It is January . . but the windows are up at the rabbitpatch. Daffodils are sprouting and the wild hyacinths are too. Well, if I were a flower, I would too, for there have been spring like showers and a couple of days a wind blew as if it were March! There have always been a few mild days in months like January or February, for as long I can remember, but this has been a long spell.
I was in Elizabeth City over the weekend. This was the weekend, that Tres would be moving there as he had his first classes on Tuesday. All week, he had worked on the old farmhouse. I had all but given up on anything getting fixed and so how happy I was ! Now, I am inspired to embark on that sun room, if and when I get a tax refund. Though there are a good many trees on the territory, money does not grow on a one of them.
Besides all of that . . .well having Tres home, meant the world to me. I reveled in the fact, that I could cook supper for him, as I used to. . . that he slept under my roof . . and it was so very good while it lasted.
In a twinkling, the days passed. Tres had finished his projects, and he headed for Elizabeth City. Jenny had the guest room ready for him, as he will be there for a few weeks, til he can move in to a little house, right behind her. Lyla waited for her Uncle Tres with more enthusiasm, than she had for Santa Claus! She clapped her little hands and danced around every time we talked about it.
Even when Monday dawned, and the farmhouse population had dwindled once again, I could not help but be consoled that Tres was closer to me, than he had been in a decade.
Of all my children, Tres has always been the most independent. He started out that way. . . and has remained so. Never the less, Jenny will “mother” him, with a light but steady hand. Jenny was born with a mothers’ heart and she sure had ample opportunity to practice her skills, with four brothers. Jenny is this way with all of us. Somehow, she knows our needs and “tends” to us quietly with great efficiency- and we are all unaware, she fixed what ails us, til it is over. Tres will have balanced meals, clean clothes and school supplies, whether he likes it or not.
Jenny has a birthday on Monday . . and since it is a three day weekend, I hope to help her celebrate on Monday. This will depend on Daddys’ appointment, which is today. Somehow, it became Friday rather quickly this week. Daddy has not had his best week, so we were at a another appointment on Wednesday.
While daddy was having his procedure done, I sat in the lobby. There wasn’t a magazine in the place that had recipes or pictures of pretty curtains. All of the articles were about some sort of health crisis and all of the medicines needed to just stay alive . . .not one article was about how to grow petunias. I turned my attention to the video on the TV. It was titled “Children Need Dirt” and the intent was to inform us of the necessity of playing outside, for children. Of course, there was a scientific explanation with fancy terms used to convince us . . .but the long and short of it, was that children had increased immunity and were healthier in general. My elders must have relied solely on instinct, for when we were young, my cousins and I were always outside. It was a given. If it were cold we wore coats and sturdy shoes, and none of us had colds nor hardly ever were sick.
The next segment, on the TV was about the effects of nature on the brain. I knew there was truth in this from personal experience, but it was interesting to hear science confirm it. It seems the chemistry of the brain is very affected by our environment. When we are constantly interrupted in our thoughts or distracted . . .and what an age of distractions, we live in . . .then the brain chemistry is altered and it is not for the best. In fact, so much so, that it actually takes years off of our life. On the other hand, Nature acts like a tonic and relieves all sorts of ailments caused by “bad chemistry”. Now, my account of “the study” will never be published anywhere else, but here in this diary, for I am greatly lacking in adequate scientific language . . . but, I am no stranger to these facts.
Suddenly, the doctor came to us with good news. The sense of dread that had plagued us for days vanished and I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Relief seemed to wash over Mama til she nearly glowed. I made a mad dash to call my sisters. How good it felt to share that “all was well.”
In light of the pleasant outcome, I left for Elizabeth City, after school. Three days to look forward to -and one of them was Jennys’ birthday.
Tres cooked supper for us on Friday evening. He loves to cook and that has already come in handy for Jenny. Right off, I saw that Brynn was head over heels for her uncle. That has come in handy too. How good I slept and “joy came again, in the morning” when I awakened, to such happy circumstances.
Most of the days passed in an ordinary fashion, but one day, the blackbirds came. I heard their chatter before I saw them out of the kitchen window. I ran to find Brynn, to show her. She was very amused and we watched them for a while. I have always loved to watch blackbirds. They move like living fluid, in the air. Swooping and twirling from one spiraling shape to another. Their performances are hypnotic for me, for I can not think of a solitary thing, when I am watching blackbirds. I have watched them all of my life and have not yet lost the thrill of it.
We awoke to a cold blustery morning on Sunday. I couldn’t help but pity he iris that was blooming in Miss Thelmas’ yard . . .along side the “paper whites”.
