Payback

The other day I drove 100 miles with  four feet of my scarf sticking out of the car and dragging along the ground. AND, it was 32 degrees and sleeting.

Sigh. Such a pretty scarf too: I got so I was very vain, wearing it.

I had closed it in the car door though I didn’t know it ‘til we got to our destination. It was frozen solid, like a brick, only sort of bent.

Old Dave thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I think he saw it as payback, because when I say I was driving I was really only helping him drive, which I admit I do, since he’s so aggressive a driver, passing this driver, nosing right up under their petticoats of that one. I used to read, or nap, or treat him to my own brand of fascinating chatter as we drove. Now I seem to  be so vigilant I can’t do anything but ‘help him’ steer. It’s like this anniversary card I just bought to give him where they even got the name right. As you can see, the front says “Dave didn’t have to watch where he was going…” Then when you open it up it reads “Because his wife was an excellent back seat driver.” 

back seat driving

Just look at that woman sitting behind him. Of course I don’t look like a bit like her – not me! But the weird thing is, she does look a lot like my mom when she got her bossy hat on. Hmmm, what was it that Oscar Wilde said? “Every woman becomes like her mother. That is her tragedy. No man does. That’s his”? (Good old Oscar Wilde: so epigrammatic always – and so RIGHT!)

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Not Too late For a Few Resolutions?

overtalkingI hope it’s not too late anyway – because I drew up a new list again this year. I couldn’t help it. Making such a list was one of the first habits I formed growing up in a family bent on eternal  improvement. In fact, we’re all still laughing about the time the family patriarch announced one day in early January that he was bringing all the kids to the doctor to have their nostrils blown out – and that was 90 years ago. 

Even though my own plans are far tamer, I offer them here:

Resolution One, to stop saying how exhausted I am all the time. What is it with us moderns that we dwell so ceaselessly on our level of fatigue? A hundred years ago people didn’t carry on about how tired they were, maybe because they were too busy stoking the furnace and boiling the diapers.

Resolution Two, to refrain from getting into a lot of competitive technology talk, like about those apps that supposedly empty the dishwasher and open the canned peas while you’re still stuck in rush hour traffic ten miles from home. I mean, I appreciate a GPS as much as the next guy, but shoot me if you ever hear me going on and on about what route it had me take to get to your house just now.

Resolution Three, to stop telling people my dreams. What’s harder to sit through than a person saying  “So then a guy with a gorilla’s head began reciting the Preamble to the Constitution only – no,  wait – he only started out as a gorilla before turning into Don Johnson circa 1989”? Most people can’t tell their dreams right to save their lives.

Resolution Four: to tell fewer jokes, since I can never tell them the right way anymore. If I really want to tell jokes I’m going to have to start rehearsing them ahead of time so I don’t keep putting the punch line in the middle.  

Resolution Five: to keep getting my photographs printed. It’s just not enough to have them stored in the cloud. I say, put them in an album. Put them in a  battered old shoebox even. Sure, there might be a fire, but there might also NOT be a fire, and think about it: your kids aren’t going to gather around a computer screen when you’re gone to cry over pictures of the old days. The place for pictures is in people’s hands.

Resolution Six, speaking of hands: to take better care of my hands, which are showing signs of real wear these days. In my girlhood they looked so smooth and flawless I was forever waving them around my head, hoping others would think so too. Now, they’re wizened little monkey-paws. I guess 30 years of furniture refinishing finally took its toll on them. 

It’s ok though. It’s fine. Because here’s my Seventh Resolution, which follows naturally from the Sixth: to keep trying to wear out rather than rust out.  ’Use it or lose it,” the fitness folks say of the body’s strength. But heck, we’re going to lose it anyway eventually so let’s use it now, place our shoulders to the wheel, and help make this old world a better place in shiny new 2014. Excelsior! 🙂sisyphus

 

 

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Evolving

photoWe all evolve; nobody starts out perfect.

Consider this little person, a casual caregiver at best, with her bottle of beer and her baby splayed, arms outstretched, in the grass.

She LIKED the baby well enough. She just didn’t really know how to care for her.

Her grandfather David and I didn’t know how to care for her mother at first either: we read her to sleep on a waterbed in the basement of our friend’s house by the sea.

In Coastal Maine.

In late August.

And the waterbed, it turned out, wasn’t even heated – so when we came back downstairs many rollicking hours later, having played rounds of Botticelli til we were blue in the face, we found our child seemingly blue in the face herself – or so we at first thought when we touched her and felt her cool, cool skin.

People almost shouldn’t be allowed to have babies until they’re like 40.

And yet

And yet.

Only six months later, this little person is still only one year old and already she has grown in the nurturing arts, as you can plainly see.

IMG_2645 IMG_2643

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Moral of the story? Love a little person hard and s/he will learn to do the same.

Call the Darkness Light

night skyThe  solstice is past, but the days are still so short  many of us are traveling to and from work in darkness even now. I think this was the first year I really “got” why so many people deck their houses with  lights – sometimes even before they’ve polished off the Thanksgiving turkey.

They don’t do it because they feel ‘hurried into’ the season by retailers. They do it to lift their spirits.

