As mentioned in an earlier post, my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page, or as I called her, “Muddy,” was thoughtful enough to leave me copies of old letters and manuscripts when she died, and over the last week or so, I’ve been reading them. I’m about half way through a manuscript she wrote called “Landscape with Figures,” that she described as being “in the form of a journal but not a factual record of my daily occupations. I wanted to let my mind off its leash, so to speak, to run free and follow any scent that attracted it.” It definitely isn’t factual, as she references driving a car several times, which she never learned to do. She had submitted it to publishers and gotten some nice compliments, but the general agreement was that it wasn’t sufficiently commercial. The thing is, I’m really enjoying it, and as it’s not likely to get published now that she’s dead, I’ve decided to go ahead and post it bit by bit on here on Mondays so that the rest of the world (all, like, 12 of you who read my blog) can enjoy it, too. So, without further ado, welcome to Mondays with Muddy:
Stoneleigh. During the night a dense fog overspread the coast. I knew it the moment I woke up, not only by the distant moan of the foghorn, but by the stillness; no little rushes of wind through the trees, no swashing of waves on the shore, only the hesitant drip-drop of condensed moisture falling from the eaves. Even the birds were silent except for the muted clamor of gulls.
I can’t see the ocean at all, and the landscape is lightly wrapped in cotton batting. The scraggy pitch pines beside the cottage are embedded in it as though to protect the crystal bead on the top of each needle. Beyond the edge of the yard only the misty shapes of a few houses and trees are visible. That soft gray enveloping hush, familiar to me from years ago, stirs up a lot of memories.
Inside, the old cottage looks much as I remember it except for a general air of dilapidation: the miscellany of furniture – wicker, fumed oak, painted – the antiquated plumbing, unconcealed wiring, old-fashioned kitchen with it coal range and set tubs, plus a few modern conveniences.
As I sat drinking my coffee, I half expected to hear some familiar sound from the past: Mother snipping off dead geraniums from the window boxes, Father tapping the barometer with his fingernail and confidently (if not always accurately) predicting the weather, Cynthia picking out her repertoire of three chords on her ukelele, Don letting the screen door slam on his way out, and then the slither of the hose across the gravel driveway followed by the spurt of water as he carried out his daily chore of cleaning and filling the birdbath. Or even the yellow cat, Colette, making that little curly noise in her throat by way of greeting. Or someone calling my name, eager or exasperated, depending on the person and the circumstance. Yes, most of all, I suppose, a voice calling my name. But all those sounds and voices are long gone.
I recognize a temptation to fall into wistful retrospection, but why resist it? I have been too preoccupied of late with present-day concerns. I feel a need to let my mind off its leash, to let it run free to follow any scent or sound or sight that attracts it, to explore familiar or unfamiliar paths wherever they may lead – to fact or fantasy.
The weeks that lie ahead in the small, isolated summer resort north of Boston hold promise tinged with anxiety, rather like beginning to write a poem or story not knowing how it will end. Even the blank pages of this notebook pique my interest by their unsuspected possibilities. To keep a diary with every date and day of the week filled in with a factual record of events would bore me. But I like the feeling an undated journal gives me of rambling around in my mind whenever the spirit moves me, now that I have plenty of time. I’m pleased with this notebook, 8×10, lined, flat, easy to carry about and write in at the desk or table, out on the porch, down on the beach or wherever.
Later: While I was writing the above, the fog began to lighten slowly. Then the sun came part-way out and you could see the fog lifting, or rather being pulled up slantwise, it seemed, like layers of gauze being stripped off land and sea. Now, just before noon, the sun is shining full out on a pale blue ocean that looks pressed with a hot iron.
I’d like to go for a walk but I suppose I should finish unpacking, get the groceries and stuff I brought with me out of the car and so forth, which I was too tired to do when I arrived last night, and give the house at least a lick and a swipe. Tomorrow…”