After breakfast, on Sunday, I started cooking all sorts of things. Jenny has a cold, so I made chicken noodle soup. I made pimento cheese for grilling in sandwiches – it pairs well with soup . . .and Tres loves pimento cheese. I made a big pot of great northern beans, too. I packed some of it up for Aunt J and Miss Thelma and still had enough to stock pile for Jenny.
By the time, that I had packed my wares and cleaned the kitchen, it was almost time to start supper.
Wills’ sister, Mari stopped by. Mari lives hours away, and was on her way to Aunt Js’ . She, Jenny and I sat in the kitchen while I concocted a casserole. I think company in the kitchen, is the best kind . It did not hurt one bit, that Mari said kind things about the rabbitpatch diary. I fairly glowed as I put the casserole in the oven.
Now, Monday was Jennys’ birthday and so we all agreed, that she should sleep til she woke naturally, which mothers’ rarely do. Lyla was very quiet and she rarely is. Tres was reminded by Lyla, as I was, but Brynn had to be brought downstairs by her daddy, to “keep the peace”. Jenny had a special strawberry french toast plate for breakfast, then commenced to opening her presents. Lyla announced them all, by saying things like “Now open the waffle maker!”
Will and Jenny took a day trip, with Brynn in tow. Lyla stayed with me and her Uncle Tres. Tres planned a special supper, but I had to leave. Three days weren’t enough, but it was a lovely time.
When I got back to the rabbitpatch, the winter sky was spangled with stars. I love the winter night sky. It is the best time of the year to see the constellations. July may have millions of stars, but January, has the brightest. How generous the sky has been with its’ blackbirds and stars, I thought.
Christian came out to help me with all the bags while the boxer dashed madly around the yard. It was his way of saying “Welcome Home!” Christian said ” I made coffee for you” . . that was his way.
The new year is almost “old news” now. Parties have ceased and supper has resumed in routine to ordinary food in ordinary dishes. The children at school are not nearly as shocked with the year being 2020, as I am. I never even got over the year being 2000! It is still as unbelievable to me, as it was in my youth, to imagine.
New Years day was as clear a day as I have ever seen. It was chilly enough to warrant a coat. I was cooking cabbage by seven and rolling pastry out shortly after for the big pot of stewed chicken. Today, we were having a mid day meal at “Aunt Js'” home. which is only five minutes from Will and Jennys’ home.
Aunt J is Wills’ aunt, and was the sister of his mother, ” Miss Claudia”. I liked her the first time I met her. She was a teacher and eventually ended up becoming a principle, before her retirement. It seems, she has also had a hand in tending to every child born in the family, as well. I can say with all certainty . . that everybody loves Aunt J.
We all enjoyed the meal. Brynn ate black eyed peas, cabbage and chicken & pastry along with the rest of us . . .Lyla, ate a jelly sandwich, for she is a picky eater. She eats a lot of fruit and vegetables too, though she has no idea about the vegetables, for Jenny has become an expert at hiding things like spinach in her diet.
Since Aunt J was sick at Christmas, this day we exchanged presents. Poor Aunt J was already struggling with the first Christmas without her sister. She had already cried, because I made that “orange ambrosia” that she and Miss Claudia loved-now, she cried again, when she got several framed pictures of Miss Claudia, in her first gift. I encouraged her to open my gift knowing soap and candy were not likely to make her cry. We did all laugh about that, later.
We had pie for dessert. It was a chess pie made with a recipe from Sydneys’ dad. I had never cooked from this recipe, but had heard Jasons’ praises sung, often about this pie-amongst other things. I had even interrupted their dinner, the night before in quite a state because neither of my pies had “set” and I was sure they never would . . .but they did, as Jason had said they would , as he was having dinner.
As soon as we got back, Jenny got Brynn to sleep, and I fixed a plate for Miss Thelma. This time I would stay long enough to visit.
By the time I got back, Brynn was awake and Will had fallen asleep. I had to return to work on Thursday, so I left, to get back to the rabbitpatch, before dark.
I was welcomed with open arms – and paws. The “icing on my cake” was that Tres would be there shortly, as well. He had left Wilmington . . .with all he owned, so he wasn’t going back anytime soon. I can not scarce take it in . . .Tres will be here a few weeks, until his move to Elizabeth City, to start school in January. Sometimes I get to say this . . “I am happier than any lark, ever dared to be!” . . .Today, was one of those times!
