It was a dark and stormy night [irrelevant to our story - but Snoopy always starts his novels this way] and the Anderson family were gathered around their fireplace [well actually a Chiminea on the patio behind the house, since they do not have a fireplace]. But our story begins a few days earlier.
Despite the bright sunshine this particular Wednesday in December was unusually cold on account of the wind. Jan had to hold onto her hat at she got into the car. Her daughter had flown in from Scotland the evening before and spent the night at a friend’s house. Today Jan and Terry had offered to drive the four hours to pick up the daughter they had not seen for four months. They had seen her for a few days in September but she’d spent the summer at Dartmouth taking classes with the rest of the sophomore class. The spring before that she was living near Conway, NH working at an environmental school teaching environmental science to fifth and sixth graders. So they were happy to drive the distance to spend a bit more time with their daughter.
Katherine had spent the fall term studying literature at the University of Glasgow on a foreign study program. On the way home they talked about her experiences.
"Katherine, how did you enjoy your classes in Scottish Popular Cultural and in Renaissance and Scottish literature,” asked Terry. “It was great,” replied Katherine.
“And I know that every Thursday all the kids from Dartmouth got together for dinner at your trip leader’s apartment. I’ll bet that was fun except for the weeks your group’s had to cook or clean up. With slightly more enthusiasm Katherine replied, “For sure.”
“Did you get do much traveling around Scotland? You didn’t talk too much about travel in your email. We know that you took the train up to Edinburgh a couple of times and we heard that you hiked 51 miles of the West Highland Way, from Loch Lomond to Fort William and climbed Ben Nevis. I’ll bet that was spectacular! Weren’t your feet sore?” “Sure were, Dad.”
“I really enjoyed you and Billy flying over to meet me in Ireland in November after my business meeting in Dublin was over. I’ll bet it was nice seeing part of Dublin with your friend Evan, who was studying at Trinity College. Did you enjoy our trip driving out to Galway and the Connemara Peninsula? The hike along the shore was great even if it was through the middle of a muddy sheep pasture. And wasn’t that a surprise running into, Leo, another friend from Dartmouth, studying in Galway?” “Absolutely!”
“It was nice that Mom was able to fly over and join us after we got back to Glasgow. Mom and I enjoyed looking around Glasgow while you were in classes. We especially liked the Kelvingrove Art Museum and the art school founded by Glasgow's favorite architect and artist, Charles Renee Mackintosh. We enjoyed driving down to northern England with you to see Hadrian's Wall. Wasn’t it great luck that the site along the wall that we wanted to visit just opened that morning after four months being closed due to Foot and Mouth Disease? And it was great that you noticed that the Cuban group, The Buena Vista Social Club, was in town. We loved the movie and being able to get tickets made a perfect end to our weekend.” “It was very nice, Dad,” again enthusiasm was evident to the trained eye.
“But after being away for 3 months, isn’t it nice to be home? We sure missed you.” “Of course!”
“Are you looking forward to getting back to Dartmouth next term and seeing all your friends? I’ll bet you’ll enjoy living in that apartment off campus. But you have got to promise that you will get your major pinned down before the end of the year. You are a Junior.” “I will, Dad, I promise.”
At a weak moment after Christmas dinner, Katherine asked Dad if he had any pictures from his other trips this year. Big mistake – she’d forgotten about the three hour show she’d gotten after his trip to Australia. After a week of business meetings in Tasmania in February, he’d taken a couple of extra weeks to tour around before flying home. He did some hiking in Tasmania, drove along the coast of Victoria and visited friends, the Camerons, in Melbourne and then flew up to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of scuba and snorkeling and a jeep tour of the rain forest. Finally, he spend two days hiking around Uluru (aka Ayer’s Rock) and Kata Tjuta near Alice Springs in the outback. He’d enjoyed it in spite of the heat and flies. And he’d taken 384 pictures on his digital camera.
But Katherine came to her senses too late, Terry had gotten out his laptop and logged into his website (http://www.gti.net/tla) to show her pictures of his trip to Brazil and then all the others on the hard disk that had not been put up on the website, from Brazil and Ireland and Scotland…
On his two week business trip to Brazil, he had not been able afford any extra time to tour, but since the meeting was at a beach resort in Porto Seguro he was still able to swim in the ocean every day and hike and kayak along the beach. June is late fall there, but at 15° south latitude it was still sunny and warm or even hot. And he enjoyed the local culture, music and food in the village most evenings. And took a few hundred more pictures.
