Wednesday, was Christians’ birthday. He is my youngest and the last one at home. No matter, how old he gets, Christian will always be the baby. His brothers and sister, never let him forget it. We had a quiet dinner and a strawberry cake. I had taken Thursday off, as I was going to Raleigh to watch Ryan so Sydney could work on Friday. Sydney usually works from home, but she had an appointment on Monday as well, so I was happy to oblige.
I was up early, on that fair, Thursday morning. I took a stroll at dawn around the territory. Daffodils were blooming, birds were singing and the first long strands of sunlight were washing over the countryside. When I came upon the garden, still half full of debris from past storms. Kyle had recently added a small pile of leaves and so I thought to burn it. I would have time to hang a small load of clothes, after the smoke cleared, with time to spare. I started the fire and went back in to have coffee and read a little as I always do. It wasn’t so very long that I went to the clothes line. To my horror, the garden was on fire!
I was gathering buckets,when Christian was fixing breakfast. I told him, that I intended to wet the yard around the garden, for now there was a strong wind blowing. Christian said :it was not a good day to burn, with the wind . .”but there wasn’t a bit of wind, when I started” I interrupted. I was calm, so he was too. I came back for two more buckets. This time, Christian decided to see for himself. By now, I was beginning to worry as the fire was heading to the the patch of young woods. The wind just kept picking up, as well. Christian started helping, for he was worried. No matter, we could not keep up with fire that seemed to jump over soggy land-and in all directions. We called the fire department.
I was so ashamed of myself and all of the running with buckets of water had taken a toll on this old lady. I apologized several times, and then left Christian to conclude the fiasco. I was drained physically and felt so thoroughly foolish. What a damper, on the otherwise, peaceful morning! When I had recovered and the fire department had left, I continued the plans for my departure .
Sydney was waiting outside while Ryan napped. What a welcome sight.
The days flew by. They were filled with long strolls , good meals and wonderful conversations. Ryan prefers wild life videos and farming videos, intended for farmers. At a bit shy of eighteen months, he talks about plows and combines! Ryan is a small child and quite agile . He knows at least half of the alphabet and the sounds of the letters, which has shocked me. It is uncanny, but Brant and Sydney hadn’t a clue, this was spectacular. Ryan has “beauty and brains “. . .according to his Honeybee, at least. I left on Monday, while the first blooms of the cherry could be seen. It was Daddy’s first heavenly birthday, though I doubt Heaven has clocks and calendars. . .but here on earth, we do.
Hence, my sisters and I had devised a plan to gather at Mamas’. Delores presented Mama with a quilt,that she had made from Daddys, shirts. No one could top that! It was a work of art. It is hard to believe that this is a new hobby for Delores. I am thrilled that her next project is my own celtic quilt.
The day was destined to be a somber one, but it was less so, sharing it with loved ones.
Grief subsides, but it does not leave us. Really, grief is the remnants of love. It is an odd feeling and always an unfamiliar feeling -to lose a loved one. I will never again “lose a father”, so that experience is odd, for there is nothing to compare it too, and it can not come up again. The other part of this sorrow, is losing someone that loved me. I remember first realising that particular sense of loss, when my maternal grandmother died. I was a child, but fully comprehended that idea. Someone who really loved me was gone. Decades later, my paternal grandmother died, and once again, that same sentiment, occurred to me. I was much older, but felt as frightened as the child I used to be. I felt more alone, right off and less brave, than ever.
Grief is a long and complicated business. . . it is also a very certain component of life. Those in mourning, seem to share some common denominators. There are more than a few thousand books written about the subject and always there are “studies”, to confirm this. . . but what do with grief is in reality, a very personal affair .
I am erecting a statue in memory of “Daddy” -in the form of an apple tree. . .and a “Hall of Fame”, for I will tell my fathers’ story til it is”old hat” to his great grand children. I will try to live as he taught me to . . . and make a birthday cake in March.
