Dear Chris

Dear Chris,

A year ago I got up and, looking out the window, realized that the winter’s first snow had fallen overnight. It wasn’t much, but it was on the early side for southwestern Ohio. I thought about how I wasn’t ready for winter, and about how you were probably, at that very moment, waiting for a flight from Lima to Cusco. I wished I was there, and not only because of snow.

I didn’t know then — wouldn’t for another day — that it would be the last day of your life. That the next time I’d see you, you’d be gone.

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, summer 1972

It isn’t fair.

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Yeah, I know. Nobody ever promised fair. But still. I had this amazing mom. And I’m too young for this shit. I expected at least another 25 to 30 years. All your grandmothers and aunts and great-aunts living well into their nineties led me to believe it was a foregone conclusion that you would, too. How come there are people who don’t even *like* their family that get to keep them until old age, and I gotta be in my early 40s and they’re all gone?

Summer 1975

Summer 1975

I don’t know if you ever fully believed it, but all my life I so desperately wanted to measure up not only to you and all the things you were, but to all the things that in hindsight I realize were your hopes for your firstborn little girl.

Do you remember that one recurring nightmare I used to have? The first one — the one that started when I was five. We all got up in the morning in our house in Chinchero, and set out to go to the other side of Antaquillka, to look at a refrigerator. You said if we could have a refrigerator then we could do lots of things with it and it would help everyone in town. Ed said we had to go look at it because who knew if it would really work, and since there weren’t any refrigerators in town it was a big decision.

Well, when we got to the other side of Antaquillka — I’d never have expected it — everything was all pink and white stripes. The sun was high in the sky and all our feet were covered in dust, except Molly, because you and Ed carried her. But as we went downhill, the pink and white stripes gave way to foliage and the only real dust was on the carretera. You could see the tracks where trucks and buses had gone, and would go. And then just inside a mostly-open courtyard, there was the fridge.

You and Ed opened it up, inspected it, checked it over fully. Some sort of discussion of technicalities happened. There were pros and cons. I wasn’t interested in the discussion, really, until Ed said, “Come on over and take a look, Abby. Whatcha think? Will this do the trick?” I straightened right up then, realizing I had to take this seriously and offer an opinion. I walked around the fridge and looked at the back. It had a cord coming out of it, with a plug. I thought it looked like a plug should look, so I walked back around to the front and opened the door. It was a white door, with rounded edges and a big silver metal handle like a lever. I looked inside. There were shelves, and a small silvery box, like a freezer but with no frosty ice around it. It was all empty, and it wasn’t cold inside it, because fridges are a thing you plug in, to electricity. But it looked like it would work. So I closed the door and turned back to tell you guys I thought it looked okay.

You weren’t there, though. I was shocked to see you were out at the road, about to head away to the left. We’d come in from the right. “Wait!” I hollered, and ran to the carretera. Ed had Molly in a kheparina on his back, and you’d unsnapped your down vest and braided your hair. You both laughed, a friendly happy laugh, and I thought, allright, I’ve gotta run and catch up, then. So I did.

By the time my feet hit the road though, you guys were already running down it, ahead of me. I ran after. You kept going, all three of you. Molly turned around and looked back and waved. You kept getting farther away, and you were laughing and smiling, all of you guys. I kept running but I couldn’t catch up. My legs got tired and my breath came ragged and you never stopped to wait, none of you guys. Molly just waved. It wasn’t funny. I was getting left behind and I couldn’t stop getting left behind, and you guys wouldn’t stop either.

Franquemonts, 1977

Franquemonts, 1977

But when I woke up you would be there. You, and Ed and Molly, and you’d hold me and tell me it was okay. Just a dream. Just a bad dream. It’s not true. It isn’t real. And it wasn’t. It was just a bad dream.

Man.

So, it turns out it is real. You guys are all off and gone now and I’m left behind. I feel like I’m left standing in the road, trying to figure out how best to get a fridge from the road somewhere down the other side of Antaquillka, home to Chinchero, through absurd pink and white stripes all over the side of a mountain, without you guys. And then what? That was always the scary part of that dream — and then what? First I got left behind, and you guys knew I got left behind, but you went anyway, so then what was I supposed to do?

That really does sum up the past year. You wouldn’t believe — actually, you know, you would. You always would. You would believe the outrageous was impossible, and in the best possible ways. You believed all chaos was survivable. You believed in the amazing stories, and you just… did the amazing things, and you took all the rest of us along for the ride. I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but I do.

“Motherless children have a hard time, when the mother is gone”

Your brother’s moving closer to us. That’s a great thing, though the sad thing is, of course, that he can do it now your mother’s gone too. I saw her just this April. Her hands were strong and we talked about knitting sweaters. And then a month later she was gone too.

I guess pretty much everyone figures Molly is gone. I know you’d never give up hope. Not even on the hardest hard scenarios. Somewhere you’d always find hope. So I tell myself, well then, I’ll find some hope. The only thing is it’s hard to figure out what to hope for. So I guess every so often I just… hope random things. Like that someday we’ll know for sure. Or maybe that we never know. I don’t know.

It’s all been one blow after another. It’s been a year of bad dreams that stay bad dreams when I wake up, and the whole year, my mother’s been gone. And you know what really sucks about that? (Yes, I see you rolling your eyes because even after I told you the jazz etymology for ‘sucks’ you don’t like it) What really sucks is, I can’t even call you up and just whine about it.

Also, I was at a fantastic concert. It was one of those things that could happen when you’re a mom, and I know you understand. We’d gotten the tickets to send your grandson and his date to see Trombone Shorty, but then it turned out the two of them had a band competition, so his dad and I went instead. But then they played “St. James Infirmary” and I broke down and couldn’t stop crying.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her, whereever she may be…

And the minor tones like funeral bells. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sing that song again myself, if I can’t even hear it played.

You know your book won an award, right? I can’t believe you died without signing a copy of it for me. The very nerve.

Another good thing is I’ve been catching up with a lot of people, and lots of them with each other too — folks from the farm, folks living all over, you know? I like to imagine you’ve seen all that, been there somehow.

I hope that you are resting well, at the bosom of Our Lord of Earthquakes, sleeping beneath the apus, celebrating September 8 with the Virgin in Chinchero. You have earned a rest. You have done so much for so many. And none of us can really quite believe you’re gone, let alone gone a year. Nilda’s having a mass said, this Friday, so everyone can be there.

I wish I could have made this a better letter. I’ve read a lot of old letters you wrote, since you’ve been gone. I’ve read old letters I wrote to you, too. I don’t know what to say about it all, except to say how badly I miss you, although even there, I can’t find the words.

Rest well, and in good company. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of another, and try to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with this fridge I know you’d have wanted to see handled. And someday, who knows when, I hope I’ll see you again. I miss you.

So very much love,

Abby

So this one time

Tonight there was heat lightning, and that always makes me think of this one time. It was a long time ago but it’s always what goes through my mind.

