While my childhood home is about a ten minute drive from where I work, my parents also have a vacation home up in Maine. They purchased this house when I was in high school, and the dream has been that sooner or later they would move there full time. The thing you have to understand about my parents is that they're antiques dealers, and even before that, just the sort of people who collect stuff. Not pack rats who will save anything, but there was always a blurring between what in the house is theirs, and what is merchandise. They also have a collection of LPs which even after my teen-aged raiding is decidedly huge, videos, dvds. Growing up, there were five bookcases in the house in addition to the den which was lined from floor to ceiling with books on three walls. So, while I'm informed that progress has been made towards moving things up north, there is little visual evidence that this is true.
Still, a little effort must have been made, since upon arriving at their house, I was handed two boxes. One of them was filled with books, mostly history texts from my first year of college. The other included various papers. Things I had written, both fiction and essay, photographs, a few literary magazines, and letters I received. Even at first glance, it was the letters that most interested me. Only two of the people am I still in contact with. The easily identifiable hand of Kellnerin with her trademark blue fountain pen, and my friend S who I've known just as long. But the letter that first stood out to me was one from a friend of mine in college, R.
Somebody (possibly Kellnerin) one mentioned that it seems one is bound to lose touch with their first friend in college before the second year is out, and it was certainly true of R & myself. Although in high school, I'd more or less broken out of my shell, there was some trepidation when I entered college. I had been a rather tame high schooler. No drug experimentation, no binge drinking, never smoked, didn't care much for parties. As much as I was often seen as a bad influence on my friends by their parents, they were pretty lucky. So, I was a little nervous entering college. My dad dropped me off early in the day, unpacking all of my stuff, and then making a run to get me a mini-friend and a couple of lamps. The rest of the day I spent waiting for my roommate to arrive. Finally, as it neared dinner, I called the phone number I had for him at home.
"Oh yeah, I'm not going there," he replied, "Got in off the wait list elsewhere."
So while everybody else was more or less paired up during those first few days, until they could find people they really wanted to be friends with, I found myself alone, nervous, and shy. (I would later get a roommate, but that's a different story).
It would be a few lonely weeks until I met R. She was in two of my classes, "Fiction" and "Introduction to Imperial China", and it was she who noticed the overlap, and suggested we grab lunch together one day. For that first semester, R & I were pretty much inseparable. She was that idyllic college best friend. The one you stayed up all night talking to, or barring that, crashing together in the same bed. She came home with me for Thanksgiving. The two of us sort of built up a little group of friends, but it seemed more or less understood the others were extra, something outside the central friendship of the two of us.
Somehow, I'd forgotten so much about her until I found this letter. But also, I realized how much I had missed at the time. She had drawn back first, though I found in this letter an apology for it. At the time, however, I was distracted enough by my own budding relationship, that I can't imagine that I gave it the proper thought at the time.
So, from the beginning, my weekend had taken a tone of reminiscence. I then drove up with my parents to the house in Maine, which I hadn't been to in probably 15 years. The house has changed a lot, and from seeing it, I could see the extent to which my parents had successfully moved a lot of stuff. No longer do the sliding glass doors open up into nowhere, but now lead to a deck. The whole place has a greater sense of permanence, like people actually live there. I found myself wandering through, identifying things that had been there all this time, things that had moved in the intervening years, and new stuff. I gazed at my dad's collection of WWI posters. Found books that I'd paged through a million times. Looked through my dad's external hard drive picking out albums for him to burn onto cds for me. Things like Harry Chapin and Bill Staines, Robert Johnson and Billie Holiday. For the first time in years, I watched an episode of Jeopardy. This was a habit that my family was famous for, usually watching while we ate dinner, competitively calling out answers (questions).
Friday turned into a lazy day, with me spending some time in both the morning and afternoon kayaking out on the lake. As much as I'm often a solitary person, I'm also pretty much a city dweller, so it was strange being in the middle of the lake without seeing any people, any cars around. No music playing. Just me on the lake. It was soothing and peaceful, and I was glad I don't do that very often. I like noise and people.
Saturday, we drove down to Freeport. There we wandered about the various outlets. I was reminded at how spoiled I am that I'm used to shopping alone. Shopping with others is just an aggravating activity. In the evening, there was free Arlo Guthrie concert. A folk singer that I haven't listened to since I left home for college. He was playing his "Solo Reunion Tour" since originally he sang alone, and wanted to get on the reunion tour bandwagon. Arlo is really more(maybe not more, but he's better as) a story teller than a musician, and so he pulled out some of his classic stories, including a full version of "Alice's Restaurant." But perhaps was his best story was a new one about "Coming into Los Angeles." How he was at an airport, and there were two secret service looking guys sitting across from him, and naturally as a hippie type, he was all nervous about that. And one of them stood up, and came over to him, and towering above him asked. "Are you Guthrie?"
"Guthrie, are you bringing in a couple of keys?"
And he realized that secret service agent or not, this guy had grown up listening to his music.
The weekend as a whole was a success. I got along with my parents well enough, with me being content to listen more than talk, since I'm never sure what I'll say that will cause a strained look to appear on my mother's face. One night, I picked randomly from the dvds, providing us with the silent movie "The Golem" for entertainment. Something they probably never would have gotten around to watching if it wasn't for me. One afternoon, my dad read my issue of the New Yorker which he wouldn't have bought himself. I helped out with some yard work. So I like to think that I provided them with some pleasures, diversions, and labor that they wouldn't have had otherwise.
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