March did not come in “like a lion” this year! February left softly and suddenly, just as softly . . it was March. I have been with Will, Jenny and all of the grandchildren the last three days, at Brant and Sydneys’ home in the capitol city.
The temperatures were mild and showers fell ever so often. One day, the kids and their parents crowded in to a car and attended a drive through dinosaur exhibit. Lyla knew the correct names of each one and what features determined the species name. We really don’t know how, she learned all of that. Brynn said some of them were scary and Ryan came back growling.
Another day, we all took a hike to a small secluded playground. There were two hills to climb,but I was the only one that complained. Ryan found a mud puddle while the girls tried every slide out dozens of times. The weather was just perfect for such things.
On Sunday, after breakfast, we all started packing and cleaning. Lyla was crying as she was so dreading the departure. Brynn and Ryan started crying as we loaded the car. Ryan was blowing kisses, with a little turned down lip and it was beautiful and heartbreaking, all at once. We were not out of sight, when Brynn started asking, “What happened to “Bubby” (Ryan)? “What happened to Aunt Sydney”? “What happened to Uncle Brant”? as she whimpered. Lyla sat silently, with tears on her cheeks. I didn’t want, the visit to end either, but it was the love that the little cousins had for one another, that prompted my tears. It is no wonder that they say “Baby brother cousin” and “sister cousin” . Lyla coined these terms . . . and how accurately, it seems.
The unusual, gentle arrival of March remained for days, after my return to the rabbitpach. Nights warranted a soft warm blanket, mornings demanded a jacket, but the afternoons were warm enough to coax some daffodils to bloom. I always remember being young in the spring. For a moment, I could smell the dirt, of Pops’ freshly plowed fields. I remembered Daddys’ beloved Purple Martins and the steady watch for their “scouts” that ensued, in early spring – and kites that Daddy used to build, every year, right about this time. Mama would be making our”Easter dresses” and keeping a close eye on the azaleas, that would put every one elses’ yard in their place, for Mama has about fifty of them and dogwoods too. What a beautiful spectacle, they still make! . . .and it all happened in March.
How beautiful, the world I grew up in was, I often think. I did not feel privileged, but I felt valued. I never felt more important than another living thing, but I did feel as important. One of the most priceless lessons, that I was taught, was not to need so much. At a very young age, I knew thoroughly, the difference of want and need. It was absolutely fine to wish, to hope and to dream, as long as we understood the difference between wanting and needing. I have profited from that concept all of my life. I found out out that wants can change, if they are shallow. . . and a lot of mine were. In some way, this taught me to define my real priorities. I still use this concept. Right now, I want a new percolator, for my old one quit on me without forewarning. . . but I need tires for the car, hence I am drinking instant coffee, for now.
Some things, I learned were not from “the sunny side of life”. None of us were shielded from the heart ache of death. Dogs died and foals were stillborn. For a child, the death of a favorite pony was a sorrowful thing and monumental yet, my elders knew that they were not raising fragile china dolls. We were made to feel ashamed if our actions warranted it. How glad I am for that! It did not cripple us to be held accountable for wrong behavior. Instead, we sought virtue, for guilt is an awful burden.
The one thing we were shielded from was the business of adults -and of the world. I knew from a very early age, that Grandmama waited to iron or fold laundry or snap beans, the same hour, that “The edge of Night” aired. It was also the time for the youngest to nap and the older ones were to complete chores. It took a terrible calamity, for us to interrupt her . To this day, I am curious about what happened in “the stories” , as she called them. If a neighbor came to visit, we were to greet them and then scurry . It was impolite to eavesdrop, after all. The few times, that I managed to hear anything, they talked of someone not counting the stitches right in a quilt,or a recipe or why somebody did not go to church, last Sunday. . . Hardly interesting enough to captivate . Being wasteful or behaving poorly in public, were considered “sins against the family”. It may sound harsh, sometimes truth is. There are many times, that I want to act in a disagreeable fashion, but somehow I regain control and often, just in the nick of time, I remember that I am still a reflection of my own “tribe”.
