I am an inveterate loner and pretty much have been since day one. Raised in a large family, I was born into two great privileges — love and stability — but the very size of the operation meant I was regularly left to my own devices. I spent long solo hours in the woods and ditches, driving a tractor, and reading stacks and stacks of books up in my bedroom or out on the porch. I came to love solitude, whether I was truly alone, or simply alone in my head even in the midst of the day’s happy tumult.
Yesterday we had a gathering at our farmhouse, an informal group of friends and relatives who arrived less by invitation than coincidence. I had been on the road for most of the previous two weeks and had come home in the wee hours and thus arose perhaps a tad after the roosters and in fact well after the guests had arrived. Some were out walking, some were picking tomatoes, others were chopping apples gathered from beneath our big tree.
Eventually — as with all the best get-togethers — everyone wound up in the kitchen. There were three or four conversations crisscrossing the countertop as the meal came together. After the team prep, we moved to the dining room table and ate lasagna layered with tomatoes that only a few hours ago had lain whole in the sun. Meanwhile the scent of apple crisp drifted from the oven.
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My wife is not a loner. Her heart is full when the house is full. I forget that sometimes, much to my discredit. In fact, when we were dating, I often arrived to find her house filled with friends gathered for a meal. When I close my eyes and recall those moments what I see is her smile.
So much time has passed since then. So many chapters. So many days apart. And so many days together but quiet. And now this morning our kitchen is filled with food and friends and noise and her smiling again.
At one point under the guise of fetching coffee beans I stepped out of the house and snuck up to my little workroom above the garage, where I sat in my old green chair for five minutes just to feel the silence. I was not unhappy, I was not hiding, I wasn’t escaping anyone, I simply love the feel of solitude. Shortly thereafter, bag of coffee beans in hand, I returned to the house and its friendly noise.
As the coffee brewed, I looked around the kitchen. The conversation was once again running two or three separate threads. But the vibe was still united, and my wife was still smiling, and it occurred to me that my heart was feeling good in this mix, and we can too easily overdo our own mythology. I am indeed content when I am alone, be it by census or in mind. But it is possible to go stale in our own silence, and there is refreshment and joy to be had in sharing what’s left of the garden and the windfalls and the words of others, and sometimes the self-declared loner is revivified by joining the crowd.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.