Friday, December 31, 2010

The Christmas Ladder

Remember how I said December 26th was my favorite day of the year?
Remember how much I enjoyed the pause - sitting in the midst of wrapping paper and toys, cookies, fudge, and left over turkey?

How is it that a mere four days later things could be so different? December 30th hits hard.

I am on olfactory overload thanks to the once yearned for scent of the tree, mulling spices, and cinnamon that have permeated my house for weeks.
Forgive the unpoetic phrase, but the house looks like it threw up.
The charm of the nicknacks, nativity scene, and stockings has worn off.
I feel like a pack rat. I am being buried alive in stuff.
I walk into my closet and am instantly claustrophobic.
Away you embroidered Christmas sweaters and holly- patterned scarves.

The tree is turning brown and looks as if it would erupt into flames if I switched the lights on one more time.
It begs to be hauled out having served its purpose as the centerpiece of our living room for a month.

The candles are melted down to nubs.
The wax has dripped all over the mantle.
The wreath, once bearing fresh fruit and nuts, is now rotting on my front door having baked in the intermittent sun of this holiday season.

We are almost out of firewood.

I'm sick of the Spode and am ready to return to any color palette other than red and green.

The uneaten cookies are stale. The once melt-in-your-mouth fudge is hard as a rock.

My recycle bin is overflowing with empty boxes, tissue paper, ribbon and wine bottles - visible signs of overindulgence.

Once a four bedroom house, the guest room appears to have been swallowed whole. Where once there was a floor, only the frantic remnants of last minute wrapping remain - empty shopping bags and receipts strewn hither and yon.

The task before me is immense.
The attic ladder beacons leading the way to a hidden, hot space above my ceiling full of the boxes packed full of the stuff I had to take down to make room for Christmas. The pine needles will carpet the living room as I drag the dry Douglas Fir through the front door knocking the nutcracker over and breaking its little wooden drum. I will be numb to this. Semi-relieved that there will be one less decoration to box up.
"What else can I break?" I will think.

The fake greenery is unwrapped from the banister. The bows neatly rolled. I bubble wrap the bells, bowls, and butter dish.

I turn my attention to the dining room.
Suddenly, my task turns nostalgic.

Mother's slightly tarnished silver needs putting away. I pull out the heavy, monogrammed chest and piece by piece fit the knives, forks, and spoons into their slots. I see Mother's arthritic fingers setting our dining room table on Resh Place. An inheritance of riches - not the silver. The memories of meals and conversation around the very dining room table I set this year.

I move to the coffee table, where one of Mother's favorite decorations awaits re-boxing. The box still bears her Palmer Method hand written label - "Sugar Plum Tree" in felt marker.

I begin to dismantle the Christmas tree. I carefully wrap the ornaments from my childhood -all their names neatly written in white script . Elsie. Lee. Bob. Jamie. Luskey. And mine. It doesn't seem nearly as precious.

I remember Mother on the ladder in my bedroom handing down the boxes of Christmas decorations to my father. Mother had a certain way of decorating the tree - the size of the ornaments mattered...a rule I disobey. I remember the red, battery operated Santa Clause that went "Ho Ho Ho", and the plastic holly wreaths that encircled Bayberry candles until they caught fire one year and burned our yellow, laminate, 1950's vintage kidney-shaped coffee table in the den. I remember Frank Sinatra on the stereo loving his J I N G L E Bells ...oh.
I remember Daddy at the bar. Herring on New Year's eve. Party hats and noise makers.

I do not feel melancholy per se. I am simply aware of the passage of time - Decades of Decembers marking my life.
I am now Mother on the ladder.
My own children, grown, the magic of their own childhood Decembers moving to a place of nostalgia.
One day, they, too will hold the ornaments of their lives inscribed with my name and theirs and the memory of their own mother decorated house will come to mind. The time will come when they will climb the ladder and pass the boxes down to create memories for their own children.
And come December 30th,
they will sit amidst the chaos, wade through the mess, and recall the peace of December 26th as they box up another Christmas memory, and reach for the ibuprofen to relieve the back ache from too many trips up and down the ladder. A December 30th physical pain that gives way to something else.
A pain passed on through the years.
A pain I feel each December 31st.
A pain no ibuprofin can dull.

It is the sweet pain of Auld Lang Syne.

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this, Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Auld Lang Syne.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Through the Years We All Will Be Together

There is laughter in the air this morning. December 26th is my favorite day of the year. It's the day to wade through wrapping paper still strewn on the living room floor. It's a day to stack the opened gift boxes brimming with sweaters and tissue paper under the tree, pine needles, brittle, dry and ready to go, falling aimlessly on top of them. It's a day to play with your toys, listen to your new CD's or read the opening chapters of your new books. It's a day to eat left overs, burn a fire in the fireplace, and watch "It's a Wonderful Life" because on December 26th you remember that it is.

My children, nestled snug in their beds till 11:00 a.m. when I call out that breakfast is ready. Coffeecake, bacon, eggs, and toast with marmalade. I want this morning to last because there are so few of them like this. No place to go. Nothing to do but be home. Together.

I light candles, put the Christmas music on the stereo and we talk of the night before. The meal. The present opening. The wine. We are happy. Home is cozy. It feels like a big pot of hearty soup. It feels like a warm bath. It feels like the lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
No tasks. No work. No to do list. No running around. December 26th is a day to recover from the rat race of the holiday season and to bask in the joy of our little family at the beginning of the last week of the year.

I pick up the bag full of wrappings and decide to move it from here to there. Enough work for today. Time for a nap.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


And the seasons they go 'round and 'round and the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on a carousel of time. We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came and go 'round and 'round and 'round in the circle game.
Joni Mitchell

I grew up as an only child even though I wasn't.
My first friend was Susie who showed up at our front door one day with her little dog.
"Can your little girl come out and play?" She asked my mother.
My mother's over protective response -
"She's not allowed to play with dogs."
So Susie went home, dropped off her little dog and rang our bell again.
"Now can your little girl play?"
Susie had long, dark, thick, chestnut brown, curly hair.
As it turned out, she, too, was growing up as an only child even though she wasn't.
Susie was a year older than me and the sister of a friend of my brother's.
Both Susie and I had siblings eighteen or so years older than us.
Mother let Susie in and from that day on, I had a sister. I was three and she was four.

My father called her "Sue Sue". I never knew why.
Her mother called her Susan and My Angel.
Susie's house was only 8 houses down from mine on Resh Street.
I lived on the cul de sac across Sycamore - a busy street that, like not being allowed to play with dogs, I was not allowed to cross alone.
Susie taught me how to roller skate, ice skate, and ride a bike.
My father taught Susie how to swim.

We would trade off spending the night at each other's houses.
It seemed every time I ate over for dinner, Susie's mother fixed liver.
I hated liver.
My favorite thing she fixed was date nut loaf.
Susie had plum trees and a tether ball in her back yard. I loved the plums but I was always afraid of getting hit in the face by the tether ball. Susie would hit it so hard it would wrap around the pole. I mostly ducked.

Susie's father would sit outside the back door of their house and listen to the ball game on his transistor radio.

I was always scared of Susie's dog. Sometimes I would climb up on top of their couch and the dog would chase me.
Susie's bedroom furniture was antique. She had twin beds high off the ground. I like sleeping on them.
Susie's father would give us Dentine gum and red licorice when we rode in the back of my parent's station wagon down to San Clemente where we had a mobile home on the beach.
On the weekends we'd drive down to Capistrano Shores on Friday nights. We arrived in time for Get Smart and the Jackie Gleason show. My mother would fix us hot cocoa in plastic mugs and we'd sit at the kitchen table drinking it before bed.

Susie didn't like the dip. Right out from the edge of the sand was a ditch you'd have to cross when going into the ocean before reaching the sandbar.

Growing up, Susie and I had many adventures in our neighborhood. We wore cords and wallabies, parted our hair down the middle and wore frosted lipstick, a pointy comb tucked into the back pocket of our cords.
We played tennis at Anaheim High School and rode our bikes down town where we got in trouble because we visited the elevator boy at the SQR store. We must have been gone too long because my mother walked into the SQR store and yelled my name at the top of her lungs right through the store.

Susie & I got in trouble a fair amount. We broke our neighbor's window throwing rocks over the fence.
We played ding dong ditch and Mrs. Crog yelled at us.
And we destroyed my plastic playhouse in the back yard piling rocks on its roof.
We got sent home from the Bruce's house because I spelled the "F-word" and Robert's mother over heard me.

We were surrounded by tough girls on Resh. Cindy lived next door to Susie. She was older than us. A pretty blonde, Cindy's father owned a local market where we'd go to buy candy. Cindy told us where baby's came from, that there was no Santa and what marijuana was.
Cindy ended up pregnant.

Susie and I walked the alleys in the neighborhood looking for what we thought were marijuana butts. I don't know why.
Peggy Lamarenel lived for a while on my cul de sac. A red head, she came from an alcoholic family. She was the meanest girl I'd ever met.
And Theresa Francis beat me up.
Susie rescued me.
I was walking home one day from St. Boniface and Theresa decided to bully me and then kicked me very hard in the thigh.
Theresa was adopted. So were her 2 siblings. Her mother looked emaciated all the time and her older sister taught me how to play the guitar.
Eventually Theresa and I became friends.
I don't know why she kicked me that day.