So this one time, and I haven’t gotten that far in reading old handwritten notebooks yet, but it was 1978. We’d been living in Lircay, Peru, where my parents were doing anthropological work for a mining company, and well, that’s a long story. I was in second grade — I’d passed the test to be there, oral and written, and the phrase I had to write on the blackboard was “Mi mama come sopa.” I had an awesome little patent leather maletin or briefcase, and I felt so grown up. But the job fell apart, the life fell apart, and the country was pretty unsettled too. And so it was that one evening, probably about this time of year, we were in a white Toyota truck getting the hell outta Dodge, as they say.

This, or something similar, was our route. It took a few days.

In Huancayo we found a hotel, and we holed up. Outside in the streets there was gunfire and lots of yelling. There were explosions and stuff. I remember my mother taking her evening pills and insisting I had to eat my vitamin C pill. My dad wrote in his notebook and my sister cried. Nobody slept well.

In the morning we got up and got on the road. We drove all day and after dark. It was slow going, and it was way dark, and there was this one spot where we had to ford a river. We drove through. The water was up past the doors and it seeped in a bit in the footwells but we got through, going fast, going fast, going fast, don’t let the river take us, and we came out the other side.

I was afraid it was going to rain. There was thunder and lightning and some of it was lightning that covered the whole sky. First, it lit up everything, and then there were little tendrils of lightning everywhere. Rayos, pues, in Spanish. Rayos. Heat lightning, my father said. I was alternately kneeling and standing in the middle of the truck’s bench seat, and my sister was on my mother’s lap, because she was barely three and she was always little. She wouldn’t speak English then, just Quechua and sometimes Spanish.

The next day we were in Lima and everything for us was okay. But I was more scared the night there was heat lightning and we forded the river in the white Toyota truck than I was the night we holed up in the hotel in Huancayo. And heat lightning always makes me think of how I thought maybe we’d all be swept away down whatever river that was and just be gone. But that’s not how it went down.

So tonight there was heat lightning, and in half a second watching fingers and tendrils cross the sky and feeling the electric charge that makes your heart hold still a second before it hits, I remembered all that. Just like I always do.

Happy Mother’s Day, Chris. I miss you. You’re such a badass. If I had that second grade written test to do over it would say way more than that you ate soup.

Ten Years Later

The job was soul-sucking. In retrospect, I realized it was that way in part because they really did just want me to quit; no amount of determination or work on my part was going to change anything. But at the time, it seemed like the right thing: like what I had to do.

My office phone rang. That happened occasionally, but really, not that often; nobody actually cared what I was doing there in that cubicle on Page Mill Road. I’m not sure if I could have been more surprised when the person calling was Nilda. “Do you have plans for lunch?” she asked.

“What?” I replied. “No, why?”

“Because I’m at this conference on global philanthropy at the Stanford Alumni Center. Come meet me and the family for lunch.”

I checked the clock, not that it mattered — it isn’t every day someone who might as well be your sister, but who lives eight thousand miles away, happens to be a mile from where you’re sitting. I headed over there posthaste.

Even before I saw her and her husband, I saw two young Peruvian boys running and playing at the edge of the courtyard. Called by their father, they came over and nodded solemnly and returned to playing. The grownups talked.

“Your father,” Nilda asked me, “do you think it’s as bad as he does?”

I bit my lip, against the tears filling up my eyes. “Yes,” I said. “Maybe even worse. It could be… it could be days, only. It could be right now. He’s suffering, too.”

We neither of us wanted it to be true. We both knew I wouldn’t exaggerate or pull punches and that Nilda would never wish I could. We would just both wish the truth was something else.

“I still wish you would do textile work,” she said, changing the subject, if only slightly. “It would matter if you did.”

“I can’t see how,” I told her. “I’m trying to see how, and somehow… somehow, I’ll come up with something. But I can’t afford to do it and live here. I need to make a living, and where I live is here.”

We parted, too soon. I lingered longer than I should have, knowing I had to get to the parent conference at my son’s first grade. I thought about the places I’d been with Nilda, no more or less varied than those I’d been with my parents. I thought about us all, about all of it, about the smell of the highland plains in the Andes, the Stanford alumni looking to donate money to someone like Nilda for her projects, about being so poor we caught hepatitis trying to upgrade from just having a pot to piss in, about the vicious rumble of my Trans Am’s engine while I hauled ass down southbound 101 trying to make up a few minutes of time.

I crested the small rise next to Moffett Field in the far right lane and gunned it to pass a semi on the right. Yeah, I know, I thought. But whatever. I took a moment’s pleasure in the car’s response, and that’s when I saw what I hadn’t before: the CHP car one lane left of the semi. Well, fuck. I came off the throttle but it was too late, and no sooner had I passed the Mathilda exit than he was behind me, rollers lit up. I pulled to the side.

He walked up on the passenger side, and I rolled down that window. He looked at the booster seat in the passenger seat, the motorcycle helmet in the back seat, and I handed him license, registration, proof of insurance.

“So,” he said, “were you aware of how fast you were going?”

“Just keeping up with the flow of traffic, sir.” He gave me a look. I sighed. “I’ve got a parent conference at my son’s school,” I said, “in three minutes.” He looked over my documents, looked around the inside of the car.

“I’d expect better situational awareness from someone with a motorcycle license,” he said, blandly. “You should have seen me before you passed that semi.”

“Yeah,” I said, “you’re right, sir. I should have.”

He tore a page from his ticket book, handed it to me with my documents. “I’m writing you a fix-it,” he said. “I don’t think the tinting on this car is to spec.” It was, but I just wanted done with that, and really, he could have written me for the 82mph my needle had briefly touched. I took the ticket, thanked him, and was only 3 minutes late to the conference.

“He’s refusing to write his journal again,” the teacher said, “and then he had a tantrum about it, so I sent him to the principal’s office again.” I reiterated — we’d been around and around about this — that this was exactly what he wanted; in the principal’s office, he was supposed to just sit and read quietly, which was all he wanted to do, and so sending him to the principal’s office just reinforced that all he had to do to get out of writing the journal was have a tantrum. She shrugged. This, just like my job, was going nowhere. The first grader and I went home.

* * * *

The ringing phone woke me from a fitful Saturday morning sleep. The sky was just beginning to lighten, and the phone’s display said 203-something and ST RAPHAEL HOS.

It was my father. He spoke with difficulty, past pain, past morphine. “Well, Abbo,” he said. “I’m shutting down here. I was a farmer long… enough… to see lots… of animals get here. Stuff’s… shutting down. Not coming back. So you… gotta get everyone here.”

I squeezed my eyelids as tight as I could but it didn’t stop any leakage. “OK,” I said.

“Quickly,” he said. “I won’t… I won’t make it long. I can’t wait.” I told him I knew. “I won’t… I can’t… none of this… just keep him alive till someone gets here,” he went on. “Just bring… them all.”