If you visit the rabbitpatch regularly, you are well aware that I go “kicking and screaming” in to modern notions. I do not rush headlong into every new way of doing things, for sometimes I get that option. To me, trends are too temporary and hold little allure for me, whether it is fashion or hairstyles or contraptions which are outdated quickly. . . until now. The first time that my “pride went before a fall” was in April. Brant and Tres bought me a firestick for my birthday. Brant installed the thing and I cancelled my very expensive cable service immediately. Now I could watch my old movies and documentaries for FREE! I could watch artists paint and listen to lectures . . and it didn’t cost me a dime!! I am still liable to applaud if someone asks if I like it! . . .Well, it has happened again.
For several years, I have told my children, not to buy me gifts. One day, I am going to move and I might want new towels to match the kitchen or a rose bush to plant in the spring. Jenny never listens and neither do the rest of them. This year Jenny gave me some version of “an Alexa”. Jenny has had one for a few years and frankly, I saw little use for the thing at first. Then, Lyla and I started to listen to music as we baked and that softened my attitude, somewhat. Then, I liked that I could ask what those odd terms that the British use in recipes, really meant. Jenny asked about the weather, and I liked that too. So . . . Tres installed the thing . . .and I immediately asked about the weather. I set an alarm and woke to gentle chimes instead of the usual blasting and frantic serenade, I was used to. Now, the thing has a lot of sophisticated features that I may never use, but when I am washing dishes and wondering about things like tulips or who wrote “The Catcher in the Rye” . . .Well, the thing knows all of that. . .and how the “Dog Star” got its’ name, too. The biggest selling point is that “Yo-Yo Ma” will play the cello at the “drop of a Hat” if I but beckon.
It seems “an old dog can learn new tricks” -it may just take a little longer.
On Saturday morning, I woke to a howling wind and rain. I didn’t care, for Tres was home , , ,I took great joy in that. For many years, Tres lived in Wilmington and I never saw him enough to suit me. He will leave this week end to get settled in Elizabeth City, to further his education. I have known this for months, but it just seemed too good to be true.
Last night, Tres, Kyle and Christian were here and the farmhouse, felt like it used to – in those beautiful days, before the children grew and scattered. So on this morning, I let the thing wash over me all over again. . .just like the rain, outside of the window, by the “morning table”. It would be a few hours before any of them stirred, anyway, I made coffee and settled in to bask in the goodness of this morning.
After breakfast, Tres, had several projects in mind for the old farmhouse. He started on one straight away. He has more plans that will take up the whole week. They are all long overdue repairs, but I haven’t an inkling of any sort of business that involves tools. The Warren family is composed of two types of people . . .mostly -artists, mainly writers and musicians . . .or mechanics. It seems you get one or the other capability. Family reunions meant every hood was raised and motors checked, while some of us were singing, Of course, I was singing.
The week end rushed by, as it always does. Tres and Christian had eaten well, tackled several projects and we all shared lively conversations. On Monday, I regretted having to go back to work, but I did notice, that I actually had a spring in my step as I walked out the door. I had a good supper planned and would look forward to that time all day. . .
The days after the gathering on Monday, have been very quiet. I woke early on Christmas morning and sat while light came to the rabbitpatch. Time changes things . . .even Christmas. Long gone are the days of commotion on Christmas morning, for the rabbitpatch. I am glad I had them. Now, here I am with a “silent Christmas ” morning. . . and so I forge on, with coffee in hand, watching Christmas bloom over the woodlands, til at last the light falls on the territory. Dawn is always a holy time for me . . and most especially at Christmas.
If we are only “happy” when things are a certain way, we are destined to be disappointed . . a lot. The only dependable notion . . .is that things change. In that case, we must adapt and seek happiness with great fervor. You needn’t go far, but you must sometimes go deep. Solitude is not loneliness and peacefulness is not dull. . . and so I embraced this unfamiliar Christmas joy . . .and deemed it, beautiful.
Afterwards, I started peeling potatoes. I prepared chicken to be roasted in Jo Dees’ sauce recipe and got the fixings ready for macaroni and cheese. I would later, pack my wares and head to Mama and Daddys’, for a new memory was in the making. My first cousin, Chris and his wife, Aino, were coming to Christmas dinner . Chris and Aino were in the same predicament as me-for their children are grown with families and so they too, had celebrated Christmas early. Tres and Kyle would be there, so the dining room table would be full and every chair filled, which is always a good thing.
We ate after the noon hour. The day was so mild, we could have had a picnic!I have seen one white Christmas in all of my life. It was 1989 and it was an icy snow. The temperature was unbelievable for southerners. Nobody had water as pumps were frozen. Roads were impossibly covered in ice. But this year on Christmas, it felt like April.
When the sunlight fell in long slanted rays, we ate cake and then left with some new and happy memories.
I left for Elizabeth City on Friday. It was another unusually mild day. There was just enough sunshine to cast only the faintest shadows. If this continues, the peach tree, is liable to bloom! The peach is so easily deceived, after all.
