Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Me and Margaret: On Building a Nest

Trees, by D'Ann Fago 
Today was a wonderful day—and exhausting! By 6:30, I was emailing friends about our Kickstarter campaign, and within a few hours, my wonderful friends—and their friends—had contributed hundreds of dollars. Emilie Daniel, the Senior Center's hard-working director, led the charge, soon followed by her cousin Leif . . . and Kelly, and Forrest, and Betty, and Becky, and Idora . . . I was overwhelmed!

Next, I proofread Margaret's memoir On Building a Nest, the first book to come out of the Tuesday group, which has been meeting since September. (Also in the Tuesday group is D'Ann Fago, creator of the lovely Trees, above, a view from her home on Christian Hill in Bethel—she and Margaret are good pals.) Our resident cartoonist, Tex—a fledgling book designer—put Margaret's book together on his new Mac as a surprise for her. Here's the cover blurb I wrote:

"On Building a Nest is the story of a spiritual journey, told from the perspective of a woman whose life spans most of the twentieth century. The daughter of British immigrants, Margaret Egerton was born in 1910 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Driven by the upheaval of two world wars, the hardships of the Depression, and the demands of her husband’s career, she moved from country to country, state to state, and house to house, never putting down roots—until she and her husband settled in the small Vermont town where his ancestors were buried. There, in the latter part of her life, she found what she had been longing for. On Building a Nest is about the search for connection and meaning in a restless world, a celebration of life and love." You can read an excerpt below.

At lunchtime, I raced to the Senior Center and skarfed down a big plateful of Rose's beans and potato salad; sitting next to me were a couple of linguistics majors from Dartmouth, who had driven over to the center in search of authentic Vermont accents (they lucked out!). After lunch, the center turned into a recording studio, with one pair of linguists in the craft room, another pair in Emilie's office, and me and the writers upstairs with Greg Sharrow from the Vermont Folklife Center and his microphone. Emilie was turning in circles trying to make everyone comfortable—at one point, she jumped into her car and came back with eye drops for D'Ann, who was having a terrible time reading her "script" for Greg (it didn't help that her glasses had lost an earpiece and wouldn't stay on her nose).

Next stop: Margaret's house. I arrived at a good time—she had awakened from a nap and was feeling rested and wanted to talk. I walked in on a Skype session, Margaret's first. She couldn't hear the Skypers (some young family members) all that well, and she herself is talking in a whisper these days, but they blew kisses at each other, and when I walked into the bedroom, Margaret was smiling and I got a big hug from her and another one when I left. She had a barrette over her left ear in the shape of a gardenia. "I'm ready to go," she said. But in the short time I was there, she was very much alive and very much Margaret and thrilled with the book. I thanked her for being my student, for being my teacher, for being my inspiration and my friend, and for bringing her lovely light into our classroom and into our lives. "I think I'll see you again," she said, and I told her yes, I would come back, real soon. I shall miss her so. Here is a sample of her memoir, taken from the introductory chapter.
This morning I awakened with the same feelings as usual, a reluctance to get up and start moving, still too tired to leave the comfort of my warm bed even though I had eight hours of sleep. This feeling of ennui, or weariness, was overcome by the review of plans for my day and whether or not I had any commitments in town. Actually, there was this first meeting with Sara Tucker after lunch today. I had very mixed feelings about the commitment. I had been reading in a book about journal writing and the author had warned about the negative feeling of being “self-indulgent”—being on an “ego trip.” On the contrary, she wrote: “. . . perhaps it is quite necessary to indulge in the self in order to learn what emerges from the self and how it forms and creates” (A Walk Between Heaven and Earth, R.M. Holzer).
. . . I am now deeply involved in finding order in my life . . . my individual history, who am I now and what has been my destiny. . . . How does my history collide with world history, with two world wars in my century and the colossal upheaval in global catastrophe? Now I seem to have escaped the crisis into calmer water.
Perhaps “hindsight” can be a useful and probably pleasurable aging experience if it is approached with patience and understanding of myself and others, love, and forgiveness, if it is not scattered with too many “if onlys.” Regrets must be a small part of memories, otherwise they may distort, dismay and even digress into despair and depression. Sometimes discipline is needed to overcome this debilitating tendency.
I am sure that in most situations choices were limited by many factors—i.e., circumstances, natural ability and others—always far beyond our comprehension.
Margaret's last class was on Tuesday, March 30. She handed me her final, handwritten pages when I went to visit her the following week. I typed them up, just as I've done with all her writing—I always kid her that I feel like I'm "channeling Margaret" when I sit at my keyboard typing her words. Her book ends with these words:

"Life is always changing. Now the challenge is to live and grow in unity with the universe, in harmony and love with life."

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