The saga continues…
It was just a couple of minutes past twilight when we arrived at Carol’s house in Pelham (right on the edge of Amherst). We were totally exhausted from the long, if exciting, day. Perfect timing to be with Carol, where I usually end up feeling pampered and reassured and comforted by my dear friend and kinda-sorta adopted mom. She had the tray of finger food ready to go, and a bowl of cookies and candy were out for Ben (and us). No food discipline is possible at Carol’s house – it’s a constant snack scene. I gain weight when she’s in the vicinity, but I’m also happier, so it evens out. (Carol sends me one of her signature birthday cakes in the mail every single year.) Everything was pretty much as I remembered it, except that she now has an extra room built on. We still talk on the phone quite often; these days we talk politics. We egged each other on, as usual. John and Carol started shouting at CSpan in no time. My only regret about our visit is that in the couple of days we were there, we never sipped Earl Grey tea together.
We didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked in downtown Amherst, but we did go into Hastings for some stocking stuffers, and I bought The Good Fairies of New York at Amherst Books. They’ve built a new cinema, and it’s about to open. The old one-screen movie theater was were I first saw Harold and Maude and The Graduate. It was really cheap to go next door, pick up some fried rice, and go to an old movie for dinner.
By the by, why can’t any Chinese restaurants in Atlanta make fried rice? There are some amazingly good restaurants of every cuisine here, but you just can’t get this dish. Every time I’ve ordered it, it comes to me in the boiled form. I’ve tried to explain what makes fried rice … fried rice – but I can’t get no satisfaction.
We had breakfast at Roosters – kielbasa, real maple syrup and skip the grits, thanks. On the way back, we stopped in at what used to be North Amherst Gulf, and I got to see Joe Sacco – the Boss-Man. It’s now a car repair place, but I used to work there part-time (I was “Girl #2″ – and yes, Joe is the only one who could ever get away with that). It was one of the best jobs I ever had. The gas was expensive, which meant that I got paid to read books and look out at the cows in the pasture across the street. Joe and I talked for a few minutes, and recalled the time that a woman held her lighter up to a frozen gas cap – until we all ran out screaming “Stop! Stop! Think what you’re doing!” He is just the same, a little grayer. He still calls his wife “The Boss.”
I would very much have liked to have seen my undergraduate adviser/mentor and friend Richard N., but he and his wife were celebrating Thanksgiving in New York. I think we missed each other by only a day or so.
Andrew was the first person in my life that really seemed to understand my transition out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and to help me to craft my way out of the mindset. Born in Latvia into a family that toured around the USSR like a religious version of the Von Trapps, he had experiences to draw upon; his first novel got pulled from the shelves when a family member objected to his perspective. Andrew really understood the basic contours of the trap, and he was the first to offer me some avenues out of it. One thing that seems small, but helped quite a lot was that he would say things like “Shame on that terrible group! It’s despicable!”. For no real reason, he aligned himself with me and seemed to stand up for me – like a psychological placeholder. It sounds silly, but most of my perspective at that point was more instinctual. In my mind, he provided a frame for repositioning my ideas about care and solidarity and ethics. I wasn’t able even to think the word “despicable” yet. I didn’t yet have the courage. I only knew that what I saw was destructive and I wanted to get away from it. He made me feel welcomed and included, and gave me the feeling that we shared in-jokes. He treated me as though I were an interesting person, and it helped me believe that someday I might really become one.
He once gave me a piece of advice that allowed me to understand something about him, too. He told me that I should let people underestimate me. He advised me, with a naughty grin, to study the Columbo method.
He was one of the people I knew in Amherst who opened doors into different kinds of awareness. Amherst was where I started to become more like me. Beyond all of that, many the people I met in Amherst are just simply fun to be around.
When we went to see him, Andrew got John’s life story out of him – then they went on to discuss artificial life and spirit and memory. He had an area for children to be able to sit and draw. Ben got to work immediately, and made him several drawings of Star Wars characters (I miss his earlier abstracts – sigh).
Andrew called me “my darling” and “wench” and “bit*h” and asked John how he managed to capture me. He made me laugh, and he gave me great big hugs. Good times.
On the morning we left we went out to breakfast with Nadine and Ernie, and then back to their house. We got separated from them because of the heavy traffic on route 9, and in trying to call them I accidentally redialed Andrew – who gave me the directions. Hee-hee. I thought John and Ernie would get on well because they are both interested in science fiction, and they are skeptics and academics (and I also just had a feeling about it). Nadine and I had been in contact via phone and email, but I hadn’t seen Ernie in a very long time. I wasn’t even sure that he would remember me since we hadn’t actually interacted that much. When I asked him, he said, “I could pick you out from a stadium full of blondes.”
Nadine has been running a writer’s workshop for women, and making some of her amazing creations. She starts from the wool and takes it all the way to woven pieces and quilts and all sorts of other things. I wound a ball of yarn while we we were talking in their living room. It was very relaxing to do that somehow. She tried to show Ben how to spin from the wool, but it isn’t as easy as it looks!
A darker side of Amherst: The currently-playing movie Running with Scissors is based on some not completely unknown people in Amherst (good for him for writing it). The mother was in the program at UMass, and I might even have bumped into her now and again, although I have no clear memory of it.
We were running late, but we drove up to Skinner Park to the top of Mt. Holyoke anyway. Since we couldn’t make it to the Berkshires, I wanted to show John and Ben the view of the Valley.
We stopped for gas and a couple of cups of coffee to go, and headed out to Longmeadow.
To be continued…