Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Last Column: Saying Goodbye

Mary wrote The Port Townsend Leader’s "Real Life" column between April, 2006 and February, 2009. This was the last one.

Given everything else I’ve published in this column, I’m not sure why this feels so embarrassing, but here goes: This woman, who for three years has written about how much she loves Port Townsend and her life here, is moving to Seattle. Right now. To you, it must seem sudden, but as I look back through my journal, I see that I’ve been writing about the idea since September. “Seattle seems the right place to be,” I wrote then, “and yet I feel sick and teary just thinking about it.” And then one day I realized that nobody was making me leave. I wouldn’t have to go until I was ready.

In September, my niece Miranda left her home in Cincinnati to start college in Minnesota. I visited her there in October, and that did it. I realized I wanted to live on a college campus for seniors -- and I don’t mean 22-year-olds. I wanted to have friends down the hall, eat in the cafeteria, dance at mixers, and gather for campus movies. I wanted to live where somebody would probably be available just about any time to go do something fun and interesting. I envied Miranda.

Now, as I’m actually moving, I really envy her. Not so much because of where she ended up, but because her parents took her there. Sure, I’m old, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick up and leave a life I know and love. I could really use some live-in people here to say, “It’ll be okay, Mary,” and “We’ll smooth your way, honey,” and whatever else I imagine my sister and brother-in-law said to Miranda, as they helped her carry her stuff out to the car.

But somehow, help is arriving. As I started going through my things, I found a pile of saved cards from assorted holidays. On my table today, as if it had arrived yesterday, is this one from Amy: “You are great! Try to keep that in mind when the trail to the peak of your new life gets to feeling a little too steep, and revel in the beauty of the journey whenever you can.” She sent the card in 2005, for my birthday the summer after my marriage ended. It helps me today to remember that I have already made it to one new life, a single one, and I’ll surely make it to another new one, in Seattle.

And just this week, a writer friend needed help on a website she’s launching. I volunteered as editor, and I’m so thankful I did, since she was writing about trusting oneself. I needed to be reminded that I have brains and strength and initiative. I can do this.

And I’m daring to ask for help. It’s easy to start feeling your aloneness when everything -- the closing of the bank account, the change of address, the transfer of the phone service, the cleaning of the garage -- is on you. Friends say they’ll help, but can they mean it? They do! On Thursday, I called somebody. She’s coming at 10:30 to help me wrap dishes and put them in boxes. Somebody is coming at 5 to move boxes, and tomorrow Jim will help me figure out my erratic garage door opener.

So the adventure begins. Monday morning the truck comes. With any luck, I’ll be unpacked enough to go dancing Monday night in Seattle. I have loved sharing my Port Townsend life with you, many of whom I have met only once, in the Food Co-op or at the Farmer’s Market. You have told me about posting favorite columns on your refrigerators and making my cakes for your birthday parties. Your encouragement has meant so much to me.

And of course it’s Port Townsend where I learned to love the things I can’t now find enough of here. Dance partners. Cycling buddies. Intellectual companions with plenty of time for conversation. I need more of all this, and I believe I’ll find it in Seattle. But oh, the things I’ll miss! Thank you for everything.

My Daily Bread

A year ago, my friend Carolyn served me a no-knead bread from a New York Times website recipe. It was crusty on the outside and full of big holes inside, the kind of bread you get from the best bakeries. And this was without kneading? Carolyn forwarded the recipe over, and I finally got around to trying it.
I got my bread-making motto decades ago from Julia Child’s Kitchen. As I remember it, the line is, “You are the boss of that bread.” But I have never felt as in charge of a loaf of bread as I do today. I'm not sure what you could do to this dough to defeat it. I just let it take as long as it must to rise double here in the dead of winter when my efforts to delay global warming mean my house is a comfy 64 degrees. (Yes, comfy. I just wear a couple of sweaters and a scarf, and pretend I'm British.) I stir it up in the four minutes it takes my cup of tea to steep, then let it sit for 24 hours, stirring it down usually about halfway through the process.
I sort of followed the NYT recipe, except that I doubled it, and replaced two-thirds of the white flour with whole wheat. I haven't bought bread since then. This is my daily loaf.

