I can’t remember having waited in a line this long. And certainly not holding this much. Not in DC waiting to get into the Capitol. Not in New York City waiting to get to the top of the Empire State Building. Not at the DMV. Maybe at Disney World, but I was twelve and that was Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t been back since.
I am holding five bags containing a total of three pecks of apples while balancing a spaghetti squash and three jars of elderberry preserves. Lee is holding her purse. That seems fair.
Homestead Farms is crowded. With hayrides out to pick your own pumpkins from the fields, stands for freshly made caramel apples, squashes of various kinds still happily on the vines, and trees full of apples – Rome, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Stayman, and who knows what else. Now the apples are picked-clean but the pumpkins are still out there and the lines are crazylong with kids sticky, wheelbarrows full and parents camera-laden. Summer is full of berries, but fall is all pumpkins and apples.
I walk to a window. The sign above it says it’s for hayrides. I poke my head in front of the lengthy mass.
“How do I pick apples?
“Just walk in?”
The gal behind the window, underneath the goat overpass, looks to be sixteen, maybe, and happy to be where she is. She repeats herself a bit more slowly as I might be hard of hearing or, perhaps, a moron, “The apples are all picked-out.”
“What if I pout and make sad eyes?” I draw a line with my left index finger from the outside corner of my left eye, down my cheek.
“Then you will be sad and still have no apples.”
“Good point, but can I go look anyway? I bet there will be at least one apple out there for me. Things are just like that.”
She smiles. “You might be right. Just for you.” And she points the way. No need to wait.
We walk between the barns and weighing stations to the orchards, find it empty of people, walk the rows, smell the fermenting applefall under the trees. Among the Fujis, at one of the trees, I reach my hand in, drawn deep inside. There is an apple for me. Just one. Huge. Monstrous. Forgotten. I pick it. It is red, perfect, without blemish.
As we walk between the rows of trees, the air is cool, the fall hues have set into the leaves coloring the trees and the ground, and I have a fresh apple in my hand, sweet and all mine.
I take a bite. It is hard to do. The apple is so large I can’t open my mouth wide enough, my teeth can’t get a purchase on it. It’s like biting a flat surface and proof my mouth is smaller than people tell me. As I eat the apple, small bit by small bit, feeling, chewing, my chin, my cheeks, my nose become apple-sticky from continued attempts to bite the sweet red crisp fruit. I am pulled in by gravity as much as taste and texture. I dance as I walk with my face buried within the globe. It is all I can taste. All I can smell. All I can see. I am consumed.
Lee, instead of dancing with me, is just watching and smiling. She doesn’t have an apple so she can’t have an appledance.
Though she certainly did dance with me the night before.
We’re in a partyroom, behind the skyboxes, at FedEx Field in DC. The event is the becoming a bar mitzvah of Matthew Gloger, son of my Sweetie’s cousin, Fran Gloger and her husband Mark. A beautifully well-done affair, comfortable and low-key, set in Matthew’s favorite place. First there was the tour of the stadium and the locker-rooms. I had never been in a stadium before, had never even sat to watch even a moment of a football game, let alone explored a stadium, played in its skyboxes, infiltrated its innards, walked its field. This is where the Redskins play, whoever they are. And this is where the entire population of the city in which I live could sit to watch them do so. After a walk on the field, there is dining and the dancing.
The dancefloor is twenty by thirty or so. Set up in the middle of the long hall, wall to wall, it separates the room in two. Against one wall are a DJ and a large white translucent screen with colored lights behind it. On the floor are two hired dancers – a tall black fellow and a short white gal – to make sure everyone is comfortable and to lead the partiers in line-dances and Thriller dances and whatever dances were popular then or now. Adults seem to congregate on one side of the dancefloor and kids on the other.
Much of the music is selected for a thirteen-year-old and his crowd. Music Matthew and his friends like. That makes sense. After all, it is his day. But through the night there often are slow dances or music of an age or type that calls the parents, who then flood to the dancefloor. Adults flood in from the dinner tables and skyboxes, kids flood out to the kid’s buffet and party-rooms, kids flood in, parents flood out, waves and waves until that rare moment when the music is right and waves flow in from both directions, flood to the floor and dance.
