Map of Happy

I read Ann Cannon’s latest column and decided that I need this writing exercise in my life. So let’s do this.

If I drew a map of my happy places, they would include my Grandma and Grandpa Burnett’s house in Clinton, Utah. It sat at the end of a long gravel driveway, behind three massive pines in the center of the lawn. It was a gray wooden pioneer house—the house my Grandpa Milton had grown up in, and it seemed that every time I visited, there was a pot roast in the oven and Fruit Loops on the table (I wanted just the Fruit Loops). We listened to Engelbert Humperdink records on the record player. I pumped the pedals on the old player piano and watched the keys play themselves. I explored the figurines in the Art Deco china cupboard, a relic of my Great-grandma England’s. I asked my Grandpa to read me the dog entry in the encyclopedia. This was a quiet, slow, contented place. I felt loved there.

The river bottom at the cabin in Idaho is a place of cool, clear recollection. The bridge, the grove of cottonwoods, the dirt path beside the creek, the buck fence, the cattails, the river rocks—I’ve known them since I was a baby. I took my boys there when they were babies. The children are getting big, and we still go, reliably. I occasionally walk there alone, and when it’s dusk and the air is cold on my hot skin and the inferno that is my life, the river breaks my fever.

Jeff and I went to the Laie, Hawaii temple three years ago when we took a trip to the north shore of Oahu. The entire vacation was a dreamboat of peacefulness and beauty, but my happy spot is in the historic LDS temple, which faces the ocean and sits at the base of a lush mountainside. It’s a small building, relative to newer designs, and it has the loveliness and charm of an old home—unique, grounded in history, a bridge to an earlier time and the people who lived then.  I felt a deep connection to Jeff there, like we were fellow warriors in a violent, ongoing conflict. We were together, united in purpose, yet in a state of rest from our rigorous parenting life. That, and the beach, which I’ve written about before, are bits of paradise on my memory map.

Sugarhouse Park, in the neighborhood of our first home, holds the imprint of my days as a new mother, and symbolizes growing. Whoever designed that park deserves a prize. Its composition in tandem with the landscape—the slope of the lawns to the pond, framed by mature trees, before the backdrop of Mount Olympus—is what classic paintings are made of. I walked to that park nearly every day, three seasons of the year during the years when Henry was little, and almost as much when Jack joined the family. It was our daily destination. The playground, the shade, the ducks, the walking loop. I circled that park probably a thousand times with my other young-mom friends living on my street, and two streets over. We pushed our children in jogging strollers and talked our way through the enormous shift that becoming mothers had wrought on our lives.

My parents’ backyard is an acre-sized haven. I floated there in the pool on a spring evening when my high school peers were at prom and I totally wasn’t. I mowed the huge lawn, and I did it without a self-propelled lawnmower. The Joe Muscolino Band played raucous hits on the patio at our wedding reception while Jeff and I embraced and danced. Now Henry mows the lawn and my kids spend summertime in that pool, with my parents in the shade nearby. We are living on borrowed time in that place. My parents struggle to keep it up, even as their health wavers. That backyard is bittersweet to me. It was an ideal place to grow up. Perfection. But it won’t last, and I mourn my childhood home. It represents a phase of my life that has passed by, with more changes to come.

The sea-cliff walk at Howth, Ireland reminds me of a time when I was not yet encumbered by my current, strenuous life. I was an undergraduate student. Jeff and I had been married only nine months, but when the opportunity arose to go on a literary tour of Ireland with Elree Harris and Georgiana Donovan of the English Department at Westminster College (along with my sister Kate), Jeff encouraged me to snatch it up. So I did, and Kate and I explored Dublin, ancient monastic ruins in the countryside, formal gardens, and plenty of pastry shops. One day, we went with another set of red-headed sisters in our group (what? how? I honestly forgot about this detail until just now) on a train ride out of the city. Our cab driver from the airport to the B&B told us that if we saw and did anything while we were here, it should be Howth. It was a little hamlet on the water. There were cafes and shops and boats. We found the sea-side path and set out, walking on pure sunshine (very un-Irish) and bending coastal grasses. The path traced the edge of a cliff with waves breaking heartily on the rocky walls below us. We saw lots of birds and almost no people. It was a scene from a movie, a vignette from a love story, a magazine photo-shoot location. The cliff walk at Howth filled my lungs with air, making me light enough, if I really wanted, to run and jump and float up, drone-like, to watch the four red-haired girls–each a pair of sisters—in a state of enchantment, soaked with sun, treading on green, and walking in a line along the wall where the sea met land.

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