The days after Christmas are apt to be gloomy, if precautions are not taken . . .for me, at least. My dearest loved ones have returned to their own homes which takes the biggest toll, of all. Many folks turn off their holiday lights and the beloved tree now seems like a nuisance .
When I was a child, there was “Old Christmas”. ( I had never heard the word epiphany) I think we stopped that celebration when Grandmama passed. When I moved to Farm Life, “Old Christmas” was kept by Miss Sylvia. She had a party every year and we were all invited. There was a table full of pretty dishes of all sorts of holiday food. The yard was decked with Christmas trees and reindeer and lights were everywhere. Those of us who lived close by, kept our lights up and so Christmas remained in Farm life til January sixth. This is when Miss Sylvia gifted her family. I like the tradition that honors the visit of the wise men, and declare when I do retire, for the date can fall on days like Tuesday, that I too will have a gathering in observance of “giving” as the Three Kings
Of course, just looming ahead is “New Years Day” and I do not know why, that holiday has just never been “all it is cracked up to be” to me. Very few years have I stayed awake to see the new year ring in. The dropping of “the ball” has never stirred me, in any fashion. We do eat the traditional black eyed peas and greens on January first and that has been about the extent of our celebrations. . .and then there are the “resolutions”. I have never yet had the fortitude to adhere to a single one, for any length of time. Several times, I have changed a way of doing things and even a way of thinking-which is not for the faint of heart, but such an endeavor was usually the result of a lesson learned the hard way. . . and were more likely to be made in the twilight of September or a morning in May. . . than on New Years Day.
Now Lyla, on the other hand, loves a holiday . She wants decorations and some sort of commemoration for each one. She has decided that at sunset on New Years eve we are all to conjugate on the back deck with lanterns and candles to bid farewell to the past year and welcome the new one. Jenny and I will try to find sparklers tomorrow to surprise her.
There are also plans to make several dishes-enough so, that we will need an early start to accomplish everything. Tomorrow, we will pack it all up and head to the home of “Aunt J” for a noon time meal. Lyla and I had a lot to do before sunset.
It was almost cold on the last morning of the year. There was a brisk breeze that rushed the “laughing river” along its’ course. Will got home when the sun was casting long slanted rays. The pot of chicken was cooling and there was pimento cheese, chicken salad and a dish of oranges and coconut, on the counter. Lyla and I made a mad dash to deliver some of it to Miss Thelma before our “sunset service”. I felt awful about my hasty departure from my ninety five year old friend, but alas the sun was not going to stand still on this day.
We made it with a few minutes to spare. The sunset was a beautiful grand finale to the day . . .and the year. Lyla and Brynn ran about bundled in little hats and coats, under a dazzling apricot sky. We all took a short walk together on a boardwalk over a little creek and suddenly, at long last, the eve of the new year felt very significant and it was worth a tribute. The losses and disappointments seemed a little further away, for some reason.
I remembered the joys of the past year as well. How many wildflowers had Lyla picked for her mama-wilted bouquets of violets and dandelions clutched in her little hands, in the spring. Little Brynn went from her mothers’ arms to following Lyla around like a puppy. . . and Ryan was born. The birth of Ryan bound us all again . It was a time of unbridled joy.
Sorrow and joy act as “bonding agents” in a family, I thought to myself.
When the sun was slipping beyond the horizon, Lyla blew a good bye kiss to the old year . . .Brynn followed suit . . and so did I.
The Christmas gathering that happened yesterday is over now-and another happy memory. As I predicted, Brynn loved the boxes but a doll from her Aunt “Glory”-which is really Delores-did spark a keen interest. Lyla named her aunt so, for she could not say “Delores”. Ryan was adored by all and was content the whole time. Lyla and Dana spent a good while playing. Dana is seventeen, but will “play” with Lyla, patiently. There was enough food left to do it all again.
Now it is “Christmas Eve”-the most enchanting night of the year. Many will attend services tonight, many will be frantically finding that last item in a mad dash effort, many will gather . . .and children everywhere will be especially good, hoping to make amends for past transgressions. . . and go to bed early.
Since the grandchildren were born, Christmas eve is a quiet time at the rabbitpatch. Even when my children, were all grown up, they spent the night here and woke to a special breakfast. That is a beautiful and treasured memory. . . .but I do have others.
Christmas was very quaint when I was young, compared to now, but the recollections are every bit as beautiful. I remember, going to my great Aunt Agnes’ house to sing Christmas carols, while she played the piano-straight from her heart. She would toss her head and nearly dance off the stool as she played.
