The Christmas Spirit

The year was 1961. I was working in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music as a receptionist. It was, in all respects, a wonderful year. I was in love (still am) and was surrounded by talented, generous and joyful people.

But Christmas was always hard for me. What to give to my parents? My father never wore anything but a suit, had enough ties to last several life times, bought his own socks and had no hobbies. My mother was choosy about the things she wore and the things she had in the house. I always had great angst about what to give them. That year I found a little Japanese porcelain dish which I hoped they would like, but it cost more than my small salary could comfortably bear. Still, I bought it. There wasn’t any joy in the purchase, however. I was worried and poorer…not a good combination.

The Conservatory was, back then, in a less than desirable part of town. It was surrounded by poverty level housing and people. There was a drug store right across the street that I visited on my lunch hour to pick up necessary items.

One day, near Christmas, I was at the drug store, mindlessly purchasing some stuff, not giving it any thought as I stood in line to pay for my items. An older woman was in front of me. She wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the cold Boston December day. It did strike me that she most likely didn’t have a warmer coat, but the thought was fleeting.

And then something happened that I will never forget. As my arms were carelessly full of stuff, I realized she was buying a single box of tissues. And I heard her say to the clerk: “This is for my friend for Christmas. She’ll really like it.”

I find myself as speechless now as I did then. And still a little close to tears. It was a hard reality. She was delighted with her choice of a gift for her friend, confident that it would be given, received and used with love and affection.

And I was worried about an expensive porcelain dish for my parents who needed nothing and would most likely put the dish in a drawer anyway? Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think about that moment.

Sometimes, I wish our family could just exchange boxes of tissues, carefully choosing one that might appeal…they come in such jazzy colors and designs these days. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could wrap them up fancifully with pretty paper and ribbons, confident they would be used and appreciated.

Now, I know we can’t….and would never want to…deny our families the joy of Christmas morning and presents under the tree. Santa Claus does exist.

But, for me, perhaps, a box of tissues has become a symbol of friendship and love, of a longed-for simple Christmas season, of joy, of an opportunity to share with others less fortunate, and, of course, in its own way, the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Insanity Rules

About this time last year, I get a call from my neighbor. She has a fairy outfit. I’ve seen it. It’s quite elaborate if not breathtaking. She’s eager to wear it on Christmas Eve at the shopping mall. She would distribute peppermint candy canes and bring joy and light to all of those doing their desperate last minute shopping. What did I think of that idea? My chair was close to the ground so I didn’t hurt myself when I fell.

Now, she’s nothing if not persistent. A little while later, she calls back. As it turns out she also has an elf outfit. How about if I wear that and go with her to the mall in her fairy outfit on Christmas Eve and pass out peppermint candy canes? I ask if we’ve met and do I really look like that kind of person? She agrees that I’m an unlikely candidate. She hangs up, dejectedly, I can tell.

A few moments pass. I ask myself: just exactly how many more opportunities do you think you have to make a complete fool of yourself, as an elf, accompanying a fairy, on Christmas Eve at the shopping mall?  Passing our peppermint sticks and subjecting yourself to ridicule if not danger from crazed shoppers?

As it turns out the elf suit fit like a dream.

If I could have that much fun, that easily, that simply, again….just for a minute, well, I’d be there in a heartbeat. My advice to you…unsolicited of course….is go for it. Dress outside the box, take peppermint sticks and see what happens. You’ll have fun, too.

Thanksgiving 2014….more of a little letter than anything else.

Dear Friends:

Well, the weather, Ferguson and a snuffly cold put a real wet blanket on our Thanksgiving plans this year. Thus our feet remained firmly planted at home with the cats. It was tempting to hike up the air conditioning, put a fire in the fireplace, and pretend we were cuddled up with family in St. Louis as we had planned. Better safe than sorry but making the decision not to go was a difficult one.

Later in the day, and just for the heck of it, we checked on the flights we were to have taken and discovered that our 11:30 am flight out of Savannah had been “detained” until 4:30 pm. Five hours late!

