A triennial reunion

Carolyn Miller, Marilyn Cooper and I (Paula Smith) were best friends in high school. Three young women from humble stock, if our last names are any indication.

Carolyn, Marilyn, Paula, 1988

Carolyn, Marilyn, Paula, Echo Bay 1988

Twenty-six years ago, Carolyn was a visiting professor at Michigan Tech in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Michigan Tech, where Marilyn was on the English faculty until she retired last year. Just day’s drive from Echo Bay, and I hadn’t seen either of them for years. They made the trip to visit me. It was the beginning of the e-mail age, and we stayed more or less in touch—the two of them more than me, since their careers brought them together on a regular basis.

Carolyn, Paula, Marilyn, 2008

Carolyn, Paula, Marilyn, Houghton 2008

Then, in 2008, Marilyn hosted a get-together at her camp on Little Traverse Bay, near Houghton, Michigan. Three years later, we met again, this time in Guanajuato, and this time including Carolyn’s husband, Carl.

Paula, Marilyn, Carolyn 2011. Not sure why Carolyn has a clothespin on her shirt...

Paula, Marilyn, Carolyn, Guanajuato 2011. Not sure why Carolyn has a clothespin on her shirt…

And now, three years after that, Jack and I are just home from a four-day visit to Carolyn and Carl’s home in Raleigh, NC (where Carolyn is still on the faculty of NCSU). We seem to have established a rhythm here, though perhaps we won’t wait so long next time. In a year, both Carolyn and Carl will be retired, too, and we’ll all be freer to plan get-togethers, perhaps in exotic locations!


Here we are again, just a few days ago. IMG_1333


Birds, birds. Marilyn is an avid birder, Carolyn and Carl perhaps a bit less so, but far more than either Jack or me. We spent a lot of time gazing at the colourful collection of cardinals, bluebirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches gathering on the elaborate bird feeding device hanging just off Carolyn and Carl’s deck. If you look closely, I think you’ll see a woodpecker on the suet. Their house is in the middle of Raleigh, but overlooks an expanse of woods. I remember Carolyn commenting that my home reminded her of the home I grew up in; hers did the same for me.

A day trip to pottery country, centered around Seagrove, NC. Along any nearby road, you could stop at ten pottery studios in a mile. We went to the information centre/museum in Seagrove, and then visited half a dozen potters, some obviously old and established families of potters, others relatively new in the area and—and perhaps to the craft. IMG_3077Most interesting was one with an elaborate, four-chamber, wood-fired kiln outside. I wasn’t so crazy about the pottery, though it was clearly well-crafted. Bright, glassy, solid colours mostly. But the potter was at work and eager to chat, telling us about the history of pottery in the area and of his own family, which has been making and selling pottery for four (or was it five?) generations.

North Carolina is rushing into spring. Daffodils everywhere (except in Carolyn’s yard, to her disgust), trees about to burst into blossom or leaf, clear blue skies with temperatures in the mid 20s (70s) after the first afternoon of cold rain. Interesting that, after leaving Guanajuato where it’s warm and sunny every day, spring still felt like—well—spring. I was marveling at the freshness of the air, the smell and the feel of what would be late April at home, and responding to the warm temperatures as though I’d just emerged from winter.

IMG_3088A walk along a wonderful walking/biking path from Carolyn and Carl’s house to the Art Museum where we saw a number of interesting outdoor exhibits, including this cloud chamber–which is essentially a walk-in pinhole camera. Close the door, and it’s totally dark except for the images of trees and clouds that are reflected on the walls and floor through a small hole in the top.

And this: “chairs in trees”. IMG_3092The light wasn’t great, so you have to look carefully for some of them.

Lots of good food. Barbequed pork sandwiches, a local specialty. Fried green tomato BLTs. Fine French food and—on our final night—a tapa restaurant where the Spanish owner/cook/server provided both fine photoMCfood and superb entertainment. Dessert consisted of four flavours of ices, including passion fruit. His spiel informed us that passion fruit grows only in tropical environments, and Carolyn dared to challenge him, saying she’d seen it growing on beaches in North Carolina. A battle of google sites ensued between the two of them, while Jack and Carl recorded the show. photoMC2Somehow, the conversation—if you can call it that—morphed into a passionate defense of the USA as the world’s best hope and, by implication, the best place to live. We put up a feeble defense of Canada, and he acknowledged that Canada was okay—but really, where would it be without the US? It really was time to leave!

So now we’re back in Guanajuato for one more month. It should be a quiet month, and we both have some hope that we’ll begin to accomplish all the things we’d planned to be working on all winter. Jack has some photo and other art projects in mind; I have a number of writing projects to work on. It will be the middle of April before we know it, and we’ll be beginning to migrate back north.

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7 Responses to A triennial reunion

  1. – just a quick chime in about passion flowers in NC. Alice and I had them in Raleigh growing along a fence line there where the birds kindly reseeded them annually. We often ate them off the vines. Also, I grew up at the coast in NC and there were many varieties of pasiflores growing there.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Those hairstyles in 1988 are something!

  3. Thanks for this grand documentation of the weekend–and the occasions leading up to it. And thank god you don’t have a picture of the three of us in high school.

  4. pdunning says:

    But how could I have overlooked the birds of paradise??

  5. You mention our “humble stock.” As I recall, in high school we labeled ourselves the “plebians.”

  6. Janet Inksetter says:

    The clothespin had something to do with remembering the keys!

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