March 2019


This weekend is coming to an end. I’m sitting at my dining room table at nearly 5 pm. Sun is streaming in, filling the house with light. Music on the speaker beside me keeps things from being too quiet.

My guy has left for home. This is not his, but I share it. We had two nights and two days together, a rarity in my life of late, continuous time with the ones I love.

I’m restored. We saw a not so hot movie, in a theater where we were almost alone. We did a lot of desk work. We shared meals, coffee, lots of crancherry juice and seltzer. We went out to Newbury Street, did some returns, poked around in shops, had a little snack in the Eataly.

The house is still a mess. I haven’t made much progress on that. Maybe now I’ll try. Liana will come for dinner and stay the night. Friday night we had dinner and went to a play of a former day care kid and a friend of our kids since they were small. We laughed and smiled and teared up and felt proud in the same places, a product of our shared involvement in helping to raise a human not our own til adulthood, where the human had made a play which was chosen and produced at Emerson College, where he had found his way and my son had not.

Today Jonah is at the play. Last night her son was there. The shared and overlapping worlds continue, even as they shift.

The movie last night, Gloria Bell, struck my guy and I as disconnected, cold. The main character, Gloria, was a somewhat lost fifty something single woman, finding her way. I identified with her a whole lot. Still, I’m glad my life has a bit more grounding to it. My home, my friends, my guy, my work, my kids, my daily routine, my Quaker world, all have a depth and connection and soul and warmth to them that poor Gloria had only in snippets.

We’ve also been watching Rita, about another middle aged single woman. She has a whole lot more in her life, and still the lostness comes through. Its a time for that for me, too. Even though I have a lot to hold me to this world, there’s a way that life as I knew it has been ripped away from me again and again, and I haven’t figured out what next or how to get there or what this phase of life is all about.

I’m also reading Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North, a nonfiction book about women and aging, talking more about the next stage, sixties into seventies. Certain themes resonate and others help me thing about what lies ahead.

In day care the school age kids were pretending to be teenagers. Often the day care kids pretend to be mommies and daddies and older kids. We have to find our way by envisioning, little by little, what lies ahead. This weekend I’m beginning to get a sense of how to live my regular life here in Somerville, no Western Mass future, in my home without my kids or a lot of extra cash, making the good life of a little companionship, good food, a little exercise (some walks and a little homegrown living room exercise time), chores balanced with relaxation, some good sleep, conversation, a little art, in the form of books, movies, tv, music, museums, a little contact with the larger world. I can begin to see how the later fifties and early sixties might unfold, how to be happy in my home and life as my kids grow up and make their own.

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Today was the big dig out. About 10 inches of heavy wet snow fell overnight. Schools and the day care were closed. Ten years after my marriage ended, I’m still learning how to think about snow shoveling.

Today as I shoveled and ran the snow blower, I remembered days when I expected my husband to manage the snow.

My neighbor Gary runs the other neighborhood snow blower down the walks of the neighbors he knows best, including the one beside me, and the one across the street. Today as I was shoveling, Gary came down the street blowing snow. I heard him ask my next door neighbor and friend Michael, who was out shoveling with a smile, “where is Maria with her machine?”

Michael looked up and caught my eye. Gary came past my house blowing snow onto the street, muttered about Mary across the street being in Florida and her long time tenant Jeff not being likely to shovel out their walk, and moved over to take it on himself.

I got my snowblower out, barely hauling the thing over two boards I put down to make a ramp from under the porch to the driveway, as the driveway has eroded and there is a drop off. I could feel myself at the limit of my ability just to get the dumb thing out from under the porch, could feel the eyes of anyone watching my clumsy self tangling the machine up with the porch door as it swung open, wrestling with it as it tipped off the boards until I got it upright, and wondered why I was bothering to get the machine out just to deal with sticky snow likely to clog it up.