There was the visit to “Mama Hodges” -my mothers’ grandmother and Aunt Agnes’ mother. This was always a very solemn occasion, as children were to sit quietly, at her house. Your name was called to collect a Christmas card with a five dollar bill in it and say “thank you”. I did not know what to do with money, for I had never needed any and so I always gave it to Mama.
On the Sunday night before Christmas, the church would exchange simple gifts. We would all draw names, weeks before and then meet in the small fellowship hall. How exciting that was to sit and listen for your name and find out who had drawn your name. Upon leaving, each person was given an apple and an orange. This continued til I was a young woman.
Apples and oranges were always associated with Christmas, back then. Delores and I would know Santa had come, when we caught the smell of apples and oranges in the early morning hours. The whole house smelled of them. I asked Mama why, one year, when I was older and she said because when she was a child that was the only time of the year you could get “the out of season” fruit. I did the same thing with my own children, because of that memory.
I have told this before, but it bears repeating. I suppose, it was a lean year that Mama took to sewing non stop, just before Christmas. Mom was a good seamstress and used to make all of our dresses -and her own, when we were young. I got a doll each year at Christmas . . .so did Delores. They were just department store dolls, but since we only got them at Christmas, well, we loved our dolls. We never cast them aside. Instead we ended up with several “children” that got sick, were naughty sometimes that got cold and needed blankets -our dolls were our first children. One year, the dolls came with clothes that matched our dresses! I wondered how Santa did that! Years later, Mam said she could not afford the clothes for the dolls, so she gathered every scrap of material and trim to make the little dresses and bonnets. She told me this years later and it still stings my eyes to remember.
There was the year, my cousin “Cookie” got a pony. We all had ponies in those days. Cookie named her “Rose” and could not wait to join with the rest of her cousins for weekend rides through field and wood. We all went to see Rose that Christmas day. She was a beautiful golden shetland . . with a terrible temperament! She tossed her head and dared to bite and kick anyone who approached her! Cookie was terrified-we all were, but the men were sure that Rose could be tamed. They were wrong. We had to throw apples to her all of her life, for she was that fierce. Cookie rode one of our many gentle ponies, instead on the week ends, while the beautiful Rose grazed haughtily in the pasture.
Everyone had a Christmas tree, They were usually cedars that had been growing somewhere on the farm. The trees were draped in silver tinsel and glass blown ornaments. Bulbs of every color were strung on them and the “bad side of the tree” was always next to the wall. One year Grandmama surprised us all with an “artificial tree”. I can not recall my memories without another account of this for the thing was quite a shock. It was an aluminum tree, like she said the folks in Florida used. Grandmama was so proud of this silver tree. Her face nearly glowed as she showed off this modern prize- I could not say a word. I had never even thought of such a thing. The branches were sparse and the ornaments, which were all the same, were in permanent places. When Christmas was over, all you had to was fold the thing up and put it back in the box. Florida seemed like an odd and faraway place to me, after that and I had no desire to go to a state that couldn’t grow trees!
Every year, we read Lukes’ account of the birth of Jesus. I memorized it word for word by the time I was ten and recited it at school, when I was in the fourth grade. My favorite part was of the shepherds tending sheep when suddenly the sky was filled with angels. I still think how beautiful that was. . . a sky filled with singing angels. As a child, I would peer into the night sky and try to imagine it. . .I still do.
I suppose these simple memories of Christmases past, seem unimpressive and archaic. . .but, to me they are beautiful and beloved and dear to my heart.
School is officially out . . . not just for me-but for everyone now. I did go back to work on Wednesday. Afterwards, I went straight away to the large department store, I try to avoid at all costs. It was a necessary evil, this day. Mama and I were both dreadfully behind on on holiday shopping, and groceries -and the boxer would have gone hungry, after all.
That huge store was filled to the brim. with shoppers. I needed gifts, dog food and things like cabbage. It was all there. So were poinsettias -and pajamas! Hence, a crowd formed of folks who needed anything, for it was all there. Everything moved in a slow motion. There wasn’t a single bar of fine soap in the place, nor a suitable gift for the people on my list. Christmas carols did not chime as I shopped and the scent of soy Christmas candles did not waft in the air. I left with cabbage and the fixings for ambrosia . . .and the dog food.
On Thursday, Daddy had a doctor appointment. It was a follow up from his recent plight with an infection . Daddy did not come through the ordeal with the infection, unscathed. The thing left him weaker physically, than before but, his fortitude does not waver. Neither does Mamas’.
As difficult as this time is, something I have realized, is that this is an extremely significant stretch of my journey . . . for the life of me, I can’t “name” it-but it feels holy. There is so much more to it, than the “care” that both of my parents need physically. now. We are all so accustomed to associate work with money, as our reward or results of our efforts – a pay check or a clean kitchen, something mended . . .but there is a work that does not offer such tokens. There is a time, when all else dims but the authentic purpose before us. I must confess how the “revelation” came about.
