On Love, Leaving & the Last Leg

January 15, 2014 in Canada, North America, Travelogue, United States


The raspberries tasted like summer.

Warm sun on prickly green leaves. The lazy buzz of Dad’s honey bees going about their work. The electric anticipation of the air in advance of an afternoon thunderstorm. The smell of the river evaporating at noon. The sweetness of morning birdsong.

“These are the last of the berries,” Mom mused, “No more until next summer.”

She’d baked them into a perfect pie, complete with a swirl cut into the golden pastry crust. Raspberry pie is my favourite. I have it instead of cake for my birthday. It reminds me of island summers, sneaking out early with my basket to pick before breakfast. The basket stayed empty but my tummy was full and my lips were bright with berry blood.

This is one of the ways my mother weaves love into daily life: she remembers favourite foods and quietly slips them in (twice in one visit) even when it costs her the very last of her summer berries in January. These berries are one of the things that sing me back to this island, a high, sweet chorus laid over the voices of the coyotes laughing to a winter moon as we clear the plates and contemplate one last game of Scrabble for the week.

I won, of course. Mom had two games in a row with terrible letters. At our best, we play to the death and only two or three points separate our wins, well over 300. These are the games we live for. The games she practices for on her computer for months between visits. The games we habitually call across the continent to crow to my brother about when we win. He humors us because he can beat us both, with one hand tied behind his back. Scrabble is a blood sport in my family.

Leaving is always the same:

Packing the truck in the early morning darkness, this morning with snow falling in fat flakes over all of the remaining bags. Making five cups of tea and one of coffee in travel mugs to take on the boat. Dad clucking around like a tom turkey overseeing his flock, gobbling on about how many minutes we have until we’ll have missed the boat for sure. Kids stomping into the house with snowy boots. Grammy collecting grocery sacks full of “one more thing.” Tony, patiently playing tetris with our gear in the back of the vehicle. Me, repeating my endless maternal mantra of, “What part of, ‘be totally packed last night before bed,’ did you not get?!”

“Your patience amazes me,” my mom giggles as I hug her one more time.

“Patience??! This is us screaming at the kids!” I wink.

Of course there is no screaming. Screaming is not allowed in our gene pool.

Getting all of the children, their backpacks, boots, snow pants, forgotten jackets, mittens, hats, school books, tea cups, stuffed animal friends, two pillows, their much missed Settlers of Catan game, books, painting supplies (thank you Grammy!) four musical instruments, Australian outback hats, and assorted “necessities” into the truck on a time schedule is a bit like trying to stuff the candy and confetti back into a pinata, post party.

Needless to say, we missed the boat.

We were in the line up fully fifty minutes beforehand, but it’s a Wednesday, and it was the 7:45 a.m. boat, so the employed were headed off island to work and every island child over 13 was stuffed into two school buses which are loaded first. The next boat was 9:00 a.m. Plenty of time for Gramps to bring up two more bags of “one more thing,” some water bottles and his sense of humor.

“My personal strategy is to come up at the very last minute for the boat BEFORE the one I’m going to take,” he chuckles.

Tony, dryly: “Yeah, mine too, apparently.” 

Everyone laughs. I knit. Tony reads about four chapters of Ender’s Game. We’re at the part where Ender has just been named Commander and is turning a double handful of misfit kids into a crack team. It occurs to me that there is allegory for parenthood in there somewhere: juggling boys in zero gravity, bouncing them off of hard surfaces to accomplish a goal, fighting pretend battles to prepare for the real thing, continually feeling out of your depth as “commander” and somehow, pulling it out of the hat at the end. Tony makes an excellent commander.

And so, we’re rolling east again

Across the familiar fields and furrows of upstate New York, towards New Hampshire, the last place we had the honor of calling “home” in the rooted sense. This highway always gives me nightmares and flashbacks on the long straight stretch between Syracuse and Albany. I see my husband, dripping blood to his elbow, with his hand in the arm of a girl about Elisha’s age, his thumb on her big vein, screaming for me to bring him something to tie her off with. I tried to keep her disoriented Dad from wandering into traffic while we waited on police and ambulance to arrive. Perhaps the longest few minutes of our lives. Tony drives extra carefully through this stretch. I know it haunts him too.

This is the very last leg of our intercontinental road trip.

We pushed off from Drysdale, Australia, on October 9th with our good buddies, the Rickards. Over three months later the wheels will stop in the driveway of the Wood family farm. We’re ready to take a breath, to spend a few months in one place and rest up. We’re ready to spend some time with old friends and open the revolving door of hospitality to everyone we’ve missed so much for almost two years. We move into the top half of a house tomorrow. The first of our house guests arrives Saturday.

What will we do for three months in New Hampshire? 

  • Hug friends
  • Drink wine
  • Attend music lessons
  • Get Hannah and Gabe driver’s licenses
  • Reconnect with work partners and clients
  • Have as many friends to dinner as we can
  • Expect house guests from at least four countries
  • Finish up a school year
  • Plot some very exciting adventures for spring into summer

 And rest. We will rest our nomadic souls in the company of some of the people we’ve loved most and longest. We’ll rest and enjoy being in one of the communities we have the privilege of calling “home.”