Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light. Theodore Roethke
It is an old old house, born in the early 1800’s, this salt-water farmstead that we grew up calling the Old House. And a week ago Thursday, there we sat, at noon on a sweltering day, in the coolness of its cozy dining room, around the antique table, steadying our chairs on its pine-plank time-worn-sloping floor. There were twelve of us – my cousin, Diana, who is living here in this family home that our Grandpa Haskell purchased, along with two coves and a point of land in coastal Maine in 1903, and her sister, Karen, and Karen’s husband, John, and the seven of us, Cam and I and our two boys and their gals and baby Viren, along with Cam’s mother and her boyfriend, Bob, who had joined us mid-week on our Maine adventure. Our plates were piled high with fresh crabmeat scooped onto garden lettuce or tucked into sandwiches, and paprika-sprinkled egg salad, from eggs that we had gathered that morning from the coop at our country rental home, and cousin Diana’s potato salad, and juicy slices of ripe red tomatoes and crisp cucumbers plucked from the vine and Karen’s perfectly-gooey homemade brownies and her blueberry tart that was almost too beautiful to eat. But eat it we did, all of it, this feast of food and festivity, as we, very much present in the present, savored each bite of conversation, each morsel of the meal’s goodwill. And I wonder how it is possible not to chew on bits of the past, too, when you are four generations of family sitting around an antique table.
In almost every session of yoga, we turn one foot at a right angle outward and the other slightly inward, and we twist our standing spread-out bodies from Five-pointed Star into the Warrior Two pose, one arm pointing forward at shoulder height and one stuck straight back behind us at the same height. It is a powerful pose, pressed into the outsides’ of our feet, firmly planted in the present moment. And almost always, I say to look behind at the arm pressed into the past, that we don’t need to stay stuck here, that the past and its memories, the ones that matter in the Now, will rise up as we ground ourselves in our bodies, as we turn our torsos around to the present and to the future with a forward-focused momentum. So there it was, rising up for us, as we munched on sea-salted crabmeat and juicy ripe tomatoes and slices of blueberry tart; there it was as we watched over the twelve-month-old – the toddling-toddler of our family’s new generation – as he reached for the photographs and the family treasures. And when your inner warrior, that yogic-grounded part of you, is focused on the positive in the present, it is the positive from the past that makes its way up to the surface.
Before we sat down at the table, our sons, who have not spent time in the Old House since childhood, along with their partners and Cam’s mother and Bob, toured its quirky art-filled rooms, moseyed into Grandpa Haskell’s tiny studio where the press that he used to print out his etchings is still set up just as it had been before his death in a car accident in 1925. It was with the excitement that comes when something clicks into place that our son, Pete, questioned me when he returned from the tour. “Mom, is the photo on the wall of the studio my great grandfather?” And when I nodded my head, yes, he added, “Now I know where the bald gene comes from!” This great-grandfather, who has been more myth to my sons than flesh and blood, more well-known artist of the etchings that they’ve inherited, than man who walked through these same quirky rooms, was now becoming real, a handsome guy with a receding hairline like Pete who summered in this house and kept a cow in the barn and a sailing canoe at the water’s edge. He was alive to us all as we sat around the table eating our food and sharing our stories.
And the stories were a rich summer-smorgasbord of memories. There were the family stories, the flashbacks of us as kids, piled into the red lobster boat with a skiff trailing behind, heading off to a Saturday picnic at Spring Beach or sitting around this same table at holiday gatherings, memories of times before my birth, when the older cousins cranked the old-fashioned ice cream churner on the farmhouse lawn, with my father, their Uncle Ernie. And there were the memories from outside this Haskell homestead that made their way into our noon-time gathering. How does the mother of my husband, a gal who was born and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who married her childhood friend and raised her son (my husband) and his siblings in that same town in the Midwest, end up here in coastal Maine sitting at the table on this summer-thick day? What are the chances of a Wellesley gal, like my mother-in-law, getting back together with her college boyfriend who attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, the town next to Bath where I grew up, a boyfriend who now lives in a coastal town in southern Maine? It was the ice cream on the blueberry tart, the day’s sweet frosting to have the two of them with us, these college lovebirds, who, a year and a half ago and years after the deaths of their spouses, reunited. It was an extra scoop of ice cream on a hot afternoon to listen in as boyfriend, Bob, sat close to cousin Karen’s husband, John, who also attended Bowdoin College at about the same time period, and spoke with enthusiasm of how he and Cam’s mother met on a blind date on a football Saturday in Brunswick, Maine back when they were in their early twenties. How can it get much better than that?!?
And yet, the good times keep rolling into the present when you are open for them – and when you are in that open place, it is not just the memories that bob up to the surface to delight you with their presence. The ancestors themselves, those family members no longer sitting in the chairs around the table, those beloveds who you think are gone – when you are in that open place, they make their presence known, too. Sometimes it is in a body-shiver that they speak to you on a hot hot day as you mosey around the family grounds after a delectable noon-day meal, and sometimes it is in the cardinal bird sitting on the sumac bush, just sitting there staring back at you, at the head of Fish House Cove on the other side of Sister Point as you show your daughter-in-law the view that your mother savored daily from her cottage deck, that you feel her presence again and you hear her song telling you to enjoy the view.
And sometimes it just washes over you with the best feeling you could imagine. And maybe it is unexpected, like it was for me two days later on another hot afternoon, when we, once again, found ourselves on the family property, this time, on the Fish House Cove side of Sister Point. As I stood on the Haul-off Rock, the one we used as our swimming launch-pad for years and years, I watched my daughter-in-law, the master swimmer, lower herself down the same rickety stairs and over the seaweed and into the Cove’s clear water, and I watched my son, Chris, and his fiancé raise the sail and catch the gusts of wind while balancing themselves in the Sunfish’s tiny cockpit, in the same boat that my father had bought for us when we were kids, and I watched my twelve month old grandson plop himself down in the inlet of shells with his father and his Grandpa Cam. And, as I watched my family fully immerse themselves in life in the Cove, I felt him. I didn’t just remember him or think to myself that, if he was alive, he would have loved this scene. I felt him. I felt his happiness, his unbridled delight. My father who died when I was seventeen. My father, the steward of this land, the lover of the sea, the self-appointed tour guide who joyfully shared this place with all who visited. And here he was, all around me, and I breathed it in, the salt air, the warmth of the day, my father’s happiness.