Halfway down the mountain between my house and town is a stretch of road that looks like it ends in a house. It doesn’t of course, rather it curves in front of it like the arced track of an amusement park ride. The people who live there are Charlie and Anne. In their seventies, they tend to their seventy acres or so of open land often appearing at varying distances from the house in their get-ups. Anne on the tractor, Charlie on the tractor, Anne in one of her pear trees cutting the branches to nubbins, Charlie mending a stone wall, Anne putting the scarecrow up in the garden, Charlie with firewood in tow, Anne tending to her rhubarb and chickens, Charlie, partially seen in his little barn, building his wooden sailboat that he plans to sail on in the large pond they have way out back.
I know Anne better than Charlie. She and I annually monitor a few hundred acres of conservation land behind my house. We’ve marked its boundaries with fluorescent tape. We’ve walked on abandoned beaver dams together to reach colonies of invasive purple loosestrife so we could eradicate them. We’ve forded many streams. Anne is in perpetual smile with the turgid pink cheeks of a blushing sixteen year old girl and with the same ease of going into manic slumber party laughter so infectious that when she is telling a humorous story it is her inspiring giddiness that one falls for. Often the story isn’t finished because varying degrees of hysteria had set into all those listening before the end.
Anne is just this side of dumpling yet manages to fall very gracefully, usually finding a soft hummock or the like to land upon. She generally falls once per outing and each time it happens she tells the story of how she was once surveying the land with a local farmer’s son (a man renowned for his looks and physique and who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Brawny paper towel man) and how she fell but he was there to catch her. “He is a volunteer fireman after all” she’d say slyly. This soon became another story that typically ended in hysteria. It had variants. I one time called the farmer’s son’s embrace the “sturdy velvet arms of a swooning sofa”. More laughter.
Charlie is another matter. A lawyer, he is a soft-spoken and somewhat restrained Democrat in this mostly conservative town that is also mostly dead on the vine. He told me once that the backlash we were seeing with ultra-conservatives was directly due to “The sixties happening too fast for them, they weren’t ready”. That was in 2000.
Just over a month ago, Charlie entered a raffle. It is held yearly at a library in a neighboring town. Someone donates a vintage automobile and the winning ticket gets it. Proceeds, ostensibly, go to the library. This year they were raffling off a restored to mint red 1952 MG TD and Charlie, along with four thousand others, bought their tickets. Charlie bought a single ticket and won. He told the local paper’s reporter that “the car has enormous sentimental value because while I was serving in the Navy I saw the same year car in 1953 while walking past an auto dealership with a friend”. He went on to say that since they both fell in love with the car they decided to both purchase it. Charlie’s friend got transferred and Charlie bought him out. The only difference was, that car was green and the car Charlie won is red.
“I had my first date with Anne in it” Charlie went on to tell the reporter. “I also drove it around the West Coast and back to Connecticut after I was released from active duty”. He further said he always regretted selling that car, deciding to eventually trade it in for a used thirteen hundred dollar Jaguar. Charlie expressed how he was thrilled to get a car which reminded him of his youth in a happier era. A picture of Anne and Charlie in their newly won convertible MG, Anne with a slightly glazed and serious smile, was included in the article.
Each time I drive down that optical illusion of a road that looks like it’s headed straight for their dining room, I think of Anne and Charlie who would always wave to me regardless of what they were doing: Anne waving and smiling while perilously perched on her pear tree without a volunteer fireman or hummock to catch her. Charlie nodding as he mowed the tall July grass on his tractor. So my thoughts were no different as I drove past their house late one recent night under a full moon. I thought of the extraordinary coincidence of the red and green 1952 MG TD’s. I thought of red and green as the colors of the Christmas approaching and how green signaled Charlie to go with Anne and red symbolized how Charlie stopped with Anne and never traded her in. But Charlie and Anne had long before gone to bed in their white house set in its illuminated fields of snow. Instead, I was greeted by something else. Something small and unmoving on the road. It didn’t move an inch as I swerved around it on the road’s curve. It was something I’d never seen on all the walks I’ve taken in the woods and fields either with or without Anne. It was a partridge. Unswerving in my associations, I couldn’t help but think it had flown down from one of Anne’s pear trees to greet me.