Lee and I dance to as much as we can and each slow song that is played. I dance with Lee, her cousins dance with us, her aunts dance with us, her mother dances with us. As long as I have known Lee’s mother, this is the first time I have seen her dance. Not that dancing with her is strange, though it is, but there is more to it. There seems, in that dancing, an acceptance of my presence I have not felt in the past.
Before one dance, as the music starts, I step aside to wave her through the crowd and onto the dancefloor ahead of me, a normal display of deference and manners.
She keeps her place in line. “No, you go ahead. You’ve been part of this family long enough.”
Is this acceptance? It seems so. It has been only a week since Lee’s father came to the same realization – that I am permanent. Our eighteen year old son, Alek, and twenty-four year old daughter, Sef, isn’t proof enough. Twenty-five years married to his daughter isn’t proof enough. What is? An electric bass and Elie Wiesel.
It is a week earlier and Lee’s mother and father are visiting. Her father, Lou, is taking a look at some of the minor changes we’ve made in the house over the past few months. He looks into my office. A computer desk, a laptop, couch, meditation cushion, bass, dulcimer, uke and amps.
“Is that Alek’s bass?”
Then, seeing the walls of books, he asks me something about “Night” by Elie Wiesel. He had just heard of it and is intrigued. He wants to know if I have read it. I have, and I hand him one of my copies.
“You have this?” One would think the answer was obvious, me just having handed it to him.
“Sure. And a letter from him on the wall. We had written to each other a few years ago.” I walked him over to it and he spent a moment reading. “Sef saw him in Washington but I have the letters. I think we’re each a little envious of the other.”
“Elie Wiesel sent you a letter?”
Again, one would think the answer was obvious. As he reads, as the evening progresses, it becomes equally obvious that, after nearly thirty years of knowing me, of dinners, holidays and occasions, he has just now, just today, at the age of eighty-two, decided he has a son-in law and not an interloper. Lee shakes her head. “He could have had that son-in-law the entire time.” True. True.
And so, as part of the family, I enter the dancefloor ahead of my mother-in-law.
There is Bob on the dancing with his daughter, Emma. Bob Phillips is married to Cheryl Levin, one of Lee’s cousins. Both are artists. She works in stone and finishes and interiors soft and hard, in mosaic and mural. He is a blacksmith who creates fences and gates that give one the impression one has shrunken to the size of an ant and is looking up at blades of grass with an occasional dragonfly having decided to alight and rest lightly. You expect it all to wave slowly in the next breeze. He manages this with wrought iron. Butterflies you would expect to float on the air but are the size of VW Beetles and made or iron. Doors, chandeliers and nearly anything else you’d want, Bob can render in organic perfection so one cannot tell where nature ends and art begins.
Years ago, on a visit to his studio in the Fishtown neighbourhood of Philly, when his thirteen-year-old Emma was five, he made and presented to me, three feet long, five inches wide, a question mark. He could not have known, during my earlier college years, the faculty and staff of Miami Dade Community College, where I was teaching, had presented me with a construction paper question mark and “The Order of the Grand Enigma” during an awards function my final year on faculty. And here was a second question mark to go along with it. Bob has been one of my favorite people since.
How many times have I met her cousins, her aunts and uncles, so much more friendly than mine, so much more accepting, so much more family, but I never was able to accept myself as part of that family, no matter how much they accepted me. Not until this trip. Not until last night.
We’re in the bar at the Marriott, sitting with Lee’s cousins. Her cousin Fran is not there, of course, since she is making last minute preparations for the festivities the next day, but Harriet, Cheryl, Robin and Jack are, along with their spouses, Rick, Bob, David and Lori. Everyone wants to hear how everyone is doing. This includes, to my shock, me. How am I’m doing? I mentioned the book coming out next year and the trial of finding an illustrator for “Bud the Spud.” I mentioned the book currently being worked on, the reprints and reissues, and the success of the practice, how much I enjoy managing it and how happy I am as a massage therapist and how it brought about my delightful extremely-early retirement from teaching.
Robin says she had no doubts and recalls a foot massage I gave her nearly twenty years ago as still the best one she has had yet. Harriet, in a simultaneous conversation I was not fully listening to, mentions a photograph I took of her daughter, Tedra, now finishing college. The picture, taken of her as a baby, is still their favorite, the one that captured Tedra. The one that shows best who she was and the essence that still is. I had been liked and respected and thought of fondly and I had not known. Or not allowed myself to realize it. I filtered it out.
