Welcome! Bienvenido!

Balboa Park  Balboa Park, San Diego. Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

When I first laid eyes on Hunter he was smaller than I had imagined. I realize now I had been enlarging every photo his parents sent to us until his eyes were the size of walnuts, and his hands and feet humongous. I remember looking at those mitts and crowing, “our grandson is going to be a baseball player!”

Then we are in San Diego and he is in my arms and, to my surprise, holding him is one part scary. On one hand I fold right into position. On the other hand, I’m all elbows and thumbs. It is his parents that are best with him. I like being seated with pillows to help brace his rolling head. Seems half the weight of a newborn baby is in the head. Now I see him as cerebral—and this little boy is brilliant. In a gush I promise him an education and a drafting table, for I see AIA beside his name.

In truth Hunter mostly sleeps. His eyes dream and dance in his skull, and his little mouth moves with the memory of milk. Like a frog he keeps his legs tucked in, and his arms don’t know where to go or what to do with themselves. We are doing newborn babies a favor, I have learned, by swaddling them in a blanket or cloth. An old idea that’s come around again.

Like a procession we move into his nursery and out of his nursery. His parents, grandparents, and an aunt who flew in from NYC. A procession wherever he goes. If he has his days and nights flipped, we wouldn’t know. We’re with him. We venture out, bags and baggage and carriage. A procession to Balboa Park.

I once knew what it was to raise babies in San Diego. As my son-in-law says, my life is passing before me here. I know of no place better for being outdoors 365 days a year. Even now I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sky so blue—not for a long time anyway. But San Diego in our day had fewer cars on the freeways. No one had air conditioning, and no one saw the need. The Safari Park was called The Wild Animal Park, and as members we nearly had it to ourselves. Pushing a stroller we hiked out on the mesas, the savannah, while herds of animals roamed. Do my daughters remember those days as I do? It was a part of me then, and a part of me now.

One more memory returns to me of the earliest days. Shut in, home alone, and hormones raging. I am nursing my newborn baby and crying uncontrollably. Across the room a small black & white television set is on softly. Public Service Announcements, particularly “Save the Children,” air frequently between daytime programs, and I lose it every time, day after day. I am holding my baby and weeping over the fact that she is one of the lucky ones born on this side of the border, when just a few miles away can be all the difference in the world.

Little has changed.

But this time I have to go, I can’t stay. So long, Hunter. You are in good hands and in a good place. From the vantage point of the plane there’s one long coast between us, one beautiful stretch. One ocean alongside us. And a kayak in the bay up here for you, always.

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Higher and Higher

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Hunter is here. My, how one newborn baby has turned everyone’s lives upside down in our family.

For twenty-two months and what-felt-like-years, we lived, breathed, and awaited The Mueller Report. Yes, we went about our lives as best we could, but always in the background—or foreground—loomed The Mueller Report. When would it finally come out, and would we live to see it? In some intricate loop in my mind, I’m sure I saw the release of his report as the gateway to the end of the dishonesty, self-dealing, and treasonous acts in our country’s administration.

I had an awful lot riding on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We all did.

Then Friday, after two long difficult days, our daughter gave birth to a little boy. Somewhere in the course of pacing and hand wringing, we got wind of the fact that Robert Mueller had finished his report and delivered it to the attorney general. Our daughter at the time was somewhere between labor and a Caesarian, and I’m like, “Robert who?”

There just wasn’t, and hasn’t been since, room for it on our personal newsfeed. Turns out, of course, The Mueller Report still hasn’t been released.

For now in our family, it’s all about Hunter. And this young couple’s job to raise an honest, intelligent, caring boy in this world.

That’s how I’m seeing it. A better world by one.

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Drawers

 BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Everything I know about the KonMari Method I learned from a baby not even born yet. Like everyone else, I bought the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, but it’s been lying around and waiting in the wings to be read. Like clutter. Nevertheless, on a visit with my daughter who is due any day now, we plunged in.

My baby is having a baby. At the same time she and her husband are remodeling a house in San Diego, and that fell behind due to one thing or another—most recently, heavy rains. Who would have thought? Anyway there wasn’t anything to do but turn a storage room in their apartment into the nursery for now.

