Bowhite! I hadn’t heard its signature birdsong around our house in years. When our neighbors cleared acres of woods for their super starter mansion, the rest of us on Point Road thought the quail had left for good. Then Saturday, in early evening, I heard the soft tuu of the hen followed by the male’s sharp whoot-twee. The two were keeping track of one another: he in a piney woods, she turning over leaves on the ground (eating ticks I hope). They kept us company until we finished barbecuing and the sun set. Were they waiting for an invitation to dinner?
Rex and I usually wind up warring over what goes to the dump and what will find a home in our 800 square-foot summer cottage. One item comes up often: a brown, turned-leg, enamel-top, drop-leaf table with a flatware drawer, circa 1941. I don’t know how many times its wooden legs and base have been painted, but once while sanding to give it a new coat, I saw red, white, black and yellow. In our latest bout over the table, I promised to repaint it again, this time something neutral. The table will see another year. After that I’m out of arguments.
A pine tree nods toward our house, its girth greater than the circumference of my arms. Its arms reach up above the forest. It might be the oldest tree around, but the trunk is three feet away from our foundation. From the back porch I can touch a limb. After Hurricane Sandy, we noticed a half ring of pushed soil at its base, proof of a strong force nudging it towards our house. I’d think lovingly of it except it is east of us and here all trees fall west. I’m not happy about this, but Mr. Pine’s going down.
We have a problem,” said Rex.
Had a tree crashed the summerhouse? Was our apartment leaking? The dog sick? Worse, our Macintosh wouldn’t start.
All day I fretted. Gone would be my manuscript files, photos, correspondence. When had I backed up? Later, I pressed its ON/OFF button. With my ear over MAC’s heart, I begged, “Revive!” I tried everything. MACky was dead.
Like a mortician preparing a corpse, I removed the power cable. Polishing his white plastic, I cleaned his ports and surge protector and returned him to a beloved state. For old times, I pressed his button again.
Somehow our cottage received a permit for a back entrance, which required storm shutters, yet the building department denied us a way to pass through it. “A doorway to nowhere,” we’d say, when asked why horizontal boards ensured that children and drunks wouldn’t tumble to the ground.
Rex had a plan: a shutter system that hoists up from the bottom by pulley, rather than flaps down from the top. In the down position it just happens to form a deck. So, on a cloudy Saturday, we sit on director’s chairs laughing and enjoying the view from our shutters in Flanders.
“It’s not often I get to see Uncle Leon, who looks exactly like my father. So when my husband brought up good reasons not to drive through the Jersey hills in a snowstorm to my uncle and aunt’s 60th anniversary party, I glowered.
“We’re going,” I said.
At the reception where twenty people showed up, I sat opposite Leon. When he wasn’t looking, I stared at my father’s likeness, my father’s beard, his gestures, and listened to familiar strained vocal cords. When we were leaving, my uncle said, “I love you,” like my father, back from the dead after seventeen years.
Before company comes, I break into a cleaning frenzy, scrubbing untold grime from the kitchen, replacing shabby towels, and waxing floors. Chores take up the morning and extend into late afternoon. But all’s for naught.
Rex drips water on the floor while loading the dishwasher. Then he tracks it. Alice leaves yogurt-stained fingerprints on the fridge. Zoe gets into Alice’s trash basket and prances around strewing chewed bits of cheeseburger wrapper. I’ve scolded them, so no one’s talking to me. “What a bitch,” they say. Zoe cowers in a corner.
We’d better get over it. Guests arrive in one hour.
A trip to a Riverhead supermarket sobers me. I’m the only customer at the deli where roast beef’ is on sale. I buy some and receive a coupon for $5 off my groceries. Such deals abound up and down the aisles: buy a goat cheese and get one free; half price chicken breasts; two yogurts for the price of one; $3 off New Zealand lamb chops. Soon my cart overflows with favorites. With no one in line at my register, I breeze through checkout racking up additional discounts with a club card. Waldbaum’s is giving away food, but few locals can afford it.
We rise early, eat breakfast and dress for the work. We’ve already traversed the peninsula and know what we want. Rex has uncovered an aluminum boat in perfect condition. There’s no registration number, so we proclaim, “It’s ours!” and set out to salvage it. Next we rescue a redwood picnic table caught in the reeds. It’s the perfect size and in excellent condition. it’s weight strains our muscles, but before we head back we gather lumber that lays everywhere. We’ll use it to build decking and plant containers for our garden. The lord Sandy taketh away and the lord Sandy giveth.