If I have given the impression, that those days were anything less than beautiful, then I have failed-and miserably. We were guarded tenderly and lovingly and because of that, I felt precious -and besides between the great lessons, we roamed the countryside for hours,unhindered. We discovered, explored and developed wild imaginations.
I do not know if my elders were born full of wisdom or if they merely mimicked their own elders, but the results are the same and remain, to this day. The memories of those simple and heartwarming seasons act like a tonic, in the midst of the current chaos and shocks of these modern days. Who knew, that playing in dirt and playing in the rain, saying our prayers and meandering through fields and woods -would make all the difference?
It has been raining ever since, I last wrote. The world here, is wet, muddy and cold. . . Still, not as bad as in Texas. In the midst of the watery weather . . .Mama had a birthday.
With this being her first birthday, without Daddy, my sisters and I planned a surprise. Delores came the evening before. Mama expected to see me, the next day but I had been intentionally vague in our conversations. I think my other sister, Connie had as well. I arrived in or about mid morning. Mama was so shocked to see me, that she missed my bags altogether. I went to cooking collards straight away, as Mama prefers her heaviest meal at noon. Connie arrived just as the house was bragging about the simmering pots. Connie brought all sorts of food for us and Mama wondered aloud about that. Connie presented Mama with a bouquet and then announced that we would all be spending the night and that my niece Hayley would be joining us later on. This may have been the first time we successfully, totally surprised Mama. . . and Mama was thrilled!
After a hearty lunch of Mamas’ favorite foods, we looked at quilting patterns. Delores has started quilting since Christmas and has made remarkable progress. She has made several already and now has plans to make each one of us one, from Daddys’ shirts. I chose a celtic pattern. Connie had been working on photographs, taken on our “day after Thanksgiving” gathering. She had framed several for us and so it was quite a celebration for everyone. I must give niece Hayley credit for the photography.
Hayley has quite a knack for photography and I hope she continues this passion. She is not only good at taking pictures, but also has this uncanny knack of being at the right place at the right time. Thus, she has a collection of bright rainbows, mother bears and cubs and all sorts of fowl under brilliant skies. Admidst all of this merry making, Connie was on a mission to get me a cell phone.
I have been through several in the last few years. One drowned and I spilt a tiny splash of coffee on the last one. That killed it. I never wanted a cell, but my kids demanded I had one for driving to see them. Eventually, they convinced me, that some great calamity was bound to happen and I was liable to go missing . . .if I didn’t have a phone. I got the cheapest flip cell I could and stuck with that type. No matter how much they begged me to “upgrade” I always got another flip. The kids at school were in awe of my cell and could’t believe it worked! Many said they had only seen such a thing in old movies!. Against all odds, I now have some fancy “smart phone”.
Connie had a brand new one and after several long calls, it was cheaper to activate that one than to replace what I had, even though I had insurance on mine, for such tragedies, as coffee. My kids are still in shock, that I got in Connies’ truck to go to a cell store. So am I. Connie did all of the negotiating and thank goodness, for “I do not speak the language”! Connie also got me a “bullet proof” case, since phones at my house are in dangerous territory.
While all of this was going on, my other niece, Dana was studying chemistry . . .and learning to read “tea leaves”! Dana is an artist in many ways. She draws beautifully and has broad interests . Dana is as tenderly thoughtful as can be. She had made a keepsake box for Mama and filled it with miniature trinkets that were remembrances of Daddy. She had a little dog, a toolbox and a small rose quartz-since that was the gem of love. I so hope she learns to read tea leaves.
The next morning, Hayley cooked breakfast for all of us. We hung Mamas’ new pictures after we ate.
Two of Connies’ childhood friends came by. They are both nice and so pleasant. One of them, Mary Susan, made us laugh with her stories. She had good content, but it was the way she tells them that was so entertaining.
We all shared a lunch and ate Delores’ made from scratch cake, for the grand finale.
Mama had a birthday . . .but we all left gifted.
Happy Birthday Mama!
There is a room with a window, that I like the very best –
in months like February, when nature is at rest.
