The Short Days

winter sunWe’re in this together, whatever kind of sacred holiday or year-end remembrance we might have just marked. As the year’s last short days go swirling down Time’s drain, I think we all sense and see the same things.

Watch with me now as I look out the window of this second-story room:

Five feet from where I stand, a squirrel quivers along the branches of the hawthorn tree I planted long and long ago. He is searching for the last of its bright red berries. He will be disappointed, for by now they have been eaten by his fellow creatures, each and every one.

Across the street I see the pale blush of frost on the pointed gables of our neighbors’ roof and a thin plume of smoke ribboning up from their chimney; and the image so resembles a child’s drawing of a house with roof, smoke and chimney that I just have to smile.

And speaking of children, does not the path back to our own childhoods not seem shorter just now?

Remember what it felt like to make snow angels, lying flat in that feather-bed of frozen crystals as we windmilled our arms and legs?

Remember when, in elementary school on that final day before the Christmas break, we brought little gifts to our teacher? I gave a handkerchief to Miss Lester, with her initials embroidered crookedly onto one corner, my first attempt at needlework. Though it looked less like a monogram than a wobbly scribble of scar tissue, for all her sternness, she blushed and smiled almost shyly at the sight of the wrapped package.

Remember more with me now.: Remember how it felt to pull on scratchy wool mittens. If our memories go back that far, we might remember the elasticized clasps that held those mittens to the arms of our snowsuits.

Remember our mothers or fathers helping us dress the rest of the way to go outside, then patiently undressing again when we came back in again, with snow crusted on our boots’ cuffs and sometimes actually filling the boots themselves, leaving our toes so numb we thought we would never have feeling again.

There’s so much to reflect on when we look back. Consider the remembered sight of your folks’ bowed heads as they worked to perform these chores, and reflect on that fact that they were younger at that point than you are now, you former child, you who are a child still, on the inside anyway.

Now I’m looking out the window again as darkness again enfolds us.

winter night

Science says the sun has no surface at all, but consists wholly of a snapping undulation of fiery gases, and Science is right no doubt, but I like to think of the sun another way. I like to think of ‘him’ as a benevolent figure watching us from afar as we spin and wobble around him like a toy top. And like a top, we tilt, and in our tilting lean away from his warmth and light a while.

But starting this week we begin leaning back again, closer and closer to the longer and the warmer days and further and further from these long, long nights. There is beauty in these nights but ah:  iff only Time could perform such magic as that and set us down once more in the little snow globe of our childhood winters!

 

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Victorian Prudery eh?

candee rubber Comment from the ever-clever Ann Aikens of UpperValleyGirl fame who wrote in response to my last post:

 “Marital aids and opiates – perfect for the holidays!”

 I didn’t get the marital aids part until I read back over the darn thing. Figure it might have something to do with those bendable dolls? ( Unless there’s a bedroom use for air guns that I don’t know about.)

 Anyway love this old photo, an ad as I’m supposing for what Wikipedia tells me was once a highly respected manufacturing company out of New Haven. I only knew to look for this picture because I bought a greeting card with the very same image on it and inside the card, the text  “Who Would Have Thought?” – because of course we do now have Edible Undies and such which I’m guessing are made out of Fruit Roll-Ups. 

 Funny thing is I just threw this card out last week; could never figure out who to send it to,

Now that I’m ascending toward sainthood it didn’t seem like the sort of joke I should be mailing around haha – which doesn’t mean I don’t get a huge kick every time I look at the DamnYouAutoCorrect site, my favorite entry being the one where some poor homebody is texting his friend about the evening meal: “Chicken vaginas sound good for dinner?” 

Talk about thanks, I’ll pass! 

 

A Tad on the Creepy Side

Things have sure changed since the old days, as I’m learning as I thumb through The Book of Christmas Things from the 1800s, a collection of holiday ads, songs and stories gathered and edited by one Robert F. Hudson. 

Example: Contrast the silly seasonal songs we hear nowadays with some of those folks’ Christmas ditties – like the one that whose second verse goes “Joy comes and goes but grief remains, my days small comfort bring….”

Try getting people today to go out and spend money with a tune like THAT ringing in their ears!  Or take the advertisements of the time. How far would a toy company get today with this ad, running under a photo of a two dolls, a larger girl and a little tiny boy: 

“Great inventors, artists, and mechanics have been at work for years trying to perfect low-priced, jointed indestructible dolls that can be made to sit down, bend over, stand on their heads, move arms and legs and be placed in all sorts of cute positions either undressed or undressed.” Hmmm.