While recalling the interesting places his job with Lucent had taken him, he thought back about his luck in surviving the massive layoff Lucent has had this year, dropping from 150,000 employees in mid 1999 to about 55,000 by the end of 2001. It had been hard to say goodbye to over 60% of the colleagues in his department, many of them close friends. His was still not sure he had made the right decision to pass up an early retirement offer. “Maybe taking the retirement package and moving to another company would have been better,” he thought. “But then I might also be still looking for that ‘other company’ as some of my friends are.” Most of them had not been eligible for the early retirement package and had just gotten a few weeks’ severance pay.
Later that week, Katherine asked her mother how the new school year was going so far. Jan said, “That new school district still doesn’t know how to operate a high school and I’m glad that I’ve decided to retire after next school year. Besides, 32 years is enough! I want to have more time to travel with Daddy and enjoy my other interests: pottery, writing, and drawing and dreaming up projects for Daddy – or at least that’s they way he sees them. Actually I help with them a lot.”
She could spend all year living the way she had last summer. Reading whatever and whenever she wanted. Throwing pots and taking them to the art studio to glaze and fire them. Although she would have to find another place to put all those mugs she threw while perfecting her handles. The kitchen windowsill was full!
Later in the evening, Jan checked her email and found a message from one of her friends asking if NJ life had gotten back to normal since September 11. Jan wrote back, “The family is fine. Two members of the Forum in Manhattan, where we worship each week, had been at work in the towers, one on the 42nd floor, but both made it out. But when Terry and I went into the city for a worship service only four days after the attack we found police guarding the street in front of our church (there is also a police station in the block) and all the members were a bit tense. We spent most of the service just sharing our experiences and feelings. Several others had friends or colleagues affected. But over the next few weeks most learned to deal with the pain and loss and return to nearly normal life.” Jan was glad that she could use email to keep in touch. It had been much easier to use email when Katherine was in Scotland with the five hours difference in time and cost of calling. It was a lot quicker way to keep in contact with old friends too. Much easier than writing a letter. She’d even chosen an email address she thought her friends could remember: “firstname.lastname@example.org.” (remember that as: “just jan” without the ‘u’).
Having the family together for Christmas made Jan think about how much she’d missed Katherine at Thanksgiving being so far away in Scotland, but spending it with her sister and parents in Tennessee did make it easier. “It was nice that you could fly down to my sister’s with me this year,” she said to Terry, “it was so relaxing to just talk and read, go for walks and enjoy the view over Lake Norris from the deck.”
Terry lamented that his parents were spending Christmas alone this year. “I got out to see them a couple of times during the year and I helped them move to an assisted living center in Napa. And I plan to visit them again in January. I’m glad my sister, Karen, could visit them just after Thanksgiving, but it’s still sad that none of the family can be in Napa with them at Christmas. I’m glad my Aunt Francis and Uncle Monroe will be there for the day.”
Terry and Jan knew Katherine was home because the phone hadn’t rung that much in months. All the friends she hadn’t seen since summer were calling. Those she’d spent the summer with on campus, especially those she’d shared the house with and the high school friends that were also home for Christmas. We’d given up even bothering to answer it when it rang – we just let Katherine get it.
But the next call wasn’t for Katherine. It was one of Jan’s book club friends asking her about the book they were supposed to be discussing at the next monthly meeting. Jan was presenting the book next month and her friend wanted to make sure she was reading the right book. She’d called earlier when Jan was out. Jan has been tutoring a couple of students outside school and one of them had invited her out to dinner to thank her.
Christmas had been a great time, but lives move on. Katherine left for Boston to spend New Years with friends before starting the new term at Dartmouth. Terry packed for a trip to visit his parents in Napa the first week of January and made reservations for his business trip to Geneva in February. And Jan finished preparing for her book club presentation and another week of lesson plans. Another year begins.
Will Katherine actually choose a major before the end of the school year? How many pictures Terry will take in Geneva? How many window sills will be covered with mugs by next fall? You will learn these and many other things in next year’s chapter of The Great Anderson Novel.
[Pink slip arrives from another publisher, rejecting the novel and requesting that no further manuscripts be submitted them, but offering the address of one of their competitors.]