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During a recent torrential rain, water spilled over our gutters. Uh-oh, I thought, blocked downspouts. This made sense. Nobody had been up there to clear them out since last fall. When our daughters were young, I did the job. The roof was, for me, a refuge–cleaning the gutters an excuse for some long-overdue solitude. Here’s the essay I wrote “A Roof of One’s Own” for Woman’s Day back in 1994.

At some point, we hired the yardman our neighbor liked so much. He kept the gutters clear and our small yard well-trimmed and tidy. Eventually, though, he, like our grown daughters, left town. He sold his business to a guy who sent over what seemed like Navy Seals in training. Goggles. Headsets. Gas blowers, loud as landing helicopters, tore all the topsoil from the yard. Dust swirled. The windows rattled and the cats doubled in size and dove under furniture when the guys stomped over the roof. Asphalt flew off the shingles. I could almost feel the gutters clinging to the house.

It was too much.

I decided to take back the yard work, but I had forgotten about the gutters. Between downpours the other day, I climbed again, and crawled—the shingles were wet and slick—along the roof, pulling out clumps of soggy catkins, rotting tulip poplar blooms, and clustered pine needles.

Something about being up there still offers a deep sense of peace—and now a new sensation, nostalgia. The girls aren’t racing around down below. There are no more dogs eying me warily from the backyard. My mother is gone. What I would give for the phone to ring and to hear her bell-clear voice. These days, I’m grateful I can still climb a ladder. I can still appreciate the expansive view, the anonymity, and being just that much closer to the bountiful sky.

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