The sun was a hotter pink than any outfit ever worn in the seventies.
On Monday I am doing the usual weekday thing: drive around to pick up a kid and bring him home while wondering what to do for dinner that would appear to have been planned all along. I’m tooling south on Route One in the dismal January late afternoon light, a faint pink twinge reflecting in the clouds. Suddenly, through the trees ahead, I catch a glimpse of an enormous hot pink sun on the horizon. It’s weirdly large and weirdly pink, and I expect that if I turn on the radio I could only tune into the soundtrack of “Gone with the Wind.” Then a slight bend in the road and it’s gone. “Damn! I want it back.”
I step on the gas as though this will make a difference. In the past I’ve been cheated out of good sunsets by not arriving at the Wiscasset bridge in time for the sky to the southwest to open up fully to my view across the Sheepscot River. The most glorious seconds will have been lost to the quickly fading sky. But I’m not going as far as Wiscasset today so it’s probably hopeless anyway. I’m turning south toward Boothbay and woods line the road all the way.
Oh well, I should be grateful for my brief thrill. But as I approach my son’s school, a meadow opens up and there it is, slightly obscured by the trees that line the river. I slow down and take it in. Too big and too pink to be allowed, the sun seems to hover on the edge of the hills beyond Wiscasset for a moment. I used to be a pastel person, but I’ve changed. I used to be embarrassed by expressionistic color and Keats and Wordsworth and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. But I’m not anymore and I don’t know why except that life is now a little more interesting and reckless.
The surprise of that outrageous sun has made me feel plucky and alive in a way I don’t expect to feel in January in Maine. There’s an audacity about this sun that awakens something in me that is most often stirred on vacations to warm places where we watch the sunset with a rum drink in hand and dinner reservations in the offing. Maine is a place of understatement and subdued choices of trim paint. It’s a place where it’s socially acceptable to wear bean boots just about anywhere if the weather calls for it. People understand.
I remember reading a comment from the survey given to Maine Episcopalians when they were choosing their next bishop several years ago. Someone wrote of his hopes for the next leader, “Bean boots on your feet and a shovel in your trunk are more important than a cope and a mitre.” That made me laugh out loud. That’s us.
I am picking up my son Marty at school. He has just started rehearsing for a musical called “Footloose.” I recall that it’s about a young man who moves to a new, uptight community and shakes everything up with his dancing. I think of that and realize that the sun and my pursuit of it makes me feel just that way: footloose, kick-ass, young!
Last Sunday we had a marvelous day. Breakfast at Moody’s Diner, that Route One institution, then skiing and tubing at the Camden Snow Bowl. Even though Camden is 45 minutes from home, we bumped into 12 people we knew. Afterward we drove into Camden for an early supper at Cappy’s Chowder House. (Just down the street from the Camden Deli where, in October at a diocesan lunch meeting, I spotted not one but two Pulitzer Prize winners in the span of 15 minutes: David McCullough and Richard Russo. Yee!)
As we parked and walked up Bayview Street to Cappy’s, we passed a bar tucked down a little alleyway.
“Dad and I went dancing there a long time ago before you boys were born,” I said.
“That we did,” said Scott merrily.
The boys had been throwing snowballs at each other but now looked back at us like we had lobsters growing out of our ears.
“You two went dancing?” I realized that, except for my niece Grace’s wedding last summer and the occasional messing around in the living room, they’ve never seen us dance.
“It’s not pretty, but it’s something we can do when the need arises,” I offered.
Right now, on Thursday evening, Marty is doing his homework at the kitchen table listening to the soundtrack of “Footloose” as I write in my office/laundry room around the corner.
I’ve got to admit, it makes me want to get up and dance. Just now he switches from the stage production CD to a CD Scott made a number of years ago called, “Dance Tunes.” Kenny Loggins version of “Footloose” is the first song. “Let’s listen to a professional do it,” he says to no one in particular. And the music comes on. It’s too much for me. I stand up, go to the porch off the kitchen and move the mini-trampoline out of the way.
Until recently I could have pulled him to his feet to fool around with me, but now he’s eleven. Maybe in another 15 years he’ll be ready to dance with his mother again. I don’t care. This is too much fun. “Footloose” moves to “Knock on Wood” to Aretha’s “Who’s Zooming Who?” to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “When the House is a Rockin”. I’m willing to risk being heckled by my kid for all the fun I’m having. I get overheated and whip off my fleece and laugh to find I’m wearing my t-shirt with the Diocese of Maine seal. Somehow that’s funny.
“Mom, what are you doing?” Marty howls from the couch, laughing. “You’re 43!”
“So what?” I say.
“Mom! You’re not 43, you’re 42! Don’t you even know how old you are?”
“I forgot!” and try to pull him up. “Why don’t you go get that Bruce Springteen CD I bought you for Christmas?” I say, doing the twist like my mama taught me long before she needed her hip replacement.
His twin brother comes into the kitchen with a concerned look on his face. But Colin sees we’re having fun and is still game enough to join in if I promise him 20 more minutes playing “Age of Empires” on the computer. Just then Scott comes in from work and looks at me quizzically as if to say, “I’ve known you for almost 25 years. I love you. Nothing you do will ever surprise me.”
He says over Robert Palmer’s, “Simply Irresistible:”
“Yes,” I say. He smiles, plays a little air guitar and then wanders away.
This is better than a sunset.
And suddenly I know I can name what I am feeling. It’s joy.
Footloose. It’s hard to remember to be that way with all the pressing concerns of our lives: meetings and deadlines and dentist appointments. But occasionally, unexpectedly, a burst of color invades our lives in mid-winter and the best thing to do is to step on the gas, to do anything to catch another glimpse before it ducks under the horizon.
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