But you’d never know it from the ‘seasonal’ departments in all the big box retailers. I defy you to visit one and find that thing you had your eye on for your backyard deck or patio a couple weeks ago, but decided to think on it: ‘Tis gone, gone, gone now, and in its place—Crayola 64-packs and felt tip and ballpoint pins and No. 2 pencils in blister packs and hideous backpacks and solid color three-ring folders and theme books and lunch boxes and shrink-wrapped reams of lined notebook paper and larger-than-life cardboard posters of children looking just a tad too cheerful to be headed back to school—you know this, because here they are now, all around you in the store, they and their younger siblings, whining, screeching, bellowing, objecting to their weary parents’ tired reprimands to put-that-back-it’s-not-on-the-list. These are not happy parenting or childhood occasions.
In my erstwhile hometown, that milestone—the first day of school—comes tomorrow, August 5th, unbelievably. That’s right: Fall term in the Knox County Schools begins 50 days before…fall, which begins on September 23rd. Up in these parts, the kids at least have most of August to enjoy before they head back to the classroom.
Meanwhile, I’m still trying like heck to pretend I’m on vacation, trying to take a little of that vacay juju with me into every day of the week, if I possibly can. When I walk Scout-the-Goldapeake Retriever midday at work, I’m really exploring the beautiful rural campus our marketing agency calls home like I’m seeing it for the first time, as a visitor—or better still, imagining we’ve just arrived at the airport there (yes, our agency is at an airport), on a private plane, for our fabulous tour of New England. Or when I’m commuting home at the end of the day and I pass all the tourists in cars with out-of-state plates photographing the Bennington Monument, I’m right there with them, pretending I just finished doing the same and now I’m packing it in to go clean up before dinner out somewhere at some fabulous little eatery.
I know—it’s a fantasy. But most mornings in the summer I climb out of bed around 4:45 to go running with Scout before it’s too hot for him, and most mornings I’ve already got a spreadsheet open in my head before I even power up my PC at the office, and many mornings I’m ribbing The Chef because he took too damn much coffee in his to-go cup and now I won’t have my caffeine quota for a busy day. And most afternoons I’m anticipating bills in the mailbox and wondering what time to start supper prep so it’s not too late when we sit down to eat, and most afternoons I have a passel of not-work emails to answer while I’m waiting for the clothes in the dryer to stop fluffing, and maybe I have a paragraph or two I need to write for the blog, and I’m pushing to finish it all by my absurdly early working-woman bedtime. Because, remember, up at 4:45 am. That is life, after all, and much of it is distinctly un-vacation-like.
So give me my vacation fantasy. And in this tiny little New England state, for dog’s sake give me my summer: Soon enough the snow will come up to our shins and we’ll be kicking dirty clods of ice out of the car wheel wells and sprinkling snow melt on the back-porch steps. And those rituals will linger into the months when much of the rest of y’all in the Lower Forty-eight are posting photos of pretty blooming things. Soon enough.
The final couple of travel days in our Way Down South adventure were unassuming enough, but we managed a quick visit with my mom on our way out of Tennessee. Her life is busy and complicated, like ours. So a morning catch-up in her kitchen was the best we could do. Mom has a penchant and a method for dressing up a T-shirt: She always cuts off the crewneck and then remakes the shirt with a ballerina neckline—perfectly fitting for a woman who still teaches young dancers. Add dangly earrings and a chiffon bow, and that’s my ballerina mom. It’s kind of endearing.
This coming Wednesday, I finally get my piano back. Finally. It’s been a long time coming. My grandmother purchased it new for my mama in 1950 when she was a child; she would have been around eight or nine at the time. And after she grew up and married dad, the piano came into our family—I learned to play on it, and then my brother after me. He had it for some years and at one point moved it all the way to Oklahoma before returning home to Tennessee with it. Then he offered it to me in 2010 or thereabouts, and I said heck, yeah. The year my marriage ended I somehow found myself flush with pianos—the one my Uncle Stan had urged me to take, and which finally ended up in the ballet school, and mom’s Kimball. I decided to move the Kimball all the way from Tennessee to Vermont with me, but when I relocated from the Upper Valley to the southwest part of the state, the piano refused to fit on the truck, and in the end I had to say goodbye to it where it sat forlornly in the garage under the little loft I rented in Sharon.
My mama was so sad to imagine her piano coming to an end there. So when I recently told her I might be able to swing having it moved here, she was overjoyed. It will need some work, I imagine. But the first step to wholeness is simply offering it a home in our climate-controlled living room; we’ll cross the rehab bridge when we come to it. So in a couple of days, seems the Kimball will embark on yet more travel, one more destination in its many adventures through the decades. I once enjoyed unwinding at its keys after a busy day; how lovely to reclaim that restorative habit again—a little vacation for the soul.
I leave you with a few images of the last hours of our trip, where Ms. Nav took us so far off the beaten path, that at times we were challenged to find the path itself. Rural Virginia is exceptionally beautiful in places, more rural even than Vermont, if that is possible. When there is no particular agenda, and nobody tapping their watch at you—that’s the best time to lose yourself in travel. Nor did we overlook what has become an annual Way Down South road trip tradition: nabbing a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts at the last—the northernmost—shop on our route home, in Scranton, PA, before traveling over that invisible Krispy Kreme line, north of the Mason-Dixon to be sure.
Our adventure ended only three weeks ago and already feels so remote now. But The Chef and I ate our doctored up pizza outside last night while Scoutie circled like a shark, begging for bits; we played badminton like screaming children in our Vermont back yard, making hilariously missed shots and bad calls and all, until it was nearly dark outside; and then at about a quarter past nine we three walked to Stewart’s under the stars, with an exquisite moon hovering over northwestern horizon, for a gallon of Peanut Butter Pandemonium ice cream to bring home. Yep, still summer.