Forward From Here
Leaving Middle Age – and Other Unexpected Adventures
by Reeve Lindbergh
nonfiction essays, 2008
Whenever I read a book by Reeve Lindbergh, it is like visiting with a friend. It feels as if we are sitting outdoors on a warm spring day, just like this one, and she is telling me all her adventures since we last met. I didn't know she had a benign brain tumor a while back. I didn't know she does some of her writing in a library I love to visit. I like catching up with her kids; her two oldest danced with my daughter in The Nutcracker, when my girl was only five, and her son went to the same high school as my boy. No, we don't know one another, but we live in the same area, and experience the same weather. We share a bookstore and a local diner. But that's it, until I settle down with her books, and then I know we are friends. I am so calm in her company, and so interested. I loved reading about her chirping to a caged zebra finch (given to her when a daughter moved), and how she's still doing it when she is alone in the house, even though the bird is long gone.
It's just so hard for me not to chirp. For four years, I chirped three or four times a day or even more. I chirped every single time I walked through the living room, and I got an answering chirp in return. I liked this, and I miss it. For both of us it was a kind of acknowledgment. 'Hello, I'm still here, are you? Hello, and yes, I'm here, too.' Not just one voice gone from that conversation, but two, and I miss the sound of mine as much as I miss the other.
So she chirps. Don't you just love that?
I found out that she has a number thing, as I do. I remember phone numbers and birth dates, even of folks I barely know and never see. It just came up the other day as my husband and a fellow teacher and friend, were talking about another teacher whom they worked with in the 1980s. I piped up and told everyone that his birthday was the same as Abraham Lincoln's. I know. I know. In this book, Reeve tells us all her childhood phone numbers.
One number succeeded the other over the years, and all of them were secret, sacred, unforgettable. When you are taught to memorize your home phone number and never to reveal it except to close relatives and maybe the family doctor, you don't forget that number.
Of course the Lindberghs would not ever tell those numbers. I'm sure there were many, many safety precautions those children grew up with because the brother they never knew was kidnapped and killed before they were born. That changes how a family operates.
But after she tells us, her reader friends, she says:
These numbers are all meaningless now, but they still perch on the roost of memory with weighty importance. Seeing them on this page sends a ripple of guilt through me to this day. My parents are long dead, the houses we lived in have been sold or torn down, but I have revealed our secret numbers to the world, and still my Lindbergh training whispers to me, Oh, boy, are you going to get in trouble!
And how many writers include at the end a reading list? These are the books I was reading or thinking about while I was writing this book. I wish every writer would do it.
As with all friends, there are some subjects we agree on and others we don't. She refers to her sheep as dumb, and she eats them. I believe sheep are intelligent (bucking traditional wisdom), and I haven't eaten one in 37 years. But oh, we are simpatico about dogs. Tom and I aren't the kind of people whose kids left home, and then we substituted dogs. We had dogs nine years before kids, other dogs all during the time our kids lived here, and now we have two who arrived after the kids moved out. We've always, always been dog lovers. We treat them like people. We try not to be away for long. I buy them really good dog food. They don't sit on the furniture, and they don't sleep upstairs, but the latter is only because Sadie can't climb up. It seems that Reeve and her husband feel the same way.
The dog has her own sofa now. Why not? Nobody else is using it. Lately she has been known to creep up onto other pieces of furniture as well: one really comfortable armchair, and our bed. I don't know how that happened. ... How did we end up with a full-sized Labrador retriever sleeping at, and on, our feet?
This book is full of serious, funny, and sad essays about life, and about growing older in this life. At a little beyond sixty, she writes:
So far, though, I just seem to continue being me, the same person I was at twelve and at fifty.
I'm so happy to have a new Reeve Lindbergh book to add to my shelf. She is one of my favorite writers of this time, and all time. If you didn't happen to read yesterday's entry, you may find a great article on her here.