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Under The Arbor


         I had vowed for years to tackle my enormous collection of books. Mostly flea market and out of the way used bookstore finds. A high-pressure job with lots of busy travel kept me from this fantasy “someday” I kept promising myself. Overworked and with little time for my own pleasures and pursuits was a choice I was definitely making. Until one Spring morning the dreaded “lay-off” had found me. My industry was changing and downsizing.

         Colleagues assured me- come Fall, I’d be back to the grind I called a career. After much hand holding and late night talks with my husband, I decided to lean on faith to try and enjoy my “down time”. Me? Who worked 80 hours a week. How would I fill the hours?

         To the books I would finally go.

         Early morning and a tall cup of coffee at my side, I began to tackle the hundreds of volumes I had picked up over the years. Delighting in what I was discovering. I spent almost an entire day organizing, gently brushing worn covers clean and remembering how much time I used to dedicate to the joy of reading.  Meeting amazing characters I would carry with me forever. My books had been waiting patiently for me. Where to start? I closed my eyes and whichever one my hand rested on, would begin my spring reading.

         When I opened them, I was holding a slim volume of short stories by Somerset Maughan. A wonderful writer who wove beautiful dramas from drawing rooms of ladies in London to the huts of Samoa in the 1920’s and 30’s. This was the series of short stories from his time as a doctor in the South Seas, including his tale of the famous and free spirited - Sadie Thompson.  So I was to be transported to South East Asia with a fine English doctor taking me there.

The next morning was cool enough to throw my trusty blue pashmina into my canvas bag and head to a peaceful park over- looking the Hudson River and the mighty Palisades Cliffs beyond. The setting up on a hill that is home to ancient black beech trees, weeping willows and an arbor in full bloom for shade. A small ornate stone wall runs the length of the entire grounds where several old mansions that housed Mark Twain and Toscanini still stand. One of them has a tiny food cafe and gift shop inside.

         I spied a white Adirondack chair perched in the shade under the arbor. The sepia river sliding by below. Birds were flitting and chattering in the trees. It was a Tuesday and not many people were about. In the café, I picked up two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a frosty glass bottle of milk and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

        Settling into the chair the scarf around my shoulders, I opened Mr. Maughan’s stories. In between bites of salty/sweet PB&J and sips of ice cold milk, I was immersed in these tales and the language from a time gone by. Where lunch was called “tiffen” and men wore boiled shirts under the equatorial midday sun. I read for hours.

         I dozed off at some point, and when I woke up, sail boats were gliding by in the afternoon sunlight. Even a Chinese junk went floating south, orange sails billowing in the river’s breeze.  It looked like it sailed right out of the pages of my book. How simple this all was. I did not have to get on an airplane or spend a lot of money or arrange to be with friends with complicated schedules. Here was the most basic ingredients of pleasure. A humble meal. A sunny day. A good book.

        With Fall, the call came for a new position, as predicted. I felt blessed by that Spring and Summer where I had been gifted to read dozens of books under that arbor. I promised myself to not abandon me or my passions again. Some of my picnic lunches were more elaborate. The settings less dramatic but the sacred gift of quiet joy was always there for me to partake in. I just had to open a book. 

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