Last week I told of my observing my elderly neighbor in Sag Harbor, Mrs. Thayer, waving a white flag for help during Hurricane Gloria, only to find, when I ran across the street, that it was in fact a dust rag I had seen, which she was using to clean her living room. Within hours after sending out the bulletin I got a message from my sister, Jolie, in Pittsburgh. She herself remembered the event vividly, she told me. There was just one detail I got wrong. It was not my partner, Peter, I had consulted before running out. He was not even there. It was Jolie and I who debated whether I should brave the storm to come to Mrs. Thayer’s rescue.
As Jolie reminded me, she and her husband (this was before the arrival of any niece or nephew) were vacationing at the house while Peter and I had gone back to the City. Hearing the hurricane predictions, I had decided to go back out to Sag Harbor to help Jolie and Doug batten down the house, while Peter stayed behind in the City.
I was embarrassed by my slip, though relieved that I had at least gotten the main points of the story right. I was also kind of intrigued by the workings of my memory which that slip, and other recent events, revealed.
Much of the two previous weeks had been spent in almost daily “hanging out” — meals, drinks, walks and drives — with four different college friends. One of them, my friend George, I see virtually weekly, and our lives and activities intertwine in a way that we don’t review our history all that much. Visits with the others, Doug Susie, and Bruce, tend to happen months, and more recently, thanks to COVID, years apart. At such reunions, one is more likely to reminisce about times long past.
As we reconstructed our distant pasts, I don’t always remember things the way my friends do. We, for example, debated the layout of a house we had rented in the 1972-73 school year. We all agreed that there was a balcony overhanging the living room. But virtually everyone else thought the living room was to the right when you entered the front door. I remembered it to the left. Of greater moment, I thought that Bruce had lived in that house during the summer of 1973. Bruce assured me he had not, it’s just that he came over to hang out for long stretches frequently enough that it seemed like he lived there.
Over dinner on our last night together, I determined that neither Susie, her husband or George had ever seen The Great Beauty, which I consider one of the more profound movies of the last decade. I convinced them that we should watch it. As we did, I became convinced that three or four scenes had been shortened from the version I had initially seen in the theater. There were details I thought were missing, and I described those details. The following day, George and Susie did some sleuthing and found that the length of the film we had seen, two hours and twenty minutes, was exactly the same length as the original theatrical release.
One can say that my recollection is a testament to the skill of the director. He suggested by foreshadowing what would happen off screen, and I interpolated in my memory that it actually did happen on screen. But you can also say that it is an illustration of the tricks not that my memory plays on me, but that I play on my memory. I retain the main points of the story, but it seems I supply some supporting details that logically to my mind would be there, whether they actually happened or not.
The coincidence of all these episodes of “creative memory” have given me great pause. In numerous discussions with George, in which I have to admit to not remembering things he recalls, I have contended that “I may not remember everything, but what I do remember I definitely remember.” I am not so sure that’s true right now. And I wonder whether at some point I will transition from supplying extraneous supporting facts around a kernel of truth to creating the kernel itself. When does reminiscence become fiction?
This week I decided I should suspend my recollecting and focus on being in the moment. It is indeed a distinct moment, the days when summer draws down. I try to gorge myself now on sweet corn and tomatoes, knowing their season will soon be past. I still pick blackberries and peaches every morning to add to my breakfast yoghurt, but I know it’s just days before I must transition to raspberries and pears. I’ve given up trying to find usable purslane in the garden, but I’ve planted spinach I will be able to use in some of the same ways.
The shortened days have already led to declining egg production among the chickens. But it’s in the wildlife, not the domesticated animals, that you sense preparation for the changing season. Little critters are beginning to move back into the house. Squirrels are busy squirreling away winter food, while other animals are storing energy by consuming it. Thursday, coming back from the barn I encountered the groundhog who lives behind the woodshed. It was waddling back towards its home, clearly planning a stop under the peach tree to feast on the remaining fallen fruit on the ground. I thought “this animal has been tanking up.”
As for me, there’s always a certain melancholy associated with “back to school” time. After the luxury of boundless work time that comes with summer, I lament nature’s stinginess with daylight. Yesterday, my office work kept me at my desk until 6. A month ago that would have been no problem, but now I have to act with some urgency if I want to do chores, do an hour or more of garden work, and get an outdoor shower before dark.
I managed it, but by the time I peeled off my sweaty clothes at 7:45 it seemed twilight was upon us. I heard a chorus of howling coyotes, closer than they had sounded in some months. As the hot water ran over me, I looked up at the gray purple sky and watched a pair of bats zooming back and forth overhead. I realized they were gorging on the insects of summer while it was still possible. I liked that we were engaged in what seemed the same endeavor, wringing out the last drops out of summer.
At least that’s as I recall it now.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Seckel pears $3 quart
Long Hot Portugal peppers $.50 each
Jalapeno peppers, $.50 each
Poblano peppers $1 each
Cucumbers, sweet slicing variety $.50 each
Collard greens $3/bag
Swiss chard $3/ bag
Rhubarb $4 a lb.
Mint $1 a bunch
White oasis turnips, $3/lb – baby size or big ones, your preference
Shiso leaves, $1 for 10
Sorrel, $3 a bag
Garlic chives, $1/bunch (flat leafed)
CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. These freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. $6/lb, frozen.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.