A Tale of Two Houses

I woke up thinking of Mitsy Hobson* today. She’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I have a thought or two as to why.

She must be about 75 years old by now, possibly even a little older. She was the age I am now when we first met. I had just moved into my ‘dream house’ around the corner from her house, but had known of her for many years prior.

I say ‘known of her’ due to the fact that Mitsy had somewhat of a reputation of being a persnickety curmudgeon. We went to the same church and when I became an official staff member, it suddenly seemed to put us (in her mind, anyway) on the same level playing field as spiritual and liturgical equals. Although she was not a nun, her siblings were Brothers, Sisters of Mercy and Priests, serving many years in the very church we now attended. She boasted of how her father “built this church” due to his many generous monetary contributions, and I had no reason to believe otherwise.

Mitsy spent the majority of her time sticking her nose into everyone else’s business, although she never really looked at it that way. She felt she was helping, being the neighborhood grandmother and organizer. Truth be known, most of us looked forward to the time when she would travel to her “other house” in New Mexico, and where her husband lived. It was a blessed respite from the constant queries as to “what kind of flower is that?” followed by her real intention of wanting to know “when are you going to cut your grass?”

They had an interesting marriage, if one could call it that. I certainly didn’t think it was very healthy, but she assured us that it was the best thing for the both of them.

“We do better when we live apart” she explained one afternoon.

“We make it work.” I had no reason to believe otherwise. They had just celebrated their 35th anniversary, whereas I was struggling to meet the 12th and which eventually did end.

It was a day not unlike this one that we were all sitting in her parlor, tea sandwiches and glasses of wine poised at the ready. Our group consisted of all the female neighbors who were too afraid to turn down her yearly invitation for lunch. She had a captive audience and proceeded to regale us with tales of visits to Africa and the like, places we knew we would never see except for on the Discovery channel. There was a grand piano in the corner of the room and a stately old grandfather clock standing proudly in the other, chiming every hour.

This must be what its like to be rich I thought to myself. To have two houses at either end of the country and a grand piano.  It was so foreign to all I had ever known, of saving and pinching pennies to feed an ever growing family.

After every Thanksgiving holiday, Mitsy would travel to New Mexico to live at her other house and be with her husband. Staying there with him until the first blossoms of spring in May, she would not leave the New York house until the last leaf of autumn had fallen. The colors of the East coast were too enchanting to miss, and she reminded us every year to drink it all in.

He would return back to this house with her, seldom staying much longer than mid June, claiming he had golf tournaments and other commitments to attend to. He was as gregarious as she was persnickety, and I think we all looked forward to his visits as much as she did.

“My life is here” she said, surprising me one early summer evening in response to my how are you? wave. I was taking a walk and found her sitting in her usual spot, a white rocker on the front wrap around porch that surrounded her entire colonial style house. Motioning for me to join her, I hadn’t planned to visit (no one ever did) but took the opportunity to extend my evening walk just a while longer.

Listening to her talk about her various flowers she had planted as I watched her little dog scurry after chipmunks on the front lawn, I suddenly wondered if she was lonely, being here on the porch all alone, with no children or husband to speak of.  Watching her eyes light up as she continued to talk about her beautiful flowers, I decided she was not. The marriage worked for them and it made them both happy. Who was I to judge how they chose to live their union?

Now that I am closer to the age she was on that summer evening, I am faced with my own question of how to live my marriage. Just short of celebrating seven years together, my traveling husband has an opportunity to work permanently at a great job, but it will mean moving to Idaho. As with many marriages, ours has been tested, almost to the breaking point.

I’m not sure I want to go with him to Idaho. Most of my children are here on this side of the country, along with my dearest friends who have become my family. My writing career had begun here, stories based upon the very backyard and the lake on which we live. In fact, I have a new book being released in the fall, and will spend the rest of the year promoting it. “The Book of The Stories From the Lake” is about my life here. Moving to Idaho was not in the plan.

“You don’t have to live here all the time,” he explained, recognizing my dilemma, while never knowing of Mitsy Hobson.

“We’ll keep the lake house and when you are ready, come stay with me for a while in a house out in Idaho. I’ll be working most of the time anyway, and you can come back east as often as you please. We can live on the Snake River and you can write there, too. We can make it work, if we really want to.”

