My Turn: Reading with you

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Published: 5/17/2021 9:34:00 AM

It wasn’t my idea, although I’d like to take credit. As it turned out, it was a very good idea, and who doesn’t want to own the good ideas? But in truth, it was your idea.

It was also a timely idea that would nourish and keep us company through the pandemic. We couldn’t meet together for a Sunday brunch or enjoy a slow hike with the discoveries you’d point out. We could no longer gather in the warmth of a wood fire and stare out through the glass doors at the circling wood ducks on the pond below. But we could read.

We could read together, with a simple phone call adjusted to speaker volume. “Let’s read,” was your invitation, starting what turned into a twice-a-week habit. You called at 7 p.m. We had our books on hand, turning to the marked page where we left off. It was slow going. Just two pages a person, usually eight pages in all. An hour, including time for conversation and the important catching up. Or a textual question. “What is a goul?” which despite some research, we never defined outside the story’s context.

So, here we are with our adult children in a sort of book club, sharing the slow momentum of an unfolding great story. I should add that you, our son-in-law, the initiator of this “club,” would have been the expected source, not known as the family bookworm, though maybe you are. As a contractor, you are more the go-to for our various architectural problems, also our local naturalist who identifies the wild life of our geography, teaching us quietly to be more observant of natural wonders in the world around us.

But you had returned from a recent summer canoe adventure, so excited about the Boundary Waters of Minnesota that you and our daughter had paddled and fished. But also excited about the book you had started to read at night. Making camp in the late afternoon, you soon had surrendered the out-of-doors to the biting creatures, as dusk forced an early retreat into your tent, safe behind tightly meshed screens. As the night deepened you read. “You’d love it, Mom,” daughter Emma said, winking I suspect to her husband, knowing I wouldn’t survive a day.

The book you were reading was one I had recommended, “Stranger in the Kingdom,” by Howard Frank Mosher. It’s set in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, with its own spectacular landscape. It tells the story of what happened when a Black minister comes to lead a parish. There is mystery, murder, court drama and themes of justice deeply relevant to our times. The point is that you wanted to continue reading it — you hadn’t gotten very far. “We’ll start again,” you offered. Thus, began our COVID Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Over time, others joined the readings. Mary, a paddling partner from Keene, came to read and stayed. Chelsea came for dinner, but first had to read her two pages. Matt and Jack, and anyone else who happened along, as your window for visits expanded, read their allotted pages. It’s now months of Tuesdays and Thursdays and we are only 10 pages from the end. We know who did it!

But our story won’t end with the end, because we have already decided our readings will continue. They have become a cherished ritual and the kind of time, in regular pre-pandemic life, that got lost in the shuffle. That kind of time when we’d ask, “How was your day?” and then really listen to the answer. Taking time to unpack good and hard days, to commiserate on the mishaps, to delight in good events, to add to the healing, to argue a bit but not madly, to wander in and out of paragraphs. And then, you would say, “OK, who wants to start?”

Thus, as vaccines release us from our isolation, as normal life returns in its small steps, we will keep to our “book club.” And the next book? Wait and see, it will be a juicy one taking us into a world that is not our own and very much our own.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.


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