Saturday, July 27, 2019

Time to Say Good-bye

I began this blog seven years ago, at a turning point in my life: My mother, Idora, had recently died and I was out of a job, no longer needed to help entertain Mom's many friends and relatives, shovel her front walk, fix her meals, or drive her to the hairdresser’s. The house felt empty without her, and Patrick proposed a change of scene. His mother, who was in a nursing home, owned a spacious apartment in Fontainebleau, a short train ride from Paris. Winter was coming. We packed a couple of suitcases, threw ourselves a big party, and left.

Since then, we have spent seven winters in France. During that time, I . . .

The blog post with the most hits: How Long Is a Gorilla’s Penis When Fully Erect.

This morning I decided it was time to bring Sadie and Company to a close. After seven years of bouncing back and forth between continents, Patrick and I are ready to settle down. Our new life will be centered on our new home in France, the one we moved to in March, after selling my mother-in-law's apartment and disposing of most of her things. The house in Vermont is still unsold, and we will keep it for now. I'll visit Randolph as often as I can. We'll continue helping writers publish their work with Korongo, the micro press that began as an art gallery in downtown Randolph. I'll write, take long walks, and finish hemming the bedroom curtains. Patrick will drive his new car to the grocery store, the pub, and the post office. We will watch the sun rise and set over Butte Montceau, and try to remember that we are here on earth for a flicker of time and that each day, each moment, is precious.

Love, Sadie/Sara/S.

Above: My mother's amaryllis, spring 2014. Below: Butte Montceau, June/July 2019.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Remembering Ellie Streeter

Whenever anyone received a card from Ellie Streeter, a flurry of sequins tumbled out. My mother kept the sequins, stashing them in a kitchen drawer. Most of Ellie's sequins were in the shape of hearts.

A few weeks ago, I was unpacking a carton in our new flat in France. The carton contained a good deal of what my mother used to call “memorabilia”—stuff too precious to throw away but of absolutely no use to anyone whatsoever. My mother-in-law, naturally, had a similar collection, which I somehow managed to inherit.

Inside the carton was an envelope addressed to "Mami"—Thomas's grandmother. When I opened it, a shower of heart-shaped sequins spilled onto the floorboards of the new flat.

The message on the card was in Tom's handwriting. It wished Mami a happy Mother's Day and explained that although Sara had paid for the gift, it was really from him.

I do not recall the gift that went with this card, which shows a picture of two tortoises staring at each other, but I know for sure that those are Ellie Streeter's heart-shaped sequins. No doubt they were recycled by me, back when Tom was a wee lad, ending up in France.

Ellie was one of many women, my mother's close friends, who all pitched in to help each other raise their kids. The Tucker and Streeter houses shared a fenceline, and we kids were in and out of the Streeter house constantly, often several times a day. We played Kick the Can on the Streeter lawn, ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at the Streeter table, and listened to Peter, Paul and Mary on the Streeter record player while playing board games on the Streeters' living room carpet.

My mother's friends were classy women, and strong like burros. Together they weathered the blows and celebrated the victories that come with raising kids. Because of them, I grew up feeling almost ridiculously safe, convinced that the adults in my life were absolutely capable of dealing with any evil that might threaten me or my brothers, sisters, cousins, or friends. These women remained friends their entire lives. Two days before my mother died, Ellie left her house—which she rarely did anymore—and walked around the corner to our kitchen door. She was my mother's last visitor outside of family.

The little hearts were still drifting about the house—popping up on floors and countertops—when I received the news, a few weeks ago, that Ellie had died. Being in France, I was unable to attend her memorial, to my regret—I would have loved to have shared memories of Ellie with her family and friends. Some of my own memories I put into An Irruption of Owls, my memoir about growing up in Randolph.

When I'm going through a really rough patch, along the lines of the past six months, it helps to remember my mother and her friends and relations—Aunt Lois, Ellen Reid, the Lunch Bunch (Dolly McKinney, Betsy Arnold, Ellie Streeter), and many more—and all the crap they endured, and how they always got through it with a minimum of self-pity and a ton of courage.

There's a passage in Owls where I go to visit Ellie, a few months after my mother died, and she says, "It's okay to grieve." After that, she moved to assisted living up near one of her kids, and my life changed. But I still have a few little things to remember her by, as well as Aunt Lois's tangerine scarf, and Dolly's Snoopy pen ("For writing the good things"), and the sand dollars that my mother and I collected on a trip to Georgia. I have Ellen Reid's recipe for fiddlehead quiche. And I have the example these women set, and the love they showered on us, not just when we were kids but forever after.