I realized why the memories of Mitsy Hobson had suddenly taken hold in my mind, flooding my consciousness and why this all seemed vaguely familiar. “Stories From the Snake” certainly could mean another chapter added to my already full and surprisingly peaceful life. I laughed to myself at the double meaning to that title, but gave it some serious considerable thought, nonetheless.

God puts people in our lives for a reason, choosing to cross our paths with the most unlikeliest of teachers. The lesson of Mitsy Hobson would certainly be part of the equation, should it ever come to pass.

I have no doubt she is still sitting on that rocking chair on the front porch, and counting the days when she can go visit her husband again in her other house that enhances their marriage.

I have no reason to believe otherwise.

*Not her real name


Martin Purple

Every now and then our walks take us down to the Lake and amongst the other people that live there.

Some are visitors, setting down root for the season.  Summer cottages groaning with arms and legs, and the walls bursting with the laughter of little kids and young adults, all wishing they could live there year round, and not have to go back to work or school when the leaves begin to fall.

Amongst late afternoon card games of gin rummy and euchre played by adults, the kids run around with the dogs, in and out of the lake.  The screened back door slams with each entry and exit from the cottages quiet only for an hour or so when Mom calls for Dinner! 

One of our walks this wet summer evening led us to a fellow I had never met before. He is an avid caretaker for his own summer company, birds named Purple Martins.  Migrating from Toronto to Brazil, they stop at his nesting area to refuel and also spend their summer.  A summer vacation for the Purple Martins, they know where to go, for they return every year to this gentlemen’s sparse but efficient abode.

When I first spied the accomodations, I thought they were some kind of high tech computer equipment or a radar tracking system.  Upon closer inspection, however, it was clear to see they were modern looking birdhouses, or nesting gourds as he called them.  Some he ordered online, others are natural gourds, painted the same beige color of the modern ones.  

They are a facinating speciman he lectured as we stood there, mouth agape at all the birds returning en masse.  It was feeding time. 

If you happen to see a fledgling on the ground, just pick it up and put it over there he continued, pointing to a feeding station.  To levels of flat brown platforms, they were full of seeds.   “The others will take care of it as if it were there own.”

I thought this odd, as others birds abhor human contact.  In fact, if you touch a fallen baby blue jay, the mother will abandon it, once she smells the scent of a human upon it.

Truehe said.  “But not the Purple Martins.”

 What a world it would be, I thought, if we all just took care of one another. 

It was getting late, time for us to get home.  The bugs would soon be biting and we wanted to get back home to our deck to watch the sunset.

I realized that I never got his name.  So I shall call him Martin.

Martin Purple Martins. 



Precious Flag

It is the Fourth of July weekend, and my heart just isn’t into decorating for the festivities.

My mother is now with my dad, who had his last fourth of July in 2002.    My father was very patriotic, and that feeling of pride and allegiance no doubt rubbed off on all of us.   We always made sure there was some kind of commemorative symbol of the day.   When I was a kid, he was not above playing Spike Lee records all day long.

Now probably at the age he was at that time in my youth, I remembered with a smile the stories he would tell about his old army buddy, Jackson.  We met him once, and when he got the cancer and died, my father cried like a baby.  I think it was the only time I ever did see him cry. 

Although I didn’t put out the traditional red, white and blue tablecloths, I did want to at least fly the American flag.

The one flown at our house for years had been finally laid to rest, tattered and torn from one too many winters.  I never followed the protocol of lowering it every evening (unless a spotlight is shown on it) – I just left it up all year round.  Time and torrential winds did its job.

Now I was faced with the dilemma of replacing it, and at zero hour to boot. 

When my mother passed recently, I only took one thing from the garage as a memento.  The big “clean out” had not yet begun, and I needed to get back home to New York.  I snatched an old picture of my mother, standing in front of rows and rows of paint and resin, a long shiny counter in front of her.  She is smiling because she was where she was happiest – in her shop.  I know my dad is standing near by, but out of view of the camera lens.

When he passed years earlier, I had again only taken one thing to remember him by, and it has stayed folded neatly in a china cabinet, pressed up against the glass and standing at attention, as if waiting for its next assignment.  

An American flag. 

It flies proudly now this Fourth of July season, to remind me of the sacrifices made by him, and others like him.   I will make sure to take it down after the holiday, and only fly it during this time.   It will become more precious to me as the years go by, I suppose.

I think he would have liked that.