Quiet night, ghostly light

This is what happens on a clear night when I cannot sleep, and the moon is full.  I prowl through my house in the dark with a camera.  No tripod.  Just my own unsteady hand.

It’s playtime.

full moon 5 pm txt

I prop myself against a wall and shoot, trying to capture the lamp-lit windows of my neighbors’ houses.  The shutter stays open for an eternity.  My camera weighs a ton.  I am not steady enough.  The lights look like flames.  The reflection from the window throws itself across the room to where I am standing; the moon is a big white puddle on my floor.

full moon 1 pm txt

The den has a pair of windows and an atrium door – a little more shimmering light.  A patch of green appears beyond the balcony.  Proof of spring.  A tiny voice that whispers, I’m here.

full moon 2 pm txt

In this room a window placed too high; a mistake I regret making now, but too late to change.  A cabala of lights beyond the trees seems to agree.  What WERE you thinking they ask.

full moon 4 pm txt

My studio is a room with four windows and no curtains.  I used to paint here.  Now I write.  The room has been overrun by books.  And words.

I love this skulking around the house in the dark, while my husband sleeps, completely unaware that I am up.  I feel like a child guarding a secret that no one knows but me.

You must promise not to tell.

Waiting. . . .

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

                                                                       — Henry Van Dyke

I can be impatient sometimes.  (When my husband reads that line, he’ll laugh, and say sometimes?)

Mostly, I’m impatient about waiting.  Waiting on hold for customer service, waiting in heavy traffic.  Waiting for my husband to chop vegetables when I’m rushing to get dinner on the table.  It’s one of the character flaws that I need to attend to most.  And I’m trying.  I really am.

I try to schedule doctor and dentist appointments for the exact time the office returns from lunch, so that I’m in and out before things get backed up.  I try to avoid driving anywhere during rush hour.  I try to breathe slowly when I have to wait.  Often I try to distract myself with something else.

Which is what I am doing now.

My son lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  After the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday, it has felt like anything can happen.  We have all been waiting for the answer to the questions of who and why all week.

Last night, before I went to bed, there was news that a shooting had occurred at MIT.  Shortly after that reports of an explosion in Watertown.  I wondered whether it was connected to the bombing on Monday.  I think most people did.  And then, when I woke up this morning I discovered that it was indeed connected and that one of the suspects was on the loose, armed and possibly carrying explosives.  The entire Boston area was under lock-down and everyone had been told to stay indoors.  I’m pretty certain that shutting down an entire city like that to search for a suspect has never happened before.  At least not to my recollection.

Fear is a rat that ran up my spine.

I immediately texted the boy.  Are you home & okay?  I waited for his reply.  Thirteen minutes, I waited.

Here is another true thing about me:  In the face of unusual circumstances, I am apt to imagine a multitude of scenarios.  I tell myself it’s a writer thing, I make up stuff all the time.  Sometimes, depending on how much time I have, I can terrify myself.  Thirteen minutes is a hell of a long time.  More than long enough to imagine a desperate bombing suspect hiding at the house my son lives in and holding everyone captive.  Which would explain why my son can’t text me back.

That image, however wildly unlikely, was enough to set my heart racing.  I picked up the phone and called, whereupon I found that the first, more probable scenario I had imagined was correct.  He was still in bed.

Still, I’m glad I called.  It was comforting to hear his voice, to know that for the time being he was safe, and I could say aloud, I love you.

But now, I’m back to waiting and I hate that.  We are all waiting for something.  For answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet.  For closure.  For peace of mind.  For the violence to end.

The mama in me wants to get in my car and drive to Boston and bring my 24 year-old baby boy home.  But, I know I can’t.  I know that like everyone else who has been affected by this, I will have to wait.

The waiting is excruciating.

boston boats 2

This one’s for Puck

Right up front, I will tell you that this story is true.  I should also warn you that it’s a little bitter-sweet.

When my brother Peter came into our lives my parents already had three girls. They longed for a son.