Mary’s Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

2 c white flour
4 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp yeast
1 tblsp salt
3 1/4 c warm water

Stir it up until blended; it will be wet. Cover bowl and let rise 18-24 hours, stirring down once after an hour or so and again when it’s bubbly. Preheat oven and heavy pan with lid to 450 degrees. When pan is hot and dough is risen high, roll/push dough from bowl into hot pan, disturbing it as little as possible; sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Then uncover bread and bake a final 30 minutes.

Update, 3/14/13: Okay, I use a Le Creuset oval casserole, I'm guessing a 4-qt size for a single big loaf. After I preheat it, I give it a mini-spritz with Pam cooking spray, then sprinkle sesame seeds in the bottom of the pan, as well as on top of the loaf once it's in the pan. When done, remove bread from pan to cool.

Day Twelve

Day Twelve of my new life in Seattle. It’s ten p.m., and I’m walking alone along Phinney Boulevard from the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center, back home to my apartment in Fremont. I’m absurdly elated. I just left the Mountaineers’ monthly board-games night. There were fifteen or twenty of us, mostly in the “my age” range, and three agreed to play Scrabble with me. We got in two good games. I could have gone on over to Sonny Newman’s studio nearby to dance for an hour or two, but I didn’t need to.

As I walk, I come to a bunch of young people, blocking the sidewalk, photographing each other with their cellphones in that oblivious way of the young. I come to Sully’s Snow Goose Saloon, the pub they must have just left. It’s cold. Two guys are standing by the blazing firepit on the pub patio. But I don’t need to.

As I walk, here’s what I think about. Hey, I’m all alone in the city at night and I’m not even a teeny bit scared! I feel so good! Has even dancing ever felt this good? What might this mean about who I am and how to find that fulfilling, happy life I’ve decided to pray for?

Yes, pray. The first book I checked out of the Fremont Branch Library was a novel called A Handbook of American Prayer. I never finished the novel, but I was taken with the idea of a written prayer list, short enough to be prayed at least once a day. Mine started out with four items; now it’s five, and Jen, who’s not feeling so good, sneaks in regularly if informally. I have a friend whose feet are going weird on him, and my mom’s tummy is acting up, and I’d like a renter for my place in Port Townsend.

Wait a minute. Maybe what I actually want is bigger than a renter. Maybe a reasonable level of financial security? Do I really need to tell God how I want that achieved? But what about the people who say you need to be specific, not for God’s sake so much -- after all, God is God -- but for your own? So I sort of mumble through that part, with various qualifications and fallback options.

Same with the next part, where I pray for “a fulfilling and satisfying life.” Am I really just praying for a guy? As my friend Ann says, if I’m not careful, I may find myself in an orphanage in India, fulfilled but really hot and sweaty. And single, of course.

So I pray through my list as I walk, and then I get a flash. I’m here! I’ve done it! I’m in Seattle! The dreaded parts are over: finding a place, packing up, hiring a truck, saying goodbye, deep-breathing until the Hood Canal Bridge reopens at last to vehicle traffic while my clock keeps ticktickticking at $50/hour for my moving men. Unpacking everything, making it home. Worse things: address-change notifications, internet service confusion, auto insurance fee increases. True, I still need to decide about my health plan and my dentist, but the bulk of it is done.

Most days, I feel so much younger than I am that it’s all I can do to resist decorating my apartment with red candles stuck in basketed chianti bottles. That’s one thing “single” has going for it: you definitely feel younger.

Some days I feel, at sixty, like a champion of a woman, to do this. A friend said to me last week, “You were afraid, and you did it anyway.” Yes, I did. And I guess one thing prayer has going for it is the opportunity to say “thank you,” even when the passersby on the street can’t see who you’re talking to.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies