I haven’t been here in a while and want to get back into blogging. I’ve changed the name of my blog because I want it to just be a place to share my words, and not about weight loss or physical health. This is a piece I wrote this past weekend at a women’s writer’s retreat with trusted friends. The visit is fiction, but the memories are real. I miss the Blueberry House every day.
It is a beautiful sunny July day, and I am standing at the bottom of the final hill on the road that leads to The Blueberry House. The new owners will be taking possession of the place on September first, so I have only this summer, this weekend, to be here one last time. With me are some trusted and beloved friends – Vajranada, who has been here many times having dinner on the back porch with my family and I, and emotionally and spiritually buffering me from the toxicity of my mother. Bonnie, best friend, yoga teacher, and meditation guide. And Tesse, whom I am managing to befriend after months of trying to figure out how to do so without weirding her out with my Aspie bluntness. We are a group of four women and three dogs, standing on the road, breathing in the piney smell, listening to the birds singing and the critters shuffling in the dead leaves.
We ascend the hill, humans trudging, dogs joyfully bounding. I show them the rock where my sister Abigail fell and skinned her knee not once, not twice, but three times. The third time she did it her cry was not of pain but of rage that she had been subjected to this experience yet again. I show them the two halves of a giant rock on either side of the road and tell them about how Abigail and I had supposed that it was a meteor from space. The deer flies and mosquitos are buzzing around our heads and in our ears, which I worry is annoying for my friends but which for me is just another stitch in the quilt of memory that softly enveloped me the day this trip began to be planned.
When we arrive at the top of the hill the tip of the A-frame peeks through the leaves, and there is a familiar tug in my chest as though this place and my heart are two halves of a magnet being drawn together. “You’re home,” it whispers. “You’re where you belong.” Vajra, being Vajra, notices right away that the garden has yielded copious amounts of cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and string beans which will go bad if we don’t eat them. When my parents sold the place, they were done – they didn’t want to be here anymore. To them, this is a place where we had fun, but it’s just a place. Vajra knows they won’t be back so she sets about harvesting the beautiful vegetables, already dreaming about the salads and mosaic scrambled eggs that will spring from her nimble fingers. To Bonnie and Tesse, who are seeing the place for the first time, I tell the story of how my father found this place and the first time I’d seen it.
It was 1977, and my sister and I were 2 and 5 years old. It was spring, and the weather was still cool enough for ski caps outdoors. We were staying at my grandparents’ farm in Henniker NH. Given the difficulty I had with both grandparents, I was stressed and hiding behind the coats in the mud room. The door opened, and even through the coats I felt a blast of air that was too cold to be comfortable, but welcome because it dispersed the cloying odor of my grandmother’s perfume and shitty cooking.
My dad drew the coats aside, looked at me, and said in a stage whisper, “We found a magic place!”
“Narnia?” I whispered back hopefully. I was already obsessed with the C.S. Lewis books and had decided that Aslan was my friend and that he followed me to school every day.
“Not Narnia,” Dad said, “but just as good!”
With that, he bundled Abigail and I into the car, ignoring the protests from my grandmother that she’d already cooked dinner for us, and we were off.
We arrived at the top of Windsor mountain and the A-frame came into view. Once the vehicle stopped, a silence enveloped us. No traffic noise, no rumbling furnace sound, or the sound of my grandmother’s radio station where people always talked, and no one ever sang. I could hear the breeze moving through the grass which hadn’t been mown in long enough that the top of each blade tickled Abigail’s nose with its seeds. I could hear birds. We walked toward the A-frame and went inside. Aside from the wooden skeletons of a couple of walls, there was absolutely nothing there. It was one big empty space that went all the way to the peak of the A. The place smelled like cut wood and mouse poop. You might think I would have been disappointed by the contrast between this place and Narnia, but energetically there was no contrast. I fell in love with the place the moment we arrived, and something inside me knew it would be a safe refuge. I could feel my shoulders drop and my fists relax.
Bonnie and Tesse listen to this description as we walk the rest of the way to the cabin. I point out the wooden board that my dad had balanced between two huge pines and hung two homemade swings from – one with a seat and the other a stick tied to a rope. I explain how you could climb the rock next to one of the trees holding the “Tarzan swing” as we called it, and jump, feeling your body move through the air in an arc until you let go and dropped to the ground just before crashing into the other tree. I describe how exhilarating that had been, and I can see in their eyes that they understand. I show them where the space trolley had begun and where it had ended.
We walk across the front yard from there and move past the garage to an ancient green bus. The bus was there when my family arrived, and the previous owners had used it as a makeshift stable for their horses. It was empty inside, the steering wheel the only thing left as all the seats had been removed. As we duck to enter, I tell Bonnie and Tesse about how we shoveled all the horse manure out of the bus and replaced it with sand, so we could play with all our sand toys in there even when it rained. As they are looking around, another memory comes to me.
