Well, not exactly. How much happiness can one really have when the wind sounds as if a freight train is barrelling right for your living room window, whipping sheets of icy snow off drifts already 10 feet high and whirling them in a vortex of blinding white? How happy can one truly be when the prospect of sending the dogs out for morning potty involves bundling them into coats and virtually pushing them out the door where they stand on the porch and look at you with abject dismay and disbelief that you would send them out into this dangerous, frozen tundra?
No happiness here in Michigan on this frigid Sunday morning ~ at least, not outside the confines of our toasty, warm house, where the coffee is hot, eggs have been freshly scrambled, sprinkled with chives and bacon bits, and piled on crispy wheat toast. This makes me happy.
As does my reading this morning. After spending the week with two gloomy-gus tales, I went straight for an author whose work I knew would comfort me.
Laurie Colwin is a big favorite of mine – I’ve read Family Happiness several times, most recently just a few months ago. Happy All the Time is one of her better known novels, and although I’m not currently reading it, I like the title, so decided to use it for this morning’s post.
I picked up a trade paperback copy of A Big Storm Knocked it Over at library sale last week, and since the title at least seemed appropriate for the weather outside, decided to delve in, and I’m happy to say it’s just the kind of reading I needed.
Like most of Colwin’s work, it’s an understated, quietly comic, and very character driven look at relationships – families, couples, friends, colleagues. In this novel, Jane Louise, a book designer, and Teddy Parker, and environmental chemist, are a typically well educated couple, bordering on middle age, who have recently married and are beginning a family. Neither of them has had a particularly rewarding childhood, and are anxious to forge their own version of a happy family. They work quite hard at this task, in an almost naively child-like way, and one can’t help but smile fondly at them as they embark on this adventure.
How simple it could be! The answer to the problem of being anything was being it. How admirable Teddy was! From the ashes of his broken childhood he had formed a decision to be a cheerful person, a do-gooding scientific type with a knowledge of English literature. That he had undercurrents of sadness as long and deep as a river was not the point. He had claimed a territory for himself and did not think too much about the complications. People settled on what they were going to be and were it…
Maybe being a mother, Jane Louise thought, would somehow make her immune to edges, snags, surprises, having passes made at her in sunlit studies by overzealous writers. She would have a baby and be all of a piece. The world would fall, gently as snow, into an attractive shape. She would find her place in the celestial order…
One of the things I like best about Colwin’s writing is her knack for domestic description. A food writer, as well as a fictionalist, Colwin’s books are always infused with wonderful descriptions of cooking and kitchens and warm domesticity in the best, modern sense. When I’m reading a Colwin novel, I find myself wanting to run out to the market and gather ingredients for a rich stew, or to bake bread from scratch so I can knead the fragrant dough on a floury surface. I yearn for walks in the country, or weekends spent at the cottage on the lake.
Jane Louise was an early riser. She liked her hour of solitude. She had lived alone for a good part of her adult life, and she needed that hour to collect her thoughts. She put Teddy’s old cashmere turtleneck over her nightgown, slipped on wooly socks and slippers, and went downstairs to light the stove. The sky was an intense, cloudless blue. The day blazed up before her. She put the kettle on and got the coffee she always brought to the lake out of the fridge…Jane Louise was very particular; she brought her own filters too.
She dressed, rummaged through Teddy’s jacket for the car keys, and set out for Gartner’s General Store and Butcher, where you could also get the paper. She thought she would make a large pot of bean soup, and leave the leftovers for Eleanor to have when she came home from Boston.
Reading Colwin’s novels are much like enjoying the comfort foods she often writes about cooking – the roast chickens and bean soups, the chocolate cakes and toast with homemade blackberry jam. But along with the comfort is a tinge of sadness, as I recall Colwin’s untimely death in 1992 at the age of 48. “She was 48 years old when she went to bed on the evening of Oct. 23, 1992, in the snug SoHo apartment where she lived with her husband and their young daughter. She never woke up. It was heart failure, and unexpected,” writes her friend, journalist Jonathan Yardley.
So if I cant’ be happy all the time on this cold Sunday morning, I can at least be happy to spend time in the warm glow of a good writer and in the fictional company of her characters.
Now tell me, what’s making you happy on this Sunday morning?