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Excitement buzzed outside my window this morning. It was Independence Day, its spirit given expression by masked neighbors standing around the lemonade stand. Upon it sat the blue cooler, cups, and the moneybox. No matter the oppressive heat and humidity. Soon to be eight-year-old Sloane, her brunette hair in a topknot, had initiated this gathering, supported by her parents, and it was well underway when I picked up their hilarity. Her brother Clark, barefoot and looking taller since last month, helped dispense the lemonade to the thirsty.

Toddlers milled circles around grandparents, hugged their thighs, then took off again; a dad sat in a folding chair stroking the tanned back of his daughter; Sloane made a sign affixed to a pole for passing motorists; a T-shirted mother pushed a stroller with her newborn, another curly-haired toddler at her side; other kids, in helmets, on scooters, stopped by—a whirligig of animation.

Covid threat or not, nothing could damper my neighbors’ enthusiasm. From behind colorful masks, laughter lifted spirits, released tension, deepened camaraderie—a much-needed tonic to ward off the pervading gloom.

It will pass, in time…

Fluff! was my initial reaction to the opening chapters of Helen Simonson’s comedy of manners, The Summer Before the War (2016). It is 1914, set in the coastal village of Rye, East Sussex, England.

Slowly unfolds a view of waning Edwardian society, with its opulent mores defining attitudes and behaviors of its residents. Comic touches abound, exposing their eccentricities and gossip and prejudices. Detailed descriptions of feathered hats and gowns, the annual Hops Festival, the Fete Parade, the society funeral for the only son of the Earl North, trench warfare, the grimy feel of railway stations, and so much more, afford texture of place. Like other comedies of errors, dialogue is precise, stilted, disguised, but at times compelling.

Only when the voices of matron Agatha Kent and the village’s new Latin teacher, Beatrice Nash, lay bare the gamey shenanigans around them was I compelled to read on; and of the later voices of the servant Abigail and the gypsies, as well. And I’m glad I did. Also affording context to this novel is the suffragette movement, the changing role of women in society, and homosexuality. I grew to care for Agatha and Beatrice, both venturing into vital experiences that deepen their sense of woman and quicken the worlds of others.

What follows is the rude interruption of the village’s predictable world with the onset of the Great War—Their summer of balmy channel breezes was not supposed to be like this.

I pray that this is not the summer before the war. Given rains that freshen greening leaves and lawns, I hope such waterings will l dampen fires of global discord and enhance critical changes confronting us—with God’s help. No one needs another war…

 

 

Plank! Plank! Plankkk! Plunkkk!

I still remembered how it was, the tension in my shoulders softening into pastel squiggles on holiday.

Again, I heard them, only more distinct. Plonk! Plonkk! Plink! My heart quickened. Down the wide steps, I flew, passing the Linnaeus house, skirting raised flowerbeds and withered grasses—still wintering, then pausing before the bronze sculpture of fish reflected in the pool. I was alone, my breath strewn about by winds with hiccoughs.

 

 

Plankkk! Plunk! Plink! They’re getting closer. Ahead of me, the weathered gazebo invited respite, but not that day. I’d come for the performance, and I was never disappointed.

Ahead of me, the granitoid walk turned the corner and I, with it.

To my right was the granddaddy of wind chimes. I stopped, then focused upon this towering array of handcrafted bronze chimes, each design unique. To reassure me of its presence, I gentled my fingers over a lower chime, hooded and cold, an ivy traced around its circumference, then struck the clapper hung from its chain: Plink! Plink! Vibrations strangely fired my inner core, then left me within soothing colors. Then, relaxed upon the bench, I let the winds compose and play the morning’s offering. The hoped-for communion always happened.

 

 

Thus prepared, I walked the perimeter of the Missouri Botanical Garden and felt its wiggle-room of life impinging my senses. There would be spring.

Frequent excursions into such vistas helped formulate my Creator God, nurturing me from season to season, as well. I’ve been wintering for some time…

 

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