I thought of Richard, who had bought me the machine as a way to make things right, since he didn’t want to shovel snow when he was here and wasn’t here a lot of the time. Even though I had grown up with a snowblower, I had never run one as a kid or teen. I had to learn. I read the manual. I learned. One summer when Richard and I were split up I had my electrician put an exterior outlet on the side of house so I didn’t have to run the extension cord out the front door and over the porch rails to start the snowblower.

Richard kept the thing tuned up. He kept a service contract and made appointments for Sears to do annual maintenance. He drained the gas at the end of the season, by running the machine or siphoning the gas into a can and putting it in his car. He got gas and added stabilizer or told me to do that.

I’m no good at that stuff. Since we split up I let the service contract go. I can’t remember if I put stabilizer in the gas can last winter. I never used the machine last year, preferring to shovel, and I never drained the gas. I never called Sears for the annual maintenance. I asked Akira to start it up sometime in early winter, to make sure it would run.

Today I had to press the starter too many times to get the thing running. Once after I had shut it off to clear the blocked chute, I gave up and shoveled and came back to it, stuck part way up the driveway, blocking my car. Lucky for me it started again. Not so lucky for me, the snow blocked the chute again shortly after. Rather than risk it not starting again and blocking the car long term, I dragged the thing back up the ramps and under the porch, locked it with the bike lock and cable Richard recommended, hung the key right nearby on the inside of the porch, and got back to shoveling.

Maeve helped. It was sunny. Michael had finished long ago. He doesn’t have a car so just shovels his walk and Gary had helped do that with his snowblower. Gary had cleared the walks of five or more houses with his machine, then driven away in his painting van, while I had given up on doing even my own driveway with my snowblower. Jeff did in fact shovel out in front of Mary’s house, with the help of some other guy I’d never seen. Mary in Florida didn’t need my help. Other years I’ve offered to let Michael use my machine and I’ve helped Mary with her shoveling or used my machine to help her out.

Earlier I had seen two of my neighborhood day care moms shoveling out their cars. Then their male housemates or husbands came out to help and/or to do the driveway.

It’s still a man’s world when it comes to the heavy work of shoveling and blowing snow. It’s rare to see a woman running a snow blower. The landscapers who came to clear out the rental property on the opposite corner smiled at me in my old men’s parka, wrestling the snow blower down my driveway into the street. I was pretty sure they thought I was a little bit tough to even try, as lousy as my snow blowing skills proved to be. We women get points for trying even if we’re lousy.

Akira and my daughter’s boyfriend spent a good part of the day clearing snow for cash. I wonder how many women, young or old, do that. Not many I know.

Friday Akira and I went to a conference at Radcliffe, Beyond Words: Gender and the Aesthetics of Communication. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Today I communicated some things with my shovel and snow blower. When it comes to snow management I’m not on the level of the men I know. I’m not very strong. I get tired. I don’t know much of anything about machines. I’m lousy at service plans and maintenance schedules, at managing stabilizer and draining gas tanks.

In fact I prefer a shovel to a machine, a hand clipper to an electric hedge trimmer, a hand drill to a power drill. Give me the peace and rhythm of a hand tool and a slow and steady job over the noise and hassle of a power tool or a big machine.

If I have to shovel snow, give me homemade banana bread, even if I have to make it myself, man/woman jobs all mine. Today I put the bread in the oven before I went out to move snow, came in two or three times in the midst of shoveling and blowing, until the toothpick came out clean, so I could nibble on the first piece between bouts with the snow blower, share some with Maeve to thank her for her help, and eat some more with tea when I was done.

I fight with voices in my head on days like this, remind myself I’m a modern woman, that I’m strong, that I don’t have to be a man or to have one sharing my home to manage my snow, that I can do it my way, snow blower, snow shovel, banana bread, me and Maeve, and that I’ve got lots left to learn, as does the world. I want to be part of a world in which we women apply our strength and power and preferences and intelligence to things we have depended upon men to do and in which men do the same for things they may have depended upon women to do. Snow is just the beginning.