My Homemade Holiday Card, on this 12th Day of Xmas


xmas in the new century phones trains camerasThis year my homemade holiday card offered a cruise through time, starting with this 1909 shot  of my mother and her brothers and cousins.

She’s the sad-looking one holding the toy phone. She was saddish by nature as a small child, whereas her oldest brother James, on the far left, was just plain jolly. His letter to Santa to Santa that year was signed, “from James Sullivan, A Fat Six-Year-Old Boy.”

My card was like that generally, both jolly and  jokey. After this first old picture I fast-forwarded 50 years to an image of David and his cute brothers posed by the their tree in Medford Massachusetts. He’s the one with the nice big smile and the striped shirt.

marotta boys c 1958

He and I didn’t know each other yet of course but here I am not more then ten miles away then, together with my big sister Nan in our front yard on Charlotte Street in Dorchester. Nan is so pretty  even now, and was then too. I was always mugging so you can’t ever TELL what I looked like.

snow fun charlotte streetFrom there the card opened up to show two shots of David and me as a couple,  both in our early 20s, one depicting a holiday-minded Dave with a big red Christmas bow stuck to his head.  I won’t put that up here since he hates having his image going far and wide  for all the world to see. Then the other one showed  me having what appears to be a 99th glass of champagne and wearing a one-piece hot pants getup and once again mugging.

august 70 at nan & jim's

Then further down came pictures of our kids AS little kids and then a few shots of our grandchildren.

Here was little Callie, AKA Caroline Theresa the 5th, named for her mom who was named for her mom who was named for her mom who was named for her mom – tiresome, I know.

callie on a sept saturday

And, here since I seem to be doing a Ladies First thing, was little Ruthie-Roo, born 13 months ago and already one of the funniest people in the room.

ruthie batman two

Young David Marotta came next in the card, a guy who was plain crazy about Nerf Guns for a while there, until the principle of disarmament settled upon the house.

david got his gun

And last but not least there was this picture of Edward, at 11 our eldest grandchild, here dressed for battle for the honor of the Fenn School.

edward football

Finally when you turned the card over to side four, there was this picture of David and me in the late 80s headed to a gala to celebrate the purchase, by its citizens, of a new Steinway for use by our town. The accompanying text basically said that al though WE two sure don’t look as good now as we did then, at least the hall wallpaper has greatly improved.

t & dpm steinway gala '88

So there it was: a card that was funny and fun to make.

And now, with Twelfth Night behind us and Little Christmas here, I’m sweeping away the last of the pine needles and laying those slender self-lighting, self-extinguishing window candles to rest in their attic box. Where one or two of them may well flicker on as darkness gathers and where, until their batteries run down, they will faintly light the gloom up under the eaves, until we pull them forth again next Christmas

 

Summer Morning : Earth

When we’ve all moved lock, stock and candy wrapper to some giant biosphere high up in Space, what will be said of our time on this planet? What will be remembered, say, of a summer day here on Earth?

Will anyone recall the young women riding morning buses on their way to work?

girl on a busEarlier this week, I looked up from the task of wedging groceries into my dented little car, and saw, on a bus idling at a red light, one such young woman perched on the inward-facing seats

She wore a dress scooped low in the back, and I watched as with sure and practiced hands she reached behind her to arrange her hair, lifting and looping sections, disciplining its long braids, until, at last satisfied, she let the heavy whole of it drop against bare skin.  

Where is the video camera for moments like these?

Later that day, 100 miles farther west, at a rest stop on Interstate 90, I wondered that same thing again, as I sat on one of the arc-shaped stone benches encircling the stone tables on the Visitors’ Center’s leafy patio.  I watched as the scalloped edges of the umbrellas sheltering this Stonehenge-like seating danced in the wind and thought, “If I could only paint! I wouldn’t need a video camera if I had the artist’s eye to capture this breeze in a series of brush strokes.”

I looked around more and saw a woman well into her 70s so delighted with the pre-school child holding her hand that she was literally skipping from her car to where I sat, the little boy skipping with her and the two talking delightedly away even as they flitted from the hot asphalt to that cool bower of shade where we outdoor diners sat, paused on our several journeys.

That pause is a big element of life on this Earth in the warmer months I think.

I move through my days, same as I do all year, but find myself lately taking more time to notice each moment.

Yesterday I was trying to clear a sink drain and accidentally dropped the small red cap to the can of the harsh chemical down into the drain too, thus doubly stopping it up, and the irony of that fact made me ponder.

I called the plumber and when he arrived we chatted away about all the small mild ‘reprimands’ Fate sends our way.

 “Look at this,” he said, indicating his reddened left arm. “I was weeding around the foundation of my house when a whole swarm of yellow-jackets buzzed up out of the ground and stung me!”

 “I have eight or ten bites here,” he added, pointing.

 “Yikes!” I said. “And nothing hurts worse than a yellow jacket’s sting!”

 “Oh, but that’s not all! The next day when it started itching like crazy, I realized: That weed patch was full of poison ivy!”    

It seems likely to me that here was a conversation that would NOT have taken place in the hurry-up cold months.

The young woman would have been in a coat for one thing, her lovely back all covered; and the canvas umbrellas would not have even been there to snap in the breeze; and for sure the older lady would not have been skipping over stone-cold asphalt.

Time seems to slow in the warm months and open these small still pools into which we can for once really see ourselves living, the way God sees us and, let us hope, the way God smiles in the seeing.

beach umbrellas flapping

 

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

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.  

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.