I promised I would.

“Make sure… about Quilla… that she knows I’m dying. That they haven’t… been telling her I’ll… pull through. That she’s coming to… say goodbye.”

I promised that too.

He hung up, and I turned to my husband and we started setting it all in motion.

* * * *

“I have a huge favour to ask,” I told the mom behind the counter. Her whole family ran that bagel shop and I can’t begin to count how many mochas and lattes and bagel breakfasts and lunches I’d had there. We all laughed about how often I’d see my sister Molly, and my niece Quilla there, often. Pretty much every Sunday like today.

“Sure,” she said. “What is it?”

“If my sister comes in –” I gulped. “Well, she’s not answering her phone and either she’s not home or not answering the door. If she comes in, today, call me when she does and see if you can get her to wait a bit. We have to get to my father because he’s dying.” I handed her my card, with my cell number on the back. And true to her word, she called me and she stalled my sister there over her Sunday late morning bagel.

With everyone back at my house, the bereavement fares were being sought and it was too late to make it from California to Connecticut that day. And there was nothing on Sunday. Tuesday was the soonest. Tuesday, my mother’s birthday. My husband and son would stay behind; it would be me, my sister, my niece, on Tuesday into JFK.

I took seven-year-old Quilla aside. “Ed wants me to talk to you,” I told her. “We have to have a big girl talk about this trip to see him.”

“I like planes,” she said, “it’s fine.” My sister interjected: “Hurry up. We have to go. This is bullshit. I can’t just go on Tuesday. I can’t be ready then.” I didn’t say that I could never be ready to go to our father’s deathbed. I could never be ready to see him die. I could never be ready to face a world without him in it, but who the fuck cared if I could ever be ready? I kept holding Quilla’s hand.

“It’s not a regular trip,” I said, and took a deep breath. “I know,” she said. “Grampy’s in the hospital, so we have to visit him there.” Molly was gathering her things to leave. I was running out of time and maybe she didn’t want me to do this. But I’d promised.

“We’re going to say goodbye to him, Quilla,” I rushed it out. “This will be the last time we get to see him.”

“NO!” she screamed, and “Oh, fuck this,” her mother muttered, loudly, at the same time. I took a deep breath, and my son tried to take Quilla’s other hand. She wrenched both hands free from anybody’s grasp and glared at me. “He is going to be fine,” she said.

“No, Quilla,” I said. “No, I’m sorry, but he isn’t. He is dying. But we get to go say goodbye.”

“That’s it,” said my sister, and grabbed her daughter by the shoulder. “I’m all set with this. I’m out of here. Fuck this.” And they left.

“Well,” said my husband, “that went well.”

I just cried. My boy handed me a tissue.

* * * *

At least the flight was a nonstop. At least Molly and Quilla didn’t dodge me when we went to pick them up. Molly kept reassuring Quilla that Ed would be fine. I kept looking Molly square in the eye, and she’d look me back and keep saying it. She said it so much I wondered if she believed it too. I switched to an unoccupied seat a row or two forward, and kept crocheting. It was my handspun tussah silk and I finished the scarf. I gave it to the flight attendant who kept distracting Quilla, thanked her for her help. “Is your father really dying?” she asked me. “Yes,” I said. “I just hope we’re in time to say goodbye.” She brought me a whisky.

Walking out of the terminal I pondered just how much fun it was going to be to get this crew to Grand Central, onto the Metro North commuter train. I walked up to a guy standing by his limo, and quietly, while Molly and Quilla wrestled with heavier coats, I asked him if there was a price I could pay him to drive to New Haven.

“I could lose my medallion for that,” he said. “Nope.”

“It’s a matter of life and death,” I said, and gestured with my head at my sister and niece. “My dad’s in the hospital there, dying. Today’s our mother’s birthday.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“Cash,” I said. “How’s $200?”

“And tolls,” he said. “There and back. And if we get stopped, we’re just friends out for a drive.”

“To the hospital door,” I said. He nodded. We got in. I sat in the front. We were just friends, out for a drive, after all. Friends listening to the muttering and wailing from the back seat.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to mutter and wail. It was that it wouldn’t matter if I did.

It was just about dark by the time we got there. There in the semicircle drive I surreptitiously handed the limo driver $260. I had another $24 left but whatever; there are ATMs in New Haven.

We left the suitcases in the hall outside his room in the oncology ICU. I scrubbed my hands to the elbow and then I hit the disinfectant gel dispenser by his door. He was there in the bed, asleep, breathing hard, oxygen mask on his face. Our mother was beside him in the recliner, sitting up. She stood. We hugged, and hugged hard.

“Some birthday, huh?” she said. Ed didn’t wake. He didn’t move. He just breathed hard, unsteady, gasping. One of the nurses had explained it on my previous visit, weeks earlier: with no red blood cells to speak of, there wasn’t much of anything to transport oxygen. What a fucking bitch of a disease; what a way to watch someone you love go down. No white blood cells, so immunities are gone; no platelets so if he gets a nick or a scrape he’ll bleed and bleed and bleed and never clot and all that precious, single-donor, carefully-sorted transfused blood product won’t be enough; and in the end, no red blood cells so you can’t even breathe.

“When’s the last time you left here?” I asked my mother. “When did you eat?” She was vague; said something about coffee and the morning, and a shower Monday. “Damon was trying to get me to go to dinner,” she said.

“Go,” I urged her. “Go. Have a birthday dinner, at least. Even Ed did that for his birthday. He had an ice cream sundae even. Go.”

She didn’t really want to. But she did. And then she came back. “Do you guys want to go to my house to sleep?” she asked. And amid argument I convinced her to go sleep in a bed, to let me take the watch sitting with her dying husband, my dying father, this dying man. Molly and Quilla would go with her, help her, keep her company. She could sleep in a bed, and not be alone.

That recliner… it was as good a place to sleep as any you could really ask for in a hospital room. Things went beep and whir and click and whoosh and thump. It smelled how only hospitals do. I watched him gasp for air and wondered how my mother had stood it since he called me Saturday. I wondered if I was that strong. I cried for my mom. I cried for my dad.

He woke once, or roused. Or something. He looked at me. He pulled off the oxygen mask.

“Abby,” he said. “Abby. What are you doing here?”

“You said it was time to come, Ed,” I told him. “We’re all here. Everyone’s here.”

“It’s 1969,” he said. “Why are you here?”

“Ah,” I replied. “Well. If I’m here, obviously it’s not 1969, eh?”

“Hrmmmm,” he said, “hrmmmmm.” If you knew him, you’d know exactly how he always said that. It was distinctive. And then he sat up, most of the way up, and subsided again as fast as he had. He looked at me, fully lucid. “I’m the dog catcher,” he said, “and I wouldn’t let a dog live like this.”

