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summer stock
Grandmothers share a camp:
Letter to Robin in Greenport

Rob –
I hope the kayaking is keeping you relaxed.  I’m up to two swims a day now.  Judith took off in my car to Keene to shop, and I have the camp to myself.  Somehow when I sit down to write to you, I fall into a conversation that started years ago. I know you’re listening.  This summer Judith decided to cross the country and spend a month with me – our second in 15 years. Our parallel lives approach their parallel ends. We love the grandkids; we fail to watch our diets; we read, we write, we cook. She’s been good company, but her constant presence irks me.  I get grouchy.  She wrote a nice poem about how we love to argue - which we do, but perhaps, not enough. So I’ll complain here: we can’t picnic outside because she doesn’t want to be bitten and won’t wear bug spray. She won’t stay on the beach after swimming when I come dripping from the lake and  put my chair  to read She gets in the car, and sunbathes through the closed windows until I join her.   She makes coffee in two cups instead of the carafe where it will stay warm.   

I step around these behaviors, until I figure out which I stand a chance of changing.  Then they go on my list of problems to find fixes for like the squeaking hinge on my closet door. 

We drove home in a downpour last night, she instructing, me driving, remembering our close shaves on the roads in Britain and Scotland. Now she’s happy and excited to be home safe, high as if we’d had an adventure. But we battled for control: do we skip the concert, given the road conditions?  She decided she’d be safer at home, and I agreed to put my belly full of bread and pork to bed instead of making it listen to madrigals.

We've had many dinner guests, made many dinners, partly to defuse the sullenness I feel when we’re alone and I imagine she wants affection.  I get to appreciate her more when I see how attentive others are when she talks.   They don’t think she’ll complain about the bugs, or the lack of lightning rods, or the wood stove, etc. etc.    We enjoy two swims a day, weightless, floating on the water, buoyed by our Styrofoam noodles. Talk floats easily too; “early bird specials in Keene” we say, trying to plan dinner.   We know we sound like a cliché.  

By the way, I loved the picture you sent me of the Greenport Train: two-thirds sky over the train yard, cars lined up and waiting, tracks vanishing on the horizon. The silence in the scene is palpable, quiet as the openings in the walls of this wooden camp; some windows, some for doors.  Today a shrouded light streams in.  Every detail of our summer speaks to me of the boundary between life and death; Whenever I see grubs, or clean the dirt from my feet after swimming, I try, and fail, to imagine being buried underground, and to think how I'll clean her presence from the cabin after she flies back to California.