Happy Day After

birds eye view

A nice day here yesterday. The mess alone made a wonderful spectacle. Also, what’s nicer than spending the morning in your pjs on Christmas.

Just for old times sake I wore the bathrobe David gave me for Christmas in long ago ’79 when we first moved to this house – even though it doesn’t wrap QUITE so entirely around me as it did when I weighed 120.

Lots of years gone by, the old Christmas stockings falling apart now, including the little one we hung for the baby that didn’t get past week eight in utero. David insists that little one’s stocking hang front and and center every year, though the two of us may be the only ones who know what it represents.

I’ll put more picture to put up if I get the chance – such happy mayhem – but for now I’ll close with the robe, a Pendleton woolen number. A few moth holes in the girl by now but none in the garment!

DSC_0092

Happy Day After to all, and to all a good night.  

It Begins

It’s the real eve Christmas Eve now. It’s time to light the candles.

People were nice today out in the world, even with the traffic such a snarl. The man that cut my swordfish steaks, the one that handed me that pork roasts: both nice. (I sometimes think I foodshop every day just for the human contact. For that and for the way a crisp fresh pear talks back to you when you first bite into it.)

David in his Wellesley College sweatshirt is changing a light bulb just now. Down in the kitchen, Dodson is feeding the baby while Veronica is out buying just a little more gift-wrap. Gary, safely back with us from the Delta, just blew in with the glad announcement that he has finished his shopping. Our son Michael, also here for just this week from his own job in Arkansas, is still out. I hear he took the train into Boston while I was out and if my memory of the timetable serves, he too will be walking in any minute. 

I have to dress up to go to Annie and John’s house – they’re feeding us tonight – but before I do that I need to make a dish for tomorrow, and also water the Christmas tree, which has a kind of dry discouraged look today. It knows better than we do that really it died weeks ago and this whole display is just an extended wake.

Ah but it’s a beautiful wake! Remember the days when trees weren’t perfectly shaped and had that wild and piney secant? Remember the years when we all hung plastic icicles on our trees and strings of colored bulbs as big as your nose? Remember the years before those even, when we hung a kind of tinsel that was metallic and crinkly and made your teeth hurt if you ever got it in your mouth?

In my mind I see my single mother on Christmas Eve, reading us the old story at bedtime and then rushing downstairs, once we drifted off, to bring forth the whole Christmas miracle including even the tree itself, with only her aged dad and her ancient spinster aunties to help if our pretty Aunt Grace didn’t drive over to lend a hand. We lived together, all of us. It was a very happy home.

May your home be happy too, both for the remains of this glowing day and in the days to come as well. Feliz Navidad!

xmas of '78

Holiday Slip ‘n Slides

stick_girl_falling_0515-1103-0322-3140_SMU (1)You forget about the Holiday downsides: The way you always plan too much. The way your eyeballs start jiggling the minute you get to the mall and see those kiosks filled with jokey T-shirts and giant bunny slippers. You THINK you’ll be fine and finish all the holiday tasks.  You’ll just get up a little earlier in the morning. You’ll just go to bed a little later at night. It’s all about efficiency, you tell yourself.

In the name of this efficiency I decided to brew my morning coffee one day last week right in the bathroom, to get that jolt of caffeine at the earliest possible moment.

I had my little pot all set up on the edge of the sink. It would brew while I took my bath. Brilliant! I thought.

I had tested the water temperature, dipped a toe in the tub and had just lowered myself into the hot suds when I realized I’d forgotten to press “Brew.”

No problem I thought.

I stood up looking like the Michelin Man in my coat of soap bubbles, stretched across the length of our wide old 1940s sink and then…lost my footing.  My whole upper body crashed down onto that rock-hard porcelain, causing the coffee pot to SHOOT off the sink and land in the toilet – but not before creating geysers of coffee grounds, which plastered themselves on the walls, the floor and even the ceiling.

That should have acted as a sign for me if I had eyes to see it. It should have been just the lesson I needed.

But no, I had no such eyes. And no, I heeded no lessons – with the result that a worse occurrence followed three days later when I leaped suddenly from our bed to assist my sick ‘roommate.’

It must have been something he ate that day, or maybe it was just one of those pesky stomach viruses that settle in and shiver your timbers for 24 hours.

Anyway, this roommate-slash-spouse felt suddenly sick around midnight and, on waking to realize that this was so, I vaulted from the bed and ran to the bathroom just as he had done.

Thinking to show support, see.

