We Kindly Oblige

I remember bounding up the stairs past the green siding with a jug of amber sun tea always on the railing.  Each step was hotter than the last as I moved closer to my goal, the white framed screen door.  Which was the portal to Grammy and Granddad and everything that meant summer.

Two years ago, when my family beach cottage was demolished and replaced, I didn't know what to do with all the feelings I had.  There was so much loss.  Where could I put it?  Little did I know that there is a truly healing art form called an altered book taught by artist Colleen Attara.  It's the perfect place to put it all and I had the pleasure taking her course at Squam Art Workshops.  Now I know where the memories go.

Once, my grandmother pointed to a praying mantis resting on a screen, speckled with drops of dew.  Grammy called me by name, her voice sweet like the rustling breeze of salt air.  I stood beside her, and to my seven-year-old gaze, the lime-green, curving insect looked about as long as my hand. “Isn't it pretty?” she whispered.  “Can you see its hands?” I was afraid of its large head and eyes. As I looked closer, I saw elegantly folded forelimbs in prayer pose. In any other instant, I might have deemed this creature a monster or immediately forgotten about it. However, in that moment, with Grammy, I paid attention. To this day, when I see a mantis, I feel my grandmother’s fierce love for me and for the natural world.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . ."
Gram would read
It's the little blue engine that saves them.

My Grammy was a true matriarch.  
Her decision-making skills, strong opinions 
and mastery of the domestic arts inspire me now.

Now her favorite earrings, translucent sewing patterns 
and little birds call out from the pages.
She was called Fran.

And her beloved was called Edward.
His page shows a pocket knife, gears, and a wonderful mess 
in a work room that smelled like Granddad.

There are some pages just too adored to change.
Especially the mention of a well balanced meal including fresh spinach

It is always there in my mind
In my dreams
I am inside
Walking through the rooms
Touching the furniture and knick-knacks
So surprised it was still there the entire time
Then I start to cry
And wake up soaked in tears

There was rust on everything.
After months of being shoeless, the bottoms of our feet were like leather.
The rocks of our gravel driveway were only slight obstacles 
as herds of gritty grandchildren ran amuck

Sitting under the magical umbrella of laughter 
we told stories until the tide lapped at our feet and our chairs became sopping wet 
just like they did in front of Great-Grammy's old cottage
the summers before it was knocked down by a nor'easter.

A nor'easter (also northeaster) is a macro-scale storm
along the upper East Coast of the United States and Atlantic Canada;
it gets its name from the direction the wind is coming.

Then we went back
 like we do every summer.

We too looked into the sky 
for fireworks, stars, lighting,
 kites and airplanes dragging signs behind them.

her golden tan of wonder shone on her skin 
as she played in the waves of the Atlantic for her eighth summer  

I am so grateful that the new matriarch 
who calls the shots now
demands we all meet at the beach
we kindly oblige

It was extra special this year 
my little sis
was the most beautiful bride

I walked down our street this year for the first time since it's been gone
and I think of them back then
when the town was smaller
when there were only a few houses scattered here and there
when there was a bowling alley on the boardwalk
when the boys wore socks and dress shoes with their shorts
and Grammy wore skirts sewn by hand

They'd be proud of what their family has become.
I think.

when I catch a whiff of petunias and red geraniums, I know
I'll always be that little girl
who was taught by Fran and Ed
everything they knew about loving like a family


  1. Oh, Jennifer. How absolutely wonderful. I hung on every word and loved the photos, some which I recognized! Love that one I took of you at the end. In a way you represent all 4 of us (2 generations of very blonde sisters at Bethany). Thanks so much for writing this.

    1. Thank you Ruth! All of the antique photos were from you, love that!