This is a week of meetings. Monday night. Tuesday night. Thursday night.
I work in the mornings, head home around noon, drive twisting roads over dark rushing creeks and lined by dark tree trunks against the deeper dark of night. Stars come out and a sliver of moon hangs above rising mist from the river that borders the road and now and then my searching headlights glint in the reflective eyes of some woodland animal.
But how these meetings vary! They run from impassioned arguments to jokes based on decades of community history to the trivial and mundane points of business: sidewalk sweeping and borough picnics and can the trail riders have a picnic on the banks of the river this summer?
They say summer and my mind wanders, until one council member is raising her voice and I hurry to catch up, pen scratching against thin notebook paper.
I’ve been covering these communities for a year now, and they’re starting to take on personalities of their own, flung as they are across the county.
One school board is formal, strangely formal. These men and women have to have known each other for years beyond counting, grown up together, because the people who live in that corner of the county seem to have grown out of the very earth they live on, and never seem to leave. Yet the always and only address each other by last names. Mr. Smith makes the motion. Mrs. Jones seconds it. All the other Misters and Misseses vote yes, the measure passes.
Only twice in the past year can I think of personal comments. Once, one of the Misseses was asked to update the council on her son’s football status — he was back in pads and back on the field. The other, one of the Misters choked up slightly while asking for a motion to accept the resignation of a long-time teacher.
One wears a bow tie, lost under his heavy beard.
Do they use last names and formal titles outside of the boardroom, I wonder?
And just miles away another council rarely uses street names, just “that street up the hill where Jim’s boy lives,” and I – trying to jot notes, am lost.
Sometimes they see my pen stop, catch my eye and clarify. Mostly they don’t notice. I’m “young lady” there, but they’re mostly old enough to be my parents or grandparents, and call the secretary “young lady” too. So I’m in good company.
Then there’s the larger district I cover, where members are on first name basis but I’m not sure they’d always speak to each other if they passed on the street. Tempers, always running high these days, explode out of control regularly. I try to bring an almost-new notebook each month, still can’t keep up.
And when you head south, down the road that borders the river and cuts through the woods, they fall on the other extreme of casualness. They go by nicknames, endearments. The council president wears blue jeans – other than the solicitor, I’m one of the best dressed people in the small room.
And I’m wearing snow boots. (And yes, we do still need those here. It’s still winter, as the sleet turned snow reminded my chilly calves this morning when I elected to wear a skirt. Mental note – no skirts in March.)
Today is one of my few nights at home this week. There’s laundry in desperate need of folding because I spent all yesterday afternoon reading in the sun (I forgot ‘Jane Eyre’ was a can’t-put-down sort of book…), granola to bake, cobwebs to sweep and ferrets with much-too-long nails.
So I’m not sure it will be any more relaxing than one of my meetings. But at least my house will look better for it!