His eyes closed again, and he resumed that gasping breathing. I put the oxygen mask back on. Weakly, he swatted at it, then stilled. Gasp. Rasp. Whoosh. Click. Whoosh. Click. Whoosh. Click. Beep. Whir.

He never really spoke to me again. He might have spoken to his brother, the next night, Wednesday night, his final night. I don’t know. He did sort of speak, though, that Wednesday: he would pull off the mask, and he’d say, over and over, “Quickly.”

Sometime that night I think his brother and I realized what he meant: quickly. Let it be over quickly.

The arrangements were in place to move him to hospice in Branford, to the place right on Long Island Sound, about a 9 mile ambulance ride. Thursday morning was a blur of doing what had to be done; standing by my mother’s side while she signed papers, while she authorized things, while her drawn and exhausted face looked a million years old. She’d dyed out even the white streak that, once natural, she’d always kept; but it had been long enough sitting in the hospital that the white showed in her roots. There was a lot of it. She was thin; thinner than she’d been a month before, when we’d thought he would go for that stem cell transplant, and I had thought she was thin then, even for her.

She would ride with him in the ambulance. I would follow, driving Ed’s Volvo; his brother, my sister, her daughter, they’d ride with me. I went down to get the car, bring it around to meet everyone by the ambulance loading area. I wanted to make sure I had the right truck number, that sort of thing.

“One thing,” the ambulance driver told me. He was a young man, mid-twenties. He looked so much younger than me, but I was only 32. I was too young for this. He continued. “We’re not allowed to pronounce patients,” he said. “So… so, if he dies on the ride, I’m legally required to bring him back here to this hospital to be pronounced dead.”

“Oh God,” I said. He nodded. “We’ll go slow,” he told me, “to keep things smooth, but not too slow, because… we need to get there quickly.”

“Yes,” I said, “Quickly. He doesn’t want to die in this hospital.”

“If he goes on the way, what I’ll do is pull over to the side of the road, and everyone can say goodbye. But then we have to come back here. So stay right behind me.” I nodded, numbly.

My uncle Gerry was in the passenger seat beside me, silent as I was. My sister and niece sat in the back, sobbing. I never drove a longer 9 miles in my life. Every second of that drive I watched and waited for the ambulance to pull to the side; I envisioned saying a final farewell to my father on the shoulder of the interstate while relentless traffic whipped on by buffeting us all with its wind. Please no. Please not that.

I pulled into the hospice tight on the ambulance’s bumper. “Get out,” I told everyone. “I can’t park here.” I looked desperately for somewhere to park; there was nowhere close. It seemed like it was miles away across the parking lot. I whipped that car in there and jumped out and started running, running, and the ambulance doors were open and my mother was standing beside them looking at me.

I knew. I still ran. I knew, though. And when I got there, she looked at me, looked at Ed on the stretcher in the ambulance, at the young ambulance driver standing ready to pull the stretcher out.

“He stopped breathing,” she said.

I looked at my mother, there, in that moment, the moment when death did them part. There was nothing to say.

“Wait!” my sister shrieked. “He’s got a pulse! I can see it! Right there!” She pointed. It was true; in his temple, there was a vein pulsing. But he wasn’t breathing. His eyes were open, but he was gone. “Do something!” Molly sobbed.

“No,” my mother whispered.

“No,” I concurred. “Molly, we can’t. He has a DNR. He’s gone.”

“Just a second,” said the ambulance driver, clipboard in hand, and ran inside the hospice.

“How could you?” my sister raged. “How could you just let him die?” My mother and I looked at each other. Birds were singing. The air was warm. It was spring. I could see gulls. I could smell the ocean, faintly. The sun was shining. There was Ed, that pulse fading, in the warm spring air, outside. Not gasping desperately. Not pleading. And not there in his body.

The ambulance driver came back, with someone from the hospice. Seconds passed, and the pulsing vein went still. “Time of death, 2:11 pm,” someone said. “Admitted, 2:10 pm.” More hospice staff were gathering, taking everyone in hand. We all went inside.

But then… “Wait!” I ran after the ambulance driver. He turned.

“I just… I just want you to know when you go off shift tonight? When today’s over? That this was a win. Thank you.”

He looked back. “I know,” he said. “We lost my mom last month.”

* * * *

They laid him out in a viewing room at the hospice. He was in the street clothes he’d worn when we went in to get him that transfusion right before he was supposed to go to Seattle for the transplant. And after everyone said goodbye we were supposed to take the things to remember him, before he went to cremation.

I watched my mother take the wedding ring from his hand. “You made him this scarf,” she said. “You should take it.”

“Leave it with him,” I said. “It’s his.”

Resignedly, sadly, she looked at me. “He’s being cremated,” she reminded me. “It’s not like he can have grave goods.” It sounds wrong, perhaps, but it was the truth, and the truth of the two of them: ever the archaeologists and anthropologists.

“Whatever,” I said, putting my hand on his where they lay loosely crossed on his abdomen. “Whatever.”

I took the scarf. But then… then I put into his hand the small vending machine bag of Fritos I’d bought numbly a few moments prior.

“Goodbye, Ed,” I said. “I wish I had a beer to give you with these.”

My mother and I turned, and left the room: she, a widow, and me, half-orphaned. Outside the sun was shining and spring was springing. Gulls were flying. And the world without my father in it just kept right on turning. And so it has, every day since, for ten years now, and every year at this time, I relive that week. But this is the first time I’ve been able to write it down.

Dear Chris

Dear Chris,

I bet you wondered, any time you read the birthday letters I wrote to Ed after he died, whether I’d write them to you, too, when you were gone. You never asked me, but I bet you wondered.

Well, so. There are ways that losing you is harder than losing Ed. My father may have been the cornerstone of my sense of who I was, he may have been larger than life, and he may have been the one I always asked for advice, but you know what? None of that could make him my mother.

You were the one I always wanted to make proud. You were the one who set the standard. You were the one with the image and the vision of what I could be, or should be. And I will probably never feel like I came close to measuring up. And yet now it all comes down to me to shoulder what I can of all your burdens and works.

I guess I have three songs.

You bought that piano in 1979 so I could take lessons. It cost the princely sum of $150 when the nearby high school was getting rid of it. I don’t even know how you got it to the house, though I would bet on your uncle Jimmy playing a role. I was in third grade and I hated to practice. I hated sounding like crap, when you would sit down and just play this. But as the years wore on I learned why practicing mattered and even if I never, despite years of lessons, practiced anything hard until I took up guitar, the sound of you playing this piece punctuated my life with you.

And for making me practice even though I probably never measured up, and for so many other things… I suppose that I judged you harshly.

And just in case nobody else you raised is thinking of playing you a song or two today, here’s one they should be singing to you… in a performance complete with incongruous set.

Thank you, Chris, for the way you never stopped trying. I miss you so very, very much.