Above: My mother's collection of sequins from Ellie. Below: A sequin that made it to France.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

25 Things to Do (or Not Do) Before You Die

Today is my birthday. I'm 65. It's kind of a big deal, because I can now start drawing on my pension from Condé Nast. I only worked for Condé Nast for five years, so my pension is pretty small, especially when you compare it to my heating bill, but we seniors know how to stretch a dollar. For example, if I go for the lump sum, I could buy a tiny little house and have a tiny little electric bill to go with my tiny little pension.

Building a tiny house is one of dozens of items on my retirement to-do list. I revise this list at least once a week. I make big plans, little plans, half-assed plans, genius plans, and really stupid plans. Sometimes I write them down, but mostly I just think them, often when I'm supposed to be doing something else, like the laundry.

Besides designing and building a tiny house, the following items have also popped up, at one time or another, in my retirement plan:

1) Open a guesthouse for writers.
2) Write a series of novels about a travel writer who solves crimes.
3) Run for president.
4) Start a commune.
5) Make a giant wall hanging out of Grandma Tucker's doilies.
6) Transform ancestral portraits into Pop art.
7) Study Latin dance.
8) Learn to play the ukelele. Write songs.
9) Commission a series of ceramic doorknobs.
10) Become a patron of the arts.
11) Learn woodworking.
12) Learn metal sculpture.
13) Give up travel writing.
14) Give away everything I own, one object at a time, so that other people don't have to pick up after me when I die.
15) Make a burn pile out of everything I own and set a match to it.
16) Grow my hair long.
17) Shave my head.
18) Become an exercise instructor for seniors. Wear cute gym outfits and have fun music.
19) Get French drivers license.
20) Make a series of quirky lampshades out of old junk.
21) Read the history of France in 20 volumes (in French, of course).
22) Adopt a refugee family.
23) Walk across America.
24) Walk across Vermont.
25) Become a tour guide.

Obviously, I can never do all of these things, even if I live to be a hundred. Welding? Musical composition? Lampshades? I mean, seriously.

Today, instead of writing another chapter of Kidnapped in the Kasbah or composing a ukelele song about these happy golden years, I am going to rearrange the living room furniture (again), take a long hot shower and squeegee the sliding door in the new bathroom, and schlepp the taka-taka down to the scary room where they keep the trash bins. I will also spend a not unreasonable amount of time worrying about Patrick, who has gone into Paris all on his own, with only his cane for support. Probably he will come back with a birthday present of some sort. It will probably not be a ukelele.

Above: One of dozens of unidentified portraits collected, saved, and mostly labeled (but not this one) by Mabel Lamb Tucker, my grandmother. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Let Us Be Grateful for This Day

We are at the "almost done" phase of our renovations on the new flat, the most dangerous phase, the phase where, if you're not super-super careful, you will execute a Devon Loch failure—Devon Loch being, of course, the racehorse who was on the verge of winning the 1956 Grand National when he inexplicably jumped into the air on the final stretch and landed on his belly. By the end of this week, I was not on my belly, but close.

Rather than go into the tedious details, let's just say that there are too many boxes, too many stairs, too many shelves, too many 19th-century tchotchkes and too many bulky, heavy pieces of furniture that were meant for much larger rooms than they currently occupy. Pieces with quaint names, like the "confiturier" that takes up a large corner of our living room and was meant for storing apricot jam and canned duck and is now our bar. Not that we need a bar. We could keep our bottle of vodka and our shot glasses in the broom closet. But we have inherited a confiturier, and we don't know what else to do with it.

This week, I single-handedly dislodged another large piece of furniture from the salon and moved it to a bedroom. That piece is a very large wooden chest that, I think, was meant to contain a bridal trousseau. It now contains our winter clothing. In winter it contains our summer clothing. Plus a rug made out of a variety of animal skins (leopard, kudu) and my mother-in-law's fur-lined raincoat.

As I was pondering what to do with this overload of crap, the painter arrived and installed himself in our kitchen. Several packing crates full of kitchen stuff went behind the couch, where the giant wooden chest used to be.

Yesterday was supposed to be the day of our garden party in celebration of the end of the Winter From Hell. The party was supposed to be a thank-you gesture to the many friends who helped us get through the past four months, but two thirds of the guest list was out of town, and the forecast was for rain. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, "This is one thing I don't have to do," and in the morning, I called my friends and told them I was too tired to have a party after all.

