The rest of the trip was pure joy, though. I went to synagogue with Emily on Yom Kippor--a sweet snmall Renewal or Reconstructionist congregation. I'd forgotten to bring white clothes and as we settled in I noticed something and nudged Emily.
"I'm the only woman here wearing make-up. Is that forbidden on Yom Kippor? Did I screw up?"
She whispered back. "No, it's just Vermont. Anyway, you're not the only one." She indicated a large older woman several rows away with a wig that was slightly askew and some bright red lipstick that didn't look quite right smeared across her pale lips.
"Yes, but that woman has cancer," I hissed.
"That woman used to be a man."
"Oh, great. So, it's me and a transsexual wearing make-up on Yom Kippor!" Emily giggled. We picked up our books and started singing, the same songs we sing at Kehilla. We were hungry, but it was okay. Lucy, aged four, managed to stay in the room for the first hour of the service, and then she was off, exploring the building. I followed her around, traipsing up and down the wooden stairs, exploring the back corners.
She didn't last much after noon, so we left and took her to a playground, and then followed her across a muddy field, that led to a pond where there were frogs. We lay on our backs and looked at clouds, and went down to the water's edge and tested the temperature (cool,) and looked at the turning leaves and she climbed a tree. Towards evening Emily and I were feeling raggedy--Em broke her fast a little early with some bread, I had been nibbling cheese and crackers since noon.
The next day I went to Eli's third grade classroom and did a poetry lesson with the kids. His teacher could not have been a day over twenty-two and she looked sixteen. She was very nice and the kids jumped right in. Eli's father David came to watch and took me out for coffee afterwards. We had a nice talk and then he guided me in his car to Mt. Grace and left me there. "You have to climb two fences to get to the trail," he said. "But it's worth it."
I climbed the two fences and set off up the trail. It was a clear warm perfect October day. I don't know how to describe a New England fall without resorting to cliches. Words are inadequate. You walk under a cathedral of color and light. It is a leaf-littered, golden kaleidoscope.
I started to sweat as I climbed about forty-five minutes to the top, where there was a small fire tower. I climbed that too, and looked out. All around me the red green orange yellow Berkshires, an undulant sea of color. I couldn't help but sing the Shema. I sang it several times, louder and louder, then began spontaneously blessing every member of my family, all my loved ones.
I blessed the region, and the people of the region. I had such a strong sense of place. Even though I've lived in Oakland for almost nineteen years now, and city streets feel like home, I will always have attachment to this land, these colors, even the gruff New England accents and the sharp sting of cold weather when it comes. But this day was unseasonably warm and I blessed and I blessed as much as I had breath for, ending with myself.
Then, after some time, I walked back down. Walking up, I had passed two chocolate brown horses grazing freely, very close to the path. They were so big they scared me a little. On the way back one of them came up to me and snuffled me. He snigged my hands, my arms, my face with his huge nostrils and gigantic mouth. I looked at his hooves--one kick from one of them could have killed me. I stood still and let him smell me, and then I cautiously raised a hand and tried to stroke his long velvet nose. He jerked his head away. I was sorry I had nothing for him--no carrot, no apple.
I got back to my rental car safely, and then went to Harvard Square where I had lived for seven years back when I was in my twenties. I visited that house, 27 Dana St., and even rang the bell, but no one was there. I saw by the names on the door that the landlords, the Trachtmans, were still there. I walked down to the Grolier poetry bookstore, which is managed by a new person, and browsed and chatted with him, and left a copy of my book--my lone copy--there, on consignment.
As I was heading back to my car, I passed a cafe and there was my first poetry mentor, Bill Corbett, sitting, having dinner with friends. His face hadn't changed, it really hadn't, in thirty years. I did several independent studies with him where we used to walk all over Boston, snow or sunshine, to visit his friends' art galleries and talk about poetry. I often ate dinner with his family; Beverly, his wife and his two daughters, Marni and Arden. Under his guidance I read all the New York poets, John Ashbery (whom I didn't really get, and still don't to tell the truth) James Schuyler whom I loved, Frank O'Hara, Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh. Bill loves art and painting, so I saw a lot of art then too.
We didn't have time to really catch up--he handed me a chapbook of some poems of his and I hurried off to the airport to pick up my darling C. He got off the plane with a headache, just as I had--what's up with planes these days? Is there less oxygen on them or what? We drove back to Dad's--Aggie behaving more and more erratically--until I had to do the last leg by memory.
The next day was pure Heaven, because the whole family met up for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. It was just the way life should be, the grown-ups laughing and talking and relaxing, the kids playing with each other, and coming around to sit on different people's laps for cuddling or rough-housing. This is how I would want to live always. Extended family. Children. Adults who are deeply connected sharing the work of looking after them. Generations. Community.
It's not all idyllic, of course. There are plenty of disagreements and all the usual tensions in our family. You can't get a group of strong willed opinionated people and subject them to the usual and unusual traumas of life--divorce, a bad economy, remarriages, and in our case our mother's prolonged illness and death--and not have people with some sensitive scars. But there was a lovely feeling of cohesiveness, and the kids reveled in it, you could just see it in the ease in which they ran around laughing. They know in their little bodies when they are safe and surrounded by people who really care about them.
We walked to a nearby playground afterwards and I loved watching C play soccer with my nephews while the girls climbed on the swings and the adults pushed them and chatted and kept an eye out.
And then, too quickly, it was over, and C and I were on the plane, me with a heavy bag full of mind-improving literature, which of course I ignored in favor of watching Project Runway for hours on end until we reached home.