Musings + Essays

The Grounds Still Lilted in Slope and Shade and Secret.

By: Jen Shoop

Funny how context brings clarity,

How I can go weeks spinning in my narrow orbit of dropping off the children, writing in my studio, standing barefoot in the cul de sac in front of our home, smoothing hair and soothing bruises, cutting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in quarters, switching on the disposal while I scrub the small saucepan we favor for the twentieth time this week, laying my feet on Mr. Magpie’s lap once the children are in bed,

And misplace my awareness of how good I have it.

It just takes a stray night out, visiting with a former self and her acquaintances,

To send a shock right through me,

Dissipating the clouds.

I attended my twenty year high school reunion last week, and it was lovely and moving in its own way.

I was startled by the heavy set of memories there:

I could swear I felt my friend Elizabeth running across the slatted floorboards in front of Fennessy,

The smell of Founder’s Hall hung unchanged,

And the grounds still lilted in slope and shade and secret.

It was strange to pause in the doorway of my Physics classroom, where an ill-advised 22-year-old male college graduate had attempted to teach us how to calculate “displacement with positive acceleration” and been thoroughly steamrolled by a group of 20 high school girls. He used to dip into his closet to wipe his face with a towel mid-lecture, sweating in 32-degree weather out of fear of the highly obvious fact that we were just four years his junior and wont not only to mutinous back talk and sarcasm but, often and more damningly, outright flirtation. We must have appeared to him as a flock of Atรชs; to my knowledge, he left shortly after we graduated. My classmates and I laughed about this then, at the age of 17, and we laughed about it last week, at the age of 37, and still I kept looking at the backless stool in the front row, where I sat just after I learned that my grandfather had passed away, and where I drafted notes to my girlfriends to pin up on the message board outside the Dean’s office, and where I daydreamed about a big life while dialed in on wearing the right-length skirt to pass as normal.

In short, my high school experience felt like a cacophonous mismatch in most matters.

I enjoyed catching up with classmates, sharing wine in front of the homeroom in which Sister Jackie read us treacly excerpts from Reader’s Digest and prayed over us before tests, and so I can’t tell whether it was the absence of Elizabeth

or the shock of coming face-to-face with the brick-and-mortar place in which a former, insecure self once dwelt. But I left a bit dizzy —

Then grateful to return home to the sleeping house on the quiet cul de sac,

Where my two babies lay in their tangles of sheets and teddy bears,

And my husband has left the rice cooker on for me,

Where I am the me I am now, no blanks to fill.


+Things that mattered to me at 18.

+Do you remember when we used to take our time?

+On personal evolutions.

+Fare la scarpetta: a new mantra.

+More on missing my girlfriend E here and here.

Shopping Break.

+This button-front romper is TRES chic! Reminds me some of my utility-chic finds here, too.

+Some inexpensive basics: $5 white tee and $9 breton stripe.

+People are going crazy over this $160 dress! I can’t decide which pattern I like best?!

+STILL weirdly obsessed with these silk hair ties. They are just the best.

+Fabulous pearl necklace. More pearl pieces here.

+A very thoughtful Magpie reader wrote in to share that those UPF 50 shirts from Coolibar I shared in a previous “What Are You Shopping For” post are 20% off AND ship free with code VIPSAVE. (In fact, code works sitewide!)

+I cannot stop coming back to this dress. Keep hoping it will go on sale…

+This dress is a mood elevator.

+Calling my brides!!! J’adore!

+We now own this little stepstool in multiple colors in our home!

+Another great dress for a mom to wear to a Baptism. More options here!

+My daughter needs this t-shirt. She loves rock music and she currently treasures her Nirvana tee and Rolling Stones tee and she really will flip over this one.

+Now THIS pink mini is fetching.

+These plates for a little girl’s birthday party!

+Just love this heart necklace.

+Some SEA finds still on sale and available here, and I also find a cache of well-stocked denim shorts from SEA on sale here!

+The waterproof loafers for boys have been so popular! Even more colors and sizes here.

+This dress is absolute perfection.

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6 thoughts on “The Grounds Still Lilted in Slope and Shade and Secret.

  1. I love this piece of writing! I can relate to it so much โ€” it’s also my 20th reunion year and it’s wild to marvel over all that has transpired (in my life and in the world) since 2002. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to return to the literal environment of high school! This post helps me to imagine it ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I had my 20th reunion this year too – not at the school, mercifully (a rooftop cocktail bar for more literal breathing room!), but this line of your beautiful essay just bowled me over.

    โ€œthe shock of coming face-to-face with the brick-and-mortar place in which a former, insecure self once dwelt.โ€

    Thank you for this reminder to be mindful of all we have accomplished since those dizzying days of bottomless insecurity and emotions – phew!

    1. Hi Dana – Thank you so much for the encouraging words. Yes, agree – it was good to remember how far I’ve come, to be grateful for the completion of one kind of evolution.


  3. I am so drawn to this line: “Where I am the me I am now, no blanks to fill.”

    Wow wow wow. (I wish I could be more articulate, ha!)

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