Instead, when Patrick came home from his afternoon at the dialysis clinic, we got in the car and drove to DeeDee and Ray's house in Saint Mammès and walked around their garden, which smelled of honeysuckle and roses. We sat in the serene and joyful comfort of their very beautiful house, which they have lived in for thirty years. You would never know that it has been flooded twice (it sits on the edge of the Seine), and that for a while they could only get to their woodshed in a canoe. Ray opened a bottle of wine and DeeDee arranged little plates of delicacies on the coffee table that Ray made out of a slab of I-forget-what-type-of-wood, and all was calm and lovely. Just as we were leaving, DeeDee raced back into the house for scissors and cut three stems of red roses to take home with us.

Also this week, my friend Mary performed another miracle and managed to take me all the way through IKEA, from start to finish, without having to call for emergency assistance (it was Mary and DeeDee who took me to Castorama to buy a kitchen and a bathroom). Together, we picked out a nice sofa, tested a foldout bed that Patrick has his eye on and found it acceptable, and hauled a Poang chair to 3 rue des Hêtres in the back of Mary's little blue car.

Mary, DeeDee, Judy, Penny, Sian, Avril, Kathleen, Riekie, Simon . . . these are some of the friends who have helped us avoid a Devon Loch moment over the past few weeks and months, coming to our rescue again and again. My sister Martha literally flew to my rescue while Patrick was in the hospital, and my brother John has been helping to look after the house in Randolph, along with friends Jeffrey and Marion Lent. And then there have been the nice Korongo clients, who have been waiting for months, with nary a peep of complaint, for us to return to work.

On Wednesday, we took the train to Paris, where we had an errand at the U.S. embassy, and sat for a long time in the Tuileries Garden, alternately watching the ducks and dozing in the sunshine. On Friday, we drove to the nearby town of Moret sur Loing and walked along the river where the Impressionists set up their easels. We ordered caramel and almond gelato at one of Moret's surfeit of ice cream shops, and sat on the bridge, watching swallows dive through the air. Later, before going to bed, my husband said, "I enjoyed this day," and I was happy.

Now, if I can just keep it together until the charity truck takes away our unloved items, and the junk collector takes away the too-big sofa with the coffee-splotched armrest . . . 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I've Got Something You're Going to Love

After 38 days in the hospital and 40 in rehab, Patrick came home on April 8, a Monday, to a place he had never lived in before. A couple of Polish workers were tiling the bathroom, and there was a hotplate in the kitchen where the stove should be. The stove was on order from Castorama.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when I began doodling on an envelope. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I had made a collage. The next day I made another. And another.

Ever since, I've been cutting up milk cartons and yogurt containers and turning them into collages. Every collage is made out of household debris, mostly packaging for mundane items like laundry soap and toilet paper. No glue—I just lay the pieces on a flat surface, take a picture with my iPhone, and then sweep up the bits and toss them into the recycling bin. Today I made my 13th collage in 13 days.

Patrick thinks this is a perfectly normal thing to do. I know because I checked. "Do you think I'm crazy?" I asked him. "Absolutely not," he said. Then he added, "No more than I am."

The other day, he approached me with his hands behind his back. "I have something you're gonna love," he said. Then he presented me with—ta-dah!—a warning label for a German egg beater. Today it was a circle of sticky blue paper that he had peeled off a bottle of spring water.

It has been 17 days since he came home and I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Some of you have seen the pictures of collages 1–13 on social media and asked me why. I have been asking myself the same question. Here are some of reasons I've come up with so far:

1) Because I want time to slow down.

2) Because on the tombstone of my friend Dolly McKinney are written the words "Don't forget to play."

3) Because I loved everything we did in Mrs. Tormey's art class, but I especially loved collage. (I also happen to love making patchwork quilts, which is a similar process. I would probably like building stone walls, too, if I were given the opportunity.)

4) Because scientists say art makes us smarter and more tolerant. I often wish I were both of these things.

5) Because I have become hyperaware that we throw away too much stuff. Don't ask me how turning milk cartons into works of art that have a lifespan of less than five minutes is going to fix that. Something to do with mindfulness, maybe.

6) Because everybody has a little artist inside them, right?

The little artist inside me woke up from a deep sleep as I sat with my husband on one of his first mornings home. I have a hard time just sitting, my hands like to be busy, but I wanted to stretch out that moment, which was one of complete happiness. So while my husband just sat, enjoying the feeling of being alive and being home, I picked up a pen and started doodling. And then I picked up some scissors and started cutting.

And that's how it began.

