Tag Archives: relationships

One Summer in The-Middle-of-Nowhere

Victor had five fingers. All told.

On both hands.

He surrendered the other five to a half bottle of vodka and a nap on an icy walk home from the post office cum liquor store, one exceptionally cold winter evening. Or so the story went, according to the post office ladies (about a mile from our cabin). He also had one mean reputation in the nearby village …

 

1.

I Vant To Be Alone … Oh Wait, No I Don’t

In 1996, in the throes of an existential crisis—convinced that, as a single mother, once my two young daughters were grown, I would enjoy a life with no electricity, no running water and no heat source—I bought a log cabin on 10 acres of land, in The-middle-of-nowhere, Estonia. At the time of my purchase, I was living, in the quaint university town of Tartu, Estonia, which I loved. But I envisioned, spending my post child-rearing life in absolute seclusion in my rural homestead: lighting a lot of candles, firing up a wood stove and writing, longhand, until the cows came home …

In 1998, I met a Latvian man who took my breath away.

In fairly short order, my daughters and I moved down to Riga, Latvia, and bought the upper half of a Tsar Russian mansion, as a restoration project. Goodbye solitary life in The-middle-of-nowhere, Estonia; hello exciting new relationship in the hopping metropolis of Riga, Latvia! It was a far cry from the changes I’d envisioned for myself, but I was over the moon with discovering a new city and a new love, at this stage of my life.

A year later, in the midst of gutting our kitchen, in Riga—which coincided with the beginning of the Baltic region’s very short summer—I remembered my log house nostalgically and decided that it would be a great summer retreat for the girls and me, with my partner visiting when his work schedule allowed. We could live free of noise, dust, navigating-debris-on-our-way-to-the-bathroom, and all of the other inconveniences of construction. Besides, we wouldn’t need heat in the summer, just some sleeping bags; the white nights of summer would furnish more than enough light; and all we needed was a decent bucket and rope, for the well, to have water. We were set for our log cabin adventure.

Well, I was anyway.

Ignoring the moans and groans from my tween and teenage daughters, Jessica and Erin, I packed our minimal earthly needs, for an entire summer, into our 15 year-old BMW: clothing, towels, wash cloths, sleeping bags, a tent (just in case the mosquitoes got too bad inside the house), silverware, dishes and some limited personal items, most of which were packed into a large Rubbermaid tub which I planned to use for bathing. We hoped for an adventure that would not include snakes, venomous spiders or criminals roving around the countryside (as an American I had deep-rooted fears of bad guys with guns behind trees and in bushes).

So with a prayer, for our old car, on my lips, we headed north to our tiny log cabin, the all-night sun and—unbeknownst to us at the time—some gentle shifts in perception.

What we were not expecting this adventure to include was Old Victor.

 

2.

Life In the Grass Lane

The narrow, mile long, meandering dirt lane that led to our cabin, began just past the village post office, and was barely distinguishable from the wild land that it slightly interrupted. Completely impassable, by car, from late autumn through spring, it took all of my driving experience to negotiate, even in summer. A few ruts and some barely visible rocks were the only reminders that there may have once been a road to our house.

Several meters past our cabin, on the opposite side of the lane, was a dilapidated shack that had been almost entirely reclaimed by nature.

Initially I’d thought this neighbouring shack was abandoned and asked the sellers of my property if I might buy it; more for the property than the building. I was informed that it wasn’t for sale and that a fiercely private hermit lived in the shack. I was further told not to bother him and he’d show me the same courtesy; he was unfriendly and pretty much lived in a bottle of vodka. I was assured that I probably wouldn’t hear from him. Ever. And certainly shouldn’t count on him for anything. I remembered, however, at the settlement table, almost as a footnote, the seller had said, with a chuckle: “Your well is the only access Victor has to clean water, so you might see him occasionally scurrying across your property.”

So the hermit had a name: Victor.

