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Our reading group meets this Saturday and I am determined to be well by then. Creighton has been asked by our hostess to bring his wonderful, homemade whole-wheat bread. With trepidation, he agreed; it has been a few years since he baked.
While resting in bed, barely awake, I tried to identify the sounds I heard coming from the kitchen. When I padded out to see what was up, he was elbow deep in flour and yeast. “Can’t remember the recipe!” he groaned, as he added a bit more sugar, a cup of water, olive oil, some salt...
At least I had the first half hour to catch up with Tanya and Rose, who had missed me during my three day absence. Within minutes after first period began, the Theatre teacher had a sobbing girl at my doorstep, and ushered her in. For an hour and a half this child spilled out her understandable and justified sadness and woe. I felt incredibly powerless to make any difference for her. Yet, when I asked what I might be able to offer her, the only thing she asked for was exactly what I was doing; listening, openly, compassionately, and confidentially.
The wife of a Baptist pastor, her weekends are not for relaxation, catching up, or self indulgence, as mine are. Tonight she has praise choir practice and tomorrow there is the church Christmas Bazaar. Then Sunday she will sing, meet, greet, and seems like there was something more... She forewarned me she’d be dragging in on Monday. She is already tired, but also buoyed by the season.
As I shielded myself against the cold wind and light rain, I tucked away the thought to be sure to get her a cuppa java on my way to work Monday morning.
When I think about what will happen to me as I get older and older, I wonder if I’ll end up all alone in this big house. Pondering where I might move to, if I were to move anywhere, I feel sad. I realize part of this sensation comes from having dear, long time friends in the area who have been with me through many of the major doings of my life since my mid forties.
Tonight we meet to share dinner, wine, stories, news, ideas, insights, and impressions. We laugh, hug, joke, and exchange gifts. What a joy.
Finally a sunny Sunday afternoon! The gardens, hit by hard frost have been looking bereft with wind torn rose stems lifting heads of unopened, rain stained, dead rose buds to the steely sky. Tender plants have been reduced to green slime, while more hardy climbers remain erect, like haystacks of dry brown vines.
After two hours, the front yard looks much better, and the stairway to the front door, now festooned with holiday cheer, is clean and inviting. Not that anyone other than the postman will notice. Doesn’t matter. I notice, and the gardens are more healthy for it.
Don’t ask, don’t tell. Soon to become one of those laws that, in the future people in this country will scratch their heads over and wonder, “what in the hell were they thinking?” As each layer of discrimination on the basis of selfness is confronted, and sloughed, we move ever closer to realizing the best of our nation.
Let us consider why the hispanic and women farmers who were discriminated against by the USDA, were excluded from having class action status by the courts, while the Native American and African American farmers received that status. What gives here?
So, what gives? it is more about what is not given. When a group of people file a lawsuit and receive class action status the difference in the amount of their settlement is in the millions of dollars, instead of in the thousands that those who are considered as individual cases will receive.
So I laud the lawyers who continue to pursue class action status for the Women and Hispanic farmers who certainly were treated as unjustly by the USDA as the Native American and African American farmers were. Having received equally tawdry service, they should receive equally generous settlements.
The Angel Chimes ring gently as I walk past the little old mission style desk in the Keeping Room, where the gentlest stirring brings forth their song. It is an old chime, made in Sweden, and given to me by my husbands grandmother. Its original box, has directions in both Swedish and English, and has been taped and bandaged over the years. It is a sweet decoration which I shall take a stab at describing in detail.
The Angel Chime is an assemblage of brass pieces that rise up from a five inch base with holders for four smallish candles.
Through the center of the base a shaft rises in three stages. The first, closest to the base, is a five point star with small rods extending on either side, and turned up at the ends to hold the two bells. The bells are shaped like tiny votive candles turned upside down. Above this stage three cherubic angels, holding trumpets to their lips, hang suspended from a three prong platform. Next is the horizontal “windmill” which is designed to rotate when the heat of the candles rises. Atop the chime is another cherubic angel, with its trumpet pointed to heaven.
When the candles are lit, their heat causes the “windmill” to rotate, which in turn spins the platform holding the suspended cherubs. From their bellies, small brass rods hang down to touch the bells as they circle round and round.
The first Christmas I had these chimes, I happily lit the candles and watched with pleasure as the angles twirled creating the bright, clear music from the bells. But, when the candle wax puddled in the base, it was really difficult to remove. Now, I just display the chimes in a place where human movement will bring out their charms.
Sisters. I have two, Diana, five years older than me, and Lori, 12 years younger than me. I love them both, and also have had my differences with them over the years. Still, if my world were to fall apart, I know they would take me in their arms and love me back to life.