It goes on: “The doll here shown is the most wonderful and successful result of long and weary trials, the boy doll made in the same manner, not jointed but with fancy suit of clothes to match, so you can dress and undress.“ (Lucky joint-free boy doll, who couldn’t bend an arm to help around the house even if asked! Plus he’s got the fancy clothes.)

But the part that really strikes me as strange is that even after buyers shelled out their 25 cents to buy this pair they STILL wouldn’t be done, because, as the text explains in far smaller print, they dolls are just two skins (Hannibal Lecter called) but “you can fill them with bran or sawdust or cotton and easily sew them up.”

Folks from the 1880s also loved cutlery it seems. It wasn’t like now when we all keep hearing from some poor 19-year-old who wants to come to our houses and sell us new knives by demonstrating how crummy our old knives are.

Here’s an ad showing a spoon couple sitting up in their bed with expressions of Victorian shock while a third spoon wearing Christmas stocking around his nether parts is seen leaping in there with them. Wha-a-a-t?

And here’s an ad for a spoon with Santa himself crowning its top and a Christmas tree worked into its bowl.  

“What’s the matter with a solid silver Santa Claus spoon?” the ad bullies. “It’s alright!” it shouts on. “For the baby, for an oatmeal spoon, or as a teaspoon or as a charming souvenir of the season for anybody.”

Then there’s this ad for “the perfect rifle, to shoot 22–100 cartridges, or act as an air gun to shoot darts slugs and bullets; “A Christmas Present That Cannot Fail to Please Your Boy or Friend!” its header reads in outsized print. “Suited for lawns, parlors shooting galleries, excursions festivals and fairs,” it goes on, “or to use about the house barn or field to shoot rats and small game.”

Then finally, there’s this ad, for a gift that promises a cure for whatever ailed those people of yore; 

“The Best Christmas Gift “ says its headline. “If father is getting bald and mother suffers constantly from headache or neuralgia; if sister is prematurely gray and brother is troubled with dandruff or crazed with agonizing toothache we will guarantee a cure1” –and no, they’re not selling anything made from the magical coca leaf, or some elixir made up of 100-proof whisky, but rather a hairbrush. A hairbrush!

 I suppose people bought them, because it’s true: there really IS a sucker born every minute, as the canny P.T Barnum put it, whatever the century or decade.

(and while we’re at it, how’s this image, drawn by the famous Thomas Nast? Pretty 

(and while we’re at it, how’s this image, drawn by the famous Thomas Nast? Pretty sure I wouldn’t get in his lap !

Santa's lap Thoams Nast

 

Say What You Think!

zumba_dancing_and_traningSo I’ll get to the meaning of THIS picture in a second. I was at the office of this bone guy, whose waiting room as I walked in held just one elderly couple. The husband of the pair was filling out his wife’s health history on a clipboard.

 “Knee problems,” he told me cheerily, nodding toward his spouse, who within the space of 30 seconds had thrown back her head, closed her eyes and begun performing an aria of happy snores.

Just as suddenly, she snapped awake and shot me an assessing look.“Nice you clothes,” she told to me in a heavy, Slavic-sounding accent.

I glanced down to see what I was wearing, because you know how it is: you’re not always sure just what you’ve ended up putting on in the morning. “Well, thanks!” I said.

I knew I would miss my visit to the Y that day, so instead of donning my usual crummy workout gear, I had on a forest green boot-length corduroy skirt very wide at the hem and a fur jacket that I have owned since the impenitent, over-the-top 80s when I found it for 60 bucks in an antique store down the road.

“All my life I work in clothes,” she said. “I am knowing good clothes.”

I would have asked more about that, but just then I was called into one of the examination rooms of this new-to-me doctor, who scrutinized my bent toy kite of a spine and asked about my daily life.

I mentioned the Zumba classes I take thrice-weekly at the local Y.

“Zumba?!” he repeated. “Zumba’s all wrong for you. You can’t be sending your thoracic region in one direction and your hips in the other! No more Zumba!”

“No more Zumba? “ I squeaked. “It’s the only thing I do that makes my back pain stop!’

“It’s CAUSING your back pain.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I think so.”

“What happened to ‘Movement is life’?” I said.

“What happened to ‘Listen to your doctor’?” he said.