When the sun shines oh, so faintly, I take to my cozy nook
to while away a bit of day with a blanket, a dog and a book.
I think my thoughts and dream a bit,without a sense of rush-
What lovely notions wander in, when all the world is hushed.
The sleepy headed roses, the greenness of the pine –
The steadfast, warrior oaks all dozing in a line –
A tiny flock of little birds, as busy as can be-
A flashy redbird lighting up a drowsy dogwood tree.
Nature says”I love you” so sweetly in this way –
And so I’ll join the chorus “Happy Valentines’ Day!”
by Michele Warren (me!)
The last few days have been silvery -and timeless. The territory looks the same at eight in the morning as it does as two in the afternoon. – and only the clock knows when it is noon. It has been cold and damp , true to the nature of January.
I spend a good deal of time by a window, I am surrounded by my books and plants and the boxer dozes under our shared blanket . Here, I wish and daydream . . .and remember. I read and I do try to take a walk daily around the territory.
Tres left on Thursday. I spent Friday in the “doldrums”. I had been home all week with an awful head cold and a tooth ache. On Friday I felt worse than before, but I assured a worried Jenny, it was because Tres left. Knowing me well, Jenny agreed.
I have at last, chosen a “study”. I want to learn to play chess! Christian has played since he was a mere child. I was glad of it, -and often wanted to learn, but housekeeping, cooking, mothering and a job, just did not afford such luxury.
Christian has agreed to teach me, which I find a wonderful idea. “The tables have turned” it seems, for now, I am the student and my youngest son, is the teacher! I may never win a single game or maybe I will not even like chess, for I am not a fan of board games in general. I want to learn, anyway.
The “Farmers’ Almanac” said it first, though the weatherman took all the credit . . .there was a chance of snow on Thursday. This is no small proclamation in the south. On Wednesday, the children nor the teachers, could scarce of anything else. It was fairly warm outside, but none of us gave up. When a child went to the window, I did not reprimand them, for I too looked every chance that I got. We have not had snow in a few years, so this was no small prospect for us.
By three o’clock, an announcement that school would be closed the next day was made. You barely needed a jacket at the “car line” yet that announcement seemed to confirm, that it would snow. Children were building snowmen and planning on hot chocolate -and hoping their parents knew how to make the snow cream, the older ones were talking about. I had my own dreams . . of coffee and my favorite house clothes, of writing and reading . . and a cake. The event of snow in the south, is a short lived affair, so we must all do a lot of everything and as quickly as possible!
The world was bright and white, when I woke on Thursday morning. Snow was still falling and had hushed the countryside.There was a few inches covering the territory . . .and the trees were just stunning. I gazed on their loveliness as if I were in some sort of trance, completely engulfed in their quiet but dazzling beauty. Authentic beauty, lacks the flash, of what we seem to be so accustomed to. There is nothing counterfeit or enhanced in nature, I thought, yet I do not find it lacking, but instead, deeply and profoundly beautiful.
I did make a cake. Another quest, I have been attempting, is to eliminate refined sugars in my cooking. I am using honey instead. I also will try maple syrup and molasses . Since baking is a science, I have been treading carefully. This is my third cake, today and so far so good. I am nervous about cookies, for longtime readers may remember that I had a terrible track record with cookies. For only, two short years now, I have been feeling confident . Maybe, I will just eliminate the restrictions on refined sugars, when it comes to cookies. Besides, I feel guilty about altering my great grandmothers’ recipe for tea cakes.
I finished the borrowed book, as the dark settled in. Outside the window, by the morning table, I saw the magic of moonlight on snow. I had forgotten all about the full moon. To have snow and moonlight all at once, was like holding a rare pearl. “The luster of midday” , I remembered . . . now with understanding. In a day or so, only remnants of the snow remained in shady places . . .and many a snow man, now frozen, could be seen in the yards where children lived.
