I woke up without an alarm (mine or anyone else’s) in an empty house, to a morning that was my own. It wasn’t too early, but I was awake before the neighborhood children, and the quiet was palpable. Then I heard one child’s voice and another in response; the chorus of a childhood day had begun. It reminded me of the cicadas in Greece that begin singing – one and then the whole chorus – at the moment when the sun rises over the mountain and strikes the trees with the first ray.
There have always been small children on our street, ever since I moved here with my own eighteen years ago. At that time, the neighbors on one side had children who were almost grown up; now it is the children of those children that I hear. Perhaps their parents will hear the children of my children some day, calling to each other outdoors when these children have grown and left home. Or perhaps new families with children will arrive from other places, like our closest neighbors, who moved into Al’s house after he died. Al Johnson, the son of a Finnish quarryman.
I thought: I will walk to the rocks! How could a day be bad that began with walking to the rocks and gazing at the ocean? I put on the pair of old blue jeans hanging on a hook, delighting in the simplicity of getting dressed only for the rocks. I thought of the woman who lived across the street when I first moved here. Her husband was a fisherman with traps stacked up in the yard. She didn’t have a dog she had to take out, but every morning she walked alone to the rocks with a slight smile on her face, just to see the ocean. Such a ritual seemed impossible (and enviable) to me at that time, since I was always at home with my children, or getting them ready for school, or getting myself ready for school after I became a teacher. I thought: Maybe now I can be the new Joanne on the street, the one who makes a pilgrimage to the rocks each morning to greet the ocean.
When I got to the end of the driveway and saw my neighbor’s recycle box, I was reminded it was trash and recycle day. I had a big accumulation from missed trash days and the party last weekend – my son’s graduation party from the Boston school that has taken us away from our Lanesville home these last four years. Being present to participate in the weekly ritual of trash collection seemed as rare and miraculous to me as arriving in Sweden on Midsummer’s Eve. I went running back to the house to get my barrels, only to realize I was out of the purple trash bags that are required for trash pick-up here, replacing the orange stickers. I figured I had time to go buy one before the trash truck came.
I jumped onto my daughter’s abandoned bike and pedaled into the village of Lanesville, where they sell the purple bags in the liquor store. In fact, they sell everything in that liquor store: eggs, butter, milk and candy. As I arrived, I saw the trash truck driving in the other direction. The proprietor of the liquor store, with his amused and indulgent expression, hastened the transaction so I could race the truck back to my street. I made it.
When I saw the recycle truck coming, I ran back to the house for one more cardboard box. The man loading the truck was large and friendly. He was wearing a bright orange sleeveless shirt. The woman driving the truck was small and pretty. She was also wearing an orange shirt and texting while she waited to continue driving up the street. I handed my folded cardboard crate into the hands of the man loading the truck. Then I waited for him to dump out our green plastic box of bottles. Ostensibly, I was waiting to for the empty box, which he passed into my hands. In truth, I was savoring and prolonging my participation in this weekly ritual that my other life has taken me away from so many times.
I never did walk to the rocks.