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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Inspirations or Triggers?

This image made me smile before it made me cry.

I spent a rainy afternoon haunting antique stores near my coastal Massachusetts home. Yard sales and forsythia dotted the roads. Young folks were loading up on the stuff old folks were getting rid of. I mused about the generational transfer of wealth and mentally listed the items in my garage waiting for my kids to hurry up and furnish their apartments already.

I was already in a nostalgic frame of mind when I spied this picture. It's simple enough. Just a black ink print on now yellowed paper. In the corner, it's signed, "Townsend 71," and I took that to mean some gent named Townsend created this image in 1971.

I lived for ski weeks at Stratton Mountain
and Otis Ridge.
Memories of weekends at my family's ski chalet in Vermont came flooding back. The chalet already had a life filled with memories before my family purchased it. Skiing in Vermont in the 60's and 70's had a certain vibe to it. Kinda cool. Kinda kitsch. Kinda insider-y. Kinda counter-cultural. The chalet came furnished with all sorts of keen and groovy stuff that was just keen and groovy enough that our family did little more to it than bring fresh sheets and towels. 

My mom and dad were never happier than when we gathered there. The little girl in that painting was me, gripping ski poles that were too long and hand-me-downs, leather already cracked and stressed, but usable. I learned to ski on our weekends in Vermont and know I looked exactly like that picture -- coat flapping, ponytail askew -- as I concentrated on my stem chrisities. When we grew up and lives took root elsewhere, the little brown house became the site of family gatherings and reunions. 

I didn't realize that those memories were like clay in a kiln, being baked into unyielding shapes. I was one kiln. My siblings others. Somewhere inside, a fissure happened, invisible to the naked eye, but lurking in the baked clay so that when the memories were pinged, the vibration was not resonant and pure, but marred by a tinny sound. 

I was at the chalet when I learned my father died. His passing exposed the fractures in my family's fabric. Once the site of family joy, the Vermont house is now the locus of strife. My mom and dad had wishes that all the generations would gather there for years to come.

The picture brought me back to a time when that could have a time of shared dreams and goals, and love. 

My smile dissolved and vision became blurry. I thought I was holding up pretty well and adapting to a new dynamic. People grow and change. Sometimes we grow together. Other times apart. It's just a part of life.

The little girl skiing with such concentration was met at the end of the day with a hot cocoa loaded with marshmallows. She thought of her day as every kid thinks of their day -- that it would be like that forever. 

Life changed. I almost bought that picture. It would have looked great at the chalet, hanging above the long, too-cool black pleather couch that we all loved to hate and was so much like the one in the shop. The couch is long gone and my garage is already full of things waiting for a future. 

I wondered about the artifacts that were inspirations to some, triggers to others.

So, I left it there. 

And moved on.