Don’t you just love airline language! Detained, indeed! They knew full well that the people on that flight had just been sent directly into airport purgatory. Someone was looking out for us. I think we may have been lost in space forever.

The St. Louis group had a lovely day in spite of our absence. One of their ovens went down, our son spent two and half hours in the urgent care, there was a fire somewhere in the house and for some as yet unknown reason the police came to the door. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary for them. They handle stress well.

We were fortunate to be able to spend Thanksgiving with our family here. I know they were less than thrilled to have me bring THE green bean/mushroom soup casserole but, really, can you do Thanksgiving without it? The answer, of course, is yes but I was feeling a nicely traditional. Did you know it was orginated by Campbell’s soup in 1955. A conversation starter if ever there was one. Anyway, whatever you say about it, I think it’s yummy.

Our family in Maryland was nicely tucked in with their boys home for Thanksgiving break. Our son’s Achilles heel is on the mend. He can actually walk after months of hobbling on crutches. A great step forward….no pun intended.

So while there is much to be thankful for, we would be remiss in not mentioning a great loss to a community we know well. Warren was a good and generous man, one my husband always spoke of with respect and honor. We have his family in our thoughts and prayers.

This was not the message I had planned for today. I had a silly one all lined up. It can wait. Life got in the way and expressing thoughtfulness, gratitude and appreciation seemed to be more important. I know the big turkey day is over but the feelings remain and from my little space it seemed important to recognize them.

Fondly, Sallie

 

Ode to the radish

 

 

Especially at this time of Thanksgiving, I have the great pleasure of being part of a small team who work on Monday mornings to receive food from that most generous of organizations, Second Helpings. We clean, organize and bag food for the needy people of Bluffton and its surroundings. When that truck arrives, it’s like Christmas….we never know what we’ll get, how much, what condition it will be in but we’re ready for anything.

 

The Ladies are pretty much in charge of the fruits and vegetables. We know what to do and how to do it. For some unknown reason, the radish has become my specialty! After six months of doing this, I find myself in awe of those little red vegetables.

They can end up on the bottom of 30 pounds of heavy produce and still survive!

 

Pity the poor kiwi, with its hairy, ugly skin…..it crushes under the least bit of pressure. The apples and oranges make it through pretty well but we’d expect them to…..they have some staying power. Pears are so gentle; we usually lose most of them. Lettuces can be tricky as can the tomatoes.

 

But the radishes! Oh sure, they need their messy greens cut off but then with a good washing, they’re perky again, bright red and fresh as daisies. I’ve never had to say good bye to a single one. And I never want to. I admire their stability, their sturdiness, their determination to survive. If only they could give lessons to some of their more vulnerable kin.

 

But, alas, they are unique. I love getting my hands around them on Monday mornings, watching them recover from a hard trip and enjoying their revival. If only I could inherit just a tiny bit of their strength. Maybe, if I’m lucky and keep at it, a little will seep, like osmosis, through my fingers.

Thanksgiving 2013

 

 

We had barely been in the old house three months and were excited to learn that we would have two of the three families with us for Thanksgiving. And I was going to out-Norman Norman Rockwell, if it killed me.

 

I imagined the family lazily coming downstairs in the mornings, with their coffees, gathering in front of a fireplace, rejoicing in being together, catching up, laughing, getting a little caffeine buzz. In reality, our son had conferences calls each morning, our daughter-in-law had a little cold and we encouraged her to sleep in, and the teenagers emerged somewhere around noon, their language indistinguishable from guttural noises. Okay, so we failed Norman 101.

 

Now it was on to kayaking down the May River for the kids during the day, I thought. Oh, I could just hear their tales of competition, who got the wettest, how much fun it was. For the adults, a slow amble downtown, enjoying the art galleries, little shops, wine bars. I think the wine bars made the list but not much else.