Only once in there, I found myself bouncing against the shower door.

Are you all right? I called to him in a faint voice.

Then I careened in the other direction and bounced off the sink.

This bathroom is two rooms, really, the larger one with the shower and sink in it and the other, far smaller one, with just the ‘facilities.’

That’s the room he’d been, until he heard my voice.

“What’s going on out here?” he said, emerging.

 “I’m not sure,” I said.

 He walked toward me. “You seem to be falling down,” he said.

“I think I’m falling down,” I said, amazed,  and I fainted and did fall, section by section, knees buckling, ankles turning to Silly Putty.

He grasped me under both arms as I dipped and swayed. “What do you want to do?” he said.

 “Just let me lie on this nice bathmat a while. “I’m fine,” I said.  “I love this bathmat,” I added.

I lay there for a good little spell while my roommate, feeling rather better for his ordeal, went back to bed.  

And it was as I lay there that a double realization came to me:

One, too much haste around the holidays really is ill-advised.

And two, have a nice soak in the tub or start pumping in the caffeine, but never, ever, ever try doing both at once.

 

Shop Fearlessly – Really?

credit cards!They say credit cards can be dangerous, but I can’t help it: I love the way you can just input that old number and send away for a thing.  

Of course catalogs are arriving at our doors by the dozen at this season, every day their glossy pages spilling slippery through our letter-slots.

Lots of them I CAN resist. After all I can just choose not to open the skimpy lingerie catalogs with those poor cold girls, skinny as insects – but rhe mail-order items that do get my attention are the ones found advertised among the sober pages of the traditional old news magazines.

One example: I’m reading along about some country where they’re trying to actually SELL clean air to people, when all of a sudden there’s this ad with a picture of an old-fashioned model train chugging out from under the branches of an old-fashioned Christmas tree. 

“Classic trains!” reads the text “Relive the magic of your childhood, when large metal trains were a part of every holiday season!”

Large metal trains, I sigh, growing instantly misty – and then I remember: We HAD large metal trains when I was little. We kids I used those sharp-edged bullion-bars of steel to clobber each other with. Then there was the year I got the wheels of one stuck in the thousand tendrils of curl that sprang from my scalp, causing me to run around the house dangling a Large Metal Train from my hair and shrieking, ‘til the grownups could figure out what to do about me.

Another example:  I’m reading an article about teaching kids Phonics and here’s another ad: For a gizmo said to rid your home of “pests and vermin, mice, rats, roaches bats. Even raccoons and squirrels” the ad says.

“It delivers a tremendous blast of ultra-sound, inaudible to you and your pets“ that disrupts their nervous systems. “They’ll leave your home within a few weeks – never to return!”

It has volume-control and six variable pitches, depending on the size of the vermin, and already my fingers are reaching for the credit card, because don’t WE have such pests? Mice, when the weather turns cold? Egyptian meal moths the year round, raising their children in our cereal boxes. Bats and raccoons and I-don’t-know-what-all?

We had a serious infestation of squirrels in our last house. They threw parties inside the eaves, chattering just inches from our sleeping heads when their friends came over, and grimly chewing and chewing when they were alone.

In our desperation, we actually bought this device back then, or something very much like it. We never had the slightest notion whether or not it worked, its sound being inaudible and all. WE wound up moving instead.

So last week those two items tempted me.

But just the other night, and this is no word of a lie, I thought, “Never mind these silly toys and gizmos, why not use my credit card to order some nice books from Amazon the way you can so easily do these days?”

I decided on The Age of Innocence and Doctor Sleep. I entered my credit card number and pressed “Buy.” Then, well pleased with myself and humming a little tune, I decided to check my e-mail.

A message from Amazon – already!

‘This is to confirm your recent order,” it said. 

  • ‘Copies of The Age of Innocence: 1. 
  • ‘Copies of Doctor Sleep: 591.
  • ‘$17,745 billed to your MasterCard. Payment authorized.”

Maybe these credit cards are deadlier than I thought.

Rest Well

The burial that takes place today could be the most widely watched one in history when Nelson Mandela takes up his final resting place.

I remember the day he was let out of jail. It was a Sunday in February and I wore a big hat to church in celebration. My daughter who was 14 at the time, stood up front and sang a brief a cappella duet with her best friend Samantha.

So much has been said over the past week – so much WILL be said in years to come – but for me in these last days there days there is only again and again the sound of Ladyship Black Mambazo singing, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, whose lyrics use the five most widely spoken of South Africa’s eleven official.  (More about its origins here.)