One day, I was sitting with Daddy, while Mama attended her appointments and errands. I read a lot as he slept. As the hours passed, I felt restless to “do something”. The house was tidy without a chore in sight. I wondered how my classes were going at school and almost immediately felt ashamed of wondering what to do. I was doing something-and something more noble than anything. Of course, I chided myself for not recognizing the magnitude of that something, and now the things falling to the wayside, can stay right there . . .where they belong.
Now, my beloved Christmas looms right around the corner. We are gathering at my parents’ house on Monday. For years. it has been on Christmas night, but since traveling now involves young children and other families to visit, we opted to gather earlier than usual. Tres come home tonight, in light of that. He will not be traveling light either, as he has rented a moving trailer to begin the task of moving to Elizabeth City. His classes start in January , but in the meanwhile, he will store what he can at the rabbitpatch. There are several vacant bedrooms, after all. I have cleaned the house today and the kitchen smells of roast chicken. There are clean sheets on his bed and Christian bathed the dogs. We always include the dogs when we do a deep cleaning . . .and the cat, Christopher Robin, too . . .but Christopher Robin “high tailed” it, when the boxer got his bath.
Tomorrow, I will spend a good part of the day, cooking and wrapping presents on the kitchen table. . .but tonight I will sleep happily . . for Tres is home.
Sunday dawned clear and cold, just like the days before it. Tres and Christian were up late last night, so only the boxer and I saw the “early service”. A dove shattered the silence and startled me! The cry of the dove, always sounds like an alarm to me. A light patchy frost was scattered on the territory, like old lace. The air was as still “as a church mouse”. A cardinal came to visit. How lovely his red feathers looked against the silver sky.
Maybe this year, I will attempt one more time to feed the birds. Country birds are not nearly as bold as their town dwelling cousins. The plentiful woodlands are their preference . . unless you grow berries, of any sort. The squirrels here are much the same. I must get up mighty early to see a squirrel in the yard. Once in a “blue moon”, it snows here and that is the only time that I know of, that the birds will show up for supper.
Tres left shortly after breakfast, He had errands and a gathering to attend and so, I then, turned my thoughts to preparations for tomorrows’ gathering. I could make the ambrosia today, but not the garlic cheese biscuits. I could make the cabbage filling for the egg rolls, but they, like the biscuits must be cooked tomorrow – I could make the Christmas cake, which required a trip to the grocery. All I needed was a small splash of almond flavoring, but the cake would surely suffer without it. . .and it is Christmas.
About mid afternoon, I ventured out. The grocery was less crowded than I expected. I suspected many shoppers were at that big department store. I made good time and upon arrival at the rabbitpatch, went straight away to cooking. The cake was cooling within the hour. Meanwhile the cabbage filling for the egg rolls simmered. We have never had egg rolls at Christmas. Our tradition has always been to serve hearty hors d’oeuvres . (what a fancy word!) There is always a ham and usually a turkey breast and our favorite sides of heavy dips and deviled eggs, biscuits to fill with ham, and Delores’ candy . . .well we do take the menu seriously. Most years, I have done a vegetable tray without much success and so I eat salads for days. . .hence the egg rolls, this year. Now ambrosia is an old staple on southern tables and most especially, at Christmas.
By the time Tres came back, the kitchen was almost orderly.
There are many ways to “keep Christmas”. As is always true to my nature, I like simplicity . . .even at Christmas. The “world” spends a lot of time trying to convince us that “bigger is better” and that we need more of everything to be happy. I have not found this to be true.
Now, I like wreaths and Christmas trees and thoughtful gifts, that say I understand your heart. I like Christmas cakes . . .and I love carols. I am all for celebrations, but the truth is when someone arrives at our gathering, it will be announced with delight -“Mike and Connie are here!” or “Will and Jenny are here” rings out and folks rush out to greet them. There will be quite a commotion when Brant and Sydney arrive with Ryan, as this is his first Christmas. Mama and Daddy will have a pleased look when we have all gathered. . .and this is the kind of thing, I will love best about Christmas. We will pray together and eat and probably sing later. We will all gather around the tree and everyone will open a gift. Brynn will want the boxes, Ryan will be passed from one set of loving arms to another and Lyla will sneak candy. This is my Christmas . ..my beloved Christmas. . . for I so love the time when ” All hearts come home, for Christmas.”
I did as I said I would . . .and went to bed earlier than usual on Sunday. The phone rang at an unlikely hour, and a sense of dread filled me, instantly. Mama was frantic and all I knew was, that something was wrong with daddy. By the time, I got there, an ambulance was in the yard.
