Sunday Almanac: Life’s Been Pretty Good Lately

But it has been a bad season for pollen, even the locals say so. And even though we’re now locals too, we’re still too green (or yellow, as the case may be) to know what qualifies as “bad” for spring pollen in coastal North Carolina. Evidently this does.

Our new home has a screened porch adjacent to the open interior living space on the first floor, one among several design details that drew us to it. When the weather is nice, as it has been for much of winter, we can throw open the pair of French doors that lead out to the porch and instantly increase our living space. Scout appreciates the easy access to his position where he carries out Neighborhood Sentinel duties, and we appreciate the fresh air. Already we’ve logged plenty of hours out there sipping and reading and chatting and working crosswords.

Chef David spent an afternoon a couple of weeks ago clearing the porch of the tenacious pollen, which had so thoroughly coated every surface as to be measurable. It was onerous work that involved defrocking the furniture of its seat cushions, removing all of it through the door and onto the patio just outside the porch, and then dousing everything with the hose, including the outdoor rug. A few hours in the sunshine, and then all of it came back into the porch, fresh-scrubbed and ready for service.

But as I write these words, you’d never know it had been scrubbed out there. Pat your hand on a seat cushion in one of the rocking chairs, and a plume of yellow ‘smoke’ arises from it. The seashells I so carefully and artfully arranged in a black metal chicken feeder as coffee table décor have surrendered their vibrant colors and striations to it. Scout’s outside bed—which I hosed down a couple of weeks ago—already needs washing again.

So as I was saying, it has been bad, the pollen

I suspect but can’t confirm the pollen has also contributed to Scout’s upper respiratory distress, first time in his six years with us he’s suffered like this. In the last month he’s been through two rounds of different types of antibiotics, had a chest x-ray that showed something-that-might-be-nothing, and at last was sent packing with a negative result for pneumonia to go with his $2000 vet bill. Gentle walking is all he is allowed until this bothersome cough, whatever it is, resolves. When I stepped out of the house early this morning to run, without him, the scallywag turned his back on me. Clear communication, that. I fear doggie camp is forever a thing of the past. And after all, if he in fact picked up a bug, that is where it came from.

Scout felt compelled to narrow his eyes as I made this photo; or maybe it was the pollen

As one of my coworkers maintains, nature’s just trying to kill us all. But we did have a soaking rain yesterday, so maybe the end of the offending yellow spores is in sight.

Freshly Baked Bread Makes Everything Better

I bake bread now, habitually, on most Sunday mornings; occasionally, when the freezer is full after Chef David packs it with sourdough he brings home from work, I take Sunday off, because there’s only so much bread the two of us can eat. But I love that I can bake a rustic European-style loaf now almost without looking at the recipe, that most of the time it’s not just edible but really quite scrumptious, and it saves us cash in this economy where inflation’s allegedly starting to abate; we see no evidence of it here. Also I love that five simple ingredients—flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and water—can somehow magically comingle to yield something so, so good. Soon I’ll start experimenting with sourdough, too, when I muster enough courage to be willing to fail, which is the first step in baking bread. Meanwhile, I still giggle every time we pass the grocery store bread aisle and David chirps, How we doin’ on bread?

Hanging Artwork Requires Patience

A quality it shares with bread baking. Also, I live with a perfectionist who approaches this task with ladder, tape measure, pencil, level, and furrowed brow.

Hanging artwork never tops the priority list when one takes up residence in a new home, at least that has been my experience. But we’ve arrived at that moment when all our artwork, and there is a lot, has started accumulating dust and dog hair where we months ago neatly propped it against the walls.

Another endearing quality of our home is the cathedral ceiling in the main living area, and all the blank walls just begging for a gallery of art. Before we entertained some friends back at the end of the holidays, we managed to get a few bigger pieces on one wall; I have some art rolled up in a tube that needs framing and will transform this threesome into a perfect quartet:

We gave our Norman Rockwell print the honorary ‘alcove’ above our fireplace mantel, where it fits like the alcove was made for it. Many years ago, one of Chef David’s wait staff at a restaurant he owned and operated in Vermont gifted him the print, and how she came into it in the first place is remarkable. Humor me while I explain its somewhat unbelievable story.