I think I will have an ice cream sundae for dinner.

Love,

Abby

2 March 1977

My father wrote:

2 March 1977
Chinchero

We passed a quiet day watching the rain and mud. I managed to get a couple of hours in practicing doing a Loraypu with both hands, that is picking up from either side towards the middle. When the sun finally began to shine, we sat out by the church and did textile things; some Huaman kids showed me how to do a new hakima “ocho-ocho” in the tanka ch’oro threading and Abby had her first lessons in weaving a cata.

I remember that as if it were yesterday; maybe better, in fact. My warp was yellow and black, the string tied heddles synthetic navy blue as were the selvedges and my weft. I also remember the days that followed and every mistake I made on that piece, that older girls picked out and had me do over. I was as determined to get that right as I was to be able to read without having to ask for help with words. I had two skirts to wear then, and the outside one was blue and shiny and I loved it. I remember the feel of that weaving in my clumsy hands and using a ballpoint pen for a shedsword. I remember how the blades of grass felt tickling my calves while I sat, and the change in temperature every time the sun went behind a cloud, and asking if soon I could have a needle for my hat since now I was a weaver. My nose was sunburnt and scabbed. My hair was tangled and so very very blonde. And my hands on this keyboard right now look so very unexpectedly old compared to the hands I remember having then. But they are the same.

Dog Town

I’ve been sorting through papers and putting old field notes into chronological order, when time permits. This morning, I found a single page in my mother’s handwriting, tucked into a book of field notes from 1977. I’m transcribing it here in full because I’m thinking a lot about my parents right now; in the next few days, I’ll weather both my mother’s birthday, and the tenth anniversary of my father’s death.

Here it is: a field note of my mother’s from 1977.

THE PASSAGE TO THE OTHER WORLD IN CHINCHERO

When a person dies, his soul begins to journey over a very difficult and rocky oad. After much difficulty, he arrives at the village of the spirits of dogs, which is on the edge of a wide and raging river. He cannot hope to cross the river without the help of his dog spirit helper, for whom he must search. His life in the Dog Town reflects his former life in that the dog spirits treat him as he treated dogs in his former existence.

On the 5th? 8th? day after he has died, his family try to do their share to help him across the “strait,” through the passage. They take his clothes and go to the nearest confluence of the river — in Chinchero, just at the bottom of the archaeological site — and wash his clothes. This helps to have the effect of allowing his anima and his espiritu to reunite, his espiritu being his essential being (which is in the Dog Town) and his anima being that which has flowed out from him in his existence on the earth — his acts — his karma, I suppose. This has a tendency to be left behind in his clothes, his house, and so on.

In fact, in Chinchero, it appears that when a head of family dies, the X is put over the door, but when a particular family branch that has been occupying a house dies out — 2 old people whose children haven’t been living with them, for instance — the house is abandoned rather than new people moving into it. It may even be dismantled to build a new house, but on DIFFERENT FOUNDATIONS. Once the old foundations and their former occupants have passed beyond living memory, however, it would seem that the foundations may be re-incorporated into a new house — after all, most of Chinchero is built on Inca foundations.

Anyhow — to the spirit still in Dog Town it would appear that his family spirits await him on the other side of the river where the road to “Paradise” is also easier — smooth, straight, inviting (I have not yet heard what the concept of “Paradise” consists of) — and finally, on this 5th or 8th day, whenever it is (this is long after the burial has taken place, which is relatively unimportant in all this, the important thing being the spirit passage — presumably spirits that don’t make it wander the earth, discontented, causing trouble, in half-human, half-animal forms (AUKIS?), scaring people to death, especially children. At twilight, the spirits out and abroad are only visible to dogs — who bark and howl, needless to say.

I think, perhaps, this whole process is shortened, less rigorous, for children — they pass more directly to the “other side” — the mourning is also shortened. It would seem that the Karmic principle operates in some form. Question: it seems that any spirit doing what it’s supposed to be doing stays in Paradise — any one that’s on earth is pestering people. Do the Quechua Indians ever see spirits as helping out on earth? Clearly they see reverberations for every act being done in the right or wrong way — these presumably bounce off the spirit world but don’t just have consequences for the afterlife but also more immediate: houses burning down, etc.

Chris' funeral procession enters the plaza next to our first home in Chinchero

There’s a poignance in all this which I still can’t quite find the words to describe. I’ve joked often about being the child of anthropologists, and what that means for how I see the world in which I live. I’ve talked about growing up in “the field” and all kinds of cultural and identity dissonance as a simple fact of my life. But I don’t know what could exemplify the crux of it all quite like knowing you’ve laid your mother to rest in a once-foreign world that became her home and called her one of its own. For my mother, it was always more than study; it was always personal, always real. And even so, she (like my father) chronicled a great deal, and urged me to do the same all through my own life: not with abstracted, clinical eyes, but as a participant observer who can never be detached from life.

As I go through piles of old notebooks, as I handle my mother’s estate, I feel like I’m washing her clothes at a confluence of rivers. It just takes a long, long time.

Christine Robinson Franquemont, 1948-2013

It is with tremendous sorrow that I must formally announce the death of my mother, Dr. Christine Robinson Franquemont.

Having traveled to Cusco, Peru to attend the 2013 Tinkuy de Tejedores at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Chris arrived Monday, November 11, and spent time visiting with close friends and family and preparing for her role in the Tinkuy event. On Tuesday morning, November 12, 2013, Chris was found dead of natural causes in her hotel.

Funeral and memorial plans are being made, but are not ready to be released at this time. I will tell everyone more as I am able.

I miss you, Chris. I can’t believe you’re gone.

Stringtopia 2012: Door Prizes, Goodie Bags

You knew this was coming! This year, as last year, we’ll be doing goodie bags, and giving out door prizes at the Friday Fiber Bash and the Saturday Spin-In. And all the best such things come from Stringtopians, including those fine folks who wish they could join us in person, but can’t.

If you’d like to send us stuff for the goodie bags, we’ll need 80 (!!) goodies. We recommend making them be goodies that identify who you are, and they can (and even should) promote your fibery business somehow. Or just be neat stuff. You don’t HAVE to have a fibery business to send goodies. Or door prizes. You can just… want to. Last year lots of our door prizes were from folks who were just sad they couldn’t come and hang out.

If you’d like to send us stuff for door prizes, well, those can be almost anything imaginable. People love love love door prizes and they’re a great way to show off your stuff and make people ooh and ahh and want to find out more or buy their own. And the same goes for it not having to be associated with a business. Think of it as being part of the fun.

We will, of course, list you as a donor and thank you publicly, on programs and online.

If you’re in for either of these things, we would need to have them no later than April 20, unless you’re coming to the event and it’s a door prize, in which case you can shove them in our hands while we’re handing them out. But goodie bag goodies, definitely by April 20 or there’s no way we’ll be able to get them all handled.