It was 1988 and Abigail was 13 and I was16. She was brown and the bottoms of her feet were calloused from running around barefoot. I was pasty white and soft, as I had spent most of the summer on the inpatient psych unit of Norwood Hospital. We decided to go into the bus and play in the sand for old time’s sake. Once there we discovered a bunch of little playmobile toys, little men and women dressed as police officers and firemen and nurses and construction workers. In our family they were called “Wolfgang Toys” since they had been given to us many years ago by a German colleague of my dad’s.
“What was it like?” Abigail asked. “Did they shock your brain like in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’?”
“Nah,” I said. “They didn’t even make me take many drugs. It was mostly just boring. They’re a bunch of retards too. They’d ask me to tell them ‘what was bothering me’ and if I gave them a fuckin’ honest answer they’d say I was lying. So, after a while I just made shit up. The fun part was trying to shock them.”
“How’d you do that?” She asked.
“Like just acting as weird as you could think of. Like shouting ‘anal warts’ at the top of your lungs right behind a nurse’s back, or, like, slicing your arm right in front of people.”
Abigail took a few minutes to digest this. As the kid saddled with the “good child” label she had it worse than me in a lot of ways. Not only did her behavior have to be perfect enough to satisfy my mother, but it had to be perfect enough to counteract all my crazy. My mom had to be able to hold her up and say “See? This one proves I’m a good mother.” I could see that Abigail was hearing what I was saying the way I’d hoped she would – as a description of how one could use behavior to create a feeling of freedom, even on a locked psych ward.
“What could we do?” She wondered, and I understood what she was asking. How can I get a taste of that freedom? Right here and right now? So, I took a lime green Bic lighter out of my pocket, picked up one of the Wolfgang Toys, and melted its legs off. The smell was horrific and inhaling the chemical fumes probably didn’t do either of us any good. But for the next several minutes we took turns incinerating the little plastic men and women until we had nothing but a puddle of grayish melted plastic and a bus full of smoke. Wordlessly, we buried the evidence under the sand and quickly exited the bus.
By the time I am finished relaying that story, Tesse is already digging around looking for the remnants of the little plastic men, and before long her searching fingers unearth an object that looks like a grey mutant hockey puck with little flecks of primary colors. “You can keep it if you want,” I tell her, laughing. “It might inspire your inner rebel.” Tesse instead opts to leave it in the bus but uncovered, imagining the two little boys who will be here finding it and trying to figure out what the hell it is.
From there we walk to the A-frame itself, stopping to peek into the garage which never housed a car but was used for dad’s lawnmowers, tools, and workbench. I described the clubhouse Abigail and I had built in the back of it, with an old holey sheet with Keep Out” printed with black sharpie. I told them about all our secret places – the treehouse, the little cave in the woods, the falling down shelter even deeper in the woods that we had made curtains for. The whole place had been safe, but when we wanted an extra layer of safety, we could retreat to one of those places and get lost in one fantasy game or another.
Entering the house itself still feels like crossing over into Narnia. The walls are covered with Abigail’s and my artwork spanning the entirety of the time we owned the place. They’re displayed in no particular order, an intricate charcoal drawing done in high school art class next to a drawing of Aslan I made in kindergarten. There is a dining room table, a couch, and some bookshelves in the corner with a single mattress and pillow for lounging and reading. We called it The Cozy Nook. There is a sink with a pump for washing dishes, which is in a little room that used to be a bedroom for Abigail and me when we were younger.
One can no longer see all the way to the top of the A, because my father built in a second floor to the house, which one can enter by climbing a steep set of steps which are half ladder. The first half of the bedroom was built separately from the second half, so for a while the second floor also had a balcony with a railing, and one could look down on those in the living room from the bedroom. I tell Bonnie and Tesse about a game we used to play with a small tin saucepan with a handle and a rope. In the game, we were rescuing all our stuffed animals from a fire, lowering each in the pan with the rope. One person was up, and one was down, receiving the animals. When everyone was saved, we’d switch places and start again. When dad extended the floor the rest of the way across the space, we couldn’t play that game anymore, but we always found new games.
Bonnie and Tesse climb up and I follow, showing them the double bed where mom and dad had slept. Above the bed are criss crossing strings, and atop the string lattice is a tarp.
“What’s that for?” Bonnie asks.
“To protect them from bat poop.” I reply. “They didn’t mind the bats themselves flying around but didn’t want to be pooped on as they slept.”
I tell them about how Abigail and I used to pretend we were selling each other my mom’s clothes and dressed up in them. There is also a coffee table and a couch. The coffee table reminds me of another story. Tesse and Bonnie look at each other and sit on the couch, having gotten used to my interludes during this tour.
It was 1980 and Abigail and I were 5 and 8. When we arrived that weekend, we saw that the place had been broken into. It was the only time anyone had stolen anything. My father called the police, and they said they’d be up “at some point” during the day. So, we went about our business, playing outside, eating homemade blueberry muffins, feasting ourselves on the smell of the air and the sight of so many shades of green. My sister’s new thing was to take every stitch of clothing off and run around naked, which my parents had no problem with. That was also the summer she started insisting my father leave her a circle of unmown grass that she could lie in and hunt for bugs.