I saw them sing this South African National Anthem as part of Paul Simon’s Graceland your in 1987. Here is footage of the them doing the song it almost as a prayer to Mother Africa itself, that time with the great Miriam Makeba who I saw sing even longer ago, in the summer of 1967 when I was a schoolgirl still.

 I understood in only a small way who she was and what truths she spoke for. I knew more by the time I attended the 1987 performance. I know – all of us know – even more about them today thanks to this great man. Rest well, Father of us all.

Called Here: For Emily

snowday dawnWhen Emily Dickinson died in her 50s her family used for her epitaph a phrase from one of her letters. “Called Back” it still reads today on her Amherst headstone, a phrase which suggests belief in a God who set her down here, monitored her as she went about the full human tour through pain and gladness and loss and merriment, and decided when He decided that He then needed her back again.

In fact there isn’t much proof that Emily believed in an afterlife and a good bit of sly evidence that she didn’t. (I think of what she wrote to a friend about shunning men and women: “They talk of hallowed things, aloud, and embarrass my dog,” adding, of this canine, “I think Carl would please you. He is dumb and brave.” 

There, is, however, plenty of evidence that she believed in this life, for who has celebrated its minute music-box-gear turnings with such care and precision?

I was ‘called back’ to remembering all this yesterday when my cousin Rebecca sent me a quick flash on Facebook from her home in California. It said only “Emily’s birthday!”

I knew right away who she meant and looked Emily up and sure enough it was her birthday, not the day she was called back but the day she was called here.

It was snowing as I read these things, some 90 miles from her grave. Big fat flakes were falling at that hour, each one as round and soft as a coconut Christmas ball. Then I Googled Emily’s name and the word ‘snow’ and sure enough here is what she left for us, one of thousands of such pearls to help us remember what she said to her another friend in a letter once. “To have been made alive is so chief a thing.” And so it is. And so it surely is.

Now Emily, on the snow:

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

 

 

 

 

Ready or Not It’s Here


straightjacket xmasWell, SOME of you may have been ready for December. You know who you are. You’ve had your lights up for weeks. Goodie-goodies.

Most years I don’t get our lights up ‘til our youngest child arrives home from whatever faraway place has beckoned him that year and I’ll admit it: that practice makes me nervous.

One year I just couldn’t wait and got taken in by a catalogue ad for trees that are supposedly harvested only hours before shipping and what a mistake THAT was. When the thing arrived it looked like a giant Q-Tip –  and kept on looking that way even a whole week after I’d liberated it from its plastic mesh hairnet.

“W-h-a-a-t?” our son exclaimed  when he got home on December 23rd and saw it all decorated in our living room. He’s burdened by what I can only call your ‘artist’s eye’ : your crooked trees, your trees half bald on one side are a torture for him to look upon.

Gently, swiftly he took off every ornament and string of lights, dragged the poor tree out back and drove straight to the nearest nursery for a realer version, shaggy and flouncy and still smelling of the piney woods.

But preparing for the holidays is just part of what I have to face come December. For me there’s also the glove problem.

Every fall, I buy two pairs of black winter gloves that are sort of nylony and hug the hand so nicely. Then, not two weeks into the cold weather, I lose the one for the right hand.

Always the one for the right hand. Never the one for the left.

I don’t know how it happens but at last count I had on the shelf in the front hall closet exactly seven identical black gloves, all for the left hand. And because they have these nice little gripping ‘pads’ on the palm surface, you can’t just flip them. You’d walk around looking like somebody took each arm off, switched it and hung it from the opposite shoulder.

It’s a problem for a person like me, who can’t leave the house from November to April without gloves on. Last winter I bought five pairs, just to keep that right hand warm.

And finally in December I face the issue of storing the car, since, where we live, they fine you in winter for parking in the street.

We do have a driveway, though it’s narrow. We also have a garage built circa 1915 when a car wasn’t much bigger than a sewing machine.

But somehow this garage gets filled during the warmer months, this year with items from a deceased uncle’s house, boxes of our own mismatched china from Dallas and Dynasty days, and a broken old Nordic Track.

You have to empty a garage enough to get one of your two cars inside but where do you begin?  Especially when you really loved the uncle and can’t part with his furniture? Especially when you’re the kind of person who remembers so very many of the thousands of meals eaten off that china?

Every day I go out there looking to see what I can pry from the pile and discard.

