“And we went on living it, like a wave, that doesn’t know it is at every moment different water.” —Alan Williamson, from “A Childhood Around 1950”
In 1967 I almost drowned when I wandered from a sandbar and dropped into a deep cleft. That particular summer on the Jersey Shore, my older sisters had taken to riding what seemed to be kind, propellant waves with the rafts our mother had rented near the boardwalk, the industrial canvas sort you couldn’t buy in a store. I wasn’t a confident swimmer yet, so my mother wouldn’t even let me near one, which made no sense; the rafts were oversized life preservers, after all.
There is one story that has always held a strange allure for me. It appears in Genesis 25:19 to 28:9 and is about Jacob’s theft of Esau’s birthright. Every time I read it, I feel haunted. In old age, a blind Isaac asks Esau, his oldest son, to visit him. He makes it understood that the end is near and asks Esau to gather food from the field and bring it back so he might be able to bless him.
It was unlikely that Betty and Jeannie would end up in the country. They’d always moved within cities—Wichita, Chicago, Denver, Dallas—and neighboring small towns. And it was unlikely they’d stay for long. They first hit the road when Betty was a teenager and Jeannie a baby, and by the time Jeannie was in high school they’d changed addresses forty-eight times. In the late 1970s, though, they landed for a good while on a Kansas farm.
To get anywhere from the borgo—the walled-in cluster of medieval houses and skinny lanes connecting the castle, the church, and a tiny grassy square—one must go steeply downhill and then steeply up. Each morning, I choose a different high point from which to take in the magnetic hills of this corner of Lunigiana in northwest Tuscany, where friends have made a part-time home. Once I saw a handful of seniors out for a stroll, and I often say hello to a man in his eighties whose dog takes him out for jaunts, very slowly due to his heart trouble, but otherwise I encounter no one.