"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Woman For All Seasons

Polly Flinders called herself A Girl for All Seasons because she loved to give kisses in the Winter and feel her warm lips on Bobby Herman’s cold cheek; in the Spring when she could taste the pollen from the sycamore trees and the early daisies; in the Summer when his light perspiration tasted like peaches; and in the Fall when she could taste Golden Delicious and Macintosh on his lips.

Polly was a warm, open, and generous girl who loved boys and being in love, and she stole kisses by the reflecting pool at Walnut Hill Park, on the verandah, and in the waxy-smelling corridor of Stanley School.  She was always happy, never fought with her parents, was a serious and good student, and went to church regularly although not devoutly.

Of all happy things in her life, Polly loved the changing seasons, and felt fortunate to grow up in New England where they were so pronounced.  How awful, she thought, to live in Florida where there were no seasons, only warm weather and palm trees; or California with orange blossoms and bright sun all year round.  Or even (perish the thought) Alaska where there was only winter and a short thaw, nothing but ice and snow twelve months of the year.  Her father had once told her that Eskimos had 100 words for snow, and for them winter was not just one, endless, bitterly cold season, but mini-seasons.

No, she was lucky to have been born and brought up in Massachusetts, a state that was not so cold as Vermont or New Hampshire but with the same brilliant autumns, cool summers, and fragrant springs.  Because she was a girl for all seasons she never got tired of one season or another, nor got impatient when summer lingered on or when the ice was slow to melt in March.  A season lasted however long it lasted.  Although every season was similar to those of the previous year, they were always different in some way.  In her thirteenth year her small town in the Berkshires got more snow than it had gotten in the past twenty.  The snow banks along the side of the town’s roads were as high as the first story of the hardware store and coffee shop.  The snow completely covered the hedges in front of her house, and the backyard swings were just deformed shapes under the oak tree.

When she was ten the summer was so hot that the tar on Lincoln Street melted and stuck to people’s tires.  She had to watch where she walked or she would get gummy black tar on her sneakers and track it into the house.  The sparrows all hopped around with their beaks open trying to get more air, and the neighborhood dogs, usually barking and fighting were quiet.  There were no catfights in the middle of the night.  The grass turned brown and never recovered; and her mother had to do three washes a week.

Polly took all this in stride.  She wondered why everyone talked about the weather – how hot it was or how cold; when the rain would stop or when on earth would it come.  Her father told her that talking about the weather was a social lubricant, which she understood, but still wondered why people did not talk about the marvel of it all instead of the trouble it caused.

As she grew older and began to be seriously interested in boys, Polly found that her crushes lasted only as long as the seasons.  No matter how much she liked a boy, it always seemed as if the romance faded by the end of Fall or Spring.  She began to think of boys in terms of the season, but remembered the season more than the boy.  She dated Chris Farrell in the Spring, but could only remember the forsythia which came early, the dogwood which bloomed more fully than in any year past, the tulips which the town had planted on the green, and the rosebushes that climbed on Mrs. Talbot’s trellis and could be smelled from a block away.

Polly was smart and able and got into every Ivy League school in New England.  She had made up her mind beforehand that if she did not get into Harvard or Yale, she would turn them down for lesser schools to stay in the East.  Her grades, scores, and activities were outstanding, so she had her pick and chose a small liberal arts college in a small town.  She chose Rutherford because it was wooded and pastoral.  She knew when she first visited that she would study by Founders Brook, walk to class the long way by the meadow, and open her windows to the rose garden on the east end of the quadrangle.

She was a very attractive young woman, not classically but sensuously so.  Boys had always wondered what it would be like to go to bed with her.  She never tried to be sexy or especially alluring but was impossibly irresistible to men.   She liked herself, her body, and her mind.  She was confident, sensual, and relaxed; and boys could sense her availability and profoundly feminine sexuality.

Polly, however, was not in a hurry.  She often took the bus into Boston and spent the weekend wandering Cambridge, South Boston, and the Fenway.  Her seeming indifference (she was actually not indifferent at all) added to her allure, and when she wanted a boy, she had her pick.

She was married and divorced twice by the time she was thirty-five, very surprising indeed because of her independence, confidence, and ease; but no one can be totally unaffected by people and events around them; and Polly acceded to her father’s wishes and married an attractive but overly serious young man from Ohio who was the son of his business partner.  If Polly had one fault, it was her complaisance – her desire to please and to accommodate others.  She was never intimidated, but genuinely generous and considerate.  All things would work out, she thought, and just like the changing seasons would bring the familiar and some surprises.