With all the chaos that surrounds her in remodeling, my daughter says “his drawers give me a sense of calm.” At first glance in life, their baby will have what I am only beginning to appreciate: organization and minimalism.

Pacing through the construction schedule, my son-in-law has lately adopted “better done than perfect” as a mantra. I’m making it my mantra as well. We are all perfectionists apparently; it runs both in our blood and by marriage. But at some point projects have to be finished and babies will be born.

And the next thing you know, you’re a grandparent.

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Big Daddy and Me

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

A tall attractive woman carried an ethnic tote over her shoulder, hoisting it into the overhang compartment on our flight to San Francisco. Unlike my carry-on luggage, it slid right in. Ivory cotton with leather strapping, her bag had caught my eye while we were waiting to board. She looked like she had been around the globe once or twice. I came close to asking her where she had found the tote. But certain she’d sweep her long blond trusses back and mention a market in Morocco, I didn’t ask.

We had come to San Francisco to furnish an apartment in a Victorian building (c. 1896) on Buena Vista Park. Across the park is Haight Ashbury. So it seemed appropriate that, like many before us, we started off on an air mattrass in an otherwise empty flat.

Take a stroll with me down The Haight today, if you will. I make it sound like the Champs-Elysee, but really it’s more like a street scene out of Blade Runner. A psyche ward turned out. People without meds inhabiting the same corner day after day. Dark coats, seedy scarves, hats, and fingerless gloves. Unwashed, uncut, ratted hair—it’s not like the musical “Hair” anymore. There’s no music now.

Double decker tour buses roll through The Haight daily. Visitors gape, and I wonder what they see. Do they are seeing it as it is now, or as it was then?

For my part I like to walk it and imagine it in its glory, back in the day when we all knew someone who ran off to San Francisco. Young girls tumbling in and out of thrift shops, flinging feather boas around their necks like Janis Joplin. The thrill in the shrill of their voices. Guitars tuning through open windows. Skinny-legged tambourine men playing on the street. I see all this. What were once young idealistic kids in bell bottoms, and  what were once colorfully painted store fronts and buildings. Gone dark with dirt and grime, and everyone aged.

I’ve been thinking about nothing but juxtaposition lately.

Into the Victorian beauty with eleven foot ceilings and 12” molding, we had every intention to go modern and minimalist. I knew where I would begin: HD Buttercup. I Uber’d over so I could Uber X back in a SUV with my bounty. Three small tables, as it turned out. A side table in brass and glass, and a pair of night stands in brass with a marble top. Other contemporary pieces came in: a pair of Barcelona chairs, an over-scaled orb chandelier—the fixture Joanna Gaines draws into nearly every interior on Fixer Upper. Drunk as I was on modern design, I thought I’d be back. But that was before I ran into Big Daddy Antiques.

Every apartment should turn over now and then.

From Big Daddy we came home adding texture with a long Mongolian mohair pillow in white for a gray sofa, a Mongolian mohair ottoman in black for the Barcelona chairs, a cement table, and a low table topped with camel bone. But really, you could have just left me there, in that warehouse on 17th Street in SF. Apparently I can’t do one without the other; modern alone can be cold.

As for that oversized tote that had caught my eye en route to San Francisco, I found that too for sale at HD Buttercup. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of anything?

Now I’m throwing that tote over my shoulder, looking like I know what I’m doing. But we never really know. Like my decidedly modern design direction that took an artisanal and indigenous turn.

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Walking with E.B. White in NYC

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I was back in NYC accompanying my daughter on an apartment hunt in Brooklyn. A number of years ago I lived there, briefly. Times have changed. In my day finding an apartment in NYC was largely a matter of securing a sublet through a friend-of-a-friend. Today, agents host open houses and publish floor plans with photographs of rentals online, much like selling properties.

Getting about NYC on foot has changed too. No more notes in hand, maps in pocket, or memorized directions. Where we used to count blocks, look at street signs and be cognizant of numbers, now it’s follow your phone. Walking GPS style. Everybody’s doing it. It’s a different world.

That must be why, while trailing my daughter who was being led by her phone, I met up with a kindly old gentleman dressed in a gray overcoat and hat. He looked as baffled as me, in part; the other half of him was very much at home. No wonder, it was E.B. White, writer and contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine for more than 50 years. And here I thought he had been at rest on his saltwater farm in Maine all this time.

