- My Mother’s Jewelry
The first time I saw Reggie Newcomb I had no idea how important he would become in my life. He is just not someone I ever would’ve met if we hadn’t moved next door to him. I was out mowing the grass— my very own lawn—a couple of weeks after we’d moved into our new house, and there was Reggie, a tall, heavy man, hair military short, sweating as he carefully mowed over-lapping swaths on his small front lawn. I waved, my best imitation of friendly-but-not-intrusive Vermont greeting. He gestured in my direction, hard to decipher if it was neighborly or dismissive, but I decided to be optimistic, maneuvering my mower to the patch of grass closest to his yard. He pushed his mower next to mine where we stood side by side, but since he didn’t turn his off, I didn’t either, and we shouted our hellos. He smiled, one of those smiles where the lips pull back showing teeth, but the eyes never change. I could see Reggie Newcomb wasn’t happy to have Ruth and me for his new neighbors.
When we’d moved to the pristine isolation of New Canaan Village into the little farmhouse on Romance Lane, we thought we’d finally arrived at a place where we could [End Page 26] stay put. The village was straight out of a Vermont Life photo essay, and even the name of the road promised us a future of happiness. The day we first saw the house it was just a shell, but I could tell it would be home. Ruth and I were good at making decisions quickly, at least when it came to houses. We made an offer that afternoon and immediately started talking to the builder about knocking down some walls, putting up others. We wanted the back porch screened in so we could sleep out there on hot summer nights, already imagining tucking Noah into bed, the three of us listening to the rustling of small nocturnal animals and the stream as we drifted off to sleep.
It was a wonderful space.
Ruth and I had already lived together for ten years in Madison and when it was time to leave there we were heading to Oregon, a PhD program for her, a social work job for me. That’s when we got the news that my mother had cancer. We changed direction, and moved to Boston to be close by. Ruth finagled a last minute admission to graduate school, and I was lucky enough to land a job as a hospital administrator. Life in Boston was full of work and new friends. We were near enough to visit my parents often, and far enough away to maintain our privacy. My mother had surgery, then a year of chemotherapy. Her cancer went into remission.
But something was still missing. Finally, after months and months of endless talking, listening, disagreeing, negotiating—this wasn’t something you could compromise about—Ruth and I agreed that the time was right for a baby. There were lots of arrangements to make; it took almost a year of trying, but I finally got pregnant. Ruth finished her degree, and when she was offered her first faculty position at a small college in northern Vermont the timing seemed perfect. I’d quit my job and we’d move north together; the baby would be born in Vermont, I’d stay home for several months, and then find work. I wasn’t much worried about whether it was really in my field or not. At this stage I was more dedicated to being a mother than to my career anyway.
We left our home in Boston and moved north. That first year we rented a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse to see what it was like to live in the country. After the noise of city life I relished the silence, the isolation, and being surrounded by fields where cows grazed. And it turned out that I was one of those women who love being pregnant, feeling beautiful and serene as I...