I was playing upstairs in my parents’ bedroom and decided that it would be fun to run across the room and slide on my butt across the coffee table. The first few times, it was indeed fun. The last time, mid slide, I felt a sharp foreign object imbed itself in my left butt cheek. I shrieked and descended the ladder as quickly as my insulted gluteus maximus would allow.
“What happened?” My mother asked.
“I got a splinter in my fanny!” I yelled. She called my dad in to try and get it out.
This is what the two policemen saw when they arrived at our property: A buck naked 5 year old apparently dead and half concealed in a patch of tall grass, and an 8 year old lying face down on the couch with her pants down, screaming bloody murder as her father bent over her doing God knows what with a metal implement. One of the cops ran over to see if Abigail was OK, while the other one slammed into the cabin with his hand on the butt of his gun.
It took my parents a bit to get them settled down, but after that their visit was pretty cool. We got to sit in their cop car and turn the siren on, and after they’d finished assessing the damage and taken inventory of what had been stolen, they stayed for turkey sandwiches and blueberry buckle. Would have been a happy ending if it weren’t for the fact that my dad was unable to remove the damned splinter, and I had to ride home like that and have a doctor remove it after giving me Novocain.
We descend the ladder just as Vajra clomps onto the front porch with a large enough harvest of veggies basketed in her shirt that we can’t see the bottom half of her face. We open the door for her, and she sashays through the living room to the kitchen area, chirping about the amazing salad she is going to make. She has fresh dill and other herbs to make homemade dressing. She is joyfully reminiscing about her macrobiotic days, and I realize that the magic of The Blueberry House can touch anyone – not just those who grew up in its sacred protective vibe.
Bonnie and Tesse and I continue forward and out onto the back porch, where we all sit down facing The Big Rock – a behemoth that my sister and I climbed many times and even picnicked on once or twice. There is no longer a porch swing there but being there still reminds me of the happiest memory of all.
It was 1980, or 1982, or 1993. It is an amalgam of every warm summer evening I spent on the porch. It was after dinner, and the sun was thinking about setting. My parents were washing dishes. My sister was maybe playing outside among the devil’s paintbrush, or maybe dressing her barbies in her room, or maybe on the porch with me alternately using her crayons to color with and sniffing them.
I, having procured my favorite book at the time, maybe an Encyclopedia Brown, maybe a Nancy Drew, maybe the 14th reading of the Narnia books, lay down on the porch swing, shifting the cushions so that one was behind my head on the armrest and the other alongside my body. I rested one foot on the opposite armrest and used the other toe to gently push off from the swing frame and rock me gently back and forth as the evening breeze caresses me.
On cue, as they did every evening, the hermit thrushes began their exquisitely beautiful song. One long note followed by several short ones that almost sound like yodeling. First just one or two birds, but soon there was an exhilarating chorus of them, trilling back and forth to one another sharing the story of their day. I lay my book on my chest and listened to them with my eyes closed, partly to keep from crying, and partly to be able to enjoy their symphony without any visual distraction. Each note seemed to reach into my heart and tug at it, asking it to re-open and take in the love of God. I felt grief with the knowledge that I couldn’t risk doing that yet, but it was overridden by the joy and sacredness of the moment. Being in my safe happy place, knowing that for this moment, this evening, life was good.
When I opened my eyes, I saw the dragonflies. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds. All flying around looking for a mate. Their wings caught the light of the setting sun and seemed to sparkle. It was nearly like watching the fireflies that would come out after the sun had completed his evening performance. The sparkling apparitions would meet one another, and their two bodies would meld, and soon the air was filled with couples, engaging in the act of procreation without a care in the world. I watched them, being careful to move the swing just enough to be rocked but not enough to make a sound, feeling like I was observing a secret sacred rite which demanded silence and reverence.
I look over at Bonnie and Tesse and they both have their eyes closed, and Bonnie is making her “prayer face” with her hands upturned and the glow of spiritual connection playing across her features. Vajra has silently joined us and is smiling at two grosbeaks darting on and off the bird feeder. Tomorrow I will bring them the rest of the way up the hill to the Back Pasture, and show them where I used to climb my favorite tree and observe what felt like the entire world, and the flat rock where we had picnics, and the spot where we once saw two grey wolves. For now, though, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude that my beloved friends are here, and that I have been able to share the magic of The Blueberry House with them, and that I can see the understanding and peace and joy on their faces. I scoot forward to hold all of their hands at once, unmindful of the grateful tears running down my cheeks, and just say “thank you.”
I live in Maine now, but I visit Keene, NH once a month to lead Kirtan with my friend Vajranada. Driving to Keene from Lewiston, I pass through Antrim. I have not been able to drive past the turn off to Lovern’s Mill Road without tears. I always slow my car, reach my hand toward the road, and whisper “I love you” as I drive by, blotting my eyes on my sleeve before speeding up again.