a couple of visits in the way-back machine

IMG_1483My new stove. I’ll need to do some practicing on it before gingerbread season arrives.

I’ve learned a few things during this summer of renovations–mostly around how kitchen appliances have changed (don’t go looking for a gas stove with a broiler on the bottom anymore, they no longer exist) and how things I got away with in the past (countertop cabinets with hidden interior electric outlets, smoke detectors you could pull the batteries out of with ease) have since been outlawed. But even in a new-fangled world that makes our last renovation already seem dated and old-school, I’ve had some delightful visits to the way-back machine, to people who have been doing what they do for generations, just the way their grandparents did.

IMG_1593First up: Bon Ton Rug Cleansers, Inc. of Watertown MA. Why “Cleansers” and not “Cleaners” is a question that I don’t know the answer to, but I’m guessing it’s a Bostonian thing, like giving a tiny storefront groceria the grandiloquent title of “spa.” Either way, Bon Ton has been at the business of washing and repairing rugs and carpets since 1901. And, now as then, they take care of rugs with their century of skilled experience at the ready—gently cleaning, air drying, and seamlessly repairing.

IMG_1778I snagged this photo from Bon Ton’s webpage.  Not much has changed.

One thing I love about Bon Ton is how un-hoity-toity they are—even though I suspect they have plenty of customers with floor coverings that could be bartered away to cover four years of private college tuition. They are just as kind to my Pottery Barn rag rugs, the ones that cost less than the pads underneath them, as they are to their Beacon Hill matrons’ heirloom Persians. They also have a lovely way of not making me feel like a bad parent to my moth-nibbled honeymoon rugs, or the runner that the cats have sharpened their claws on. They make no judgments, just describe the damage and explain what can be done and how long it will take and what the cost will be, and then they work their magic.

IMG_1594See the lady just inside the door?  She’s repairing a carpet, stitch by painstaking  stitch.

IMG_1591And here’s a little guide to Bon Ton’s natural sources of various color dyes.  In case you were wondering.

* * * * *

Further afield is a place called Sunset Mattress Company. It’s in Ossipee NH, off Route 16 on a bucolic side road (okay, except for the fact that it’s nearest neighbor is the Carrol County Jail.  But truly, houses of correction in northern New England often get some lovely real estate—this one, especially.) Sunset Mattress has been around for just over six decades. Like Bon Ton, it’s a family enterprise, founded 1953 by the grandfather of the current owner/operator. Sunset has been using the same materials and practices to produce fantastically firm mattresses since the baby-boom years. The only options they offer, in fact, are firm, extra firm or extra-extra firm. In addition to the standard mattress sizes, they take custom orders for everything from antique trundle beds to RV bunks. Needless to say, they have a long list of loyal and happy customers.

IMG_1669This picture is from the day we visited Sunset Mattress Company.  I didn’t take photos; it seemed impolite, somehow.

I say “they.” It’s really just one man, with some help from a nephew on the delivery end. One man, together with his grandfather’s tool kit and time-honored techniques and attention to the smallest of details, fabricating mattresses from scratch. The showroom is open on Mondays and Tuesdays and Fridays and Saturday morning. Wednesday and Thursday are for deliveries. If, like me, you’ve been led to believe that there’s something revolutionary in the whole concept of memory foam mattresses, think again.  I tried out a couple of the foam options over the summer, an experience that left me unsure about which way to go. I started by looking on line to get a sense of the mattress price range (which began as low as $199, a price I considered frighteningly cheap, all the way up to–seriously? $7,000+ for a mattress? That has only one useable side?) Head spinning,  I asked a friend what she liked for mattresses. “Oh, I always just go to Sunset Mattress,” she said. “They’re the best. Extra extra firm!”   Oh, yeah.  Sunset Mattress.  The ones my mother-in-law has been singing the praises of for decades?  Where, perhaps, I should have started?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

IMG_1598We took the scenic route to Ossipee.  This photo is from Freedom NH.  Well worth a detour.

