Warm, mouth-watering, home-baked sugar cookies are piled high on a white-rimmed plate. Green tea in French, hand-painted teacups are on the dining room table; a hand-painted sugar bowl is nearby to sweeten the sipping. A lace antique tablecloth wraps the room in warmth as Mrs. Barbara Higinbotham sits down to talk with me.
Mrs. Higinbotham is never in a hurry. “Mrs. Higs,” as I’ve come to call her, does not have 100 things to do, or at least she never acts like she does. She only has to do this very present thing and be in the moment with us now. She embodies the art of the welcome, of the present moment.
Mrs. Higs does not have an iPhone 5 or a laptop and she is sharp as a whip and up on every news event. She and Mr. Higinbotham read the print edition of the Corvallis Gazette Times and watch the 5 p.m. regular news show on television. Mr. Higs watches his sports shows on the television in the paneled family room which doubles as a movie and game room.
When we vist, my twin boys and my youngest son love to play Pac-Man in that paneled room on that television set, and that Pac-Man game is the old-fashioned kind, where you shoot at the little Pac-Men with hand-held guns. That Pac-Man video game is slower than slow, but my boys like it anyway.
Through the sliding glass door in the dining room, on the covered porch, I see a white-collared button-down shirt and polyester blue slacks and black socks hanging on a clothesline. The apples overflow in the red wheel barrel near the green barn in front of the creek, which is bordered by tall, overgrown blackberries, which Mrs. Higs makes into homemade blackberry cobbler served with vanilla ice cream.
You hear the hum of the riding lawn mower and you see Mr. Higs in his suspenders and flannel shirt as he takes my twin sons and my youngest son on what they call “the tractor.” They go in circles around the large, tree-lined, grassy property. Mr. Higs strolls along with my boys and he talks to them and chuckles and encourages them not to go too fast. And this moment is one thousand times better than any shoot-them-up-kill-anything-in-site video games that consume my boys when we are back in suburban Portlandia.
This is a different kind of moment.
Firewood is crackling in the brick-encased fireplace in the living room next to the dining room, where Mrs. Higs sits with me and my Rachie and Jeanie. Jeanie has been my best friend since first grade, when we lived in front of Dixon Creek.
Mrs. Higs pours me another cup of green tea and she offers me a second sugar cookie, and though my 21st century self tells me I should not have another cookie because I am always on a diet, I decide to indulge anyway, because somehow, a diet does not matter right now, and I savor this sweet conversation and company. We talk and we share stories with one another. How are the kids doing? How are your parents ? Your family? How is school ? Church? The neighborhood? Your writing? How’s life?
We speak of days gone by, an era ago.
And I am back on Arthur Circle in Corvallis, Oregon as a blonde-8-year-old wearing a skirt and button-down shirt. That’s where Mrs. Higinbotham and my friend Jeanie lived in a ranch style, three-bedroom blue house and that is where Mrs. Higinbotham would be peering out of the kitchen window watching us play “Na-Na” with Jeanie’s two older brothers whom I sometimes had a childhood secret crush on.
We’d holler, “Na-Na” and then run away and Jeanie’s brothers and the other neighborhood boys would chase us around Arthur Circle until we wore ourselves out.
It’s then that we’d all go back into that ranch-style house on Arthur Circle, invited in by the welcome scent of warm sugar cookies and the soft words of Mrs. Higinbotham in the kitchen, greeting us. She’d be smiling and offering us those just-baked cookies on a plate, which she placed on the family room table.
Mrs. Higinbotham was always there.
And, while today Mrs. Higinbotham offers us green tea to savor with her sugar cookies, back then, she served those sugar cookies with a tall glass of cold milk.
We were welcome. We still are.
[Updated 11-12-15: Sadly, Mrs. Higinbotham passed away today, Nov. 12, 2015. This edited essay was originally published on the Huffington Post Parents Oct. 22, 2012: HUFFINGTON POST- Parents Link to Story]