 

Somehow we made it to Thanksgiving dinner. The table was stretched to its fullest, chairs scrunched around, the fireplace ablaze. A beautiful turkey, cooked to a golden brown, food brought by family members, everyone looking spiffy. A heart-felt blessing was said. A little wine hit for the adults, the candles lit, linen napkins…..it was oh, so terribly Norman. And then the teenagers started texting.   No, No. No. Not in my plan or at my table. What to do? I know those looks when you tell them to stop. They glare, obviously unhappy and certainly not willing to join the party. It was going to get ugly. Help me, Norman. Oh, that’s right….you never had to deal with texting. I’m on my own here.

 

We have a box of “dinner-party questions.” I ran to get them, quickly sorted out family appropriate cards and delivered two to each person at the table. This was either going to be a complete disaster or it was going to work. At the very first question, my middle son managed to seriously (and I think on purpose) offend both his mother and his wife. She and I looked at each other, locked arms and left the room, vowing never to return. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the phones go down and the lips turn up. What could be better than a family fight right in front of their very eyes? They were hooked. Couldn’t get enough. They were also fascinated by answers to the questions…..we all learned something about each other. The cards were a blessing.

 

The teenagers cleared the table, served dessert and…hold onto your hat, Norman….asked to play Catch Phrase after dinner!   Happy times can’t be prescribed, I guess. They have to evolve. We got lucky. So, Norman, I still love the memories you evoke in your paintings. That Thanksgiving, we made our own.

Confessions of an Orchid Killer

There’s nothing premeditated about it. Nothing intentional. I don’t have it in for orchids. I don’t deprive them of their ice cubes. Not a single orchid has ever done anything so bad to me that I felt a need to exact revenge on it. They simply die on me. I am the Bates Motel for orchids.

I go to homes where they thrive. How, I ask. Simple, their owners say. They just need good light, two or three ice cubes a week and they bloom like crazy. Not for me they don’t. A friend asked me to tend to hers for a week. I told her of my history. She said the orchid was happy, had been alive for quite some time and there wasn’t anything bad I could do to it. Well, she was wrong. One week after I gave it back to her it died. See, I said. See what happens. I told you so. I felt terrible about that but she was forewarned.

Another friend has a houseful of them. All colors, blooming constantly, graciously and beautifully. Again, I asked, how do you do it? I’ve been trying for years only to experience failure again and again. She said I’d been buying the wrong kind. Now we’re getting somewhere. I got out my pen and paper because I know the names are complicated and I wanted to get it right. She said she thought I could remember the name, that it was quite simple and fool proof. Hah, I said….I’ll just bet. She was right. One word solved all the problems. Silk.

 

 

Chickens and eggs

I must ask your forgiveness for the following. I just can’t help myself. I’ve tried but to no avail. This is going to be ineggscusably corny and potentially painful.

Our delightfully eggcentric neighbors have just built a chicken coop. First , let me say that I am eggcited to think about eating a warm egg. Now, a friend of mine says he’s never eaten anything BUT a warm egg. How can that be, I asked. You don’t have a chicken coop. He simply said that by the time he’d cooked his egg, it was warm. (Collective groan, here, please.)

Anyway, I am looking forward to this eggceptional addition to the neighborhood. The coop is positioned in an eggstremely secluded part of their yard so the chicks won’t be a problem. (Pity the poor rooster.   Does he know his role in this process is noneggsistent? All that crowing about nothing.)

I gather there will be an eggstended gathering of chickens, names to be determined upon their arrival. They are coming from an eggslempary source so the eggs will be something for us to eggsclaim about, of that I am eggceedingly certain.

I don’t know eggsactly when they are due to arrive but their eggsistance and subsequent production will, no doubt eggceed our fondest hopes and eggspectations. If all goes well, perhaps the tribe will be eggspanded. Who knows?

Now at this point, I am assuming that you wish that I would eggspire, become eggstinct or just plain go away. So I shall. Do you know how many pages there are in the dictionary devoted to words starting with “ex” that offer the opportunity for this to go on and on? I think that I deserve an eggshortation for my self-control (eggsclamation mark here, please.)