Interested? Email us and we’ll tell you where to send them. Please send one email to both shelly@abbysyarns.com and abby@abbysyarns.com. And of course, you can also post here to let everyone know you’re sending stuff.

Stringtopia 2012 Registration INSTRUCTIONS

Stringtopia 2012 Registration is HERE. Here’s what you need to know ahead of time. Read this whole thing BEFORE REGISTERING; you will need to in order to get the link to register.

Here’s how registration will work. This is everything we think you need to know; if anything isn’t covered, please send email to BOTH me (abby@abbysyarns.com) and Shelly (shelly@abbysyarns.com), and one of us will get back to you ASAP. You are also welcome to chatter about it on Ravelry, Facebook, and Twitter! Your fellow Stringtopians can be a great source of information.

Registration this year uses a shopping cart approach. When you connect to the registration page, you’ll see three
categories of products: Classes, Meals, and Extras. When you click on Classes, you’ll see a calendar with links to specific classes, by day and time slot. Below the calendar, you can choose to view the listings by teacher, by day, or by class length. You can add classes to your cart from the main subcategory screen you’re in (whether it’s teacher,
day, or class length) or you can click on the image to read the full description and make up your mind.

YOUR ACCOUNT
You will be prompted to create an account when you place your class order. You can log in with your username and password from here on out to see the status of your order, etc.

ABOUT CLASS PRICES:
All class prices INCLUDE the materials fee for the specific class. Full day classes cost $125 plus the teacher-determined materials fee for the specific class. Half-day classes are $75 plus materials. In other words, the prices are the total, including the class fee AND the class-specific materials fee; what’s in your cart after you add it is all you’ll pay for that class. We wanted to make this as clear as possible because while materials fees are included in the price listed when you sign up, they are *not* included in the $125 (for full day) or $75 (for half day). Materials fees are determined by the teacher and cover the cost of getting you what you specifically need to do the class. Some classes recommend buying additional things as desired; that’s in the class description. Materials fees range from $0 (you’ll bring everything yourself, from a teacher-supplied list of things to bring) to $65 (for copious and costly materials such as hand-selected, hand-washed rare breed fleeces, book materials, and use of tools to process them).

IT IS UP TO YOU TO CONFIRM YOU DON’T HAVE TWO CLASSES IN THE SAME TIME SLOT.
We will check this on an ongoing basis and let you know if we find that this did happen, then deal with it on a case by case basis, but unfortunately there’s no way for the registration system to check that automagically. In other words, putting one Friday class in your cart doesn’t mean you can’t put another Friday class in your cart. Be on the lookout!

CLASSES ARE NOT CONFIRMED UNTIL YOU CHECK OUT.
You will need to complete the checkout process to have your classes. Until you have completed the checkout process (whether paying in full now, or opting to pay only your $50 non-refundable deposit now), your classes aren’t confirmed. When you have completed checkout, you will receive an email notifying you of what you signed up for. This email is your confirmation email, but NOT an invoice. Deposit and remaining balance invoices will be sent STARTING ON MONDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2012.

EVENT REGISTRATION IS NOT CONFIRMED UNTIL WE HAVE YOUR DEPOSIT.
Your deposit is due within one week of your deposit invoice being sent, unless otherwise specifically arranged. If we don’t have your deposit in that span of time, we reserve the right to cancel your registration and let someone else have your class spots. We’d rather not and we doubt we’ll have to, but all the same, we’re saying that clearly up front so everyone knows what to expect.

MEALS
We don’t need to know your specific meal choice now; you will tell us that when you check in at Stringtopia. However, we do want to know if you’re joining us for meals, so please add them to your cart if so. You can change your mind about meals right up until the day you arrive at Stringtopia. You are welcome to purchase extra meals for someone
accompanying you.

EXTRAS
Extras are tote bags, t-shirts, and admission to the Friday Fiber Bash. We think these are fairly self-explanatory, and they’re all described on the registration site. You may purchase as many of these as you like. You can also decide to purchase them later, right up until 7 April 2012. If you can’t decide, we will likely have some available for purchase at the event, but if you want a specific colour or size, we recommend buying them in advance. And…

FREEBIES
That’s right, there are freebies. If you sign up for one full day of classes, you get a free tote. With two full days of classes, you get a free t-shirt. With three full days, you get free admission to the Friday Fiber Bash.

TO GET YOUR FREEBIES,
after you have completed your registration, please place a second order through the registration site, selecting the freebies you’ve qualified for and the options you want. Then, select “check/money order” at checkout, AND PAY NOTHING, and we’ll have a record of your freebies, which we will confirm with you.

PAYMENT
You have the option to pay in full via PayPal, or using your credit card (processed via PayPal, but does not require a PayPal account). If you would prefer, you can instead choose to pay only a $50 non-refundable deposit at this time. Payment in full is due by 1 April 2012 unless otherwise agreed.

TO PAY IN FULL, choose “Check out using PayPal” and you’ll be prompted to either pay using your PayPal account, or else by using your credit card as a guest. You will receive an emailed receipt and confirmation.

TO PAY JUST A $50 DEPOSIT AT THIS TIME, choose “check/money order,” complete the checkout process, and stand by; we’ll send you a confirmation email, followed by an email containing a link you can use to pay only your $50 non-refundable deposit using PayPal or credit card, followed by an invoice for the full balance due. These invoices will go out starting on MONDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2012. If you are going the deposit only route, please do NOT send any funds via any means until you have received an email with deposit payment instructions including a payment link. We mean this so much, we’ve tried to make it impossible for you to try to do so in the check/money order checkout process. 😉 Do not send a check or money order without prior agreement. YOUR CONFIRMATION EMAIL IS NOT YOUR DEPOSIT INVOICE. If you have received a confirmation, but not a deposit invoice, BY TUESDAY 21 FEB 2012, please email us so we can look into it.

REFUND/CANCELLATION POLICY
Your $50 deposit is non-refundable. Cancellation for a refund of remaining fees paid is possible up until 1 April 2012 (which is when we have to pay for the venue, tickets, and various things like that). If you find out after that date that you are unable to attend, you can sell your spot to someone else, and we’ll help you with suggestions for how to do that. You do need to let us know if you sell your spot, however, so we know who to expect at the event.

QUESTIONS
We think when you get access to the registration site you’ll find it pretty straightforward; we just want you to have advance information so you can have your plan ready and hopefully get through registration fast and easy. But if you do have questions, email us (abby@abbysyarns.com, shelly@abbysyarns.com) and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

OKAY, READY?

Go here: http://abbysyarns.com/store

and complete your registration. We’re looking forward to seeing you!

Stringtopia 2012: Class Descriptions, other updates

Shelly and I are just thrilled by all the excitement we’re hearing about Stringtopia 2012! We’re working on getting the registration forms ready to go and really starting to feel the spirit of things coming along.

