West Tisbury


It feels odd writing 2014 already, so soon after Christmas, but that is when it comes, faster and faster every year.

A visit with Susie Middleton and Roy Riley felt like stepping into my most perfect Christmas memories. Their dining room was set in red and green for Christmas Eve dinner. The tree in their living room, a cedar that touched the ceiling, sparkled with lights and ornaments. Layers of ornaments, artistically placed, danced in and out among the long boughs. Lots of ornaments of all kinds. Handmade ones and fancy ones, shiny and matte, old and new. Susie’s tree was beyond perfect. Presents were spread out beneath it, waiting for Christmas morning and Libby’s arrival for school vacation week.

It was surely a scene repeated across town that night, but late afternoon was still busy with preparations for the big day. Russ Hartenstine was at the library, worrying that Santa wouldn’t arrive in time with Sarah’s requested American Girl doll. Earlier in the day, Betty Haynes shared the same concern for her granddaughter Lily. American Girl dolls must have been a much-desired gift this year. I hope no children were disappointed Christmas morning, that Santa arrived during the night with whatever they wished for.

Talley and I were walking last week along our regular path to the beach. She ran a little ahead, nose into the puckerbrush, as I composed long connected panoramas of rusty orange grasses and violet shadow-shapes, thinking this is the most beautiful season. Later I met with Ruth Kirchmeier for tea and listened to her say the same thing, rhapsodizing over the structure of bare tree branches and winter colors against skies of bright blue or cold lavender-gray. Snow falling would have made everything perfect.

Otherwise, it was an unshared sentiment. The overall assessment of folks around town was that summer and warm weather couldn’t come soon enough. Cathlin Baker had written a beautiful essay in the Gazette about the Advent season, longing for light and warmth.

I was sorry to read Verlyn Klinkenborg’s last column in the New York Times. He is retiring after 16 years. I have enjoyed his beautifully constructed essays about life on his farm, observations of the seasons passing, repairing fences and walking his dog, mucking stalls, watching storms and sunsets. I have saved many of them in a folder to reread again and again. I will miss the appearance of “The Rural Life” on the Times’s editorial page.

Mostly I’m rambling myself in this column. It’s easy to become introspective and wistful at the end of the year, balanced between the assessments of the past and hopes for the future.

On top of everything else, Mike and I noticed things were quiet around our house, but we didn’t think about it till we met at Sue Hruby’s for Christmas Day brunch and everyone in the family was complaining about not being able to reach us by phone. Upon our return home, Mike started working on the problem; he can’t stand when something is broken and he has to fix it right away. The computer wasn’t working, either. He thought it was the modem, whatever a modem is, and Comcast came to replace it Friday morning. Since then, the phone has rung ceaselessly and there were tons of messages on our email.

It was a pleasant respite being disconnected from the world. Neither of us uses a cell phone. It truly gave us a holiday, just us, with our books and our tiny tree cut from our own woods, enough for one string of lights and a few unbreakable ornaments, enough to make the house feel festive and decorated.

If only it had snowed.

I had written the above and was ready to send it in to the Times when the phone rang. It was our friend Diane Wall telling me that Howard had died during the night. Young, vibrant, laughing, handsome Howard. Life was always good. He was always fine, despite dealing with bouts of cancer these past years. He played the bagpipes, loved music of all types, sang and played so many musical evenings at their house. He collected vehicles and gadgets, made the best pizza, was an unfailingly romantic husband, a father who loved his girls more than anything. He and Diane have been our friends since forever. My heart is full of more memories than I can say.