Unfortunately her first husband, as smart as he was, had no real intelligence – Polly’s kind.  The kind that picks up on the slightest and most subtle change in mood, ambience, or tenor.  Polly could walk into a room and understand it.  She could feel the sentiment of the crowd, its energy or lack of it.  She noticed who was with whom, who would leave with whom, and who didn’t belong.  She missed nothing.  Her husband was just the opposite. Earnest, eager, and desperate to please his wife, he tried to notice things; but he was not born with antennae.  He couldn’t pick up social pheromones, distinguish auditory cues, or sense changes in personal light and atmosphere. To Polly he was as dull as a stone, and she divorced him.

To give herself an emotional jolt or perhaps to throw off the shackles that she had willingly snapped on out of duty and respect for her father, she married a borderline ne’er-do-well, a man with sexual potency and with as much native male sexuality as she had feminine. He had predictable and unpredictable periods, and always kept her guessing.  She was never jealous, suspicious, or concerned; for unlike many other women who fall for bad boys, she had no intention of reforming him.  She took him as he was, got charged by his energy and vitality, and went about her business when he went emotionally vacant.

After the divorce she said “Never more”, and decided to return to her former pre-marital life of serial and simultaneous love affairs. She wondered whether other women thought her promiscuous, and if looked at objectively, her very diverse and active sex life could certainly be interpreted as such; but she knew that she was nothing of the sort.  As long as she kept her wits about her and was careful to avoid pregnancy and disease, a varied and fulfilling sex life was as much as she wanted and of no concern to anyone but herself.

As in times past she categorized her adult lovers by season.  There was Ralph, browned by Spring skiing in the Rockies.  Peter, always dressed in tweeds and smelling of wood fires and maple syrup. Billy, blond, athletic, and congenitally summer stock; and Henrik who loved the cold, the snow, and even Nor’easter blizzards.  He said he loved ‘the fury of the storm’ and stood outside barely visible in the blowing snow, backlit by the street lamps, and raising his arms like a crazy King Lear.

Polly’s parents never pressured her to get married again although they thought she would make a good mother; and indeed Polly herself felt that she would.  But there was just no reason to adjust her life again, especially since she knew that she was given to bad decisions.  As she approached 40, she did not run off to freeze her eggs, or start researching dating services.  She never felt any clock ticking.  She was a woman for all seasons, she always reminded herself, and her only temporal marker was the solstice.

She was not becoming stubborn and old. On the contrary, as the moved through her 40s and early 50s she was as open and generous with herself and her favors as she had ever been.  She lived and slept with men much older and much younger than she, and found that as sex lost interest, she increasingly linked her paramours to the seasons.  Robert Porter had a wintery feel about him.  He was irritable in the summer, but his spirits brightened in the Fall and became brilliant in December.  He was hale and hearty as her mother used to say, never a topcoat or hat.  He could really feel the cold, he told Polly, unlike the heat which was just ‘there’, insipid, languid, enervating.  You had to take notice of the cold air in your nostrils and in your lungs.

Polly was a realist and saw that as she got well into her sixties, the New England life would become tougher and tougher.  She would have trouble negotiating the stairs down from her deck overlooking the Berkshire hills especially when they were icy.  She would no longer have the energy or strength to shovel the walk and the driveway.  Even with her years of experience, driving in the snow would be an unwelcome challenge.

She put these thoughts aside and did seasonal things as she always had.  Gardening in the Spring, swimming in Lake Mashpee in the summer, skiing at Stowe in the winter, and hiking through the acres of Rogers’ Orchards in the Fall.  “Maybe I won’t have to move”, she thought, leaving it at that, an intimation of sudden death.

She did move, however, and recalled the stories her father had told her about the Eskimos in northern Alaska. 

Florida had its mini- and micro-seasons, and living there would only be a matter of recalibrating her engine, fine-tuning it.  In fact at this stage of her life big things, big changes, four seasonal changes, should be less important anyway.

So she spent her last years as happy as she had ever been, enjoying the baking heat of summer, never retreating to air conditioning, anticipating the first slight chill of December, the rains, the approaching heat, and summer again. She had lived her life fully as a woman for all seasons, and wondered in what season she would die. One day she saw death approaching as clearly as she had ever seen anything, so she knew it would come in early Summer.

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