She, the waitperson Joyce, is married to Donald Trachte, Jr., whose father, Donald, Sr., gained some notoriety as a cartoonist. He was acquainted with Norman Rockwell, who after his divorce, hired him (Donald, Sr.) to forge some of his own paintings to give his ex-wife so she couldn’t get her hands on the originals. The original paintings were then squirreled away behind the wall in Donald’s house. After Donald’s death, when Donald, Jr. and his wife were cleaning out the house, they moved some furniture to discover a section of wall on rollers. After rolling the section aside, they found the original paintings in the wall. After wrangling with officials about inheritance taxes and such, the Trachtes finally realized some income when the one painting was sold at auction, but first they had several prints made for a handful of their close friends (including Chef David). The balance of the original paintings is on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

I’ve now studied that painting for years, and absolutely love it for all the emotions it stirs up, in that one moment in time. The same could be said of many of Rockwell’s paintings to be sure, but it’s the dog’s chin resting on the young man’s knee that makes my breath catch in my throat. But there is also the careworn expression on the older man’s face, and the energy and hope in the younger man’s demeanor. I love knowing that Rockwell used real people in Vermont as the subjects in his paintings, that the scene in that painting likely actually played out one fall day.

Just above the ‘Rockwell’ alcove we finally placed a light fixture we found at a local shop and had long yearned for, but the price tag gave us pause; David’s sister generously contributed to our light fixture “fund” as a housewarming / wedding gift for the two of us, and so we finally nabbed it and placed it where we think it belongs. Still, it’s a skosh lonely looking up there, and an unsightly outlet is still visible to one side, however we arrange the light, so we think next will come a pair of tall glass vessels filled with bundles of the dried seagrass that is everywhere here. The light is made of bits of shell floating in a resin base, and so we think will look right at home flanked by the grasses.

Elsewhere some themed groupings of art are starting to take shape. But there is still much work to do before every room is finished, and every piece finds the right space.

Earlier today, I framed this small image of my Granddaddy German in the last of some ready-made frames I purchased years ago at a gallery in Knoxville. Dad unhands these photos randomly, gifting them to me within birthday cards and such; I suspect he pulled this one out of a shoebox in the top of a closet somewhere. I’m struck by how much my granddad resembled a young Jackie Cooper, a likeness that continued right on into his adulthood.

You can’t really see the resemblance so much in this image of Granddad climbing into his trainer in the early years of the Second World War, but it was there. I love this larger framed photo of him, also waiting to find the right spot on the right wall. Granddaddy was a “Hump” pilot during the war—a team of pilots who flew transport planes back and forth over the Himalayas between India and China. There is another image of him made during that chapter, standing next to a Chinese boy who served as a lookout, and who was later executed for falling asleep at his post. I remember learning this story as a child; I found it shocking then as I do now.

I’ve thought about that chapter in our history much lately, because of this book, which I checked out at the local branch of our public library:

I’d quite forgotten the singular joy of getting and using a new library card, a thing I abandoned about the second year I lived in Vermont because my unsettled life at the time prompted several moves. Aside from suffering through pollen season, or epic snow, or whatever, I suppose carrying around a library card is another thing to underscore one’s sense of belonging in a community. This book’s author is a compelling storyteller, and early in the novel references the same transport route my granddad flew. So I immediately sent a copy of the book to dad and now we’re reading it in tandem.

Celebrating Life: The Closing and Opening of Chapters

Before too long we’ll pile into the car and start the long drive north, back up to Vermont and then to Massachusetts, to celebrate the life of David’s mama and finally lay her to rest after saying goodbye last summer. Like all such occasions, it’ll be joyous and exhausting and sad and somehow renewing, we anticipate.

Meanwhile at home down South. Our professional lives have taken a couple of nice turns in recent weeks. For me, a promotion to Senior Managing Editor at the marketing agency where I work is a nice milestone after my decade-long adventure in the Northeast, at times without much of a mooring and often wondering whether I’d survive at all. It is nothing if not supremely satisfying to prove to myself, later in life than most do, I can not just survive but thrive as a writer and an editor at a marketing agency.

As for David, he has stepped into a professional role doing what he loves, as full-time pastry chef and bread baker at Little Loaf Bakery and Schoolhouse. It is an organic time for him to join the fold at an exciting startup, if you’ll pardon the puns, and I’m overjoyed to know he’s finding his work life so fulfilling; there is much, much to be said for that.

And that’s the way the cookie bounces at our house this early spring day.

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