A Side Note

When my parents visited me in Estonia in 1996, my mother’s most shocking observation, on day one of her visit, was the complete absence of laughter and smiles on the streets of Tartu. I attempted to explain to her that this was a cultural norm; it was not indicative of unhappiness with their lack of material possessions or depression and she had no need to feel sorry for them. I told her that if she watched carefully, she’d see subtle smiles and expressions of enjoyment everywhere in Estonia. My mother, however, ignoring me and determined to let her little American light shine walked through the streets smiling broadly at everyone, for the remainder of her stay. She said she was giving them permission to smile and be happy as they worked their way out of their poverty. She was letting them know that the USSR was gone and they could leave their depression behind because life would improve … When I told my Estonian friend, Peeter, what my mother was doing, he replied, quite seriously: “Did you explain, to her, that they only think that she’s mentally unstable?”

I had not.

It was challenging for Americans to understand the facial expressions of Estonian culture, as well as, how a country in the midst of reinventing itself and living in relative poverty, could actually be happy. I was not prepared to spend hours attempting to enlighten my seventy-three year-old mother on her two-week holiday. I understood the belief that her worldview was correct: people need lots of material things to be happy and a broad smile is a universally accepted sign of happiness. With an underlying belief being: Once they see the light all people eventually come around to experiencing and expressing joy in the way that my mother expected them to.

 

2.

Life in The Grass Lane

(continued)

 

Image 16-08-2018 at 16.09

Erin And a Visiting Friend Playing in Our Rhubarb Patch.

 

My daughters and I moved into our log cabin, for the summer, in late spring.

We cooked over a camp stove and bathed in our Rubbermaid tub beneath blue skies and the midnight sun, on the side of our hill. We didn’t need a bucket or rope for our well; Victor had that covered, although the knot needed an occasional tug to keep it tight. I imagined this was a difficult task to undertake with so few fingers …

The mosquitoes were delighted with the infusion of new human blood in the neighbourhood; so much so that we quickly assembled our tent in the cabin’s main room and slept tucked safely inside our sleeping bags, behind our tent’s mosquito netting. We played Uno, harvested and cooked down rhubarb, told stories and drove to a nearby town to check email from time to time. Life was quiet, slow and good.

Then one summer evening, as the three of us sat outside singing (was it Amazing Grace?), Victor came around the corner of our cabin and sat down.

My first inclination was to approach him as I would a feral cat; slowly and with caution, or maybe not at all. But almost immediately I noticed, to my astonishment, how presentable he was—his hair carefully combed and clothes wrinkled but clean. I even sensed a slight twinkle in his eye, much like my Grandpa Joe …

Grandpa Joe

My precious grandfather, with that twinkle in his eyes.

My oldest daughter, Jessica, forever the extrovert of the family, has yet to meet a stranger who’s not a friend just waiting to happen. “May I speak with you in Russian language?” she asked, in Russian. We knew Victor was Estonian, but none of us had been able to master the extremely difficult Estonian language. These language barriers—speaking Russian, the language of their oppressors, with Estonians—were frequently awkward.

“Yes, certainly you can,” he replied, And then continued in somewhat broken Russian, “But I’m afraid my Russian language is rusty.” And, suddenly, there it was, most definitely: Grandpa Joe’s twinkle in the eye along with that Estonian smile … so sweet yet so subtle, that a few years back I would have missed it.

Victor spent the better part of that evening with us, chatting and chuckling softly. Jessica and Erin interpreted for Victor and me (my Russian language skills were even worse than his) as we asked and responded to each other’s questions. He seemed amused much of the time; but completely at ease and happy to be with us. I was impressed by his soft gentle manner and acceptance of life.

Victor joined us for evening chats or sometimes just sharing space. At times there were great gaps of silence between us but, oddly, they were never awkward.

I didn’t ask about his missing fingers. I’d already heard the story. He didn’t ask me how an American woman ended up in The-middle-of-nowhere, Estonia, in a beat up BMW and two daughters. It was a silent understanding.

