May 1 was the anniversary of my husband and I (or is it me?) beginning to live together. We rented a tenant house on the edge of a dairy farm deep in the Hudson River Valley. The night we moved in, the peepers trilled like hundreds of advancing aliens, and it was dark, dark, bottom-of-a-well dark. Paul was a little freaked. I had never been happier.
While we lived there, the line between being inside and out was tenuous. The walls were more or less porous, saving us the trouble of having to step outside to know the day’s temperature. Once, during a wild, April thunderstorm, we stood–yes, thunderstruck–as lightning sparked all along the kitchen’s exposed pipes. Our bathroom was so damp, it remains the only place I’ve ever been able to get a gardenia to bloom. This was the early ’70’s, and the house was heated by fuel oil, which cost a mint, even if you were fortunate enough to have an efficient furnace. I fondly remember the sounds ours made–a low whooshing, then a colossal bang, followed by what I always thought of as lift-off. When Jimmy Carter asked Americans to put on sweaters and turn our thermostats down to 68, we laughed–we considered that tropical.
We had so much time then. I remember the day I lay on the couch from morning till dark, lost in Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebooks”. We went for long walks, up into the foothills of the Berkshires. Deer were still wild animals then. Once at dusk we surprised a small group of them in a field. One gave a hoarse exhalation, an electrifying sound. The white flags went up, they were gone. Another time we got caught in a downpour on a back road. The school bus stopped, picked us up, and brought us home, where we took a long bath in the claw-foot tub.
Paul never got used to that dark. To keep us safe, he took in a stray dog, an enormous German Shepherd who turned out to be not only afraid of her own shadow but also pregnant. When her puppies were born, two inherited her mange and died, despite all Paul’s efforts. The other three all got adopted, one by a Cub Scout. His troop was marching purposely past our house one afternoon while I was on the grass with the pups. He made me promise not to give the smallest one away–he said when he got home from camp he’d persuade his mother to come back. A week later, they did.
That was 39 years ago. Even though we now own a fine furnace, we still keep our house crazy-cold in winter. Why, I wonder, is that?