Country life

I have a favorite story about living in the country—not the country of daisied meadows, white picket fences, and sturdy red barns, but the country of manure and ripe silage, barns gradually collapsing into themselves, and cows bellowing deep into the night.

We’d been at our house on Horseneck Road for about a year and half. New house, new baby, they say, and we had one of each. We also had cats. Lots of cats, and because it was spring, lots of kittens. Only one of the cats was officially ours, but cats don’t care about property lines, so they’d worn a cat’s-paw-wide path across our big field, from our nearest neighbor’s yard to ours. Something I learned about cats in the country: they like to tuck themselves away from nighttime nuisances like frosts and coyotes by crawling up under a car. You have to remember to bang the car’s hood in the morning to rouse them.

Our baby’s first few months were a challenge—a succession of health problems that eventually faded, but that left me, an inexperienced new mother, frazzled. One morning—long after my husband Tom had left for work—Meggie was sick again, and we needed to get to the doctor’s. I hurriedly got us both ready and bundled her out to the car in the driveway. And started it up. Without banging the hood.

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Old fashioned

Old FashionedLast Valentine’s Day, my husband Tom and I took a meandering ride along Cape roads in search of a romantic restaurant. (We’re spoiled by how many times we’ve found perfect places by chance.) After conceding that February might not yield the full range of charming spots, we settled at a well-known if not entirely dreamy restaurant.

Drinks? The waitress was visibly impressed when Tom ordered his standard martini: very dry, Sapphire gin, olive. She turned to me. My drink challenge was on.

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Westport Free Public Library borrowers downloaded 250 e-books last year—and that number is expected to rise dramatically in 2011, as more patrons discover the online service.

Anyone with a library card and an Internet connection can borrow the free e-books, which are digital versions of printed books. After downloading the required software, patrons can search for and borrow e-books just as they would a book in print. But there’s no need to return an e-book—it disappears from your virtual “bookshelf” once its due date is reached.

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Cross Road in winterJames Taylor is crooning “heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.” Because I don’t know the lyrics to this carol (In the Bleak Midwinter), I’m really concentrating as I try to sing along. It occurs to me, as it has a few times as I listen to holiday albums in the days before Christmas: how fervently does ole JT believe this religious sentiment? About as much as I do, when I sing along with Pete Seeger, Emmy Lou Harris, Aaron Neville, Nat King Cole?

A sullen former Catholic, a questioning Quaker who no longer attends meeting, I have a hard time with organized religion. Although I sincerely seek a spiritual component in my life, I struggle with faith, with belief in any sort of deity. And lest you think this is a diatribe against Christianity at this most Christian time of the year—quite the contrary. This is the time of the year when the story of Christ’s birth—its simplicity and improbability, its angels and kings, its gentle beasts and kneeling shepherds—inspires great good. Acts of charity and kindness. Thoughtful and nurturing gifts. Aspirations for peace and goodwill.

The story of the nativity has inspired so many more stories with themes of charity, hope, and love. Santa Claus. Good King Wenceslaus. A Christmas Carol. The Gift of the Magi. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Reading them, listening to them, watching them, singing along—at this time of the year, these stories of generosity and light are at the center of our celebrations, whether we’re particularly mindful of them or not. There is something in us that loves a good story.

So even if I don’t necessarily believe that angels were heard on high the night of Christ’s birth, at this darkening time of the year, at this darkening time in history, I cherish stories that affirm that we still have goodness in us.