I left for a weekend with the grand daughters, on Friday. Lyla and Brynn danced and squealed, celebrating my arrival . They clap their little hands and call out “Honeybee!” It never gets old. The cares of this world grow mighty dim, in those moments.
It was quite cold on Saturday, but Jenny bundled the little girls up and we went on a winter walk to deliver cake to “Aunt J”. Wills’ aunt lives in the same neighborhood and it seems such a short distance, The wind was fierce and blew like an angry, arctic gale-and so the walk seemed longer than a country mile, that day. I am a firm believer in children getting outside a lot and in all kinds of weather (and all folks really), but how nice it was to come home to a fire burning brightly and hot chocolate! Tres came over to help Will with an outside repair . It took all afternoon. Jenny and I started an evening meal that was both hearty and vegetarian, another new project for me.
I came home on Monday. The snow, followed by days of rain, had turned the yard in to a large mud puddle. There wasn’t a single ray of sun either. The countryside looked drab and untidy . . .so I remembered the irises and the pale blossoms of the peach tree to “tide me over” for a while. The earth is filled with promises, I reminded myself. This sparked a joy in my heart. Suddenly, I took a second look around me and noticed the many shades of silver in the sky. There were all sorts of chestnut and coppery browns and soft greys. Even the puddles were full of life. Soon, lamps would shine through the old windows of the farmhouse and the house would smell like supper. I chided myself for waiting for beauty, while in the midst of it. Sometimes. . . a second look, makes all the difference.
P.S. I can’t seem to add images, these days to my posts! Take my word for it, when I say the grandchildren are every bit as lovely as ever!
The rabbitpatch is always quiet in winter -and this year more so than ever. Of course, there is no shortage of tasks and I have a borrowed book, that I need to read. There is a small cabinet to paint and a corner of the territory hemmed a foot deep in leaves . . but I have always viewed winter, as a time to rest . . .body and soul.
This is the time, I usually pick a subject to study. I do plan to research something, but for now, I’d as soon paint the table. ( I am still muddled from the months I followed politics fervently.) In that case, I will choose something to wonder about wisely. . .after I paint the cabinet.
This is Tres’ last week of winter break, therefore his last week here. He came in early December and of course, Christian and I dread him leaving. He will be back earning his second degree. It makes me dizzy to hear the names of his classes, but he enjoys them. How handy he has been! He has done several repairs, that were needed. He is good company and cheers me on in my own endeavors. Goodness, what a difference Tres makes at the rabbitpatch- and in so many ways. Of course, my loss is Lyla and Brynns’ gain, for they have missed their uncle and look forward to his return to Elizabeth City.
I am enjoying the stark winter beauty that has at last settled in. Some days are born in brightness, some are born in fog. “Jack Frost” turns up regularly, but never stays for supper! I do not frown on winter, as many do. Even living in a drafty farmhouse, where each room varies greatly in temperature, does not diminish my enthusiasm . I love the winter landscape too. The scene is simplistic. Fields lie in wait for April, as do the flowers. In the absence of leaves, sunlight falls lighting up the dark corners of the territory and what peculiar shadows the twisted branches of the oak make! The colors of the season are muted and I find that peaceful. The silver bark of the sycamore, the gently mottled pecan seem to implore one to slow down and take a close look. How pretty the redbirds are in such a time as winter and most especially when perched on a soft ash branch .
I do not mind the longer nights nor the later mornings, either. Home and hearth are revered more than ever, under such conditions. The old house is almost cold in the mornings and I rise reluctantly from soft, warm blankets, to warm the place up and start coffee. Now, I scurry back to my “nest”, for this is where I have my “early service” in winter. A large window, is my alter, for it frames the sunrise with precision. A pile of books is within arms’ reach ,to prod me on and a cup of coffee is added to the collection. There I await, the light. . .so I do not mind the “late mornings” of winter.
Unlike the rest of the year, by six o’clock in the evening, all who call the rabbitpatch home are settled in, while supper cooks. I see the lamps shining in my neighbors’ homes and am glad they too, are home, “safe and sound”. In warmer months, folks are likely to be anywhere doing many things . . .but all hearts come home in winter. . . and earlier than usual.
