My husband and I spent the weekend in New Hope, Pennsylvania. A strange place for me to re-visit – I spent several weekends there back in the early 1970s with a boyfriend whose grandparents owned an inn on the Delaware River in a bordering town. I remember how we borrowed my parents’ Volvo to make the first trip, and the feeling of freedom I had as he and I drove off. Typically, I was not “allowed” to drive with anyone who wasn’t an adult, and especially with someone who was young and male. Prior to this journey, my mother dropped me off for “dates” and picked me up at the end of the evening if a car was involved. One would think I would have been humiliated – to some extent I was, to another extent, her concern was so heartfelt I trusted the validity. Somehow, my mother trusted this boy – and I suppose, trusted the commercialized safety of the Volvo.
My memories are spotty from those weekends: I can picture the angular face of the boy’s grandmother and her steely-gray hair clearly, but I don’t recall his grandfather. I do recall (although less vividly as the years go on) going to an Ingmar Bergman Film Festival in New Hope (or perhaps it was merely a festival or just a showing) and watching The Seventh Seal in an outdoor arena. The movie haunted me for years: Death and Antonius Block playing chess against a dank, gray, cloudy backdrop. As I think about it now, I don’t know that I would want to watch it at this point in my life.
As with everything else that’s changed in the last 39 years, the town of New Hope has been usurped by progress and discovered by an upscale urban crowd, weekend tourists trying to grab a taste of “quaint,” and a departure from the proverbial rat race. The shops and restaurants are over-priced, and traffic is snarled what with everyone in an SUV trying to make their way through the narrow streets. Driving through the countryside in the Bucks County towns is nearly frightening as the oversized vehicles make hairpin turns on roads built to accommodate horses and buggies. I couldn’t recall whether or not the wide paved road leading from the highway existed 39 years ago. If it did, and obviously there was some sort of thoroughfare, then surely it wasn’t littered with fast food restaurants and mega stores as it is now.
My husband drove me back to the inn where the old boyfriend and I had visited 39 years ago. I suppose it looked the same, although there was only one portion of it that truly looked familiar to me. The swimming pool was certainly a new addition. There was a door on one of the “out” buildings that I recalled well – perhaps the one that led to the private family quarters. I’m uncertain. The interior of the inn was only vaguely familiar since my memories apparently are relegated to concepts rather than specifics. I recalled the feelings I had when I was there: Being out of the city, the flow of the river, a sense of independence, thinking that the relationship with the boy was destined to be “forever.”
I was seventeen, an age of innocence when love is lasting, and the future barely exists beyond the next morning.
Lately, when Mark and I travel, whether distances or merely a 90-minute drive away, I am reluctant to come home. It takes us both at least 24 hours to decompress as we start a weekend, feeling what we know is only temporarily untethered: a weekend away is simply not enough. This past weekend, there was something about the old stone houses overlooking fields and the river that was particularly compelling in terms of considering what could be a different lifestyle.
As we drove out of town back to the highway, we bought green peppers, white corn, amazingly sweet eggplant, and tomatoes that although faded on the outside were red and sweet on the inside – all at a roadside farm stand at a ridiculously low price. The latter is such a city-girl kind of observation, isn’t it? – and yet the purchase was somehow symbolic of a simplicity that my husband and I seem to have lost (did we ever have it?) as we immerse ourselves in the urban culture we chose years ago.
So, as the fall descends rapidly after a summer that feels like it never was, I think of the vistas merely 90 minutes away in all directions where life might be simpler. But then again, is the longing for literally greener grass only whimsy?
There at the inn from long ago, I stood with my husband. We are attached not only by love and friendship, but as parents to our children. We are connected as well through the mundane – bank accounts, mortgages, insurance policies, one another’s families, the collision of our professional worlds (the physicians in his are typically buttoned up; the artists in mine are typically pierced), each other’s “next of kin” – although not “blood,” he and I are family. I think back to being 17, and having no idea that 39 years later I would re-visit that idyllic spot with a handsome silver-haired man in sensible water-proof shoes who held an umbrella over my head as the rain poured down and I laugh: Who knew back then that one day I would be in love with someone older than my father?