It’s painful. Worst case I’ll find that cast-out Q-tip of a Christmas tree. But best case, who knows? I just might come upon seven right gloves.

 

Pictures from a Train

I took the train yesterday and for four hours sat by the window watching the soft New England landscape roll by, city street slowly giving way to salt marsh with ocean just beyond.

Providence and Westerly, Mystic and New London and then city again: New Haven and Bridgeport, the glass towers of Stamford, once-tony New Rochelle and finally the edges of the nation’s biggest city, its old churches and school houses, and traces of the abandoned factories and little storefronts, the stoops and body shops that once pinned these old neighborhood together.

I sat next to the window and watched it all roll by, our land, my land as I think of it, where my people lie buried back to the 1850s, some here in this factory town, some there by that mill, victims of the old killers TB and diphtheria, scarlet fever and childbirth.

It was lovely . And then an hour from my destination, a man traveling clear through to Baltimore came aboard and sat beside me. “May I have this seat?” he asked.

“I don’t bite,” he added, before I had come out of my trance enough to say yes. I couldn’t think of a reply to that remark, the patronizing air of it, the faint insult of it so he stumbled on: “That’s not to say I won’t snore or drool heh heh.”

Again I was speechless. I tried to make myself smaller, gather in my possessions against these eventualities. I wished I were still alone and felt mightily irked  – until he did in fact fall asleep, so deeply that I had to wake him when the train came to my stop.

He offered to help me get down my bag and sent me off with a “Safe travels now!” and I was sorry I had harbored unkind thoughts.

An hour from now I get to make the whole trip in reverse, on a day that here at my starting point is rainy and not sunny as it was when I set out yesterday. It will be picture seen from a window all over again, this time in sepia instead of Kodachrome. I can’t wait to find my seat and settle in.

 

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10 Ways to Live Longer

Here’s a list of ten things you can do to live longer:

  • One, learn to vacation in your driveway. Yup, just pull up outside your house after work and sit there for a minute. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll suddenly start noticing. I saw a squirrel chasing another squirrel around. I saw birds were pecking at the berries off that hawthorn tree so fast, whole piles of them were landing on the ground – where those same squirrels were collecting them up faster that movie theatre ushers between shows.
  • Two, on the highway, choose the tollbooth staffed by a live person now and then. Toll takers get as lonely sitting there as you would get driving all day by yourself. Take a minute to be human with them? Who are you, some CEO rushing to his private jet? No, you’re not.
  • Three, talk to these people, or to anyone behind any counter as you pay. You’ll learn things for sure. Ask,  “How’s it goin’?” and wonder of wonder they’ll tell you. The other day at the discount drug, the lady behind the counter told me she couldn’t WAIT ‘til that full moon stopped monkeying around making everyone so crazy.
  • Four, just take a chance generally with people. Smile at that stranger coming toward you, if only because in this one moment your paths are crossing. Sure, there’ll be a little hiccup in his gait and his face will say, “Wait, I don’t know you,” but eventually he will recall the dim long ago: “Oh yeah, civility! We used to practice that once!
  • Five, think of the person whose habits annoy you the most and practice what in the recovery movement they call “the turnaround.” This means, imagine him as every bit the same precious, unique, valiantly striving individual your momma always saw you as.
  • Six, try doing this on yourself, setting aside that invisible shield of self-contempt we carry around with us always.
  • Seven, go back now and give Number Four another try. See if it isn’t easier to look that person in the eye and smile.
  • Eight, put away your I-Pod and stash those ear buds with their long white tentacles. Listen to the music in your head. Spin up your own podcasts as you walk, or try for a quick Q & A with the person beside you.“Do you remember your babyhood?” I asked the woman bedside me at Airport Security last week. (We were both looking at a little child in a stroller.)  “I certainly do!” she said and off we went comparing notes. I myself remember having my diapers changed, even though in the era when I lay on a changing table, kids were all potty-trained at 18 months. I figure a little more practice and I can remember clear back to my arrival day.
  • Nine, while you’re at it, press the ‘Off’ button on that smartphone of yours.
  • Ten, Remember the advice “Only connect!” as E. M Fortser once famously wrote.

Do these things and you’ll learn to have a good time even the DMV; even waiting in line at the pharmacist’s window. All it takes is engaging with others.  Make that creative leap of imagination that puts you in the other guy’s shoes and soon enough you’ll be able to make a friend and ally out of every stranger; to take even loss and learn to turn it inside-out like an old sweater to reveal its silver lining.

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