 We looked at each other for a beat. Then, “Is this our first fight?” I said. “Listen the dancing is mostly salsa, where you keep your chest fairly still and just send your hips out to the right and the left.”

 He shook his head.

 We talked a little more, then he wrote me a prescription for physical therapy and suggested I also see a back surgeon.

 Fat chance I’m having back surgery, I thought to myself.

“He’s a surgeon, you know, and a prominent one,” he said. “He’ll hurry into the room surrounded by younger doctors. Don’t be afraid to slow him down. Make him answer your questions. Stand your ground.”

“I’m thinking that won’t be a problem for you,” he added, smiling.

 I smiled too, thanked him, and after we shook hands I returned to the waiting room, where the woman and her husband still sat in their chairs.

 The woman got right back to work examining me.

 “Good clothes,” she nodded as much to herself as to me.

 I looked down at myself more self-consciously this time, and picked up the end of the dark-green, tan and cream-colored scarf I had thrown around the neck of my jacket.

“The scarf isn’t right though, is it? I tried to find a better scarf but I don’t seem to have one.”

“No,” she said. “Scarf no good. The rest OK. Nice you clothes,” she said again.

 “Happy to meet you!” exclaimed her husband and with that we all bowed to one another and said our farewells – but not before I thought to myself how much I do appreciate frankness, wherever I chance to encounter it.

Kids, Darn ’em

IMG_4067

Our boy Mike was here for supper last night. I made Moroccan Lamb Stew and a nutty rice and Roasted Beet and Apricot Salad for both him and his sister Annie, who came over with her five-pounds-of-sugar-brand-new baby.

 Your kids don’t like it when you change your house around, especially if they no longer live with you and yes I remember feeling that way too, about my mother and aunt’s house where I lived in from age nine on. I went back there as a young adult and was horrified by what they had done: What was this awful new wallpaper in the front bedroom where our mom always installed  us kids when we were sick? What I loved was the OLD paper, the pink roses on that lurid yellow background that made me feel like my fevers were tipping into pleasant hallucination.

So I saw that son of mine; I knew just what he was doing patrolling the downstairs, his hands in the pockets and smiling faintly. 

He passed through the kitchen, whose wallpaper we took off two years ago. Here is the old kitchen and the son in question, working in it a couple of Christmases ago.

mpm cleans up on xmas

The other night he cruised slowly past the two newly upholstered chairs in the living room, chairs that lived in the garage and smelled like two sour washcloths for the 36 months prior to their recent makeover. They’re gorgeous now, to my eyes anyway, both of them done over in a kind of pussy-willow grey. 


They’re as gorgeous as the newly reupholstered mini-sofa at that far end of the kitchen that I put up with for the whole ten years it spent worn bald by the fannies of the cats. It too is beauteous now. Beauteous!

But not to him. 

“I GUESS I’m getting used to all the changes you’ve made,” he finally said, “only it’s all so kind of …monochromatic now. No more whimsy, no more riot of patterns. The yard is like that too since you guys cut down all those shrubs this past fall.” He said it all looks like the mind of the Ellen Burstyn character after she goes crazy in Requiem for a Dream.

These kid we all  have: they’re tough customers – not that my girl Annie said anything. We women stick together.

I do remember asking him  back in October about the material I liked for the Lincoln-era love seat in the living room which I have loved ever since I found it in a second-hand furniture shop, bought for $80 and reupholstered it myself. (Horse hair! it was stuffed with! Actual Horse hair!) Now I had my eye on a kind of pale Caribbean blue for it, slightly patterned and textured. I showed Mike the two yard sample I had.

“You realize this is green,” he said when I spread it on the loveseat.

 “Green?? This isn’t green!”

 “Mum: It’s green.”

I knew he was wrong so I paid no attention . I had the loveseat done over in it – and the minute the fellas from Rudy’s Upholstery walked in the door with it three weeks later I saw my mistake: It didn’t go even a little bit with anything else in the living room,  but LUCKY FOR US ALL our bedroom has green in the wallpaper, so that now, instead of having a tidy little table under the window up in that room, we have this giant-seeming piece of furniture, a real, old time I feel-a-faint-coming-on settee upon which I now artfully recline watching episodes of The Knick and Penny Dreadful and pretending I too am a Victorian lady about to get bled, or vivisected, or covered in leeches.

this is our room

Sigh. I hated it when my mother and aunt were right and I was wrong, And now I have it all over again with my youngest child. but it is what it is.  I’m starting to think painting the kitchen was a mistake myself. anyway.  Paint has a tendency to chip and nick and get so .. marred

Another ten years and your dad and I will go back to wallpaper, Mike and you, son, of ours, will be proven right once again, darn ya. 🙂

Blog Interrupted

dead-angel1

So this is me today, trying to look properly angelic for the season. And please note the patched together quality of my appearance. Sometimes even gorilla glue won’t hold a person together come December.