When I was a kid, Diana was a teen. I always felt jealous because she could do things I could not. Duh! But, as a kid, I could not see it the way I can now. I longed to have womanly breasts and be pretty.
When Lori was born, we bonded immediately. I helped with her care; diapers, feeding, bathing, cuddling, and playing as she grew up. I remember she loved it when I would lay back on the floor while she settled her tummy on my feet. Then, holding hands, I’d lift her with my legs.
We were women of separate generations, with very different moral codes. At times I have been judgmental and unaccepting. At times she has been ruthless and imposing. When we touched foreheads as the life force of our mother rushed through us, we forgave one another our sins.
Now I am 61, Diana is 66, and Lori is 47. I have been married once, Diana twice, Lori four times. Both sisters have two girls. Each has one who we would say is self-actualized, each has one who struggles in life. Diana was able to be home as her girls grew up, Lori was not.
Diana went to secretarial school, I have a Masters Degree, Lori has a PHD. We all have worked most of our adult lives, and we all are content in our present circumstances; with caring spouses, nice homes, and enough income to be comfortable.
On his way to meet a friend for lunch, Jim eased the truck along Aumsville’s main street. The wet, warm weekend had drenched the town leaving pond sized puddles in the Market parking lot. Today cold air circulated into the valley on the wings of massive clouds.
Approaching the corner of third street, hail pelted his cab and the air pressure felt like it was pushing in on him. Suddenly Jim saw a dark streak go horizontal in the sky; tornado two blocks ahead. Jim pressed the brake pedal to the floor as if to divert the impending destruction.
Jim barely breathed. The sound was like nothing he’d ever heard; like a jet afterburner. The tempest dropped its tail, and like the snap of a whip it ripped into Nichol’s Plumbing store, tossed the roof onto a nearby house and spewed debris in every direction. Then it was over.
Jim moved through time and space as though in slow motion. He parked the truck, climbed out and gathered with other townspeople to survey the aftermath. Slowly shaking his head, Jim rubbed the stubble of his beard in thoughtful disbelief. All his plans for this day had changed.
Sitting in his family room with a bourbon and cola, Jim watched himself being interviewed by local TV reporters. The moment of impact continued to replay in his brain, but Jim knew he was lucky. His home had not been touched by the tornado, and his truck had only minor damage.
Parts of town had been hit hard, and some folks had lost their homes or businesses. Jim would be out in the morning to help his neighbors pick up the pieces and begin the slow process of rebuilding. No life had been lost, and for that they felt blessed.
Leaving the office exhausted, I walked to my car in the bitter cold wind. As I opened the door I reflected that this is one of my favorite times; the end of the last day of work before a long break. With only one stop to make, a run into Whole Foods for gourmet cheese and olives, my drive home went quickly.
When I topped the stairs and walked into the kitchen, Creighton handed me a tall stem of Spanish sparkling wine. “Mmmm”, I swooned on my way down the hall to change clothes, “now this is more like it!”
What time was it that I crashed last night? Before 8:00 to be sure, and then when I awoke at 3:00, well it was no use trying to return to sleep. A storm raged outside, clanging the wind chimes and pelting rain on the windows.
I got up, padded into the Keeping Room and picked up the book of Charles Dickens Christmas Stories I’m reading. With the curtain slightly open, I checked to see if any snow would show, but we had only rain. By dawn Creighton was awake. We shared coffee, free range eggs and toast.
When we arrived to their snug home, just around the corner from ours, we were greeted with happy Christmas hugs. Kate opened the bubbly and Abby put out appetizers. I added a tray of cheese and crackers as we settled in to catch up and continue to get to know one another.
When asked if we would be up to watch the total eclipse of the moon on Winter Solstice Eve, the first in four hundred years, we despaired that the weather might make it impossible to see. Then Kate revealed that she had been around for the last one.
My Beagle, Jacques, has developed serious anxiety when left home alone. So today I took him with me as I drove south to Harrisburg, to pick up the antique clock I had left for repair. On the way, Jacques couldn’t settle into sleep. Too many unfamiliar scents I guess.
After retrieving the clock I took the back roads to Corvallis, for lunch with Dad. Passing through each broken down, little farm town on the way, I felt a pang of sadness.
On the return trip, Jacques sat up with every variation in speed. Now home, he’s out cold!
Winter Solstice morning after a total eclipse of the moon, which I did not see, but which I know did happen. The sun begins to creep above the horizon in bright fluorescent orange casting highlights of rose on the few reaming clouds. After days of endless rain, it is nice to see some blue sky.
