and straight
she pale white barked
round fragile leaves
dancing in the wind
gracefully bowing branches
he will stand guard for her
covered in heavy snow
while she sheds her tresses
and sleeps naked
to regenerate with bright green
energy to perform again
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Email me at: Ruth@RuthRosenfeld.com