towards the end of november, the husband of a very dear friend of mine left a couple of messages on both my land and cell phone, saying he wanted to give his wife something very special for her birthday, just before christmas, and in a sweet voice asked if i could help him by making a necklace for him to honor her day. this is her fifty fifth year, and he called back - twice - to ensure that i incorporate, somehow, that magical number into the finished piece. most of you know that i don't do commissioned pieces, usually. i find it far too hard to sit and worry about whether or not the design will live up to any expectations that may be set ahead of time; it is a lot of pressure, and i just don't like putting myself, or anyone else around me, through that sort of angst. this friend is mighty special, though, and her husband is a sweetheart; so what could i say? i spent days mulling over what to do. many walks through river woods later, i decided to make a "booklace" from an antique eyeglass case that could hold a tablet that you see me holding, above. the cover is from an ancient antique leather-bound french/english dictionary that i purchased over ten years ago for two or three dollars, a heavy thing that is now without a cover in one piece. the brass stencil comes from a set that no longer contains the number five; and that is as it should be, then. fifty five things that i love about you - that's what i hammered, letter by letter, into the old brass, and within the book are vintage pages, some lined and others not, where he could jot down things that he loves about my beloved friend. i remembered her telling me, some fifteen years ago, just how they met: sitting at adjacent tables next to the water at an outdoor cafe, he overheard her wonderful, hearty laugh, and that was all it took. i filled in #3 for him, on a list within the book, with old text that said something like "he heard her laugh". this makes me smile, the memory of her telling me this when we sat at that same cafe on a 1950's white porch swing and i asked how they had met. she and i met when i was working the new york gift show, back in 1995 or 96; she had a shop, she loved my jewelry, we faxed back and forth (remember those days?), i went to visit where she lives, i returned as her house guest again all these years later, when i attended the billy collins workshop two years ago next month. i look at the photos of this piece now - i see the tiny porcelain doll arm that she actually found washed up on the beach there in key west, where she lives - i see the knotted pearls, the word "memory", the button (holly is a button nut), the tea stained paper that she sent to me in a box overflowing with art supplies and vintage treats - and i realize just how fortunate i am to be blessed with the friends that i have in my life, scattered to the four winds as they are. a dear friend - so very, very dear - called me early this morning with the news that her husband had passed away yesterday. i want to be with her, to wrap these arms around her tiny shoulders and sit quietly somewhere, anywhere, within her close proximity. i would sit quietly, and read a book, and drink out of my thermos of tea, and be there if and when she needed me. but she lives all the way across the country, and the miles between us have never felt more vast. but, still, she took the time to call me, to talk thirty minutes, even when she was in such deep and consuming sorrow. oh how i love my treasured friends! oh, how much i love this life, the ups and the downs and the inside outs. i love it all, mostly; i do. i may choose to spend the large majority of my time alone, here in this cove on firefly road, but i treasure my time with my friends - writing, sending photos back and forth, wishing for a shared cup of tea, simply thinking of one another, loving without condition. heart to heart. hand to hand. soul to soul.
i think i'll list fifty five things right here, right now; it is a long number, and i pity poor steve for sitting and trying to come up with that many things that he loves about his birthday gal. but you all seem to love lists, and i love to write things down, and i'll type whatever comes to mind, until i get to number fifty five. and then, i'll stop, for now:
1. I’m thankful for comfort, in all its many guises.
2. I love that my dog is one who loves to snuggle, to curl up close to me on winter nights here on my linen sofa.
3. Thank goodness I’ve discovered the joys of walking once again.
4. Thank goodness someone told me about the river trail, so that these ailing feet don’t have steep mountain roads to climb.
5. I love living here in the north Carolina mountains.
6. Thank god I had two boys.
7. I raised them on my own, mostly; I know – I KNOW – I did a stellar job.
8. I used to wear seashells in my hair.
9. A dear friend i've known since kindergarten (truly!) sent me photographs that I received today from when we were young and in living upstairs/downstairs from one another in college; in two of those photos I am wearing the seashells in my dark brown hair. the shells came from a trip to an old neighborhood bungalow we visited in sarasota, where grapefruit fell off trees over picket fences and into the gutter, where they were left for whoever happened by.
10. In one of those photographs, I am sitting holding my camera, while she captures my smile. I am thin, wearing black even then, and young. I remember what that felt like. It seems like yesterday.
12. The number 444 shows up with greatest frequency in my life, and in the life of a very dear friend of mine as well. it has surfaced when we were together, more than once.
13. I have an alter ego named ethel. I’m sure you’d like to see a photograph of her? You won’t. Not here.
14. I’ve traveled the world over, and it is always best to be right here at home.
15. I spend most of my time alone, by choice.
16. I handle spending time alone by working and reading and making things with my hands.
17. I love to read.
18. I love stone walls. Don’t ask me why this came to mind, I’ve not the answer for that.
19. I love the smell of old books.
20. I do not like to dance.
21. My favorite city in this whole wide world is Venice, Italy.
22. The light in Italy is pale and golden, washed with softness, wrought with desire.
23. You can’t go home again. Not always. Things change.
24. I am mostly happy with myself and where I am in life.
25. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished: a self-built career, two fine boys.
26. I love to hear dry leaves scuttling along in the wind.
27. My hands look like dry leaves, sometimes.
28. I love to spend long hours on a plane, reading and dozing, staring out the window into the clouds.
29. This is not easy.
30. I am grateful for readers who don’t write and inquire about something I’ve not written in my blog. If it isn’t there, I didn’t want to make it public or to talk about it, see?
31. I’m grateful for my readers, all of you.
32. I want to learn how to knit.
33. I want to learn how to kayak in calm waters.
34. I’ve given up wanting to learn how to ski.
35. I love this desk, its color that changes from green to blue certain times of the day.
36. I’m reading a novel again that I loved very much the first time around, About Grace by Anthony Doerr. There is much talk of snow and rain and the elements.
37. I’ve read Fair and Tender Ladies twice, and will one day read it again.
38. I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird more times than I can count.
39. I would have loved to name a child atticus, if I’d had more than two boys.
40. I hate to talk on the phone.
41. I much prefer to write.
42. I do not like the sound of my own voice.
43. I can smell the outdoors on walter’s fur when he comes in from the cold.
44. Here’s that magical number again.
45. I love to hear water lapping on rocks and loons crying into the dark.
46. A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.
47. I do not want to have to explain myself to anyone.
48. I like doing things of my own fruition, whatever that means.
49. I love my name.
50. I love my life.
51. I love my boys.
52. Don’t ask.
53. Don’t ask.
54. Don’t ask.
55. Yes. I am. xo