It is early morning in late winter, and cold outside, as it has been for days. Elm and chestnut trees stand denuded of leaves, their untidy branches and bony twigs scratching at frozen air, Evergreens stand stolidly, silent giants biding their time, waiting for spring.
But I am cozy in bed,alone now, huddled under a warm duvet with my grandmother’s quilt over it. A quilt made 70 years ago. Its colors are as fresh as the day it was made, maybe on a winter’s day like this one, but far away from here, in Missouri where I was born. My mother and grandmother cut scraps of fabric from worn-out clothing, chatting, drinking coffee, deciding on colors. Spiky stars made from outgrown pinafores and dresses of my and my sisters’ outgrown pinafores and dresses emerge on pale green cloth. I recognize the red, white and blue striped star; it was my pinafore, colors bright so a small child would notice.
Familiar objects surround me. A solid oak chest of drawers stands beside the bed, another faces me from across the room, next to a little marquetry table we bought in France. Curtains with red and blue flowers and birds on a white background frame my view through lead paneled windows. A small wooden book case I painted red one summer stands between them. Although this furniture and I have been here together for only a few years, the room feels like an old friend.
For centuries these thick stone walls have witnessed the many lives lived in this room, the human dramas of which my own is such a tiny part. A leather bound bible the size of my hand is embedded in the plaster of the wall facing me, found hidden in the recesses of the beams, placed there perhaps during the Reformation in England, when it was dangerous to be on the wrong side of God. Now it is glazed into the fabric of the house and will be there as long as the house stands
This house will survive long after I am gone to watch other lives pass through, and in a few short weeks I will be looking at other walls, new ones which have had no time to mature,and which still smell of plaster. It will be up to me to infuse them with at least some of this lovingly charged space. I will try to make a beginning.
It won’t be easy to uproot again, to leave this comfortably settled house and village. It seems like the events of time have worn down all the sharp edges here, whereas in America we are still spiky and hard, tumultuous teen agers testing their limits,rushing headlong from one extreme to another, testing boundaries.
I will miss my gentle life in Shere.
Yesterday, shopping in a nearby village, I walked in the chilly shadow cast by the shops. Suddenly there was a gap between buildings, heated by the strengthening sun,warming my face for a moment. Although I walked back into the cold shadows I knew the sun was there, and I would step out of the shadows and into the sun again.