And so, on a crisp Saturday morning, my sweetie and I headed out to bust a move on the mattress deal. I was happy to note that the Sunset factory address showed up on GoogleMap. It wasn’t a figment of someone’s  imagination, this bucolic sounding business. As we drew close, I first noticed a white farmhouse a bit higher on the hill, then saw the…factory?  Which looked a whole lot like a barn. We pulled into a parking zone that might accommodate three cars, and read the sign on the door: “We’re here, but we may be out back. Honk your horn for service.”

IMG_1031Not this barn, but one a lot like it…

Once inside, my eyes immediately fixed upon three sample beds set up in a narrow showroom, under the eaves—firm twin, extra firm double, extra-extra firm queen—in spool beds that, I’m guessing, date back to the company’s early days.

At the center of the open barn/factory space stood an ancestral work table, the floor well-worn around its perimeter. Beyond the table was a tidy collection of mattress ingredients: boxes of spring coils, rolls of gray striped cotton ticking, industrial spools of thread. A wall in the office corner was covered with hanging clipboards, one for each current account.  I suspect the only dust in the space may have been found on the high shelf devoted to a long row of oversized softball trophies, each representing Sunset Mattress’s sponsorship as well as a long tradition of Carrol County league championships.

After a testing of the three mattress types (no Goldilocks here; we opted for extra extra firm) my beloved and I happily ordered our mattress sets, and then shook hands with the man who would personally deliver them to us on the next available time slot in his Wednesday/Thursday delivery schedule, the final date for which would depend on his nephew’s availability.

And as we drove away, it was hard not to look back at the scene and feel like we’d fallen into a little Brigadoon.

IMG_1699It was a good day–one that made me feel just a little bit luckier than usual.




commencements, again and again

IMG_1765My babies.  Back when they were babies.

Much is written about the family ties that are loosened and re-woven, as parents see their children off to kindergarten, to middle school, to college. These rites of passage loom as large for the ones of us who are waving goodbye from the bus stop or the empty station wagon as for the ones moving on to the next grade, the new school, the new two-room-plus-common-room quad.

Kindergarten first days and college drop-offs get the bulk of the ink spilled over watching one’s babies march through the growing-up academic ranks. And yet, at every First Day along the way, these milestones require us to face the fact that our parenting days are slipping away, just as life keeps speeding up. One day it’s sippy cups and training pants, the next day it’s extra-long fitted bottom sheets and wi-fi setups. From a first day-care naptime to First Year Orientation, these commencements, over and over again, make emotions run predictably close to the surface. That, plus so many questions, all versions of: How did we get here, so soon?

IMG_0659First years, checking in.  This happens with alarming regularity, down the street from where I live.


And while the first college drop-off is significant, it occurs to me that precious little is written about launching a child to his last year of college. Which is where I am.

My baby is a college senior. Senior is still an acceptable term, I think. Junior and Sophomore too. Frosh is okay, but Freshman is sexist. First Year seems to be winning; see above. Freshwoman is silly. My beloved’s Men of Dartmouth is now Dear old Dartmouth, but there will always be 10,000 Men of Harvard in the football version, even as we all, sons and daughters implied, join my alma mater’s Jubilee Throng. File under, things have shifted since I was in college.

And while you’re at it, file under: How? Did? We? Get? Here? So? Soon?

For the record, here’s what happens when your baby goes off to his final year of college:

IMG_0587Well, there was packing involved.  That much I know.  Here’s a peek at our summer sublet.

Okay, honestly, I can only guess what happens. Because while my beloved husband and I headed north to New Hampshire to wait out the final stretch of our home renovation flurry, our baby (My baby! He who loved ladybugs and spiders and wolves and polar bears, just ten minutes ago! ) undertook a final cleanup of our summer sublet, delivered keys to the appointed key-checker, and got his Big Guy older brother (My other baby! Who is now old enough to live and work downtown, and who vacationed in Italy with his girlfriend!) to drive his carload of stuff to his senior single, his last ever undergraduate dorm room. Apparently all that happened, successfully, without any supervision from me.

