by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 21, 2008
THE HOUSE OF CARDS STARTS TO WOBBLE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When I first came to southern Vermont, in 1987, I had been on the road in South and Central America - literally on the road - for 14 years. You could say I had been a homeless person. Some called me "feral."
Estranged from my family, the only creatures I loved were my close friend Martha, who I left in Panama, and a small gray cat that I brought with me. The scene in the Panama airport, with me bawling, Martha bawling and the cat screeching in its cage - I'll never forget it.
I washed up at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., and settled into Leon Cobb's old place up on Dickinson Road. My roommate, Andrea, was from New York and didn't like cats. The first person we met from our class was Michael Earley, who came down the road to see what the two new women were like.
Andrea became one of my closest friends. Mike's closest friend became a young woman who had served in the Peace Corps in Africa. Her name was Kim Nace.
Over the six months of the program, the class watched Mike and Kim fall in love. I was one of the people who spoke at their wedding. It was the day I introduced a new friend to the group - the man who is now my husband.
Andrea moved back to New York and success; one of my most prized possessions is the key to her Manhattan apartment. (And she has never missed a Dummerston Apple Pie Fest.) Mike, Kim and I made our lives in Brattleboro. I started a career as a journalist and began rebuilding all the bridges I had burned with my family.
Mike and Kim bought a house - its wood-paneled living room had once been a rich man's library. They settled in and had Abby, then Aiden, and then later went to Guatemala for young Gabriel.
It took two years for Randy to convince me to buy a house - I was afraid to own anything I couldn't carry in a duffle bag. But he prevailed, and the happiest years of my life have been spent in the house in which I write this.
Mike and Kim were my family here. Kim was the one who took me to the hospital when I was afraid. Mike was the one who listened to my problems.
When my fences were mended with my mother, the beautiful 91-year-old Rose Kagan, and she started visiting from Florida, she became part of the family, too. Kim, Abby, Mom and I would go to Saratoga in the summer to watch the New York City Ballet.
It must have been close to 10 years ago when Kim and I started walking every Saturday morning - snow, sun, wind and rain (well, when it rained we ate breakfast at Friendly's). As it usually happens when you have a good walking partner, we talked about everything - our work, our families, our friends, our enemies, our husbands and our sex lives. Kim straightened me out on more than one occasion. I think I did the same for her.
When Kim got it into her head that she was going to be an elementary school principal, I thought she was crazy and frequently told her so. Dealing with parents, teachers, kids, school boards - who would want to do that? But Kim would, and she did, and she put in three hard and rewarding years at Bellows Falls Central School.
When she decided to find work abroad, again I tried to dissuade her. And when she got the great job in India, I spent a month trying to make her feel so guilty that she wouldn't go. It didn't work.
This year, when my mother came to visit, Kim and Abby couldn't go to Saratoga. Kim was packing and Abby was checking into her freshman year in college. But we had a farewell lunch with them on Saturday. Mom gave Abby golden ballet slipper earrings that she had found in Saratoga, and together we gave Kim an opal pin that had belonged to my mother's mother.
My mother wrote going-away poems for them both. I hope you will dance through life, she told Abby. And then, There's nothing whimsical about Kim-sical/ She's bright and strong and physical/ For her family she had a mission/ And forthrightly made a decision/ To move away to a very far place./ May their new life happily prove her case.
On Sunday, after an eventful and friend-filled three weeks, we put my mother on a plane back to Florida. I felt the loss of her company severely. Then we stopped off at Mike and Kim's for their farewell party. It was hard not to cry.
Kim and I took our last walk yesterday. As you read this, Kim, Mike, Aiden and Gabriel are on their way to India for the start of their great adventure, and Abby is only weeks away from leaving for college.
When I came here I only loved Martha, who I left behind in Panama, and a cat. Now my life is filled with people I love - and a different cat. I have never felt as abandoned as I do now, or as happy.
It took me a long time, but I have finally learned what Alfred Lord Tennyson said in "In Memoriam": I hold it true, whate'er befall/I feel it, when I sorrow most/'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.