The Globe and Mail,
Toronto, July 3, 2003
This summer, for the third year in a row, my husband is going to chamber music camp, leaving me home alone.
The first time was a relief. The deadline for the book I was writing loomed large, and I was delighted to help him find boxes for his music and sheets for his dormitory bed in exchange for two weeks of peace and quiet. I relished the idea of nestling on the living room couch at any hour without the aid of ear plugs to muffle the thundering sounds of our 7-foot Steinway grand. Not having to cook dinner was a bonus.
When my husband returned in the middle of August, it was clear that he had reached Nirvana in music camp. I was glad for him, but being a pessimist by nature, I had two disturbing thoughts. First, the fact that this euphoric state had nothing to do with me was perhaps an ominous sign for our marriage. Second, he would go to music camp every summer for the rest of his life.
My music camp prediction soon proved to be correct. Last summer my husband proposed spending three weeks at two different music camps.
Since I was no longer writing a book, staying home alone had lost its allure. Becoming a groupie and going with him didn’t appeal either. Each day contained as many hours of piano-playing as my husband could squeeze in—14 was the norm. Even for a die-hard fan, which I am not, that was too much. I had to find another way to entertain myself.
I considered visiting my daughters, but they have jobs and lives of their own in other cities, and although they could tolerate—even enjoy—a weekend with me, two or three weeks was out of the question.
The solution appeared when some friends came to visit. Pat, a writer from Washington, DC, was my maid of honor and closest confidante during our post-university years in book publishing in New York, but geography had separated us for nearly two decades. Jerry, an artist from Ottawa, was a relatively new friend whom I’d met, improbably, through my father-in-law. Together we hatched the idea of a road trip—three 60ish women driving almost 4000 kilometers from Montreal to Nova Scotia and back.
My husband, relieved of the guilt of abandoning me after 35 years of marriage, was enthusiastic. My daughters were proud. I would do something for myself, they said, be independent and strong.
Armed with advice from tourist bureaus, the CAA, and miscellaneous friends, we held a conference call and mapped out a route: In 12 days we would drive through three Canadian provinces, one American state, and take a ferry across the Bay of Fundy in order to see the tidal bore, Cape Breton, and three world-class botanical gardens.
From the moment our 1993 Camry pulled away from my Montreal house, I knew my daughters were right: I felt grown up operating in the outside world without my husband at my side. In a journal we tracked our expenses and mileage, rated our meals and bed and breakfast places, and chronicled our amazing encounters—with an artist in Quebec who had eaten nothing but fruit and nuts for seven years; with a dozen model composters in the New Brunswick Botanical Garden in Edmundston and 100 life-size scarecrows in the St. Lawrence River valley; with a Salvation Army mission in a suburban mall in New Minas, Nova Scotia, its worshipers sitting in their cars as if they were watching a drive-in movie.
Despite the maneuvers of sharing a bathroom, I loved being with women. Spurning the CDs and books on tape we had brought, we pursued the conversation into every highway and by-way. Over scallops in Digby, raspberries in Grand Pre, and bruschetta in St-Jean-Port-Joli, we talked unedited and uncensored about ourselves, our husbands, ex-husbands, children, stepchildren, siblings, parents, and friends. Six decades of personal and professional experience came alive against the backdrop of endless Maine woods and spectacular Cabot Trail vistas. We listened, empathized, laughed, acted silly, reveled in triumphs, and confessed sins we had contemplated or committed.
When we arrived back in Montreal, I felt euphoric—almost as euphoric as my husband seemed when he returned from music camp. A door had opened in my life. I had consolidated a new friendship and rediscovered an old one. And I had partially recaptured my own 20-something self—freer, not yet battered by responsibilities and the inevitable bumps of living. As I dipped my lobster in butter in Baddeck, I could see her on her lunch hour, giggling over a hamburger in a Manhattan coffee shop, with Pat seated across the table.
New research tells us that friendship is good for the health. I’ve known that secret for a long time, but now it’s got an extra time slot, one to call its own. As my husband started to make plans for music camp this summer, I began to plan, too. My daughter and son-in-law are moving from Boston to Chicago, and I’m going to spend a week helping them settle into their new apartment. But I’ve also offered to help Pat clean out her basement in Washington. Who knows what glorious memories we’ll recover amid the stacks of newspapers and discarded furniture?
And next year, I’ll be ready for another trip with my friends. I’ve already started collecting ideas.
Copyright © 1991 by Judy Sklar Rasminsky. This material may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.