Yep, that’s it. I didn’t move him in, didn’t inspect his bed-making hospital corners, didn’t inquire about his possible need for a laundry basket, didn’t chat up the resident proctor. I don’t know what he’s taking for classes—that’s not how he rolls. I’m pretty sure he submitted a proposal for a thesis topic, but again, I’ll learn more about this on a strictly as-needed basis. Which means, I won’t see it until it’s got a grade on it. If then, and only maybe.

For those of you who can’t even fathom the prospect of being so deleted from your children’s day-to-day life, I say…well, honestly, I don’t know what to say. I don’t think the iron curtain that surrounds my younger son’s constitutional right to privacy is entirely normal. (He won’t let Mark Zuckerberg see his art on FB, either—the young man has only the slightest of cybersphere footprints. I take that as a sign that it’s Not Just Me.) Girls, I hear, tell all. Or some of them do. And there are certainly guys out there who are more forthcoming than my baby, including his older brother. With my Big Guy, I had to learn not to start with a nervous, “What’s up?” when he called from college, because in general, nothing was up. He’d just parked his car in a faraway lot and had time to chat while he walked back up the hill to dinner. Which was lucky for me–I loved those calls.

Mr. Rising Senior isn’t chatty. He happens to go to college really, really close to home (closer than his elementary school, true fact), which might explain the lack of phone calls—except that it doesn’t. You might think the geography would result in drop-ins for home-cooked dinners or the dreaded laundry drop-offs, but no. Sometimes, when we cross paths in our shared geography, he first looks furtively around to see if anyone he knows is watching, then picks me up and spins me around. Then I get a squeeze and a cheery good-bye, and off he goes. I always come out of these encounters disheveled and bemused. He might not be forthcoming about his academics or his extracurriculars or his love life (does he have one? How’s a mother to know?), and I can keep asking, “So, what’s new? How’s school?” and his replies will be amusing, if not informative—and that’s okay.   The young man is doing just fine. He secretly still loves me. And he needs me to play by his rules of engagement.

IMG_9507Oh, dear.  Treading on thin ice here, putting a photo in.  At least it’s not his artwork.  This is my senior, along with my eldest nephew and his baby girl, first of the next generation.  All three share my mother’s maiden name in their names.

Those shifting boundaries around what’s his and what’s mine are at the nucleus of what constitutes the parenting continuum. Mr. Rising Senior’s boundaries are stiffer than most, but for every child, at every turn, they evolve. It’s not static, not ever. (“Don’t cut my toast! I can pour the milk! No, you may not read my college essays!”) The moment you think you have a firm grasp on the whole parenting piece, things shift. Activities that were well within my purview in the early days (picking out clothes and wallpapering the refrigerator with macaroni art projects, for example) are just not, not anymore. When nudged last year about perhaps asking some of his far-flung classmates to our house for Thanksgiving, his instant reply: “Take down all my art, and then we’ll see.” Which seemed so mean-spirited. But I came to understand where this reaction comes from: he wants to be judged by his peers for who he is now, not who he used to be. A dining room full of relatives who remember him from his early days, telling stories from years gone by…that would be a new circle of hell in his book.

Needless to say, my college guy would not have responded well, had Instagram been around when he was growing up. By which I mean, he wouldn’t have liked me posting photos of him, of his artwork, of his shadow, even. It was bad enough that I published essays on the Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum pages, the subjects of which tiptoed into our family life from time to time. He fact-checked them all, and never let me off the hook for putting words in his mouth that hadn’t been there. Which made me acutely aware from the get-go that my stories were, in fact, his stories, too.

IMG_0552Here’s the sort of place I sometimes bump into Mr. Senior. Bless his heart, he’s not too cool for school–or for specs.