 

P.S. You really didn’t think I was going to go away quite that easily, did you? This has, after all, been an eggsistential egggsperience so eggspediting my eggsit has been a little eggcrutiating….no doubt for all of us.

Treats…..no tricks.

 

 

We’ve felt since the beginning of our time in this house that there were spirits here. We’ve not known who they were, what they had in mind for us or, just in general, why they were here. They are welcoming spirits….of that I am sure. I think they know why we are here and they appreciate it. Even spirits like to be warm in the winter and I like it that way too, so we get along pretty well.

 

We have a piece of art in the kitchen which is new since we’ve lived here. It’s so perfect for the spot and we admire it every day. The artist was in town recently and we invited her to come and see where it was hanging. She walked in the house and stopped dead in her tracks. Couldn’t have cared less about her art. She needed to tell us about the spirits in the house. She sensed them immediately. It seems there was an elderly woman who died in the house and she’s still here.

 

She also told us that there’s also an adolescent girl who’s hanging out. We traversed the house: living rooms, closets, attics, bathrooms. She told us where the child had stayed and that she had left some toys here, most likely in the little knee-hole attic.

 

That evening we were having a drink with our neighbor who lived in this house for many years with her parents. She knows every inch of this house. I was telling her about the visit from the artist/psychic that day and that she had sensed a woman who had died here and was still making her presence known. Without skipping a beat, our neighbor asked “And did she mention the adolescent girl?”

 

Goose bumps, anyone??

A 21st century love affair in a 19th century house

He and I fell in love the minute we saw each other. We’re so fortunate…our love grows stronger every day. He’s so handsome, growing slightly grayer all the time but that’s okay. A few wrinkles here and there but those green eyes are still beautiful. He’s kind and sweet, as he always has been.

Sleeping together (is this getting a little racy for you?) can be a challenge. As it is with so many males, he tends to hog the sheets and covers. (You know what I mean.) I’m happy to say he doesn’t snore.

He likes to dine on schedule so I always try to be home for us to be together.   He loves to eat yet manages to stay nice and lean.   His tastes are limited; it’s easy to please him.

I know that he’s unfaithful but I accept that and have since I first discovered it. I don’t know her name but I recognize her when I see her.  She comes down the tree with a nut in her mouth and it’s for him. They stare longingly at each other. Their tails get puffy and twitchy. Just because it’s unrequited love, between mixed species with a double e-strength window between them doesn’t mean it’s not heartfelt. I know he worries when it’s cold out and he’s inside where it’s nice and warm. You can see it on his face.

He sleeps a lot….somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours a day. She visits frequently and he’s frequently oblivious. (So typical of the male, isn’t it?  If he were dependent on that nut, I can tell you it would be a different matter).   I guess you’d call her the (nut)bread winner, so I worry about his self esteem. Since he’s not allowed outside, his ability to hunt and gather is limited.

So there we are… Basil the cat and his squirrelfriend…..With apologies to the bard, she’s on the balcony ( i.e. up the tree) and he’s inside, most likely asleep. ”Basil-oh-Basil….wherefore art thou, Basil?” May things end better for them than that Shakespearean relationship did.

And I did it my way.

 

 

 

It’s a beautiful fall day today. I think I’ll go to the water. We are so fortunate to have so many choices. The previous owners left us two kayaks. The water is still and could make for a wonderful trip. Get a little exercise, too.

 

They also left a little boat. A Boston Whaler. 15 or 16 feet, I think. Just right for a leisurely trip up and down the river. A cool drink and a sandwich. What could be better?

 

Then there’s the option of just sitting on the dock, watching people enjoy the river and waving at them, saying hello, hoping they keep their wake to a dull roar so we don’t bounce around.

 

We could even just enjoy the water from our porch. Nice comfy chairs. There are some soft October breezes blowing. Maybe a sip of wine or two.

 

Lovely choices, all. Just not for me. I’m going to take a bubble bath.