One evening, as the chill of autumn was clearly moving in, Victor said, “I pick mushrooms and preserve them. I’ll bring you a jar.”

“That’s such a generous offer; but I can’t possibly accept,” I said, meaning it from the bottom of my heart.

I’d watched, from afar, as Victor navigated through his life: struggling through the woods and fields with his old bones; slowly pulling the water bucket up from the deep well with so few fingers; mushroom hunting … I’ve always had reservations about the safety of eating wild mushrooms but I couldn’t imagine any canning process, in the absence of a pressure cooker, let alone running water, that wouldn’t kill me within days (yep, one more of those American sensibilities rearing its head). Most importantly, however, I couldn’t bear the thought of those painstakingly collected mushrooms going to anyone but Old Victor.

“But thank you so much for the offer!” I said.

Victor smiled, very slightly, nodded and walked off towards his home.

The following morning there was a jar of mushrooms on our doorstep. I imagined a twinkle in his eye, as he slipped over, in the early morning hours, and left us his gift.

Summer was nearing its end as we packed up our old car, prayed it would get us back to Riga, and headed south for the winter. I wanted to say goodbye to Old Victor but he’d, once again, disappeared behind the thicket, trees, shrubs and miscellaneous weeds. His home was just like his life: almost invisible, insulated from all things that interrupted his almost imperceptible smile.

Initially I’d hoped that Old Victor would cut back on the vodka and find a companion: a woman? Maybe a dog? Or cat?  Over the summer I decided his life was precisely as he’d designed it and within that life he was happy. I also knew that making my way through the brush to his door, even to say goodbye, would have been intrusive.

I locked up my cabin, but before leaving, I walked down the dirt path to the well. I pulled up a full bucket of water, gave an extra tug to the knot (maybe it would hold all winter?) and left it sitting on the side of the well, for Victor. One last bucketful of water and a tight knot was my goodbye. I knew it would bring one of those imperceptible smiles to his lips.

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Jessica Lifting Water From Our Well … Not An Easy Task, for Victor with His 5 Fingers!

3.

Upon Our Return …

Baltic winters are long and cold; frequently hitting -30 or lower. I looked forward to a spring thaw in April; I continued looking forward in May. When winter finally lost its grip in early June, I packed up my daughters, and car, and we headed north.

At the end of the three and a half hour drive, our old BMW chugged and meandered down the narrow lane towards our cabin. Every icy spot I slipped on was a reminder that, although the winters in Riga were hard, they were even more severe in The-middle-of-nowhere, Estonia.

As we pulled up to the cabin, I noticed that the pathway to the well looked almost unused.

My heart sank.

Jessica shared my observation: “Huh, I wonder if Old Victor got his own well?” she asked.

“Let’s go back to the post office and ask,” I said, trying to sound casual, as I turned the car around and headed back down the road to the post office.

“Oh he finally died! He froze to death, outside in an ice storm last winter; they say that’s a painless way to go once you get past the first bit…” the woman behind the counter said matter-of-factly. “It wasn’t much of a life he had anyway: waiting for his next pension money, walking here to collect it and buy supplies … particularly vodka. Poor old soul (she flicked her throat with her middle finger and thumb: an Estonian indication of a drunk person). Then he’d go back to that wreck he called a home, all by himself … He had a family once, you know: a daughter, a wife… an actual proper house, he did.” She shook her head in disapproval.

If I’d had the courage I’d have defended Old Victor. I’d have said, “Hey, he was at peace with his simple life; he was actually happy. Did you know that he could collect mushrooms with only five fingers? He could also fill and lift a bucket full of water up a 30 foot well without spilling more than a drop.

“Oh yeah! And he wasn’t totally alone: for at least one summer he was … Old Victor was my friend.” If I’d only had the courage, I’d have done just that …

Instead, I silently got in my car and with my eyes full of tears, and drove back down the dirt lane, remembering Old Victor, as I knew him, with his almost imperceptible smile and twinkle in his eye.

