Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's not about me; it's about you..or the other way around

Usually we get to know a lot about our Treehouse guests—from their cultural backgrounds to their
astrological signs. But instead of talking about themselves, Poornima and Peter asked questions about us.

For H: Tell us about your time in Australia (Nima had found my book in the treehouse, While In Darkness There Is Light). H traveled to Far North Queensland after graduating from Harvard in 1973 and met up with boarding school friend Charlie Dean on a commune run by American college dropout friends— all the details are in the book.

For me: What brings you to Vermont? In 1975 I came with a man who had spent autumns picking apples in Shoreham and was planning to go to medical school at UVM but ended up working for the Burlington newspaper, eventually running it. A relationship with a journalist is nearly as difficult as a relationship with a doctor—I learned the hard way.

We’re not used to having the tables turned on us. When you visit Fern Forest, it’s about you, not about us. But we like to keep the customers happy, so if they want to ask questions, we’ll give answers but try to put the focus back on the guests as soon as we can. It was a see-saw, back-and-forth game for two days.

Here’s what we learned about Poornima and Peter.

She was born in Calcutta and came to the U.S. with her parents when she was six. She met Peter (she calls him Pete) on a blind date, and they’ve been married for ten years. She takes classes in architecture at Yale and teaches ESL in the evenings. According to her sun and Chinese signs, she’s a bundle of friendliness. We agree.

Peter is a Nutmegger by birth. He dropped out of college because he just didn’t see the point. When he met Poornima (he calls her Nima), he was doing social work. After he married her, he went back to college and now is in a doctoral program at U Conn and working for Yale counseling incarcerated young men. According to his sun and Chinese signs, he has a big heart but doesn’t like to show it. Nima agrees.

They live in an old house outside New Haven. They have a Skye terrier named Duncan who came with them and loved sniffing around in the woods. That, folks, is about it.

Nima has a lilting voice that tumbles quickly to the end of a thought and then she sings the last few syllables, letting her words linger in the air, as if inviting us to jump in. But we’re comfortable with silence, living as we do in the woods. Not so comfortable talking about ourselves. H went to Harvard (8th generation to do so) and says he probably should have gone to Bowdoin, a smaller school where he might have done better academically and athletically (he was third line on Harvard’s hockey team). I came from Appalachian Mountain stock, forefathers moonshiners and bootleggers. We sometimes joke that my ancestors supplied his ancestors with their booze during Prohibition. My father worked for the U.S. Navy in D.C. and moved the family there, for which reason I think of myself as a city mouse rather than a country mouse.

So why am I now living in the country? And why didn’t H go to Bowdin? See—this talking about ourselves opens cans of worms we’d rather not savor.

We’d rather hear about Nima and Pete and managed to coerce out of them that they were married in traditional wedding clothing, Nima in a black sari. They wanted to elope rather than have the huge Indian wedding, but her parents would have none of that. Nima’s younger sister went the whole nine wedding yards, so they were happy for Nima to have a scaled down version of Indian nuptials. Pete is respectful of Nima’s heritage, but he’s still Catholic, not Hindi, which is fine with Nima.

We were a little worried when their car was gone early the next morning. H sleuthed around and saw that their stuff was still here, so we figured they’d taken Duncan out somewhere. They had. Nima likes the first light of morning, so they drove to the top of Lincoln Gap and walked the doggie around, taking pictures of the red and gold trees, the frost on the mountain. It’s gorgeous here, and we like it when our guests appreciate the surroundings as much as we do. That’s one thing that brought us together in spite of our dissimilar backgrounds—the glorious beauty of autumn. We all agreed on that—even Duncan.

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