I’m actually here today to explain why this blog has been interrupted. It’s the steady advent of DECEMBER 25 which has yanked me out of my cozy thoughts of fall and the seasonal fun that is fall, the cannibalization of my pumpkins by their cousins the ants, the thoughts of those high school reunions all held over Thanksgiving weekend..  Oh and didn’t I myself once go to my reunion with my dress on backwards by mistake, a thing I didn’t realize I’d done so until six months had passed. (“Oh wait!” I thought trying it on again the following summer. “The plunging V doesn’t go in the front?  It isn’t the shoulder blades that those two pointy pockets in the back were designed to make room for?”)

I’m yanked away from these pleasant reveries by the need to start pushing uphill the rock that is Christmas, so that our family won’t once again be the only family on the street trying to string up holiday lights 24 hours before the big night, when Santa harnesses those tony rain-DEER and starts making his rounds.  (And please note that that’s how you say it:  “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-DEER. “)

Anyway here’s the second casualty in our house: the angel who normally occupies that proctological seat atop the Christmas tree. She had too much grog at the holiday party and fell and broke her ankle. As you can see I have run an IV and put her in the little hospital bed I keep especially around for small accident victims.  There’s a little blood from the fall and as you can tell she’s been crying, mostly because she knows very well that that tiny Angel We Have Heard on High beside her is totally mocking her plight with the violin playing.

Those angels: no sympathy.

Catch you in a day or two we hope – if my gorilla glue doesn’t seep so much it gums up my keyboard.

IV angel last rites

In the Waiting Rooms of Life

imagesYou can play it one of two ways in the waiting rooms of your doctor and dentist: You can act as put-out and grouchy as you may feel, having to take time out of your crucial job running the galaxy.Or, you can smile and take things easy.

I saw the reactions both good and grouchy at the appointment I had the other morning at the dermatologist’s, where – I counted – 14 of us had brought our sorry leotards of skin to be poked and peered at.

The young woman behind the glass window greeted me cheerfully as I approached her at the registration desk.

“How ARE you?” she asked in such a warm human way it was easy for me to give an equally warm and human answer.

“Great! And how are you?”

“Good, good. You know: life with young kids – and isn’t the time change still making them crazy!” she said, and we chatted a bit then: About that turning-back of the clocks and the havoc it wreaks on us all.

She checked me in and invited me to take a seat on one of the molded plastic chairs.

From a television mounted high in one corner, the morning news anchors beamed down a steady stream of stories both grave and cheerful, summoning up the proper facial expression for each. I would say some 70% of the people in the chairs watched, their eyes drawn like iron filings to a magnet, jaws relaxing into slackness.

The other 30%, that is the ones not instantly magnetized by the TV set, did the kinds of things most people while waiting for what’s next:

Person Number One pulled out her planner and took a good long look at her life. Person Number Two read the newspaper he had brought in with him. And Persons Number Three through Thirteen prodded the flat little bellies of their  phones with such exquisite precision you’d have thought they were checking them for appendicitis.

All these people I would put in the category of those who know how to take things easy.

It was the 14th person in this waiting room who didn’t know, who felt grouchy, who in fact felt entirely put out just to be sitting there. He shifted in his seat and sighed. He consulted his watch and harrumphed . Then, with a kind of raspy growl, he leaped from his chair and roared up to the desk.

“What kind of a way is THIS to run a business?” he wanted to know.

 “I had an appointment for 45 minutes ago! 45 minutes ago, do you understand? Do you people think your time is more valuable than mine?” he shouted.  And on and on he went until the woman behind the glass partition, with that same human quality she had shown to me, looked up at him until he was finished and said the kind of neutral and pacifying things that those who wait on the public learn to say.

 He hadn’t ruined her day. He certainly hadn’t ruined any of ours. In a way he was our entertainment.

But he just may have ruined his own day, starting it off like that first thing in the morning. He was, as they say, in a hell of his own making. 

Thus does it appear that life lessons are everywhere present, even in the smallest waiting rooms of life.