 

 

Is Connected the New Alone?

I was raised in an uber Christian family, in the 1950’s—that’s probably redundant since most American Christian families of that era resided in zealotsville. Biblical stories, superstitions and rhetoric—carefully explaining right from wrong, unsoiled from tainted, good from evil—were the glue of our society.  They informed the monsters under our beds and the fairies in our gardens; collectively they were the cornerstones of our psyches as we grew and flourished in our black and white world.

 It seems that part of this legacy is questioning change—forever judging new ideas and technologies, as good or evil. Then again questioning change may simply be inherent to humanity…

 2,400 years ago Plato said, “Writing is all very well and good, but it’s going to destroy people’s memories,” as reading and writing moved into the mainstream. Fact: People no longer memorize lengthy verses of poetry or hours of folklore. Where would we be, however, if literacy were not a daily part of life?

 Later in the 18th century, Alexander Pope said: “If man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings.” I suppose if one determines that our world should look precisely as it did on the 7th day of creation, there is some logic in this statement—at least as much logic as there is in the 7 day creation story.

 Within my lifetime, my grandmother—a woman well worth quoting—warned, “Television will rot your brains,” as well as, “Food should never be stored in plastic!” The jury remains out on the TV warning. And while my sister thinks the latter admonition may have been more related to our mother being a Tupperware dealer than intuition, current studies show plastic to be a bad choice for food storage, leading me to believe: It is important to question innovations.

 My point is, there exists this dichotomy: It’s as human to question and resist innovative thought and technologies, as it is to pursue them. They are the forbidden fruit—equally repellent and irresistible—and we are the Garden of Eden’s children. The challenge: We can’t really assess the forbidden fruits—or put them in their proper place within our lives or society—until we’ve tried them.

 You can call me Eve; it’s fine.

 So my burning question is this: Can we move forward into places we’ve never been before—using (even abusing) these amazing new tools and toys—and find a middle of the road prior to unraveling some of the essential threads of the fabric of society?

 That’s what my blog is about: The wireless, mind-boggling, rapidly evolving, high-tech, world we now live in and the many ways that it has transformed our social landscape—even the way we express ourselves in print IMHO.

Here we are, living in a world where massive information—more than we will absorb in a lifetime—is as far away as our Google access; a world where we can reach out and touch someone 24/7 (thank you AT&T for teaching us that a voice on the phone is actually touching someone!) and a world which—in terms of communication—is now compressed into the size of a neighborhood: A beautiful, ethnically diverse community of Planet Earth citizens.

In so many ways this is a great thing!

There are very few arguments these days. If people disagree, on virtually any subject under the sun—and they happen to be face to face—one swift motion of the left hand produces a smart phone, while the right hand is poised to push buttons, before the phone is visible; Google is a touch away; the argument is resolved.

Information propagation is the new duel—the smart phone the new gun.

And that’s a good thing, for the most part. I think…

But it seems that with the end of arguing about small issues or beliefs we now feel compelled to argue about larger and more personal issues: ideologies, politics and religious beliefs to name a few—often not face to face but remotely, electronically. And I can’t help but wonder if this impersonal communication might have contributed to the division and polarization we’ve watched rapidly increase in our world in recent years. For years now there has been so little eye contact… so few shaky, insecure voices… almost no tired faces, tears, or sighs of exasperation within dialogues. Instead, there have been words on screens and icons expressing the emotions we chose to share.

When did we come to accept the absence of discussion just for the sake of connection and broadening our understanding of one another, choosing sides and becoming adversaries, instead?

After scrubbing and sanitizing our homes and bodies, did we follow suit with our relationships?

I miss casualness. I miss perspiration and laughter and honesty.

In the 70’s, when two or more people gathered together and hung out talking, it was called rapping. There were exchanges of thoughts, beliefs and ideas. There were sometimes heated arguments; there was sharing. Frequently there was too much wine and often the rooms were thick with incense and various types of smoke (Sorry: TMI). The rooms buzzed with energy and emotion but not electronic devices.