And so I am grateful to learn this, to see them all here, to dance with them, to be part of this family. And I am glad to see Bob, on the dancefloor, with his Emma. He is dressed more comfortably than I, though I have removed my coat and tie, as have nearly all the men. We have removed enough garments to end up in the state of dress Bob started in, except he has on much more comfortable shoes. I make a note that I must give my shoes away before the next occasion. Emma is in a dress she made herself. All fruit – the top a print of raspberries, the middle strawberries, the short skirt blackberries. The shoes, Converse, are black and white. It was a formal function, after all.
The next dance is one for all the ages and I grab Sef’s hand.
“I’ve never seen Mom dance.” I can’t believe that, somehow.
“You’ve seen me dance.”
“Contra and English Country Dance. But I’ve never seen you dance without specific steps. You’re really bad at it.”
Lee butts in. “Everybody is. Just dance and don’t worry about it.”
A few years ago she would. Maybe a few years from now she will. But right now, at twenty-four, she won’t. She can’t. What she can do is still be embarrassed by her parents. It is an unsettled age when one may be more comfortable with oneself but one still cannot quite grasp aging, that one becomes more and more like one’s parents. Sef can certainly dance but dancing with me reminds her there are things she cannot do, things she isn’t as good at as she’d like. Perhaps.
And so she dances not quite with us, not quite apart from us. She dances with Lee’s sister, Fran, who dances no differently than Lee but is neither her mother nor father.
The song ends.
I walk over to Bob. “You guys are so cute. Dance with her while you can. She won’t be dancing with you long.”
“That’s what I figured. Maybe another year or two, God willing. Then, who knows?
We talk about our daughters, passing time, fazes and fads. People join and leave the conversation, Lee’s aunts, her cousins, Sef, Lee. Another song comes and we dance. Dinner comes. Dinner ends. We dance.
The next day we are at Fran’s house for brunch. A large comfortable home in Potomac. The gathered are mostly family. We nosh on eggs, lox, bagels, fruit. We talk. Sit in the back yard in the cool October air. Sit inside at the kitchen table.
Sef had left early that morning, taking a cab before seven to the Metro, the Metro to DC and an Amtrak to New York City. Then another train an hour and a half north to Beacon. She calls to say she arrived. It is a few minutes after one.
“Your mother isn’t budging.”
“Leave her alone. She never gets to see her cousins. She’s happy.”
“Oh, trust me. I wouldn’t say a thing. We’ll leave whenever she decides to or when she discovers the time.”
Of course, Sef doesn’t have to drive from Maryland to Central Florida.
But looking at Lee, she is happy. She glows. The entire time here she glows and from this happiness I will not move her.
Our plan was to get to Fran’s about eleven and stay for two or three hours. To leave by one or two, drive until seven or eight. That would put us in South Carolina and leave us an easy day’s driving tomorrow. It is now after three. The crowd has thinned. It is now after four. People have left for airports, for drives to Philly and New Jersey. It is now after five. Only a few of the cousins are left and we all sit in the kitchen. Lee talks about how much she likes the area, how much she misses the North, how we plan to become bi-locational, someday, somehow.
Some understand. Some don’t. But it’s cold. But it’s crowded. Who would not like Florida?
Fran mentions the time over iced tea and apple slices. Suggests that, as much as she loves having us, we have a long drive. Or we could at least leave early enough to go do something on the way we can’t do at home. Why not pick apples?
Pick apples? Well, yes! Lee loves the idea. So do I. Fran looks up the address for us. She goes there with her kids to pick berries, apples, pumpkins, squash. It is close by. I look at the time, say nothing.
We say our good-byes. This takes about half an hour while Fran reminds Lee that daylight will end sooner than she thinks.
As we drive, the parks are full of people playing. The sidewalks are full of people walking. Late on a Sunday evening and people are out being social, being active, being a community.
Turn by turn, we arrive at Pooleville, follow the signs and pull into Homestead Farms. It might take a while to find a parking space. But that’s ok. There are apples in my future.