Just the thought of of New York and some folks rise to their feet with Sinatra’s song, “New York, New York,” ringing in their heads. Some settle in with Bobby Short’s melodies, while others get bubbly with Cole Porter. To me, E.B. White was, and always will be, not only the voice of the magazine, but the voice of the city.

I’m not sure my daughter even knew he was there on the apartment hunt that day. She was out ahead, as I said, but both E.B. & I walked rather slowly, preferring to see things as we go.

Not much of a conversationalist–he’s still making notes in his head for The New Yorker, I told myself–he nevertheless came up with just the right words every time.

At each appointment I went in to tour the apartment with my daughter, while E.B. lingered on the sidewalk. He just turned up his collar, adjusted his hat, and waited. Then we’d fall in step again. We did this all day, all over Brooklyn, through a dozen appointments. In short, a delightful day.

The apartment hunt, you ask? It ended on a well tree’d street in Boerum Hill. Sometimes it all comes down to a certain slant of light, and we found it in a lovely old home there.

“It’s where any one of us would place a writing desk,” I suggested to my walking companion, pointing out the window from the sidewalk. He looked up and nodded knowingly.

And with that he tipped his hat and walked off in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Back to his beloved Manhattan.

 

 

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In Remembrance of Ladies Who Lunch

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

The year was 2018, and regardless of the fact that every one of these three well- heeled Republican women in their day had passed away, they insisted on another matinee movie date. It isn’t every day Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel The Book Shop is made into a film. Now they’ve moved into a restaurant to talk about the film.

White linen tablecloths touch the floor and they were led to a table with a view. Barbara is in a wheelchair, my mother, Lois, on a walker, and my Aunt Marcia walked, pushing Barbara. Compared to the others, Marcia was eternally young. A born redhead, she stayed a redhead. Whereas both Barbara and Lois had been brunettes in their day, they were both a light–almost white–silver today. One might say iridescent.

Barbara had climbed out of one of her velvet workout outfits to put on a blue skirt, blouse, and tweed jacket. I don’t need to tell you she wore pearls. Kenneth Jay Lane faux pearls, as she was always proud to say. Lois wore a heathered gray cashmere sweater over black knit pants, a pair of comfortable pumps, and a sterling silver choker. Talbots was the word for her. Marcia, it seemed, was born knowing what to wear. Outfits hung in her closet with their tags still on, waiting for the right occasion. Today she was dressed in heels and a black and white St. John Knits. A trio of Chanel inspired chains draped around her neck, pooling upon her lap. Marcia looked glamorous, much like Violet, the grand dame in the film.

You might say Barbara is a Lincoln, my mother, a Subaru, and Marcia, more of a car than she could ever afford.

Barbara introduced her friends to the waiter as “Mar” and “Lo,” and herself as “Bar.” The waiter raised one of his eyebrows and Barbara put her hand up to stop his thoughts.

“Now don’t go making any comparisons to Mar-a-Lago,” she said disdainfully. “Because there are none. These were our names long before he ever laid his beady little eyes on Merriweather Post’s gaudy place in Palm Beach.” Her friends smiled.

Lo wants to tell her friends that she has asked her daughter—the writer daughter–to take her to the next women’s march in D.C. “… even if you have to push me in a wheelchair,” she had said. But Lo can’t figure out how to say it without hurting Bar’s feelings. She was still wrestling with that when Bar raised the topic of the march herself and blurted out, “I’d be there myself if it wouldn’t cause such a ruckus with the Secret Service.”

The waiter came with appetizers and poured a bottle of Pellegrino into large wine goblets. They were all on mineral waters now, with a twist of lime.

“I want to say something about that line, a town without a book shop is no town at all,” says Mar. Bar, who had lived in more places around the globe, smiled like it had been her line.

But Lo said, “We lived in such a town, not Hardborough, not that quaint, but Suffield, Connecticut. Except for the library, the kids had no resources for books. Now I don’t know how we did it.”

“Well that was one well used library, that’s how,” suggested Mar. “I know, I was forever in and out of mine in Cheshire, checking out and returning on the way to and fro every other errand and event.” Remembering for a moment the busyness of those years, she added, “The remarkable thing is that I got so much read.”

