I love to cook.
You ever just sit down and think of all the things you love? Last night in bed, we had all the windows open and the fan blowing in the room, and I lay there thinking about the things I liked and loved. I somehow avoided thinking about the things I didn’t like–some of them I even hated, like cowardice and gossip–but somehow I avoided all that shit and I lay there just thinking about the things I loved.
It is like lying in a pool and looking up and feeling completely surrounded and you know no harm will come. Throughout the house I could hear the dogs, Lili, our English setter, and Gus, our 13-year-old Lab, snuffling around, searching for a cool place to lie in the muggy night heat. No luck. I know that this is Gus’ last summer–his arthritis is nearly crippling now; but what Anne and I don’t know is how to break this to the kids. Katie and Johnny each day spend about 10 minutes just petting him; once in awhile, Johnny will ask me when Gus is going to die, and I say, “When it gets really bad,” which is lame, but what do you do? I don’t even want to remember taking my mom and dad’s dog Lady to the veterinarian last spring to be put down (Dad couldn’t do it himself, and I certainly understood). I parked in the rain and led Lady out of the car while a smokestack roared atop the building, which I knew was the crematorium …
We are in that long slide, that explosion of heat and green, when summer is rising to a boil, and autumn is still just a quick scent on the air–when I pass a house where someone is burning leaves or twigs, or at night, when we’re swimming with the kids at Long Lake and I smell the wind off the water and it has that sad, bleached smell at dusk, and somewhere far away a screen door slams, and a porch light goes off, goodnight, and all is finally quiet.
Friday–time to take stock of things, to tally up. It feels definitely like the end of something: the end of a hellishly busy but pretty good week. It’s a day to make the kill shot on projects still undone. Let’s see–I still have to talk with Sid at Men’s Journal about my next story assignment–I didn’t get through to him yesterday. Sid came here last fall from New York and we cooked big dinners of woodcock and venison and drank far too much wine–when we talk on the phone, I can hear the commotion of the magazine office in the background, the screech of sirens out his window on Broadway, and it makes me so glad I live here. I may go somewhere overseas for the magazine, or I may be able to write something from my desk. The prospect of taking off, of launching myself into some strangely wonderful place–I love it, but I also don’t want to leave this place, don’t want to leave Anne and the kids. I love having traveled a lot, but I love even more being home now–that wasn’t always the case. But I’ve learned a few things that no one but experience could’ve taught.
I’m trying to work hard now so I won’t have to do a damn thing over the weekend. I want desperately to get back to the dream life of my novel, and I’ll return to it Monday (I didn’t make my goal of doing that yesterday). One of the things my dad always said, “Don’t work weekends”–and he never did. He never, in fact, brought his work home with him. I admire that, and I’m trying to learn how. He’d come home from the power plant every day and unlace his tall, leather lineman’s boots that went up to his knees, and he’d set them, steaming, in the carport and come in and drink a glass of iced tea standing next to the kitchen sink; at night, we’d build a fire in the pit in the backyard and listen to Ernie Harwell announce the Tigers’ game …
I miss Dad lately–funny how that it is, how that sinking feeling can just creep up the back of your throat and make you feel tight. I have to give him a call. He called, actually, yesterday, but I couldn’t talk because I was writing a diary entry–he’d read the earlier one I’d written about Grandma dying, and he said I was “right on,” which was his way of saying I wasn’t bullshitting about the subject. When I finally talked to my sister last night she said he’d started crying when he was talking with her about the entry. I feel bad about this, but I also don’t know what to do with these feelings except write them down. Often, I don’t even remember writing–what I remember is hearing some kind of faint music through the trees and just repeating it as I type.
Tonight, Friday night (I love the sound of that–Friday night!), we may go swimming at Otter Creek, a beach on Lake Michigan, which is a five-mile stretch of empty, unpeopled dunes and dune grass that looks very much like Cape Cod, where I lived when I was 23. Or we may go to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In in Honor (yes, there is an Honor, Mich.–it’s about 20 miles from here, and a billboard at the edge of town announces that it’s the “birthplace of Coho salmon” in the Midwest–we have lots of different, good fishing here). Or maybe we’ll take a walk to the backwoods and pond–we own 40 acres here, and somehow we’ve managed to hang onto it, but we haven’t taken the time yet this summer to walk there. Time. Let’s start taking some time. What we’ll probably do is stay in and clean this pigsty of a house with a leaf blower and sandblaster. That would be the sensible thing. In fact, it’s what Anne said with a groan she “wanted” to do before she left with the kids for work this morning. I agree, sort of.
I woke up this morning thinking about loving to cook because we’re planning a dinner party Saturday night–Glenn and Carol just came back from Italy and I’ve asked Glenn to show us what he’s learned in the kitchen. Also, last night, I heard on NPR a segment about Cuban cuisine: lots of olive oil and garlic and mangoes and plantains and cilantro and parsley–goddamn, it sounded good. I suddenly got ravenous, gigantically hungry, mostly because when I get busy and write a lot I forget to eat.
I’ve seen Anne only in brief snatches, a smile, a frown, a brief moment as I leaned in through the car window this morning and kissed her goodbye before she pulled down the drive and sped away with the kids. Johnny’s going to soccer camp again–he has the big game tomorrow, Saturday. He says he’s playing “mid-fielder,” and when he announced this he sounded five years older than his seven. After coming back from his trip to Montana with my parents, he’s taken to calling me “Dude,” and he can sing the lyrics to some Alanis Morisette song I’d rather he’d not heard, at least yet.
Katie this morning went to Amy’s house on Crystal Lake–today is the first day we’re using this person called Amy for day care. I’ve never even met her. She’s apparently a retired lawyer–Anne did the background research and planning. It seems so odd to me that I’m sending my daughter off this morning to a woman’s house I’ve never met. You know, one of those things I hate is day care.
This morning I’ve picked some of Grandma’s lilies and put them in a vase on the kitchen table. After she died, Johnny and I drove to her empty house down by the Hersey River in Reed City and I dug up her 50-year-old flower gardens (I couldn’t bear the thought of strangers wrecking them), and I transplanted the lilies at this house when we moved in three summers ago.
This morning it finally occurs to me we’re still finding our way here, that we’re just now really settling into this house–we’re trying to make it a better place to live. It’s hard, but somehow I’ve never had so much fun. I always thought it required a lot of talking and planning–it really requires nothing at all. It just requires doing: It requires paying attention, showing up; you can’t let anyone down. I love that. I want a life rich and woven with all kinds of sights and sounds and smells–garlic and parsley and cilantro and beaches and woods and foreign cities and red lilies and my daughter’s smile and my wife’s laugh and my son’s fortitude and quickness. Anne has now nudged these transplanted flowers into thunderous blooms. Her garden this morning is a riot of blazing yellows and reds, tossing in the wind.
Whatever is coming will come, like a pleasant storm. For now, summer is here.
I love this day. I can taste it.