Today I make Scotch Shortbread from an authentic family recipe that is over 100 years old. My grand aunt Lizzie passed it to my mom, who made it for us at Christmas. A favorite year round, I love to share it with friends and neighbors.
When mom started making Stolen I don’t remember, and that a German bread became a staple at our Christmas breakfast would surprise me were it not so good. I have carried on that tradition which ties me to my mother and her mother. The sweet bread recipe was Grandmothers and can be used to make cinnamon, caramel, or orange rolls too.
At the first addition of flour, in go the stolen ingredients: raisins, candied cherries and citron, fresh zest of lemon, and almonds. This morning I started the bread which is on its first rise under a damp cloth.
After two risings in the bowl, Stolen dough is formed into folded crescent to rise and bake. This year I made only two loaves; one for Dad and one for Creighton and me. The process takes most of a day, though while the dough rises, I can do other things.
This morning I finished the Stolen up with a creamy butter and powdered sugar frosting, decorated with candied cherries, citron and almond slivers. They are so pretty - and really do look and smell like Christmas!
One last loaf of Nut Bread for Jo, and my holiday baking will be complete.
Family time is punctuated with conversations that reveal many positive decisions and directions and one very disturbing reality that I was only slightly aware of. My niece Molly (20) was visiting from San Diego. Having turned her life around and acquired her Associates degree, she is now considering what University to attend. Her sister Meghan (24) is diving deeper into desperate oblivion. She has fallen under the control of a physically and emotionally abusive man who supplies her with copious amounts of marijuana and other opiates. She has no job, no phone, and is not allowed to contact her family.
Awaking early Christmas morning with a belly ache, I search my mind for a reason and land on the Cranberry Ice I made with banana. I am not very tolerant of banana, and now it is clear they are to be avoided completely. A couple cups of mint tea, some Airborne fizz, and I was able to perk up and enjoy our morning of opening presents.
As I sipped tea in the dark living room, lit only by strings of tree and mantle lights, I prayed to my mothers spirit to intercede for Meghan. How else might she hear us?
Boxing Day, the beginning of Kwanza, the day Crieghton and Lindy visit his mother to honor her father’s birthday and have a bit of Christmas cheer. It has been over a year since Crieghton has visited her, and he is filled with his usual trepidation and resentment. But he did arrange the visit, and we arrived on time.
She and the apartment were tidy, and there were cookies on the table, provided with help from a neighbor. Her frailty and dementia startled Creighton, who had steeled himself to be excoriated for his lack of attention to her endless needs.
Monday morning and I am home, with time to putter on whatever I want - such a gift! If it were forced upon me by unhappy circumstances I would not be so content. Fortunately it is the result of a school year calendar, and one of the blessings of my profession.
Yesterday, after our visit with Creighton’s mom, I thought about the concept of: need to, have to, want to. Did any of these imperatives prompt him to arrange the visit? No. He did not need to, have to, or want to see her, and I did not persuade him.
As the eastern seaboard digs out from record snowfall, the pacific northwest braces for another surge of warm rains to be followed by cold air and possible low level snow. Ah winter. Only one week into it and already I silently complain!
When I was younger, and my body did not ache as the barometric pressure dipped, I would run four miles a day regardless of the weather. Now I am become a fair weather walker. Was a time when no other activity ‘counted.’ Now, everything counts, from folding laundry to walking across the street to pick up the mail.
So as I have turned the question of what prompted Creighton to arrange the Christmas visit with his mom, I have landed on another imperative; I believe he was driven by a moral imperative, a sense of obligation or duty. Though she no longer can compel or demand his attention, he knows what he must do, at a minimum, to be comfortable in his own skin.
After all is said and done, she is his mother, she is 88, and aging much faster than my 88 year old dad, to whom Creighton openly and generously expresses his love and caring.
Frost on the bird feeders, ice on the roads, and sun promised for the afternoon, which raised my hopes that I might get to enjoy a sunny walk with Jacques. But we were still covered in shades of gray, with glimpses of sunlight breaking through only as the sun was setting.
Still, it was a joy to be outside with no rain, and to shovel up the wet clumps of Maple leaves deposited along the front curb. Then to clean up the back, which has endured several wind and rain storms since I last was able to tidy it up.
The last day of the year, and of another decade. It is well below freezing as the sunlight filters through our foggy sky. Jacques is curled up in his doggy basket in front of the wood stove which radiates healing warmth.
Creighton is surfing the net, while I write my last 100 words for the month, year, decade, and contemplate goals and intentions for 2011. Always, I want to continue the healthy habits I already have established; reading, writing, drawing, exercising, being. To this I plan to add more visiting with friends and family, here or there, near and far.
The Tip Jar