Dishes and Life
Each morning, as my mother does, as her mother did before us, I put away the dishes. I rise early to relish in the rapture of a quiet house before the raucous of the day begins. Whether the children, the husband, or the guests are sleeping or I am alone in my house, the ritual is the same. This is my morning meditation. I delight in the soft shuffling sound of my slippers on the hard wood floors, the clicks and splatter of the rain, or the slow shifts of light as the sun rises and bathes the valley in changing color. There is the clink of the glasses, the suppressed bang of the pots, the low grinding sound the drawers make when I pull them open to lay down silverware and utensils. Echoes of yesterdays conversations or last night dreams or today’s wishes, float across my mind’s eye and I watch them pass.
I am easing into a new day while the teakettle boils, just as my mother does some ninety miles southeast of here in her loft in Tribeca, as her mother before us did in her Suburban Long Island home. Though my deceased grandmother preferred coffee, to drink with her savored, clandestine cigarette, and my mother’s house is now empty of grown children, the routine is alive and well, one fork, one plate at a time.
I have no interest in smoking. My mom, choosing a life of independence from a man’s rules, smokes when she wants to, alternating for effect, that she is either a smoker, or a surly non-smoker who will not tolerate fetid smoke in her house. She was always one to bend her own rules. But smoking or not, coffee or tea, we are women who have always chosen the earliest hours to contemplate existence, and to pay homage to the day.
This bullet gray morning, the rain hammers against the windows and wind blows so steadily that it seems to rumble like the old wheels of a tired wagon. I wonder about the horses and if they are finding shelter in the barn on the other side of the now raging stream. I think about Susan, the sixty-something emaciated woman who came into my store yesterday, and how even breathless and grey, she was the embodiment of all that is good in this life.
She was making her final decision, whether or not to buy Foundry Cove, one of Richard Bruce’s landscapes. The same painting that she has been longing to own for over a month when she first saw it, moved by “it’s depth and emotion. It is much more than a landscape,” she told me, her conviction defying her weakness. She had long gray hair and fine features, her beauty subdued by illness and time but still palpable. She continued eloquently, “With so little paint, he manages to render it so richly, with such luminosity. You can almost feel the icy air, can’t you?”
Susan considered herself a painter, and, she said, “So was my mother. My home is filled with art from us, and friends. There are few paintings I have wanted to own, and I always put other priorities first when I did find ones I connected with. I have regretted making that choice.”
“You weren’t here,” she says, when I brought my good friend in the other day to see it. She is a little overweight and always happy. That day she was wearing a tee-shirt that says, “Life is Uncertain. Eat Dessert First.” She’s really that kind of person. Her advice to me is, “Susan, you almost died last year. Life is too short for regrets. If you live another year, or another thirty, if this painting will inspire you and make you happy, then you should live with it every day.”
I wished I had more time to spend with this woman whose soulful, brown eyes brimmed over with emotion and sincerity, and who seemed to have all the time in the world when I had a litany of things to do that were simultaneously pressing and inconsequential: to run from High Falls to the bank in New Paltz before it closes, bring the cash to Josh who was renovating my cottage and waiting for me already in Gardiner, then zip back to Stone Ridge to pick up my children from school, and back to work for a few hours before it closed. Time is not something I feel I have a lot of these days. Perspective.
“I will leave first thing in the morning to hibernate for the winter in a little apartment in the City,” Susan said. “It’s just too hard for me to get around here with the snow and ice.” She offered a weak smile, as if an apology. “I’ll bury myself in books, and plow through them until the weather improves. I’ll be fine,” she offered. “It’s too bad you are in a rush though. I should have called first. It is always so nice to visit you. But I’ll see you in the spring.”
Her words seem to echo this quiet morning, as I put away the last dish, utensil, cup, pot. I pour hot water into the large ceramic mug that is my favorite, then swirl in one teaspoon of sugar and some milk, and begin to nurse the exquisite alchemy that is a cup of tea. Savor each moment, I hear in my head. I wonder if I will see Susan again, picturing her fragile body as it folded into the front seat, contentment washed across her face because she was taking her painting home. -end-