AAB   

What qualifies something to be history? Does it have to be old? Does it have to have global impact? Do life and death have to be involved? Must it be a tale of survival and loss? To involve war? Does it have to be hard to learn (an aside here…I failed every history course I ever took…yes, I know about Columbus but don’t pin me down on the year).

Does personal history count? Or does it have be relevant to an era of change and revolution? Does it have to relate to a “period” as in furniture….Queen Anne, Chippendale, etc?

Or can it be a simple tale with a beginning, a middle and an end which has a powerful effect on the people involved? No war, no history books, nothing era-specific, just a story?

There’s a blanket in this house that stands for a period of our family history. We know its whole life…..it started in a Target store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And now it lives on the May river in a 200 year old house. Every time it is touched, folded, washed, pulled up to a neck for warmth, spread out for a cat to sit on, it generates a flood….all within a nanosecond…of emotion, relief and gratitude.

It was the blanket we bought when our daughter-in-law was so terribly sick. There was no way the heating system in our little motel room could keep one of us (yes, me) warm enough. This one did the trick . We were there for three chilly months. Sarah lived. That was our goal. And that blanket …The AAB (Ann Arbor Blanket).. is a constant reminder of the ordeal, the hoped-for-outcome, the very fabric (yes, a little corny but true) of that time in our lives. And no one can tell me it doesn’t count as history. I know better.

 

 

 

 

 

Holly bibble

A friend’s granddaughter was helping her mother put away the books in their new home. Her father was at sea.

Suddenly, the little girl squealed with delight. Look Mommy, she said. It’s the holly bibble.

Now I don’t know if, after a couple of quiet chuckles, her mother corrected her or not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the pleasure the child got when she saw the book.

She knew it contained stories….ones she liked….maybe like Blueberries for Sal or even better. She probably knew some of the names in the book, could say some of it by heart, knew it was important in its own way. And she gave it her own name.

She made it special to herself. Right now, in her wonderful innocence, that book has its own meaning to her. We don’t know how that will evolve in the future.

Now, don’t try to find the holly bibble through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It doesn’t exist. It does exist in the child’s heart at the moment. We hope it stays there with her own unique stamp on it and that no one tries to take that away.

Use-by-dates

We all know what that means. I don’t pay much attention to it because our children take care of it for me. They arrive with fear and terror that something out of date will be served to them. They check all cans, every pasta box, cake mixes, soups and so forth. Out goes everything that doesn’t meet their standards.

Then it’s on to the spices. I’ll admit to a slight lack of attention to those little jars so it’s probably good to have a cleansing.

The freezer and refrigerator are next. My husband’s mother kept all her jellies, marmalades and jams for at least 30 years. He didn’t know that refrigerators had lights in them until he left home. I’m not that bad but there are always a few things in there that have seen better days. Out they go.

Now they hit the medicine cabinet. After that clearance, if your body needs attention…….tummy-ache, ear-wax, allergies ….you can just forget about it. There’s no help for it in this house.

In a way I appreciate the help. It’s hard on the budget to have to replace everything but it’s not really a bad thing. I like to think that it’s their way of taking care of us.

So, I’m not too worried about my out-of-date items being tossed. They’ve been doing this for us for years. No….I have a new worry. I guess the best name for it would be a sell-to-date.

Am I the only one whose favorite products are gone? I mean really gone! Not just out of stock but never to be replaced. Totally discontinued. I think chapstick is the only product that I like that’s still available.

Hair products used for years….gone. Lipstick color that goes with everything….gone. A favorite mascara….gone. Bath salts enjoyed and loved….gone. Comfortable under-garments….gone (am I really supposed to get used to thongs?)

I loved certain writing pens….gone. Shirts from Lands End that used to fit perfectly….gone. Pants that actually got close to your waistline…gone.

But all of that pales in comparison to the discontinuation of the Kraft Garlic Cheese Roll.   If you want to see what a terrible thing Kraft did, just Google those cheese rolls. Angry, angry women and I’m right there with them. How am I supposed to make my famous garlic cheese grits without that product…..or spinach madeleine? You just can’t do it. The stuff never goes bad so the cognoscenti went out and bought cases of them. I wasn’t among them, alas.