It was a long night. Tests were run. Daddy had an infection and was running a very high temperature. It caused him to shake violently, which was deeply disturbing and downright fearful for Mama and I. Then his blood pressure dropped dangerously low and wouldn’t budge. Daddy was admitted to the intensive care unit, around four am.
In a few days, Daddys’ condition improved. Yesterday, he was moved to another floor, for recovery. His strength is greatly diminished and he still has a “Parkinsons like” condition to battle with. He is a different kind of warrior , these days. It is heartbreaking to watch him struggle as it must be for all children of ailing parents. Sometimes, I find myself remembering who he was and a sense of loss washes over me – and then I realise, he is every bit as gallant today as ever. His movement is slow and calculated. He speaks in a hush. Everything takes more effort, from the simplest of tasks, but he continues with that familiar determination. He has always been a quiet man, and gone about his business without commotion nor the need for fanfare.
I watch Mama tending to him and able to interrupt his needs with precision. Daddy watches her going and comings from room to room, with a look of sheer adoration. If she tarries too long, he inquires about her where abouts.
As a child, I took my parents relationship for granted. They toiled together, as one decade passed after another. A roof was over our heads and supper was always on the table. New winter coats and Sunday dresses and school shoes, birthday cakes and Easter baskets marked the seasons, til we had all grown and flown from our delightful nest, my parents had built in their youth. Mama pinched pennies and Daddy worked overtime and sadly, I never gave this a second thought. Now, every hour is magnified and stirs my heart, for they toil together now, still, with an admirable fortitude and devotion, more and more rare these days.
Everyday, I am humbled, watching the days unfold. To be the child of such a union, fills my heart with gratitude.
Daddy came home, one day-I think it was Wednesday. The confines of a hospital warp my senses. There is little difference between day and night, nor from one day to the next. I made it my business to walk outside each day, in an attempt to “steady the course”. On top of that, it is Christmas and I feared it was the next day several times. I could not concentrate on gifts to be bought nor fancy dishes to concoct. I am sure that I work at a place, where grace abounds, for they only offer assistance and encouragement, when I call in. It is another blessing and not taken lightly.
Once Daddy was home, he improved by the moment. An old western replaced the political turmoil and mindless talk shows that were shown at the hospital, day and night. (I was glad that I had carried a good book.) Home cooked food and rest without interruption, are quite restorative for the spirit. . . so is a dog. “Casper”, Daddys’ snow white and naughty samoyed, was as glad to see Daddy home as the rest of us.
After a few days, when the “dust had settled” and a big pot of soup and pan fried apples were made , I left to go to Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney were coming with little Ryan and so it was quite an occasion for us. We had all sorts of plans and all of them were good.
On Saturday morning, we somehow had breakfast, “dolled the children up” and headed downtown for a visit with Santa. . .before noon. Ryan could have cared less. He is a mild tempered child and very content. Brynn was unsure about the situation, for she is shy by nature. . .Lyla had a list with three items on it.
We went to a coffee shop afterwards. Since the bookstore was just across the street, I did a little Christmas shopping. Christmas is the only time of the year, that I like to shop. We keep the holiday simple and have never gone overboard, anyway. When my own children were little, they received three gifts each year. It was in sort, a commemoration of the visit of the magi. Extravagance spoils the spirit of Christmas for me. I can scarce expect Lyla to think a moment about the manger in a stable if there are toys galore scattered about the room-no more than I myself could. Whether it is Christmas or not, I do not want her happiness to depend on what she has in possessions, for that is quickly a very deep pit and produces a hollow life.
On Sunday, after breakfast, the children were changed into their matching Christmas pajamas, hair combed and set under the Christmas tree, like the precious gifts they are. Ryan could have cared less, Brynn was unsure and Lyla was on her best behavior . . .because of that list.
I made a pot of potato soup for lunch, at the request of Brant. I put in a very few carrots and a lot of mushrooms. The broth was a golden buttery concoction, thickened with heavy cream. Lyla and I made strawberry brownies after that, for Jenny and Sydney love them.
Before we knew it, Brant and Sydney were packing up for the trip home. I was fixing egg rolls for them and filling containers with the soup, brownies and macaroni and cheese, left from supper, the night before. I consoled myself, with the thought of seeing them next weekend for our Christmas gathering at Mama and Daddys’.
