my Brit

The Farmer in the Family

I had a minor surgery last Hump Day. As it was late in the day, I stayed overnight in the hospital. Bill came to get me in the morning. With the general anesthesia still clouding my brain, this is the first story I recall from Bill that morning. Bill woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom, and he saw a tarantula. I don't have all the details etched in my smoky mind, but both times he saw it -- at 5 and a bit later when he woke up -- it was tucked into a tight corner and he couldn't get it with a fly swatter or a glass , so he pulled shut the bathroom door. It was a bee that had bumbled its way into our house. I told Bill I would take care of it when I got home. "No, I can do it."

This happens every year. The first year, after finding three or four bees upstairs, I had a pest control guy come out. He assured us that the bees we found were simply hitchhikers that hopped a ride on someone's clothing. I don't buy it for a minute. Here is the problem:

With the plunging cold temperatures gone, rhododendron droop has subsided, and this is the view from outside our dining room window.  The rhododendron is below a second floor spare bedroom window.  This giant beauty is nestled outside the portion of our house that was built in 1880.  Big bumble bees love these blossoms.  They roll in the blossoms like pigs in shit.

And I'm convinced that in a pollen-drunken state they meander into a little hole in the old wooden window frame upstairs, get dazed and confused in the thin walls, and of all that enter, perhaps four a season end up inside the house. Then, far away from that sweet nectar and after the treacherous journey to the inside, the biggest one will meet an Englishman in a bathroom at 5 a.m.

When I got home from the hospital, I walked upstairs right by the bumble bee -- he had made his way to the stairs. "Oh, there's your bee," I stated as I walked by him. "OK, I'll get it... How many times do you think I'll need to hit it?" "Well, I don't know, Bill. It's a pretty big bug. What do you think?" No answer. Bill reappeared with a fly swatter and gave the bee a big thud on the head. And the bee bounced toward Bill. "It came after me!" "It didn't -- it bounced off the stairs from the impact of the fly swatter." Basketball is not a popular sport in England, so I didn't bother to use the term "rebound."

At the top of the stairs, the bathroom door was still shut tight with no apparent crack from which the bee could have escaped. Bill approached the door armed with the fly swatter in ready position. As he touched the doorknob, I stung him in the back with my finger. Oh my goodness, the poor Englishman hit the ceiling! And I found the sore spots from a belly laugh so soon after surgery.

Yesterday morning, the story came full circle. In our barn loft, we are experiencing squirrel hell. I fully anticipate writing the Squirrel Saga, but often times I can't write until the trauma subsides a bit, and we've been at it for weeks now. In the here and now, we have live squirrel traps on the roof of the barn and upstairs in the barn loft. They need to be checked daily. We can see the one on the roof, but we need to go up to the loft -- into the corner farthest from the stairs --and check the other one.

So here's yesterday's deal from Bill: "One of my colleagues at work had a bat in her bedroom. As she put it, there are girl jobs and there are boy jobs. And the bat was a boy job. As I see it, going up to the loft to check that squirrel trap is neither a boy job or a girl job. It's a farmer's job."

As Grandma Murphy would've concisely put it, with a sharp sting in the words:

Damn it.

Book Draggin'

Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas,  I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself?  I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one.  I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan.  After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full.  Elation!  That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.

I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city.  What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris.  Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.

The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!”  The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs.  “Merci, Madame!  Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that.  Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.

After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.


Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England.  I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases.  Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best.  He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them.  It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases.  Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.


On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me.  I flinched.  After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat.  I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head.  When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand.  I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor.  Yuck!  “Sir!  Excuse me!  I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.”  In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.”  I tried not to look at the titles.  That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings.  Serious reading.

My generosity sparked conversation.  “What do you do?” he asked.  “I’m a writer.”  “Really?  What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog,”  “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.”  With all those books.  I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”

Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write?  And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board.  It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.

A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."

(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry?  That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read.  Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")

The Suitcase

On Wednesday Bill returned from a two-week trip around the world: England, China and Indonesia. He proudly takes one small bag on these marathon trips and sends his laundry out in China. His last stop this trip was five days in the coffee fields of Sumatra. Following four flights over 30 hours that finally brought him home, we emptied the contents of the bag directly into the washer. Bill closed up the bag and put it in our closet -- for me to use on a short trip this weekend.

At 5:00 this morning I opened up the bag and remembered that I love Dancing with a Foreign City Slicker. Sometimes I forget the details in that first paragraph, and so does Bill....