So, let’s start by giving you the class descriptions. Let me just say that this class lineup knocks my socks off and I cannot believe how lucky we are to be able to bring all of this together for one event, and do it with a schedule that means you can take everything a single teacher offers, or mix and match to create your own weekend experience that features all three teachers, or even just take one single class. In fact, the only problem we outright failed to solve here is how to be in more than one place at a time, so that everyone could take all the classes and the instructors could take eaach other’s classes too. We’re open to ideas for solving that one in the future.

ABBY FRANQUEMONT

All Spindles, All Day
For all spinning skill levels including absolutely none. Even if you already spin, or spin with spindles, there’s something here for you. We’ll cover finger twisting, thigh spinning, stick spinning, multiple types of spindles, plying your yarn, how to finish your yarn and get it ready for use, and we’ll spend in-depth time on a variety of exercises
aimed at increasing your spindle skills. Spinning while walking, standing, sitting, talking, team spinning, spindle races, spinning blind, and a selection of tricks guaranteed to amaze your friends (well, maybe only if they spin) will be covered. Two basic spindles and fiber will be provided, but please bring any spindles you love and any spindles you hate. You will also receive personalized feedback on your specific spindle goals.
Materials: $30 per person, includes 2 spindles, fiber

The Rut Buster
Are you stuck in a comfort zone you can’t escape? No matter what you do, do you just keep ending up spinning the same yarn over and over again? Is it you, or the equipment, or the fiber that makes that happen? What else is out there? Is it overload when you even try to think about what to try next? Are you stuck with stash you don’t dare spin because
you’re afraid you’ll ruin it because you’ll just do what you’ve always done? Did you hit a wall working towards a specific goal? Do you just want someone to make you try something new, that you never would have thought of, that you can’t make yourself try, that might push you to a new level you didn’t expect? Well, bring it to this class, and we’ll take that on in an exciting and diverse hands-on seminar.
Materials: $10 covers what I’ll be giving you, and the rest, you’ll buy yourself from Morgaine, to speak to your specific rut.

Getting More Done With Spindles
For those who already spin with spindles a little or a lot, for wheel spinners who want to know how to make the spindle more productive, this class is just the ticket. Learn where your personal bottlenecks are, learn techniques to speed up various spindle tasks, learn to spin various kinds of yarn and different fibers. Students are encouraged to bring
spindles they love and spindles they hate. Two basic spindles and fiber will be supplied. Not for the absolute beginner.
Materials: $25 includes 2 spindles, fiber

Truth Or Dare
And a few other arguably juvenile party games – except with spinning. Do you have a secret spinning shame, and you want to admit it and find a way past that? Or maybe a pet peeve that nobody understands, and you want to work through it? Are you afraid to try spinning something totally unlike your personality? What spinning thing wouldn’t you even try unless someone double-dog-dared you? I have a few ideas up my sleeve. This class grew out of informal things that happen before and after classes at retreats and festivals, combined with in-class exercises that people find themselves coming back to for years to come. For years, people have said “I wish there were a whole class in doing this variety of stuff,” and so now, there is.
Materials: $10 covers what I’m bringing, and the rest you can buy from Morgaine.

BETH SMITH

Beth Smith has built a strong and loyal following who know her and her world-class fiber shop, The Spinning Loft in Howell, Michigan, as the go-to resource for specialty wools for handspinning. A passionate advocate for greater understanding of all the possibilities offered by many types of wool, Beth has spared no effort to study with master
spinners from all over the world. She brings together a deep and complex understanding of many spinning traditions with a clear sense of the contemporary spinner’s goals, questions, and options. Beth has taught at TNNA, New York State sheep and Wool Festival (Rhinebeck), Spin Off Autumn Retreat as well as the Michigan Fiber Festival.

Breed Study
In this class we will start with an overview of wool breeds and their classifications. We will learn how to wash wool to maintain the lock structure, wash lock by lock as well as washing in small batches. In addition we will have an opportunity to try a variety of processing tools. Each tool will be used to its best ability and on the appropriate fiber. Students can then take their new knowledge to experiment and find out their favorite processing methods. We will combine each processing method with different spinning techniques which will result in yarns for specific uses. We will discuss yarns desired for different knitting techniques such as stockinette, cables and lace as well as how to design a yarn for weaving. Several breeds from each class will be sampled including Fine Wools, Long Wools and Crossbred, Down and Down Types as well as the category fondly called Other in which certain breeds which are difficult to classify are kept. When studying Fine wools we will wash lock by lock as well as using tulle to keep the lock structure. Wool will be made ready for spinning using a flick carder and spinning it from the lock or from the fold. Long wools will be combed using hand combs and English combs. Use of a diz will be shown and wool top will be spun. We will also pull fiber from the comb without a diz as well as spin directly from the comb. Down breeds will be processed using several hand carding methods and a drum carder will be used for batt making. Traditional doffing methods will be used as well as using a diz to make roving. In the other category we will be processing using no tools. Icelandic fits in this category and students will separate coats by hand and spin them just as they are after separation. Jacob will also be processed by hand by pulling the locks apart until the wool is in a cloud style prep and then students will spin just from that cloud. This class takes the mystery out of the question “what wool when?”.
* Students should bring a spinning wheel in good working order or a spindle they are comfortable with for a variety of yarns. A flick, hand combs and hand cards will be used in class. Student should bring any tools they have. A few of each will be available to loan during the class.
Materials for your own breeds book will be provided for each wool we will spin in class.
Materials Fee: $65 includes carefully selected specialty and rare fleeces, use of some loaner tools

Spinning for Lace
This class will get you spinning finer than you thought possible. You’ll learn the mechanics of spinning lace – wheel set up, type of draw, ratios and ply for the lace you want to make. We’ll also look at the wide range of fibers we can use for spinning laceweight yarns including mill preps and lace yarns from raw fleece, from the finest of fibers like cashmere to wools you never would have thought of for lace. You’ll learn how different fiber preps will give different results, and how to best utilize those hand combs and blend fibers on your handcards. This is a really fun class. Bring some of your smaller needles in case of a need for swatching!
*You should bring a spinning wheel in good working order, three bobbins, a lazy kate, and combs, cards and a flick if you have them. If you don’t have them a few will be available in class to borrow.
Materials Fee: $30

Drafting Methods
Woolen? Worsted? Semi-woolen? What is it and how do you do it and what kind of yarn does it make? This class will answer all of your questions and teach you 5 different drafting method – short forward draw, short backward draw, supported long draw, and long draw. You’ll also learn which method of drafting will give you the type of yarn you want for your knitting or weaving project.
* Participants should bring with them: A Spinning Wheel in good working order and at least 3 bobbins as well as a lazy kate and niddy noddy. Also useful are hang tags, and a pen.
Materials Fee: $15