In the weeks since his school year began, we’ve met up a couple of times, mostly to gather some odds and ends that were in storage over the summer, shoes that went missing, computer monitors, that sort of thing. I’ve seen his room (which I never did see, freshman—whoops, first year) and I got to weigh in on which window the plant he bought three years ago, during freshman week (help! Frosh week?) might prefer. He rolled his eyes and told me he’d take my suggestion under advisement. Which is what he’s been doing now, for years. It just gets more acute, along  with an awareness that this role of chief advisor is winding down. I’m bumping into emeritus-land here. He’s going to be all on his own, in a nanosecond.

So, if I’m aiming toward some existential parenting message here, I don’t for the life of me know what it might be. It’s not just that all happens so fast—it also changes on a dime. The angst over boozy high school parties morphs into the unexpected delight, three years (or was it just months?) later, when your child is the uber-responsible head bartender at your college reunion. (That really did happen.) The lying awake at night, wondering what time he’ll come tip-toeing up the stairs morphs into “Don’t wake me up,” before you can believe it. I remember chatting with a friend whose son was already in college, talking about the oddness of having him home for the summer, leaving the light on for him and turning in. You can do that? Have your head so much as hit the pillow before you know your child is home in bed, let alone asleep? That’s even possible? Trust me, it’s not just possible, it’s required.

There are such delights, being mother to these young men. The texts and links they send me out of the blue, the hugs they give so freely. They don’t need me to kiss their boo-boos, and I can’t run interference for them on much of anything these days. So many issues, so many concerns—now, either outgrown, or beyond my realm. They are who they are. I still bug them, mostly with complaints around things that seem to have forgotten, needling them with comments that start, “Don’t be that guy who…” but honestly, when the infractions are leaving a cream-cheese encrusted knife or toothpaste spatters in the sink, or returning the car without filling up the gas tank—we’re talking small potatoes. I’m done with the heavy lifting, and while I suspect I’ll always feel an urge to weigh in, I get it, that my work is essentially done here.

Here’s a message, for those who are aching as the years are just starting to spin by: it gets to be okay. The shift from pudgy play-doh fingers and toes to long-limbed man-children who wear shoes bigger than yours—it gets less extreme. The time seems right for them to be forging ahead, just about when you realize you’re ready to hand over the reins.  This, please note, is coming from a mother who shed tears over The End of Onesies. That, and the sight of my children walking together on a city street, without a grownup. That, and the coup that resulted in my Big Guy taking over the front passenger seat, when he played the obvious trump card: he was taller than I am.

I wanted them to stay where they were. It was all going too fast. I remember longing for them to not outgrow their towhead blonde hair, their adorable snowsuits, their sassy seats, but now, I wouldn’t wish them–or me–back to that era. I see mothers in the grocery store check-out line with babies in front-packs, and I start to sway, that universal baby sway—but it’s an old twitchy, vestigial memory, a flicker from a time that is hard to realize happened. That was me?

Yes, it was. But it was another era. Here we are, now. Onward we go.

IMG_7149From my baby’s 8th grade graduation, when he was a big boy reading buddy to a kindergartener named Miles.

Miles is now a high school freshman.  Freshperson?  9th grader.


Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

IMG_0779Summer Afternoon.  The two most beautiful words in the English language.

Well, okay, perhaps we’re not entirely back to anything that constitutes normal.  August may have come to an end, but it’s still summer by my reckoning.

My sweetie and I have a long history of  ignoring the whole “Summer Ends on Labor Day” notion.  In a move that I suspect was considered subversive parenting at the time, my boys never played any version of organized soccer when they were little–not because of any deep-seeded concerns I had about future head injuries or the nuttiness of distributing trophies for showing up, nothing like that.  I just wasn’t willing to give up my early autumn weekends to hang out on the sidelines of pee-wee anything.  I’ve always adored the linger-y late summer days that come on the weekends in September and October. I love heading north and hiking when the bugs aren’t so numerous and the sleeping temps call for an extra layer of flannel or wool.   Oh, how I love the change in the air, in the light.  We kept packing our family up and getting out in it, wherever it may be.  And putting on more outerwear, as required.