One Christmas, Susie and I both got guitars. I have a picture of us in front of our Christmas tree with them strapped across our bodies. A few minutes after that picture was taken, Susie and I went to her house with the guitars and we smashed into each other on her porch and put a hole in the side of one of them. I think mine but I can't remember.

One time I was babysitting my nephews who lived across the street from Susie and all the kids in the neighborhood were over playing hide and seek. I climbed up into the avocado tree and fell out, breaking my arm. My parents were dancing at The Palms Restaurant so I ended up calling Theresa Francis' mother who determined that my arm was broken.
Eventually my parents came home and I ended up with a cast on my arm for the whole summer.

On Susie's side of the street from Sycamore lived Mrs. Shea, Mrs. Beltz, Mrs. Rickle, The Caracozzes and the Beninatas - I don't know how to spell their names - and Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Their house was always dark inside. On the other side of Susie lived Mrs. Drennin. On our cul de sac lived the Crogs, and the Mrs. Coney. Mr. Croney died from hitting his head on the freezer door.
Mother often repeated that story when yelling at me to close the freezer.
She also would yell at me if I kept a drawer open. Did I want to end up on crutches "like Sue Frenzil who was crippled from having fallen over an open drawer?"

Susie liked Mark Brunet. Joe Waldman like me. Joe would ride his bike over to my house and hit the white brick side with his tire and my mother would yell at him.

Mother was always yelling at somebody.

Susie was a year ahead of me at St. Boniface. All the boys were crazy about Susie.

We traveled to Europe one time with my parents and the Kavanaghs. Susie's suitcase exploded.
She carried my father's Polaroid camera everywhere.
We both had a crush on a cute elevator boy in Biarritz. He liked Susie.

In Las Vegas, Susie always won more tokens than me at Circus Circus.
I would get mad.

Susie's mother loved Las Vegas. We went with her on several trips. We'd lay out by the pool and rub baby oil on our bodies.

Susie's mother pierced her ears with a potato in her kitchen. She always soaked her earrings in alcohol.

Susie loved Elvis Presley. We would go to the Fox Anaheim every Saturday and see a new Elvis movie.

Susie's sister lived way out in Yorba Linda. In the country. One time, we rode our bikes all the way down La Palma Avenue to her house. Whenever we spent the night, we slept in the blue room "out at Kathy's."

Susie rode horses and drove a Gremlin.
She worked at Del Taco and went to Connelly. We got drunk, snuck cigarettes, and had boyfriends. We came of age in the 70's and somehow made it through unscathed.
We grew up, got married, and had children. Susie was pregnant with her eldest daughter, Briana, at my wedding.

Where does the time go? It seems only yesterday we were kids riding our bikes, helmetless, wind in our hair, around the streets of Anaheim .
Wasn't it just yesterday
my mother was serving us cokes and processed smoked turkey sandwiches on white bread by the pool at 509,
her unmistakeable voice yelling my name down the street or down the hallway of our house?
Wasn't it just yesterday Susie's mother was baking in her kitchen, the aroma and the sound of her father's transistor wafting from 323?

And now, Susie is a grandmother!

And the seasons, they go 'round and 'round.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Box

The box arrived and I let it sit there.

I knew what it contained.

Something hard earned.
Something wrought.
Something personal.
Something lasting.

It sat there waiting for me to open it.

in the upper left corner of the square box,
oversized, I thought for its contents,
but befitting its sender,
was the return address sticker.
His name simply printed.
Mine, scrawled in black felt marker.
An artist's hand.

I didn't want to open it
because I knew
that with one slice of the knife I would unseal emotion I had
boxed up in order to begin a new chapter in my own life.

I didn't want to open it
because I wanted to hold on
to the moment
to the memory
to him.

But there it was beckoning to me
through its corrugated exterior
to be relished
something to be cherished.
I slid the knife along the taped edges until it neatly opened.
A knowing anticipation.
A tiny, monumental, private moment between the two of us.

The box within the box,
a highly polished, lacquered piece of art itself
shining amidst tissue paper and bubble wrap
bespoke the treasure within.

The story of a life
and the author's signature
laying claim to it.
An effort spanning over eighty years.

In my hands
I held
the gift of a lifetime.

Jim's autobiography.
Volume 1.
Its title,
A Song of My Years.

For me.

His story, a reminder of the unfinished chapters of my own life.
The files of starts, nearly dones,
pages of then
waiting to be opened.

A Song of My Years
reminds me
it's never too late
to begin

Jim's song
a sweet symphony of inspiration
I will savor for the rest of my life.