A couple of interesting points about this story:  First, like all good men living in the area of the Adirondack Mountains, my father liked to hunt.  Hunting season in those parts was a religion, sacred and holy; the woods, nature’s cathedral.  The thing about my father was that he had never bagged a deer.  He’d been hunting with plenty of other guys who had, but he’d never actually shot one on his own.

The second thing, is that shortly after the third girl was born, my father started growing a beard.  It grew fast and bushy, and with a red hue that didn’t match the hair on his head at all.  (Somewhere there’s a photograph of my dad at that time, sitting on my grandmother’s front porch, wearing an army style camouflage cap.  He looked exactly like Fidel Castro.)  My mother didn’t much like that beard.  My father said he would shave when he got a son or a buck.  Either one.  Whichever came first.

The third point is that my mother is half Mohawk.  She was born and spent the first decade or so of her life on the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, which straddles the border of Canada and the US.  We would often make the winding drive to visit aunts and uncles and cousins there.  One day after a visit, on the return trip, the car held my parents, my sisters and myself, and a brand new brother, named Peter.  He was 18 months old at the time.

The particulars of how it came to be that we brought him home are not important.  What matters is that he was ours from that day on.  I wasn’t very old then, but I do remember the car ride home — I remember Peter’s little face peaking over my mother’s shoulder, watching us and smiling.  Oh, how I remember that smile.

Peter in an old photo taken when he was about 3. Even though the quality of the photo is poor, you can see how his face lit up with the sweet spirit of his smile.  He was some cute kid!

Peter in an old photo taken when he was about 3. Even though the quality of the photo is poor, you can see how his face lit up with the sweet spirit of his smile.

My father did not get his buck that season (nor any season, ever).  But he got his son, and true to his word, he shaved.  Peter grew and thrived, we girls grew and thrived, and my mother went on to eventually have three more babies – all of them boys.  And we were a rowdy raucous family of seven kids who were sometimes very close, and sometimes throwing things at one another.

Except for Peter.  At least, the way I remember him, and I’m telling the story so you’ll have to take my word for it.  If you happen to know or run into one of my siblings, they may tell the story differently.  That’s the way families work.

Peter was a quieter kid than the rest of us, he was by nature more even-tempered. And always, he was quick to smile.  He loved to hunt and fish, though he mostly used his hands for the latter – he was that patient and that quick.  As a teenager he took up wrestling and was pretty good and quick at that.  He was no push-over if really provoked.  Somewhere in those teen years, people started calling him Puck.

He tried his hand at many things.  He joined the Navy, hoping to travel, but that didn’t work out the way he planned.  He got married and moved back to the Adirondack town where we grew up.  He raised chickens for awhile, and for awhile he worked at the local paper mill.  Eventually he and his wife moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where her family lived.

Today is an anniversary of sorts.  Twenty-two years ago on a day like today, full of spring and glorious sunshine, I took my then two-year old son to the park, and later for the first ice cream cone of the season.  The phone rang as I was leaving the house, but I paid it no mind.  If it was important, whoever it was would call back.  Turned out it was my sister, and call back she did.

Peter was thirty-four years old on the last night he went to sleep.  A hemorrhagic tumor was the reason he didn’t wake up.  Twenty-two years is a long time.  Also, twenty-two years is no time at all.  It’s one of life’s many conundrums.

I believe in stories with happy endings, or at least in which there is the possibility of something honest and good.  In this story I once had a brother who possessed the kindest of hearts and a sweet smile.  We called him Puck.  He is with me still.  And that is enough good for now.

Puck holding my son.  Still the same smile.

Puck holding my son. Still the same smile.

A fool and his folly

iconic stonehenge pm smaller

This is the photo of Stonehenge that set my grandfather’s heart ablaze.