IMG_0735Top of my NH loop, top of the hollyhock stalk. I generally run out of phone battery before I’ve gotten home. Is there such a thing as stopping to take too many pictures?  I think not.


So when our grad student summer sublet lease ran out, the transition from no more daily walks over the footbridge was offset by a required drive north.  New Hampshire beckoned while the contractor scurried to finish up our renovations.  We had no where else to lay our heads, so off we went.

Oh, what a week we got.

IMG_0689Our first summer vacation night. Mount Washington in the gloaming.

While the rest of the world seemed ready to call it a season, my beloved and I dove in to summertime, better late than never. We gratefully received the gift of six glorious days,  made epic by a seemingly endless supply of blue skies and soft air.  Maybe summer had been just like this when we were closer to home, packing boxes and schlepping them hither and yon, trying to remember to look up when the sun set over the river, but no matter–by my estimate, our forced relocation made the best sort of vacation.  The kind where you get to just sit still for a bit, and drink it all in by the bucketfuls.

IMG_0915Our favorite swimming hole.  With a new and improved sandy beach, a curious happy bonus of Hurricane Irene’s wrath.  Water clear and cold and beautiful to swim about in, eyes open.  Or goggled, in my case.  Yes, we had it all to ourselves for a spell.  Then we shared it with happy families and dogs who chase rocks.  We loved it, both ways.


Oh, there were some activities: projects that included emptying out closets, prolonged US Open watching (a curious treat, at the end of our TV-less summer sublet), hikes for my sweetie and bike rides and my sacred five mile walk for me, over and over, delighting me with new views of old favorite vistas, every time.  New wildlife too–a first-ever otter spotting, a moose with velvety nubs of new antlers, a bear who got up on his haunches to see what I was about.  There were cedar waxwings and pileated woodpeckers–who came right to our picture window!–and our beloved beavers, who provide a regular pre- or post-dinnertime show as they swim about their little pond, surveying their realm, pulling up reeds and grasses and lazily nibbling the greenery.

IMG_1098My beloved, in a familiar spot, looking across the notch to Mt. Washington.  We were regular tourists, took the gondola up, then hiked to the Wildcat D summit to eat our sandwiches and admire the view.  While there, we chatted with two Appalachian Trail through-hikers–a young man from PA hiking north to south, and a 100-pound 69 year old woman, who admitted that she’d only started in Virginia, not Georgia. Through hikers live for days like this–blue skies, and trails above the timberline.  We felt lucky to meet them both.

Towards the end of our week, went on a road trip to a wedding on the coast of Maine.  We drank up more beauty, more amazing skies.  We got misty when the minister (who was also the groom’s father) choked up over the phrase “Love is kind…” It was as if he was hearing the words in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for the first time–that, or realizing that he was saying them to his son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.  We stood amazed, at the beauty of the salt marshes and waterfront and the longest, loveliest lawn you can imagine, a spot worthy of an Edith Wharton novel.

IMG_1146Some of us feasted on high bush blueberries, courtesy of this most remarkable venue.

And then we drove back to New Hampshire, once again through towns with names like Minot and Gilead and South Paris, encountering a pale pink sunset with an ever-growing crescent of a moon.  It stayed light long after the sun disappeared, the way it does when the pink hangs onto whatever’s left up in the sky–cirrus clouds, jet plane contrails.

And then the moon disappeared behind Boot Spurr, along the edge of the Presidential range.  And on our way through Pinkham Notch, we pulled over at the big windy corner, killed the engine and turned off the lights.  And got out, and looked up.  To more stars than can be imagined.  To the milky way and beyond.

Too much beauty to be contained in life, let alone one blog post.  Too much summer still to be drunk deep.  More to come.

IMG_1150Oh oh oh.  The light this time of year.