Above: Collage #13, "Askari." Styrofoam, paper, cardboard, foil, and transparent molded plastic.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Oh Joyous Day, Oh Stuffed Tomato, Oh Car That Beeps, Oh Joy

Figure by Marion Lent (paper clay, 18 cm) 

Yesterday Patrick left the rehab center for his second dose of fun and recreation since he was taken in an ambulance to the ER on January 27. Yes! A month ago, he could barely walk with the help of a walker. Yesterday he not only walked, with a cane, into his favorite bistro but he even drove himself there in his new car.

This is the almost brand-new car that he bought for a very good price just before all hell broke loose. It's white and shiny, don't ask me the make, and it beeps when you are going to back into a tree.

The Smile is a five-minute walk from our old apartment. Normally, Patrick goes there three times a week to have a beer with his friend Pascal. The people who work there are our friends. When we walked in, Marie’s face lit up. I, being me, started to get all weepy. Jeremy came out of the kitchen in his white apron and tocque and squeezed us before rushing back to make sure nothing was burning.

I ordered a stuffed tomato; Patrick ordered the steak and a tiny glass of St. Omar. For dessert he had fromage blanc with caramel and I had the crême brulée. Everything tasted divine.

We then drove to our new apartment in Butte Montceau, where Mr. Tyminski’s guys were banging on walls and drilling holes. Patrick lay down on the living room sofa and fell asleep.

I lowered our brand-new very expensive blinds to keep the sun from shining in his eyes.

Just before he began napping in earnest, Mr. T popped in to check on his crew. “Patrick is here!” I said. The two Mr. T’s discussed toilet seats.

Mr. Tyminski—Luc—had a stent put in last year; he knows something about emergency surgery.

After the nap, we sat in the kitchen, peeling carrots. Then we drove down the hill to the rehab center. We had dinner in Patrick’s room, and then I walked back home.

It was an excellent day. There is so much more that I could tell you, and I will, but not now. Now I must edit four chapters of “Myths of the Tribe,” second edition. The World’s Most Patient Writer has been waiting for me to finish this job since last fall.

Love, Sadie

PS The figure above is by the artist Marion Lent. You can see more of her work on her website, It is one of many works of art, including several by Vermont artists, that will make our new apartment a special place. I named this one "Lulu." Here he is standing on the microwave in our kitchen. He moves around a lot.

Monday, March 25, 2019

And Then Angels Appeared

Today I woke up in fear because I had to go to Castorama to buy bathroom tile. I am not a good shopper under the best of circumstances. If I had to rate myself as a shopper, I would give myself a D-minus. I get buyer's remorse before I even buy anything. The idea that I might regret my purchase as soon as I get home is petrifying. And bathroom tile is pretty hard to return. You don't want to buy a bunch of bathroom tile and decide you made the wrong choice. I also had to buy kitchen appliances.

Factor in that I am a lifelong renter. Renters do not make home improvements. If a renter wants to improve her home, she moves.

Factor in, too, that these renovations are being financed by my husband, who is still recovering from a catastrophic illness and unable to participate in the shopping spree. So while I hope my decorating decisions will meet with his approval, I can't be sure. But since this is the first home he has ever owned, and he is really looking forward to living in it, I really really want to get it right.

The first bit of advice Patrick gave me, way back in early February, was that he didn't have a budget. I had no idea how much money he expected me to spend, or what he expected me to spend it on, besides a stove, a couple of kitchen cabinets, and some paint. I decided to wait.

While I was waiting for him to revive enough to take an interest in the new flat, I fixed it up so that it was comfortable. The kitchen didn't have an oven yet, but that was okay. We lived without an oven for two years in Arusha, and for one year in Westfield. I barely noticed that we didn't have one.

I was just getting settled when Helene popped in to hurry things along. "But Helene," I said, "there is really no hurry. If we start now, Patrick will come home to a big mess. I want his homecoming to be restful. We can do the renovations later." The next thing I knew, I was picking out bathroom tile with Mr. Timinsky, our Polish contractor, and two friends.

Mr. T kinda of shook his head when he saw us coming, three women to do the job of one. No doubt he figured we would discuss floor tiles for the rest of the afternoon. But Mary and DeeDee were brilliant. They knew all about bathroom tiles, kitchen stoves, and whatnot. They whipped up and down the aisles, explaining to me what I would or wouldn't like. I barely even had to think. Never once did I consider throwing myself onto the parquet and crying, "Enough! You decide! Anything but Hospital White or Cemetery Gray!" I actually had fun. 

Sometimes miracles happen.

Oddly, my cell phone died as soon as I entered the store. I managed to send Patrick one little photo of a piece of parquet flottant before it quit.

Above: DeeDee and Mary discuss flooring with Mr. Timinsky, our contractor.