We moved two and a half years ago to this idyllic rural community of organic farmers, third-generation ranchers, and burgeoning vineyards and wine-makers.
We're here because we really wanted to be part of something old, something new: the marriage of neighborliness and quietude. The front-porch sitters' union. People who walk to the post office even though it measures in country miles away. People who swap stories around the general store's woodstove. People who aren't, at least metaphysically speaking, in a hurry.
We moved here and got all that we hoped for... and then some. The tight-knit village has its perks and its percolating problems. Sometimes I may have hinted at specific points along that spectrum here on this blog. Sometimes I have attached weights and sunk my thoughts to the bottom of the sea in order to not write it down anywhere that anyone would find it. (Surprisingly, some of these observations of rural village life are just not fit for public consumption.)
Friday I was beside myself with excitement because we were expecting company. I mean it: I was all kinds of dorky because I was making a new friend. My own everyday self had the gall to enjoy the free show created by my feverish preparations.
In the morning I had a meeting with an accountant (because my life is glamorous like that) and then I had some VIG (Very Important Groceries) to buy.
Just after lunch I crammed the VIG into the freezer and pantry while the girls carried laundry upstairs and argued about the visitors. (Glamorous and charmed.) The bickering went like this:
No boys upstairs! –Madeleine was not citing a rule of the house. Nope. She was protecting her stuff. (As can be expected of any eldest child beset with the plague of three younger siblings and frequent smallish visitors.)
But they can play Breyer horses.-Sarah, ever Switzerland, attempted to choose a gender-neutral game that would keep forever the secret that Madeleine at the ripe age of 10-going-on-22 still enjoys her baby dolls. A lot.
No one touches Secretariat! –There are boundaries to be established in every state visit, after all.
I’ll let them use Grace’s horses. –And then there are liberties taken by the stronger nations.
What if they break a leg?! –Of course this refers to the precious plastic, not the boys. The national treasure must be protected.
My new friend has four boys, ages 4 through 12. And right before the scheduled play date, she called to say that, somehow, she had six. Kids’ll multiply like that on you. But once you’re outnumbered, it’s all a matter of crowd control anyway. Plus, I really, really wanted to have this woman over for tea. My husband and hers have visited many Sundays after church and bonded over the manly subjects of vintage cars, earthmoving (literal large-machinery moving of dirt) and, of course, college football. We visited their lovely vintage home. We warmed ourselves by their magnificent woodstove one evening last month. She sat with me in the bleachers at many a volleyball game and then… wait for it… invited me to an exclusive quilting retreat in February.
If the girls have to play with a few extra boys, so be it. I am making a friend.
So, Friday, my floor was freshly mopped.
I made homemade brownies with butterscotch chips and walnuts. I made a pot of pomegranate tea. And while I’m at it… what’s up with pomegranates? Little bits of fruit under leathery skin. Oh, and a super-tough pit-like piece in each bit. The fact that we as a culture even bother to make juice from this creature is incredible to me.
In my family, the pomegranate is a traditional Christmastime fruit. My siblings and I would never eat any until our fruit was in a pile in our bowl. The peeling is laborious and, frankly, a pain in the butt. Maybe my mom would give them to us to keep us busy while she wrapped gifts. I don’t know. Our fingers would be red like strawberry-picking time in the middle of December. The dubious reward of bitter but juicy nuggets of seed-like fruit: I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
So my new friend and her boys (plus a couple) arrived to much fanfare and, as the sun was shining on our little farm, seven small children eagerly trooped outside for a game of hide-and-seek. We sat warm and cozy in the kitchen, drinking tea and watching them out the window while Laura played at our feet. It was dang picturesque if I do say so.
You know that moment in every mom’s radar training when she stops doubting the warning ping? That time when you realize it’s too quiet to be good and too long to be without a check-in. Ordinarily that ping serves to alert us of nothing more dire than the glue sticks’ misuse on the shower curtain, or the willful but surreptitious pestering of sisters.
However. I am now sure those previous pings were mere practice for the day when I’d be casually sipping tea and counting heads out the window… to count one too few.
To count one too few.
I have no idea whether it’s worse, but let’s just say it’s worse, because I think it is, that it wasn’t one of mine missing. It was on my watch, and on my property, but I just don't know enough about that dear little head to know what he might or might not do.
Upon determining that the game of hide-and-seek was long over, and that my friend’s 4-year-old could not be found “for a long time” (the words of her 12-year-old), we of course set out with just a tiny but building buried panic to find him.
My husband cannot abide a delayed lead, and insists always on the bottom line coming first. So I have to tell you before I write more that all’s well with the little boy. If I were still a journalist, I might have written this post this way:
Four-year-old wins elaborate game of hide-and-seek, eluding detection for more than an hour while entire village searches nearby river and farmland frantically. Multiple law enforcement agencies cooperated in organizing a search that was thankfully completed by the boy’s mother, who finally heard a tiny giggle.
The small boy with a brown crew cut and big brown eyes was wearing only a sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers when he burrowed under a wheelbarrow in the back yard. Determined to beat the six older children with whom he played, he did not come out for “Olly olly ox-in-free,” for the shouted promise of extra brownies, or even when called vehemently by his mother.
Searchers were particularly concerned that he may have fallen in a body of water or been snatched by a passing driver.
His first words upon emerging were, “Did I win?”
After a little less than 48 hours of reflection (and four hot baths, and untold glasses of wine, and painkiller for my aching hip-which-should-not-traverse-bramble-patches-in-search-effort), I have the luxury of knowing it all turned out okay. We were so very, very fortunate that he was just an exceptionally strong-willed hider.
The sheriff on the phone wanted to know which came first: the hugs or the consequences.
This is me, making friends. It’s a tiny bit like peeling a pomegranate.