It’s barely three weeks since Karen and I are back from vacation, and it’s already becoming a distant memory.
Invariably, you arrive back from vacation feeling wonderful and relaxed, and there, sitting on your desk, is a two-foot stack of mail and a blinking light on your telephone announcing a queue of voice mails. Then, of course, there is a seven-day backlog of e-mails, and by the time you hack through all of that, you can barely remember where you went on vacation.
I suspect we are all the victims of a gross excess of communication, and we allow our time to be stolen by just about anybody who has a phone or e-mail, and, worse yet, most of us are now carrying cellular phones. I am still mightily resisting carrying one around, but I can feel myself weakening. Truth is, I like being out of touch for a while, at least until my anxiety level builds to the point where it’s more painful not to check in than it is to check in.
Which is a long way of saying we went back into another time, to Vermont, to a little town called Brattleboro, just north of the Massachusetts border, to attend a family wedding. It was a typical contemporary American type of affair.
Two kids from New York, raised and polished in Manhattan, had decided they had enough of that and retreated to a small, former mill town, alongside a small, rolling river in Vermont, where neighbors say hello and smile, and life seems to move at an entirely different pace. I went there with some apprehension, sort of like I was about to pass through the glass into a Norman Rockwell illustration, but stayed long enough to experience it. I must confess it really isn’t such a bad way to live after all. I actually saw people walking down the street without a cell phone in their hands. True, there were more pickups with shotgun racks than I’m used to, but the town, which I am sure has seen better days, seemed to be happy with the newcomers. Kids with young families were moving in, looking for an easier place for their kids to grow up, and they brought with them energy and optimism that this old town probably hasn’t seen for a century, not since the mill closed and moved to Georgia or Alabama or Tijuana or wherever they are today.
As I said, it was a typical American wedding. The bride was beautiful and the groom was handsome. Their salt shaker-style house looked out on eight acres of rolling Vermont hills with lush grass. In the distance, here and there, you could see the beautiful beginning reds and oranges of fall. The bride and groom were married outside, under a chuppah, in a fairly typical Jewish/Unitarian/Vegetarian kind of wedding with their families gathered around them: the father of the bride with his new wife, the mother of the bride with her friend, the father of the groom with his wife, the groom’s mother with her friend, and an assortment of sisters, brothers, cousins and aunts. They said the vows they had written themselves, friends and family spoke and there was hardly a dry eye in the group. We were all caught up in the moment, the beauty of it all, the breathtaking scenery, maybe the simpler nature of the life these kids had chosen. Afterward, people who hadn’t talked to each other for 15 years were actually seen chatting away at the reception, which was in a tent on the rolling lawn.
A couple of days later, we drove to Boston, and we passed homes where people were stacking fireplace logs and putting on weather stripping and doing all the things that you do in preparation for a New England winter. The road crews were putting up long, thin, upright branches on the road posts so when the snows come they can find the road.
Then it came back to me, and I remembered. It’s called winter, and it invariably follows the beautiful autumn. It means snow and slush and coats and gloves and steam heat, and restaurants too hot and streets too cold, and finally getting the kids into snowsuits just about the time they remember they forgot to go to the bathroom.
It’s called winter, and I remembered sitting in our apartment as a kid, watching the Rose Bowl on TV, with everyone sitting in the sunshine, in their shirt sleeves, adjusting their sunglasses, while the wind howled in New York.
I can remember saying to myself at the time, “That’s where I’m headed.” So, on balance, I can say it’s nice to go away, but it’s even better to come home.