I miss the smell of incense and too much wine… I miss that world of smell and touch, of watching people blush and flirt by batting eyelashes…

Chatting is the new rapping. Sigh

The smiley and frownie faces are the new expressions of joy and sorrow in our relationships. Acronyms are the new clichés. Blogging is the new storytelling…

Please understand that I’m not opposed to the new technologies. I am, right now, on my laptop, writing—assisting my of-a-certain-age-post-menopausal brain by fact checking on Google.

Wait a sec… I want to make a comment on my Face Book… My daughter out in Virginia is such a stitch… I love her status updates…

Okay, I’m back.

When I moved to Estonia in 1995, I regularly received 600 dollar a month phone bills for scratchy, barely audible phone conversations with loved ones—which frequently ended in a disconnection. I’m over-the-moon that I can now summon my granddaughter in England to my computer screen in Scotland and tell her how nice she looks in her new uniform before she goes off to school. I love exchanging pictures of our latest adventures with my other kids in the States on the same day of the events.

But every time I sit in a restaurant and watch the smart phones emerge from pockets, or drive in cars where the passengers are working on their iPads or listening to their iPods broadcasting their favorite music or eBook while drivers chat away on their hands free, I miss rapping.

Where has this preoccupation with our technologies brought us?

After learning how to emotionally disconnect from the peers in our cars, was it easier to disconnect from those people? You know who those people are: The less fortunate, the elderly, the dark skinned or light skinned, the immigrants, the sickly… Remember them—the ones that aren’t us? At least not yet…

And where will this new type of electronic connection take the next generation?

Will it be easier to disconnect from global warming and the havoc it’s wreaking on our planet, assuming it’s not in our state? Will wars, poverty and disease be diminished to chats and bulletin boards—or maybe reality TV show—allowing us to ingest juicy bits of carefully selected information about those people?

Okay, I’m going to the dark side… I feel it…

So we continue traveling this road—where technology leaps to new heights daily. We dash blindly forward—hoping to catch up—struggling with the financial burden of doing so.

We upgrade our Smart Phones and laptops; we buy iPads, iPods and Kindles. It’s how we stay current. It’s how we stay connected with one another—at best with a live (albeit fuzzy) image on the screen, but more often through words punctuated by smiley faces with no lines or creases around their mouths and missing the twinkle that lives in a human eye.  We’ve exchanged a cute bear hug for the feeling of flesh and muscle around our shoulders and breath on our necks. We call people we’ve never met our friends. And when we want to end one of these friendships we simply un-friend the offending party with a swish and few taps of our finger. These ex-friends seldom notice our absence because their friends are so abundant that losing one here and there generally goes unnoticed.

Strangers are the new friends. They’re plentiful and expendable.

Why do I miss the pain of breaking up and the joy of reconciliation? That’s just weird. WTF?

Hold on, my daughter in England just came on Skype and I need to set up a good time to see my grandbaby… She’s 3 and growing like a weed… You should hear her little British accent. OMG talk about cute!

Okay, I’m back.

I want this blog to be interactive. I want feedback. I want your assistance. I love this technology. I hate this technology. The Buddha spoke of finding the middle path—the middle of the road. I want to find the middle of this super highway. But navigating is hard when it’s all virgin territory—with no maps or even road signs. Can we find the best of both worlds: A way to enjoy remote connections and limitless information without losing intimacy?

Or will we continue blindly rushing forward—cementing our connection to the world, while becoming increasingly isolated?

Is this new technology the monster under our bed? Is it Armageddon? Or is it the fairies dancing in our garden? …or is it simply a neutral offering created by our collective intelligence—a gift from the universe—awaiting our response? Might we be the judge and jury deciding whether it’s a blessing or a curse, good or evil, black or white. What will we decide? Will we find a balance? How? What are your thoughts?

This is Holly Morrison signing off with an LOL

[On the old planet that meant lots of love—and so it does tonight!]