So buy in bulk and hang on to it. Cause if you don’t, when you want it, you’re not gonna be able to get it. The young sales staffers smile at you but you see their pity. When I ask for something old and wonderful and no longer available, I know they’re thinking…..poor old thing.…..I’ll bet she’s got lots of yucky out-of-date products in her cupboard and doesn’t even know it.. Well, they’re wrong about that but I still want my old lipstick and my Kraft Garlic Cheese Roll.

Beep

 

It starts between 3:00 and 3:15 most afternoons. My first reaction is oh rats –  not again. I don’t know how to fix it….make it stop. I know why but not how. There’s only one of us who knows what to do and he’s somewhere else.

My second reaction is to take a hammer to it, put it out of its misery. But that would be rash and frankly unpleasant for many people, the police included. They would be at the door within minutes. How would I explain my murderous actions. Big money would ultimately be involved and I’m not prepared to take that risk.

My third reaction….and this is relatively new…..is to feel bad about it, to feel sorry for it in a way. It’s just doing its job. It means well. It has phantom pain and any one who’s experienced that understands.

It’s the alarm system, of course. What it wants me to do is close the dining room door. I would if I could but I can’t because that door is gone….completely and utterly gone. No more door. Forever and ever gone. How can we tell it that? All it wants me to do is obey its orders…check station 13 (of course it’s 13). The one who’s not home to fix it has a gizmo, put together with scotch tape and super glue that helps but not sufficiently. Our “protector” still wants to take care of its family. Warn us….danger….danger.

So I listen…. …..two seconds between beeps and no way to stop it. There’s not enough valium in the house to ease the anxiety, the annoyance. So I go back to reaction number 3 and try to share in its pain. I’m retired, too, and sometimes I miss my old job, want to help as I did once upon a time. Beep. Anyone got any super-glue or scotch tape handy?

Chimes       

 

The move was exhausting. What move isn’t? What goes and what stays? Are we doing the right thing? Are we crazy at our age to move to a larger house with no storage? Isn’t this backwards? People said…oh we envy you…you are so brave and adventurous. We’re pretty sure we know what they said when we were out of earshot and we wondered if they weren’t right. But we did it anyway.

 

The move was even more exhausting than I had imagined. There’s a small…really small…bedroom on the second floor of the new house…right next to the church. It’s more of a cubby than anything else in which I spent the first few weeks after the move, away from the world. One afternoon in the middle of one of my seemingly endless naps the church bells began to chime. In my haze, I assumed they were checking to see if they work (trust me, they worked). I began to count but on and on they went. Surely, I thought, they could figure the problem out faster than that.

 

We quickly learned that the church bells peal at funerals…..once for every year of the person’s life. How soon we changed our thoughts about the number of times the bells ring. Now when we hear them , we quietly begin to count. We think about the people in the church, honoring the person for whom those bells toll. We say a quiet prayer for each of the souls, the one being honored and the ones in mourning. But perhaps more than anything, we count…slowly and deliberately. One, two, three…..

 

What we want is for those bells to go on and on……signifying a life lived long and , we hope, well. When the bells stop too soon……(and that changes with our own perspective of a long life)…..we emotionally join the mourners. We’ve heard them stop at thirty…..and hoped that it was a mistake….that the system failed. But it’s fool proof and so we ask ourselves…..why? Why so soon? Not enough time here…..those bells should not be for them. They’re for those who have fulfilled their lives. But it happens, of course. We know that intellectually but, let me tell you, those bells bring it all home. There’s an ache when they stop….a finality, an auditory clamp to the end of that life. They quit as abruptly as they began.

 

Fleeting, isn’t it? Two or three minutes of bells being rung and it’s over. Suddenly and maddeningly over. If I could go over there and ring those bells some more, I’d do it. I can’t of course. They’re as programmed as our lives and no one can do a bloody thing about it.