A Story of Thankfulness
My neighbor offers to pay me to stack her wood; I insist my labor is gratis. The woman and I stand in her yard, looking eye to eye, both of us under five feet tall. In her seventies, the woman exudes both wiry toughness and fragility. She asks what she’s going to have to do for me – cook, is that it?
Without thinking, I say something that surprises me: Maybe you should just be happy with this. Why not do me a favor and allow me to do this?
She thinks this over—there’s an actual pause—before she agrees. It’s an interesting and unspoken contract. She’s an attorney; I’m a writer. Both divorced, small and scrappy, accepting help is a reluctant relief.
The next morning, while I’m cooking noodles to pack for my daughter’s lunch, my neighbor appears at our double glass kitchen doors. I’m in trouble, she says.
I ask her in, cautioning her not to step on a kitten.
She’s closing on her house at noon, and she’s behind in packing. When my daughter heads to school, leaping the cemetery fence, I walk over to the neighbor’s and survey the kitchen. Then I return to my house and shout for my teenager to wake up. Your help is needed! In a bit, my long-legged girl strolls over drinking a can of this orange juice she keeps buying, takes a good around, says, Hmm, and then, Where’s the packing tape?
A skilled packer, when we run out of cardboard boxes, my daughter goes out to the woodpile, empties plastic milk crates, and loads those with the iron skillets. We pass a fat black marker back and forth between us, labeling boxes.
Not so long ago, my daughters and I moved, ushered by my intricate lists and painstaking planning. Not so, my neighbor. As she paints stair risers that morning, my teenager and I pack her kitchen. Somehow, she keeps her calm, and her belongings all get moved before the new owners arrive. That night, by frigid starlight, she returns with her son. In my unheated barn, she opens cardboard boxes (overflow from her jammed storage unit) and roots through plastic bags, searching for tomorrow’s clothes, her Keurig, a red winter jacket she never manages to locate. My teenager offers the woman a castoff coat from my cousin, and I’m secretly glad it’s been recently laundered.
Early the next morning, I stand in my barn’s open door, a festive confetti of snow drifting down. My yard, garden, the town cemetery – the curve of the hillside where we live – lies rock-hard, suspended in dormancy from the summer joys of seed sowing and kickball games. Hardwick village lies in the valley just below our house, spreading its small cluster of buildings to the gray-blue triangular wedge of reservoir. The ancient mountains rise around us, landscape of granite, maple, and conifer – rich with gems of quartz, lichen, and running streams – home to a myriad life of woodland animals and fauna. This morning, though, only snowflakes twirl, silently.
My kids are sleeping, and most of the village seems to be slumbering, too, the porch lamps not yet switched off. In the cold November morning, I laugh out loud, full-throat and mad-woman sounding, with no one to hear but myself and possibly the roaming, curious mice. For a moment at least, I see so much of what I worry about —our own domestic jumble—as transient stuff. I’m just happy to be here, in this crazy human drama, standing in the doorway of a barn chock-full of possessions from a woman I hardly know, in my own bit of a walk-on role—no answers, no clarity, no epiphany—yet here I am, in this pristine Zen moment, as if I were a child, with the unexplainable, miraculous beauty of the season’s first snowflakes. Overhead, a flock of Canadian geese wings its clamorous way south, their white bellies shimmering in the rising daylight, flying low over the village before they rise and disappear from my sight.