For The Love Of Longwools
The Longwools category of wool sometimes gets a bad rap. Ask around to people if you happen to have some Masham or Lincoln or Wensleydale hanging around what it’s good for. Most people will say it’s too scratchy and is really only good for upholstery or carpets. Well, sure it is good for both of those things if you spin it for those purposes BUT there is so much more to this category. It makes wonderful lace that really shows off all of those important holes. It is great for outerwear because it pills so much less than other shorter stapled fibers. It is great for anything you want to wear well and have some luster and sometimes you can build in a beautiful halo. This class will focus on spinning wools with a 5”staple or longer to get the yarn you want. Yarns can range from drapy to wiry and everything in between. We will learn how to get this fiber to do the things you want. We could even get a lovely scarf for your sensitive neck if you choose and prepare your fleece right. We will use mill prepped fibers as well as raw fleece, compare, contrast, and talk about what benefit there is to processing your own longwool fleece. We will focus on processing and spinning techniques that will bring out the best in these wools.
* Participants should bring with them: _A Spinning Wheel in good working order, hand combs and a sample size niddy noddy. Also useful are hang tags, and a pen.
Materials Fee: $15

SARA LAMB

Sara Lamb is a well-known fiber artist and teacher in weaving, dyeing, and spinning. She has written for Handwoven and Spin-Off magazines and contributed to the books All New Homespun Handknit, Colorworks, Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools, and Homespun Handknit. She lives in Grass Valley, California.

Weekend Theme: All Silk All The Time: Knitting, Weaving, Dyeing and Spinning.

Bring your yarn, handspun or otherwise, and we will plan and samplefor a project (or two! or three!). Instructor will bring samples, examples, clothing, yarns, instructions, books, all kinds of resources, and 20 years of opinions.

Friday all day: knit with silk (bring needles), and your own silk yarn, be it handspun or millspun.
Saturday all day: weave with silk (bring a loom if you can, we will have a loom to set up and start a class sample. Everybody weaves!). You’ll want silk yarn for weaving it (20/2 is nice), and if you don’t have it, you can shop for it onsite.
Sunday morning: dyes, dyeing and all about silk Bring your own silk to dye, or you can buy some from Morgaine.
Sunday afternoon: spin that silk. Morgaine will have all manner of silks to try, or bring yours from home. Wheels or spindles.

Materials fees: only what you buy from Morgaine.


Let me continue by giving a few updates on where things stand right now. First, much to our surprise, excited folks anticipating registration have already booked up all the rooms available onsite at the Golden Lamb. We were stunned when we heard the news on Saturday night, a little more than 24 hours after we announced teachers and class schedules. I mean, we were pretty confident we’d put together a lineup where attendees can’t lose (and all the teachers are jealous they’re not in every class themselves), but we still didn’t figure the onsite rooms would all go before registration was even open. So with that in mind, let me fill you in on your other lodging options.

First of all, there is the Kirkwood Inn, about 5-6 minutes down the road by car. They’re giving us a fantastic Stringtopia rate of $69/night for a double, $64/night for a single. The Kirkwood Inn is a nice hybrid of “regular hotel” as far as room privacy and amenities, and “bed and breakfast” for setting and meals. These rooms come with a buffet-style breakfast (a really nice buffet) in a historic farmhouse. One of the things we really like about having both the Golden Lamb and the Kirkwood Inn for Stringtopia is that people can choose between being on site in the middle of all the action, or having a down-to-earth comfortable place to get away from it for the night. Family owned and operated, the Kirkwood is a longstanding local business just like the Lamb, only not quite as old. But then again, the Golden Lamb is Ohio’s oldest continuinally operating business, so… nothing is quite as old.

Apart from that, there are a few nice bed and breakfasts in Lebanon proper, walking distance from the Golden Lamb. The one Shelly and I have visited is called Hardy’s Properties, and basically, they’re a family-owned block of three beautiful historic homes a short walk from the Golden Lamb. These would be a great fit for a group of folks to get together and rent a house, with a kitchen in it and everything, for the event. This is a true B&B scenario, with the addition of having the potential to enjoy having a kitchen you can use as you see fit. Al and Phyllis, the owners, are lovely folks, and Shelly and I wanted to do the first Stringtopia there but there wasn’t quite enough space to make it work. So we keep telling ourselves, well, maybe next time what we’ll do is make those the teacher lodgings, and stuff like that.

There are a few others in town, with the Silver High Manor one being walking distance to the Lamb, and the Hatfield Inn being a short drive away and in a country setting with jacuzzi suites and that sort of thing. In fact there are tons of interesting bed and breakfasts within about 10-15 miles, that might be worth looking into if that’s the experience you’re after.

Here’s a map of hotels in Lebanon. One thing you’ll probably notice is there’s not a lot of chain hotel action going on here. If that’s something you’re after, I would recommend looking for hotels in nearby Mason; Kings Island is a single exit down the highway (or you can take back roads if you enjoy that), and two exits down, there’s just about every imaginable kind of big chain hotel experience you could desire. These options, naturally, will require driving.

After the Kirkwood, my next pick for a hotel would be the Shaker Inn. It’s about a mile away, and you could walk it if you’re the kind of person who likes walking a mile or so. The Shaker Inn is a classic motel with kitchenette suites, locally owned and operated for decades, and whenever someone I know comes to town and for some reason doesn’t want to stay at the Golden Lamb, that’s where I send them. The Shaker Inn is the kind of hidden gem I always look for when I’m arranging my own travel, because I generally find if there is a place like this, it’s going to be a much more pleasant stay than a chain hotel unless it’s a pretty expensive chain hotel.

If walking distance is super critical to you (say, because you intend to have a few beers and stumble back to your room), AND you’re super budget conscious, then I’d recommend checking out the Budget Inn. I’ve never stayed there, but the word is it’s clean, good service, and very affordable.

There’s also the Knights Inn over in the fast food section of town and across from the Ace Hardware. This is a pretty basic hotel and I don’t know a lot about it, but I can tell you they’ve renovated it within the past couple of years. If you want easy-on-and-off-the-highway, and to be able to walk to fast food, convenience stores, gas, a cheap movie theater, discount supermarket, used bookstore, hardware store, Tire Discounters, garden shop, National Guard Armory, and the DMV, this would be the place to pick. I would not call it fancy by any means, but it seems serviceable. I wouldn’t be stressed out if my mother wanted to stay there. Of course, every so often someone likes to remind me my mother spent decades being a field anthropologist in South America, so my perspective may be skewed.

Other than the Hardy’s Properties, Silver High, and the Budget Inn, all of which are an easy walk, the Shaker Inn and Knight’s Inn are walkable if you don’t mind walking about a mile. There are sidewalks and whatnot. Any other option, however, I would recommend having a car, or planning to share rides with a fellow Stringtopian who does.

I think that’s about it for updates right now! Stay tuned! Registration is coming soon, and tomorrow, we’ll fill you on on t-shirts, totes, and the non-class events going on at Stringtopia.