So this year I tried doing it too, and wonder of wonders, stringing little lights did indeed help me beat back that shudder of dread I feel when the darkness comes to cloak us.

In the classic Isaac Asimov/Robert Silverberg story Nightfall, the action takes place on a planet whose sky holds as many as six suns at a time, where, at 2,000 year intervals, a mysterious event occurs that causes the land to be enveloped in darkness for the first time in anyone’s memory.

And yes, one ‘fringe’ religious sect teaches that it’s God’s judgment that brings the dark, along with the subsequent appearance of these fearsome things called ‘stars’ that rain down fire to destroy all of civilization. Few believe this though, because each time, the conflagration destroys all records.  

The reader learns only as the story unfolds that it’s the people who are responsible, because as creatures who have never in their lives experienced darkness, they panic and set the awful fires themselves, for the light.

All during December I wondered why this tale kept coming into my mind. Only in the last few days did I see it is because that same kind of wild and unreasoning fear lives also in me.

Over the past six months, we have had many ‘systems’ problems in our house, as first the washing machine died, then the dryer, then the fridge. The shower pan in the upstairs bathroom also failed so that for days on end water dripped down into the room below it.

We fixed all these problems, but not before I had expended a world of energy whining about them.

Sometime in there, social media allowed a faraway friend to take note of all this and sit down and send me this message:

Terry, I am sorry to hear about your refrigerator and the discomfort you have been having. I know just how bad it has been for you. We have seen similar things happen here. Our bathtub legs fell off while one of the girls was in the tub, the bathroom sink got clogged up and one of the refrigerator doors broke so for over a month our food was constantly spoiling.

“Thank God things are back to normal now – somewhat, LOL! The roof is still leaking but God is on that too. Remember, you are in my prayers.”

With what shame did my cheeks burn as I read this note from a woman who, virtually alone, raised up her own three children, sent them off to college, and then took in three teenaged girls to whom she has given love and care in full measure.  

The one who was in the tub when its legs broke off was pregnant when she came into her family and is expecting her baby this month, a fact that only gladdens my friend’s heart, because – as she will tell you – God is on that too.

And there it all is in a nutshell: One camp of people sees the approaching dark and panics, while the other just calls it sweet night and waits in trust for the light’s return. I think in this new year I’m going to try moving from that sad first camp into the second.

 

 

A Final (Funny) Postscript

DSC_0056Here’s a final postscript as the  jingling tinker’s wagon we call ‘the holidays’ lurches off down the road. It served as my column last week.

Remembering Christmas Past is like remembering childbirth: a certain amnesia sets in. If you asked me earlier in December what happens around here most Christmases, I’d have said not muchThen, last week, I looked up  Christmas in an old diary. 

How quickly we forget.

That year, I came up with the idea that I should send a card to 192 people, and thus spent every spare moment over a five-day period entering their names and addresses on my laptop so as to generate labels.

Finally one morning, I pressed “Print” and hurried away to take my shower – but when I came back, our nice fat-bottomed cat was delicately shredding the sheets of labels one by one as they emerged from the printer, while sitting directly ON the laptop, causing it to beep frantically, then lose its mind altogether, writing  “#!” when you tried to write “the” and “%#~” when you tried to type “when.” And it kept ON doing this, hiccupping and speaking in gibberish for the next 13 hours.

Then I spent five more days of non-existent spare moments working up a newsy collage of holiday greetings and when that turned out to be way too big for a conventional envelope, I went and bought bigger envelopes, on which my printed labels now looked puny and impersonal. So I took another five days and made everyone who came into the house help me decorate each one with a bright holiday drawing.

And then there were the Disappointing Presents.

Our then 15-year-old turned out to be hoping for a leather jacket and instead I bought her a big silky Cheese Puff of a thing. What was I thinking?

So too, our then-10-year-old wanted little green army guys, but when the bucket of them was opened on Christmas morning, I turned out to have bought the wrong kind, a kind that couldn’t even lie down in the mud and inch along on their tummies. What kind of army guys can’t do THAT, right? Yet asking this bunch to do it would be like asking a Ken Doll to reach up and tousle his own hair. No elbows was the problem.

Also, the much-wished-for video game was sold out until March, and it seemed you couldn’t BUILD Erector Set Number 6 unless you already OWNED Erector Sets Number 1 through 5 – which we didn’t.

And as for the two presents I thought were sure-fire, the ones I had actually I had in fact bought super-early and even wrapped? These I couldn’t even find until three days after the big day.

On climbing into bed Christmas night, I recall my ten-year-old’s eyes shining with sorrow. 

“It’s my fault,” he said, so as not to sadden me his hapless mother. “I didn’t get in the Christmas spirit. I should’ve thought more about what I was giving, instead of what I was getting,” he went on.

So this year we all tried to do that in this family: think more of what we were giving and not at all about what we might be getting.

Still, you sure can get turned around. All this time later I now see that I was the one who wanted that big downy Cheese Puff of a jacket all along. I think it looks pretty good on me, don’t you?  The hot pink really sets off my new hair color.:-)

puffy jacket dog