Now, I will make my journey back -over the three rivers , passing the winter trees and twinkling lights in the homes along the highway. The day is clear with a muted light, quite typical for December, in these parts. On the way home, I will go over my newest collection of memories. Brant dancing to Bing Crosby, with Brynn, Will promising baby Ryan that he will always be there for him, Sydney sitting with Ryan, by the fire-just the two of them-Lyla performing a dance to the Nutcracker Suite and Jenny . . . our sweet hostess, tying up every loose end, tending to the needs of others tirelessly . . . and standing with Ryan by the Christmas tree, every chance she got.
Now, it is winter. It matters little to me what the calendar declares, for I know winter when I see it. December was born of a cold wind, which stripped every leaf and a cold rain followed. The landscape is full of bare trees and sunlight falls where it pleases, claiming territory it was denied just a week ago. The sky at night hosts stars the size of silver dollars and the constellations nearly announce themselves. I love winter.
The after Thanksgiving gathering , my children and I created, did not quite go as we had planned. Brynn and Lyla were both recovering from some sort of “bug” that gave them about a week of fevers and a cough. With Ryan , being just two months old, it was just too much of a risk to have him exposed to such a thing. Christian had taken Thanksgiving day off, and because of that, he was denied approval for the days after. . . so we did not have the “full house” we had hoped for. We made the best of it and made plans for another gathering. When we all left on Sunday, we had shared some good meals, Brynn had fallen in love with Tres and Jennys’ house was decorated for Christmas.
This is an extremely busy time, at school. The holiday concert is this Friday night. It is a huge event. Older students have a light show and prepare food. The youngest children play the glockenspiel and sing. Each class performs a song and then the violinists-around two hundred of them- give a concert for the finale. Every day is filled with rehearsals and all sorts of details. There is always a broken string on a violin, it seems . . or a missing hand bell . . or an amendment to the “programs”. . . and yet . . .I took Wednesday off.
For many years, my sisters, and my mom and I had an annual Christmas shopping day. It was always on the first Tuesday in December. As my nieces grew up, they came too. With Daddy, now needing company at all times, and Mamas’ bad knees. we broke the tradition and instead now decorate their house for Christmas. This year, when we all arrived, Mamas’ freezer had stopped working. This caused quite a commotion, right off. By noon, Dana and I had decorated the tree and Connie had come back with a new freezer. After lunch, Hayley and Mama had transferred the food and Delores and I had the garland and bows on the front porch. Connie did the windows and Hayley concluded the effort by hanging a wreath on the garage. We left as the sun was sinking behind the distant woodlands.
Thursday was a whirlwind of a day. By the time, school was over, I realised I was exhausted. I didn’t feel right. My eyes hurt and I felt weak. I dreaded the drive home, for I was sure I would fall asleep! I was in bed before eight and I am not sure what Christian had for supper.
I slept straight through the night-and wished I could have slept more! I willed myself to shower and dosed myself with oregano oil, which tastes so awful, but works wonders. The rehearsal went well, thankfully. I drank as much water as I could stand throughout the day and doubled up on my elderberry. Still, I was tired and was cold all day. I steered clear of people, as best I could. A good many were out with sickness already. I hardly ever fall victim to “bugs”, but I was sure by now, that I could not deny the facts-I was getting sick-and at an awful time!
As it turns out, the concert went beautifully, with little assistance from me. Practice does pay off, I thought -and not just in music.
Practice in general produces habits and I will do well to remember that. Whatever we practice, we tend to become good at and with time, it becomes a natural act. to us. While this idea applies to such things as diet, housekeeping and most every thing else -it also applies to matters of the heart and how we think, which is a most fearsome endeavor, for it is not a bit swift nor easy. It is a worthwhile effort . . .for all that really matters is the contents of our heart.
After the concert, I came home and went straight to bed. Again, I slept through til morning and awoke feeling mostly restored. I wondered how just sleeping could make such a difference. So when I “got my bearings straight”. I set about studying about sleep. Now, I am convinced that sleep is a very important time for us. I have always tried to see how little of it I can abide with. I like to stay up late -yet I also like to rise early. I do not like to nap, for it seems like a waste of my time. I hope you “can teach an old dog new tricks” for I intend to mend my ways.
Tres had orientation in Elizabeth City on Saturday, and so he spent Saturday night at the rabbitpatch. It still seems “too good to be true” that he will be closer to home and Jennys’ neighbor, literally – and right after Christmas! Lyla is very excited, for she has decided that Uncle Tres will teach her about the constellations! Jenny intends to cook for him, and Will is responsible for finding him a house and a part time job . I will be “on call” for housekeeping, errands and any “loose ends”. . . Tres has a fan club, and will not lack support in his endeavor.
All in all, the past week was full of blessings-even, whatever ailed me for a while, was an experience to learn from. The concert was a success and seeing Tres . . .well, that was the “icing on my cake”.