“We were all remarkable,” suggested Bar.

And she told them about the towering wall of books behind their headboard in Kennebunkport, both of them reading into the wee hours of the night and sometimes, until the first sign of light over the water.

“George was always putting it in his prayers every summer that coastal Maine be spared any little earthquakes,” she added.

Her friends love her little stories about George. All three had husbands that anyone would characterize as kind. Republican men. None of them ever thought to demean women, or bully other men for that matter. It was another time.

“To the Landline Ladies,” cried Bar, and they all raised their mineral waters before anyone could get too lost in thought.

“One good life and one good line, and you will live forever!” she proclaimed. “Here’s mine,” she added in case anyone forgot: “I don’t see how any self-respecting woman could vote for Trump”.

No one would ever forget that line. It’s just a shame not every woman listened. Mar would spend the night going over some of her own lines, searching for the best. Lo was sure she must have misplaced hers somehow. But Bar was confident in hers.

“I think I can say, truthfully,” she continued, “that not one person in the Bush family voted for Trump.”

It took a second for that to sink in. A Republican dynasty like that. One had to mull it over.

“I just hope everybody voted,” Bar added, almost under her breath.

“Well you can say that about our clan too,” Mar added, although she wondered, can any of us ever really know about our husbands?

When heads turned to Lo, wanting so to join in, she began to choke. Lightly, slightly, on a cracker. There’s some in every family, she told herself.

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Earth’s Second Chance

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

“A culture is no better than its woods.” W.H. Auden

 

Even in fiction, trees seem to be leading characters in every book my friend, Diana, and I are reading lately. One book runs into another, no, it grows into another and gets passed back and forth. I see no end to it. We are on a tear, Diana and I.

The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

The Living, by Annie Dillard

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

 

You have to remember: one third of the earth’s land was once forested.

Many of us have a tree we remember from childhood, when trees really were main characters in our lives. It was an apple tree for me in Connecticut. Its branches were as familiar as the fingers on my hands. Being up in the tree was nothing less than Swiss Family Robinson in my mind, until I was called down for dinner.

Two trees in particular captured Diana’s imagination growing up in Pittsburgh. One was a neighbor’s large mulberry tree with branches reaching into her yard. She and her friends constructed tents, “sort of girl clubhouses,” by hanging sheets from the branches. “Late in the summertime, there would be blue/black mulberries all over both yards, and we’d always have stained feet and shoes from running around back there.”

“The other personal tree was a tall fir in front of my grandparents’ summer cottage in Slippery Rock. As a young girl, I used to climb high into that tree, and just perch up there. It smelled like Christmas, and I loved being up in that tree. Nobody knew where I was, nobody could see me up there… my own private getaway.”

Decades later, Diana is once again fortunate to have a certain tree in her life, known as Grandfather Tree. “What can I say about him?” she asks. “Well, it starts with thinking about how long he’s been here, keeping watch over everything… It’s weathered storms and heat, it once held a treehouse where kids played, it survived the awful chainsaw “trimming” of limbs, it’s a favorite perch for bald eagles when they are in the neighborhood, it’s got families of ants running up and down its trunk all day, and it just feels sacred to me.”

In white hands, most of our trees were cut down east to west and on both sides of the US/Canadian border. With a few old-growth exceptions such as Grandfather Tree on island, most of our woods today are second-growth. Today we respect our forests as we do our gardens, but the early twentieth century woods witnessed unbridled logging much like whaling at sea.

“When a colonist looked at a pine tree he saw a ship’s mast; in an oak he saw barrel staves.” (Michael Pollen, Second Nature)

Native Americans knew how to look at trees, how to live with trees, and love them. “The Indian landscape was animated by all manner of spirits, and trees were thought to possess venerable souls one was careful not to offend. In the shade of certain trees one found insight. Trees had feeling, eyes, and ears… and you did not cut one down unless absolutely necessary. Even then,” continues Michael Pollen, “you took the trouble to explain your reasons to the tree and beg its forgiveness.”

Second-growth forests are earth’s second chance, so to speak. And another opportunity for us to recapture, as my friend has, what we knew when we were young.

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