Late afternoon, we spot the Joshua’s Rock sign and turn down the gravel road. It feels like we’ve entered another world, a world my mother knows intimately. As we pass the one-room Mountainside Library, the old clay tennis court now covered with grass, the lumbering, grey Homestead, my shoulders begin to loosen. Just ahead are the old stone houses built by my great-great-grandfather, Edward Eggleston, who was a well-known writer and historian in his time. Mellowstone was his library and the Owl’s Nest, which my mother now owns, was his home.
I roll down the window to inhale the scent of the lake. This place was the one constant in my childhood. My family spent summer vacations here every year, even after we moved to Panama. After the long drive north or the plane flight to Albany, we’d arrive at Mellowstone, and my grandmother would emerge from the summer kitchen singing.
My mother studies the weathered covered way that connects the two houses. Her face is a blend of wonder and something I can’t quite name. She must have her own layered memories.
Mom and I instinctively head to the lake, leaving my father to begin unpacking. The sky is a deep blue and, although the leaves are past their peak here, a few remaining ones are so vivid I catch my breath.
Inhaling deeply, my mother takes in the beauty of the scene. A glowing horizon of undulating mountains borders the water. She begins reciting the words to one of her favorite psalms: I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. A strong breeze ruffles the water in the bay and I picture my mother, hand on the rudder, as she tacked the Sunfish across blue waves. Time shifts and folds back on itself here at the lake.
The next morning, I wake to the sound of steady rain. The Owl’s Nest shudders when the furnace clicks on. There are no heat ducts in the upstairs bedrooms. I wonder how my great-great-grandfather could stand sleeping here during New York winters when there were only fireplaces.
Before lunch, Mom’s younger brother Uncle Odd stops in. His jeans and flannel shirt are damp and his hair looks wet. A psychiatrist by trade, Uncle Odd was always stern and serious compared to Uncle Bud. The name Odd came about, according to my mother, when Bud had trouble pronouncing Edward. Odd stuck and somehow it fit.
“How many paper plates are there?” my uncle asks, oblivious to the tracks of mud and bits of grass he has left on the floor behind him.
Mom looks at me to answer. “We have two packs of twenty-five each,” I say.
“Don’t you think that will be enough?” Mom asks as Odd runs his fingers through the patch of grey hair on his chin. A droplet of water trembles at the tip of his nose. We don’t know exactly how many people will come, but counting our family and a few close friends, and with the service so far from Uncle Bud’s home and it being so late in the season, I expect no more than thirty.
“There’ll be at least fifty people here.” Uncle Odd’s tone is gruff. “My brother knew a lot of people around the lake.”
I feel a flash of irritation. We’re talking about paper plates, not Bud’s reputation. I wish he’d lighten up, reach out and touch Mom’s shoulder, make a joke about how our family wears tennis shoes and jeans to funerals, the way Uncle Bud would have done.
Instead, Uncle Odd slaps the counter. “I’m going to buy more plates. I want to be sure we have enough.” He turns sharply and heads for the door.
“We can always use these china ones.” My mother’s voice fades as she realizes her younger brother is gone.
At 2 p.m., two hours before the service, the sun breaks between the clouds and the weather starts to clear. The ground is saturated, but will be passable for the slow trek down the hill to the family cemetery.
At 3 p.m., Mom realizes she is out of mousse. The service is in an hour. I want to tell her that her hair looks fine, that no one will notice whether she’s moussed or not, that she’s being ridiculous. But even more, I want to help her with this small need.
We make it back to Mellowstone just before four. Like a sentinel, Uncle Odd stands near the old tennis court, ready to direct traffic, in case those fifty people show. Only half a dozen cars pull up. Doors open and cousins, carrying large platters of food, step carefully into the long grass.
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