This is a book about the seasons, and not just the big ones with department store sales named after them.

Sure, most of its stories may seem like they’re about the year’s real seasons: those taking place at the raw start of spring, say, when the hopeful crocus come blading up through the snow; or in that steamy mid-summer time when days are hot as metal zippers just pulled from the dryer. But in truth they’re about its inner seasons too: the strange “virtual” ones where hope is kindled.

Think of examples from your own life and you’ll see what I mean: One minute it’s a slow uphill climb through grey days and endless workweeks and floods of unexplained water lapping in your basement. Then blink once, and suddenly it’s a long delicious scooter-coast downhill, with blue skies in every direction and the leaves new and stretching on their delicate web of veins ‘til they’re taut as tiny umbrellas.

That’s what it’s like on this old earth. There are seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow; seasons of loss and seasons of renewal. Often they come on each other’s heels, running relay races round your heart. And, sadly enough, you never know which is headed for you next.

Thus, in your ignorance, you make plans to escape a sodden mud season and fly south with your family – only to end up 48 hours later in some cramped and steamy ER, with everyone under 30 doubled over with ear pain. Thus, resigned to the belief that life is toil, you find yourself working late one autumn night, hungry and tired, shoulders as hunched and twisted as a witch’s coat hanger – only to lift your eyes to a nearby window and catch a perfect “V” of geese, drawing delicate geometry problems against a just-rising moon.

You can’t set out to find the joyous vacation-like moments in life, in other words. Instead you must let those moments find you, as they will surely do if you can but recognize them when they arrive, catching you as likely in the busy press of Obligation as in the easy peace of Leisure.

I have learned to do that, finally, in my own life, and so take my “vacations” as they come now, an hour here, an hour there. A great many I take when, pulling my car at last into the driveway, I realize that maybe I don’t really have to tear inside and start banging the pots around to make dinner. Instead, maybe I can just sit for a spell, and think nothing, do nothing, plan nothing for once, but only look and listen, and maybe really hear the faint pulse of the seasons’ slow turning.

I come from a family of storytellers. My sister Nan and I had a mother who married late and had her babies late and by virtue of that fact took a longer view than most parents did. It was she who told the best stories.

I think of one story from the years when we were little. Nan was a handful as a toddler – hyperactive, overly curious, always dancing off and out of sight if the grownups so much as blinked, and so our mom began using something parents regularly availed themselves of in those days: a sort of harness that strapped round a small child’s chest with a length of leather, looped on one end, for the parent to hold. A couple of years later, when she was about four, she and Mom came upon a woman holding a leash, at the end of which trotted a small cocker spaniel. Nan squatted right down on her haunches the way pre-schoolers do and examined the pooch closely. “I was a dog once too!” she then said in a kind and knowing way.

I heard a thousand such tales at our kitchen table. I still know them all and they’re useful to me yet – for a quick laugh or as a kind of shorthand to refer to a whole set of feelings, or to escape painful realities. In her last years, our mom spent many an hour in hospital Emergency Rooms; and we used those stories as magic carpets to fly away on.

After her death, I missed her so much, I thought it might comfort me to start writing some stories myself, which I did eight years ago, gathering them into a book called I Thought He Was a Speed Bump.

And the fun I had promoting it! At bookstore signings especially, where they sometimes put me right out front, in the busy stream of rushing shoppers, like a Colonial-era rascal set out in the stocks as her punishment.

I met some great people all right: the middle-age man who said he would buy the book, only his wife never gave him any money; the girl who said she’d buy it too – but she hadn’t learned to read yet; and that busload of retarded citizens who came to the mall one day and stood kindly by me for an hour, stacking and re-stacking my little pile of unbought Speed Bumps.

I loved it all, and loved it so much that I resolved one day to bring out a second book, and that day has come, and here it is.

Because the stories here span a decade, you’ll find that in some of them my daughters are girls 11 and 14; in others, young women fully bloomed. In some, our third child is a tender soul of six or seven, and in others a wry and worldly 12th grade boy. For our children too are caught in time. They too feel that great Escalator lifting them up bringing them ever closer to that place we all yearn to reach, where the view opens out and, if only for a moment, we can see things whole.

Though I’ve chosen to start the book in January, you should feel free to begin in whatever month you find yourself when you buy it, letting each small story set a tone for the days ahead.

As you move through the year, stories from your own life will inevitably come to mind, which you too will perhaps one day decide to share with strangers. Because anytime you span a distance to make a connection – and anytime you let yourself sit a moment, parked on any least square of earth or patch of asphalt – you feel suddenly and ecstatically alive – on vacation – and ready to bless this life and call it good.

©Copyright 2002-2012 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.