A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively


When the potent process of dismemberment and dispersal became unavoidable after my aunt’s death, the entire place – its furnishings, its functions – seemed like a set of coded allusions to a complex sequence of social change and historical clamour.

You know it’s fall when I open a cookbook.

I know, I know, according to the calendar, fall is still some weeks away, but if you live in New England, you’ll recognize that sharp, crisp air for what it really is: my favorite season. The recurring death of a year attracts something in me. It makes me want to sit in the porch rocker and drink hot cider spiked with rum. It makes me weird with ambition, and, oddly, simultaneously wasteful of the shrinking daylight hours. It makes me want to cook. Well, it makes me want to make apple crisp. And pumpkin pie. That’s pretty much it.

This weekend was all about woolly bears and bribing Michael back into the world with the promise of a visit to a bookstore. It was about cleaning the freezer after a bag of processed tomatoes leaked all over. It was about sorting through winter clothes in the basement. It was about the boys making a pile of brush in hopes of a bonfire. It was waking up in the very early morning and seeing my breath while I walked the hesitant but desperate dogs. It was about discovering I need a new pair of jeans and deciding (totally unrelated) that it would be nice to lose seven pounds. And then eating the apple crisp. And freezing a dozen baggies of basil given by my neighbor, delivered by my proud six-year-old. Who traveled everywhere that day with a woolly bear on his person.

I also sorted through my closet and deleted a garbage bag full of clothes I will never wear again. I’m really good at this. I’m missing the sentimental gene (my mother is sentimental and an excellent cook, and I think both those skipped my generation) and I have no qualms about shoving previously loved dresses, shirts, shoes, everything into the bag for the thrift store. I can do it to boys’ clothes, too. I’ve saved a onesie or two and a couple of T-shirts and the sweaters, but other than that, pftt. Gone. It’s because I love the fall. I am good at goodbyes. Someday my boys will head to college and wonder why their mother is so cold hearted. It’s the fall, I’ll explain. It makes me efficient.

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