There are variations of my grandfather’s story, but I prefer this one.  Mostly, because it came from my great-aunt Sophie, and she never said anything that wasn’t true.  Or at least, true enough.  She was the keeper of our stories.  From births to deaths, weddings to wakes; new jobs, new homes, new dreams, if it involved a Webster, Aunt Sophie wrote it down.  That job fell to me a few years ago when, at the age of eighty-two, she fell off her bicycle, hit her head, and died.

(Let that be a lesson for you — You are never too old to wear a helmet.  Aunt Sophie would back me up on this if she could.)

This story began fifty years ago when Grandpa Webster had a dream.  In it he dreamed that his ancestors had been druids, and this pleased him immensely.  The whole wise man, mystical nature thing.  He thought it might be true.  But, when he told others about it, they said — Don’t be daft, you foolIt’s just a dream.  So he shut up about it.

Still.  A wisp of the dream remained.

Shortly after that grandpa bought a box.  He was fond of auctions, and even fonder of bidding on blind boxes – blind in the sense that you had no idea of the contents but were willing to chance that there might be something of value inside.  In this instance, the thing of value was the tinted photo of Stonehenge you see above.

How that photograph took hold of my grandfather.  He kept it on his nightstand.  It was the last thing he looked to before he closed his eyes, and the first thing he saw upon waking, his wife coming in a poor second.  But she was patient because she loved him.  And she knew about his druid wish.  For even a wisp of a dream carries a sweet, smoky odor that a good spouse can smell.  She went to the public library and brought back a book — The Stonehenge Myth — and set it next to the photo on my grandfather’s side of the bed.

My grandparents owned a small farm at the time.  Eighty acres on which they grew corn and wheat and raised chickens, sheep, and some dairy cows.  (My father grew up on this farm and knew before he was eighteen that he wanted something else in life, but that’s another story, for another time.)  Four months after his finding the Stonehenge photo, six months after the druid dream, my grandfather dragged home his first big rock, a four foot by two foot slab of stone that he slid off the back of a flat-bed trailer at the end of the sheep field.  The neighbors wondered what use could be made from a stone that size, but my grandmother had an inkling.

Over the next six months, my grandfather brought home twelve more boulders and stone slabs of various sizes.  He paid his four strapping boys and their friends to help him arrange the stones in a circle.  He borrowed a backhoe and a front end loader.  He carried the Stonehenge photograph in his shirt pocket, and when people asked him what in blue blazes was he trying to build, he pulled out the photo and handed it to them.

This, he said.  I’m building this.  It’s iconic.

Some people thought he said ironic.

Over the years, my grandfather and his folly became legend.  There were stories told that he danced drunken and naked in the moonlight among those stones.  Aunt Sophie said that wasn’t true.  She said that he simply found comfort in sitting in that stone circle while the sun rose or set and he could think about the day ahead of or behind him.  It brought him peace.

For my father and his brothers, it brought them something else.  There were more than a few times when they and their friends dared one another to strip and whoop it up around the rocks.  For them, it was a level of coolness others didn’t have.

We were the only kids with Stonehenge in our back yard.

Fifteen years ago, as my grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary approached, their sons wanted to gift them with a trip to England, to see the real Stonehenge, they said.  My grandparents turned them down.  Why spend all that money, when they were happy with the one they had?

I’m no fool, my grandfather told his boys.

It was the truest thing I ever heard him say.

The Webster family Stonehenge that stands in what used to be a sheep pasture on the farm.  The stones are not as big as they look, not nearly like those at the actual Stonehenge, but they were good enough for dancing around in the moonlight.

The Webster family Stonehenge standing in the sheep pasture on the farm. The stones are not as big as they look, certainly not like those at the actual Stonehenge, but they’re good enough for dancing around in the moonlight.

n.b.  This is not a true story.  It is fiction.  I wanted to see if I had a photo that was iconic to me (for the Weekly WP Writing Challenge), and then make up a story to fit the picture.  Also, I have been to the real Stonehenge.  I wasn’t allowed to dance around the stones, though, naked or otherwise.