What is our Life but a series of Preludes to that unknown chant, the first solemn note of which is sounded by Death?
–Franz Liszt: His statement prefacing his symphonic poem, “Les Preludes (after Lamartine)”.
As soon as we settled into our Victorian house in 2002, I made it a point to get involved in our community. It was a good way to meet people, to learn about the community and region, to help ensure that our town be a good place to live, work and play; I knew, too, that ultimately I would need the support of these new friends I was making. I joined the board of directors of our Main Street association, where in particular I helped put together and administer our annual historic homes tour. I chose the location of our house, in the historic district, so that I could walk downtown – for the exercise and fresh air and in case my car wasn’t running, I could still get to some stores. I joined the proprietor, Jackie, of our local store, The Gathering Place, that sold “herbs, spices, teas, coffee and oddities”, as she termed it, cross promoting the store and friends’ artistic and nonprofit humanitarian ventures through a series of wine and cheese receptions. I have listed these people and their organizations here on my home page. Jackie hosted me at one of these events, my signing of the wall calendar I created featuring my photos of historic buildings around town. Jackie also sold books at the Gathering Place written by local authors about the history, lore and ghosts of our region. I wrote a chapter published in one of those books. I think the best thing Jackie gathered in her store was the local lore. Everybody, it seemed, visited The Gathering Place, located in the center of town. Among those who stopped in were the old timers who had plenty of interesting stories to tell – the ghosts, whom everybody has seen (me, too – and maybe that’s whom Emma is smiling at sometimes), the narrow spaces between the walls where runaway slaves were hidden, the long-gone hotel and amusements on our nearby Delaware Bay beach. The open, warm, and friendly citizens in our town welcomed us even before we moved in. I have gotten to know many of them and made some good friends. And, even though, sadly, The Gathering Place is now closed, happily many of these friends are still here in my life, including Jackie.
During my early years in Delaware, I also wrote feature stories for the Wilmington News Journal, the daily newspaper; The Bystander, a magazine serving the Delaware beaches; Delmarva Quarterly; and Middletown Life Magazine. You can read my stories in the latter online. Nothing like spotlighting my own performances here – minus the wine and cheese, despairingly – but I say this to show that I got to know many of the initiators and influential people in the area and much about the region historically and geographically, including some of the initiators of the Coastal Zone Act, who sadly passed on recently.
It is good that I became so involved: one, because I found the people and history fascinating; two, because as my involvement increased, my family’s decreased. My brother lived in a town 20 minutes away. He used to come and repair things around the house, but he stopped. (Fortunately, I found a great handyman to replace him.) My brother rarely visited our mother. The occasions we did see each other were usually on holidays when we’d go to his house for a cookout or a Thanksgiving or Christmas roast. (In his defense, he daily traveled two hours roundtrip to work and his daughter and three young children moved in with him and his wife, after he had raised four children of his own.) Then, about a year ago, he retired and he and his wife moved to North Carolina (his mother-in-law had passed on a few years earlier).
As it happens, my brother lives an hour north of my daughter, who with her husband and my two granddaughters moved to the state from Southern California two years earlier.
My daughter and I were elated initially to know we’d be living just an eight to ten hour drive apart. Then, Emma became too frail to travel and my daughter found the long solo drive difficult. Furthermore – my daughter’s name is Kellie, and her daughters are absolute Kellie facets, so I call them The Three Kellies – the kids have become busy with school and activities, you may know how it is these days, and Kellie got a part-time job. They’ve got their summer completely booked without scheduling us in, so I don’t know when we’ll see them again.
History is a series of causes and effects, said historian and author David McCullough in a recent TV conversation with Charlie Rose. (He said also that the most important thing in life is family.) So, here I am, just me, Samantha, with Emma and our little teacup poodle, Jetta, my belongings still in storage in California, no car, a bicycle with rotted tires, a handful of helpful friends here and beautiful friends across the Internet who live in California and across the country. Oh, yeah, and a walnut tree growing in my flowerbed in front of my porch. The squirrels exchange walnuts for tulip bulbs, et voilà, an eight-foot tree in my flowerbed. The tree was a three-foot stalk this spring. Now it is up to the roof of my porch. By the time I finish writing this, it’ll be higher, nearly up to Emma’s bedroom window. It has grown about five feet and sprouted a second trunk section, spreading across my patch of front lawn. I sit on the porch and watch it grow. No, no, it’s not a beanstalk – I had one of those in my herb garden – I thought the giant would climb through my upstairs bathroom window. I had the beanstalk removed. I gave to our Hospice nurse, Tess, a walnut tree that was growing out of the house foundation and transplanted another from the flowerbed to the backyard. My next-door neighbors will be so pleased in 10 years when the walnuts start dropping into their yard. But, there again, it’s family – these walnut trees are descendants of the two venerable walnut trees in the backyard of the pre-Revolutionary home on the corner three doors up. Those trees must be 250 years old, and their offspring, thanks to a family of squirrels, live in our yard.