In the puddles, I see pictures of past and present
The red-brick plaza outside my window on a gray city street is puddled from the morning's rain. Each drop creates small circular reflections of passing pedestrians. Elsewhere, spring has brought a canopy of green leaves and delicate pink, white, and lilac blossoms. The only colors here, however, are variations on brick red and gray - except for the occasional purple umbrella or yellow slicker.
It wouldn't be the first spring that has rained its way into summer. People seem to forget that this happens, but I don't - because I enjoy the rain. I'd be squooshing barefoot through mud puddles if the city offered any.
Instead, I enjoy watching the scene from my window. Beyond the sidewalks and shiny street, past a block of low gray commercial structures, stands a large red-brick corner building. Third-story windows overlook the neighborhood, and the steeply sloped gray roof is punctuated by gables, chimneys, and dormer windows. Two metal rods reach up from the gables, suggesting there once may have been weather vanes.
It's the building and the rain combined that speak to me this morning - and the accent is decidedly Dutch or Flemish. It leads thought back to another rainy morning and other red-brick buildings. The evening before, the ship's mate had announced at the dinner table of our 12-passenger freighter: "Tomorrow, we'll be in Antwerp."
It would be my first sight of Europe as I arrived for a year of university study abroad.
The following morning brought the same late September weather we'd had crossing the Atlantic: a steady, persistent gray rain. The bow waves, like streamers of gray satin, surged gently past our hull, as the tug drew us up channel - past the jutting teeth of docks - to our berth at the end of a long cobblestoned wharf. Gray puddles between the stones were streaked with dull red - reflections from the row of low red-brick warehouses that faced us as we disembarked. Their traditional corbie-stepped facades disappeared into gray mist. "Corbie stepped" is a term I found in a book on Dutch architecture in New England. I'm not sure what they call the style in The Netherlands or Belgium or the other European cities where Dutch architects were the architectural avant-garde for the renewal of decaying medieval towns. And while it was corbies who perched on the steps in New England, perhaps in Europe it was storks, since they are known to nest on roofs.
But memory doesn't linger with that scene in Antwerp. It returns to another new city for me - Boston, where I found my first job after returning from Europe. My rented room was in an old building (no longer there) across from the Boston Public Library. Strangely, the only window had been painted over. The main feature of the room was a gray marble fireplace that didn't work. The rest was painted "landlord beige."
My first trip out led me to a store selling lengths of colorful madras cotton, which I bought and hand sewed for a bedspread. My next trip took me to a nearby secondhand store. Leaning against a wall from its resting place atop a large bookshelf was a watercolor in a slender matte-gold frame.
In a rain-wet cobblestoned square, three ladies were huddled together as if gossiping. I remember their skirts as charcoal gray with clogs peeping out below. Their heads, close together for the shared news, were covered with the traditional white caps with little wings at the side. The ladies were standing in front of a tall, corbie-stepped dark brick church, its peak vanishing into a lowering sky. Gossiping in the rain, indeed! I bought it, and it stayed with me when I married. No one could have appreciated it more than my merchant-mariner husband who had once lived in Holland.
Now I ask: When did I part with that painting? Many moves and travels later, I can't say. But, no matter. I look up from my desk and down the street - and as my eyes take in the rain, the gray, the red of brick, all the memories are neatly woven together with the present.