Thursday, August 20, 2015

A visit From Catherine

An old friend, one of my very oldest, came to visit a few weeks ago. She had been to a birding conference in Maine and stopped by on her way home. Her name is Catherine, everyone calls her Catherine, and I try, but inevitably I lapse into Cathy, which was how she was known in 8th grade when I met her so many years ago.

We have stayed in touch erratically over the years, sometimes more consistently than at other times.  In junior high her family was my salvation, a refuge from the fights with my father and the tense atmosphere at home. She has 3 sisters, fairly close in age. Her father was an engineer at Monsanto, her mother stayed home. They were all very bright, much smarter than me. I liked that at her house it was okay to play music loudly, make messes in the kitchen, stay up all night talking and working jigsaw puzzles. I liked that it was okay to love reading, be unpopular, dream. Her family helped me through a rough time in life and I will be forever grateful.

I could be myself around her, and I still can.  We might not see each other for years on end, but it doesn’t take long to remember how we get along.

She arrived on a Thursday evening. I made us dinner, and burnt the chicken on the grille but she was kind about it. She is an avid birder and could listen to the birds singing in our backyard and identify them by sound.

In the morning we took the dogs and went for a walk on the Windham Rail Trail. Some ladies from the Newcomer’s Club met us there. We had a nice group tromping along the trail for a couple of miles. The dogs just love the trail. I can let them off leash and they are very good, never ranging very far, coming whenever I call. A few treats in my pocket don’t hurt either.

After our walk we decide to head to Newburyport, a historic town along the coast at the mouth of the Merrimack River. I had read that you could buy a book of walking tours of the historic homes in the local bookstores, so that’s what we did. The book I purchased is called “Walk Newburyport”, by the Newburyport Preservation Trust.  It contains three walking tours easily accessible from the downtown area. We did the first tour, called A Sampling of Styles, first. It wound around an area in central Newburyport and gave us a chance to see houses in a variety of styles, from Federalist, to Greek Revival, to Victorian. As we admired one house the owners came home and chatted with us for a bit. They had bought the house back in the late ‘70’s when it was a falling down wreck and nobody was very interested in owning these old houses. Now the houses are beautiful, the neighborhood is considered trendy, and it would be difficult to find one for sale at an affordable price. Times change!

As we wandered around from house to house, the book gave us details about their architecture, and a bit of their history too. I know nothing about architectural details but Catherine did and she helped me to see what the book was talking about as it commented on the Dutch gambrel roofs or Doric pilasters or the delicate entablature of a Georgian style house.

The people of Newburyport seem to be delighted with their little town. Even a UPS driver stopped and told us about the minister buried in the basement of a nearby church! We tried to stop by and pay our respects but the church was locked.

After we finished this tour we were ready to try another. This time we walked a little west of downtown to look at the houses on the Earliest Homes of Newburyport, the third tour in the book. All the houses on this tour were built in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. They are a simple style called First Period, built for practical reasons, not esthetics.

This neighborhood was quiet and sunny, farther down the river from downtown. On our way back we walked along the river. Catherine had a poem stuck in her head and she recited it for me. It was a poem by W A Auden, called Yeats is Dead.

“Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.”

After resting our tired feet for a little while on a bench in the town green along the river, we headed to Not Your Average Joe’s for an early dinner.

I can’t tell you exactly what we talked about. We filled in some of the missing edges in the details of our lives. She still works part-time. Her husband passed away several years ago and she misses him, but stays busy with music, art, classes and birding. And then there’s me, the accomplished ditherer, running, planting, taking classes, reading, binge watching whatever TV show currently has my attention.

It was a good visit. I like having visitors here in New Hampshire in the summer and fall. Its so beautiful, a little treasure, not as well known as the other New England states perhaps, but exquisite in its own right. I’m strangely proud of New Hampshire, glad to be able to call it home, at least for now.

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