There is another thing about winter. My only daughter, Jenny was given to me on a bright, cold day, in January. Hence, she is my “lovely winter bird”. Now,she is all grown up with her own nest to tend. . .and oh how well she tends it. She was born with a mothers ‘ heart. She had lots of practice with her dolls and four brothers. How deftly she practices the fine art of mothering and “homemaking”. This is as noble an endeavor as there as ever was and I couldn’t be prouder of her. A mother “wears many hats” rings true . . .but so does a daughter and Jenny is all any of us could have ever hoped for.
Many people place great stock in a new year – and most especially this particular year. I have never been any good at making resolutions,just for the sake of it, for I must truly be convicted, to change a habit, or practice a new one…and I am likely to do so in months like May! Now, during the quiet time of Christmas, I did do a lot of thinking and self reflection.
There is just no shortage of things to ponder. For a long while, I was about overwhelmed with “the current state of the union”. I am still a bit shocked and so very disappointed too. It seems everyone wants to take some sort of spectacular stance on every subject known to man. The elders used to say, “you all would argue in a pie factory!”, when my cousins and I quarreled. (instead of eating pie). I think that sentiment rings true today. To me, the world got too loud. . .and I could not bear the noise so, I finally decided to just “Be still” -as it is written.
Now being still, is not for the faint of heart. It sounds like it is such a passive event-but for me, I must muster determination to quiet myself. It is my mission to dwell on what is holy. . . .and to live peaceably and without causing harm to this world.
When the time of thinking was over, I left for the gathering, in Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney came with little Ryan, that evening. What a happy reunion, it was. Lyla and Brynn were so glad to see their “baby brother cousin”. Watching the three of them clapping their little hands, in unbridled joy, at the sight of one another, tickled my heart. We all stayed up past our usual bedtimes., in light of all that celebrating.
The next morning, as usual, Lyla and I were up before everyone else. We are always the “early birds”. Every time, someone awoke, they were greeted cheerfully, as if the night had kept us apart too long. After breakfast, Lyla and Sydney began work on a gingerbread house. We had quite a lengthy list on our agenda. There were two kinds of candy to make and cheese straws, several special meals and a few walks in the “new neighborhood”. Since it was raining and no end in sight, the strolls had to be abandoned. Because of this, it seemed someone was always in the kitchen.
We had several days together- but, being greedy, I never get my fill. How could I tire of those lovely folks! Brynn trying to tend to Ryan. Ryan following Lyla like a shadow -even the occasional squabbles, were cherished. Brynn at two, was reluctant to hand over all that was hers’ freely to Ryan. She would put up a fight for a little while, then smile sweetly and share , for she had established her independence to her satisfaction. Ryan has learned to say “no” and uses it appropriately. Even so, he remains mild and pleasant and very loving. Lyla shut the door to the playroom on the day, that her dolls were all sick. That sent wails of protests from the little ones.
I watched the children play with great amusement . It is another way to know them and what a delightful way to do so.
It rained day and night, the whole time of our holiday. This did not hinder our happiness, though I had looked forward to some leisure strolls. Several times, Ryan and I watched it rain through the window, together. He stared intently at the large silver drops falling- in wonder . . .so did I. May neither of us ever outgrow watching rain.
Somehow, the days were quickly accomplished. Brant and Sydney left on Saturday. I left on Sunday. Though, I am satisfied with life, it does seem to lack luster, after a gathering. Regular readers know, I am likely to whine and pine every time, in the days after a reunion.
I spent the next week restoring order in the old farmhouse. I went to work and cooked supper. Headlines went from bad to worse. The discord of man is as rampant as covid and apparently just as contagious. There are more ways than one to ail.
Meanwhile, the night sky is lit up with stars the size of silver dollars. The Handiwork of God is a stark and mighty contrast to the handiwork of man. In the early morning, there is that magical time, when the day awaits light. It is another favorite time of mine. . .it is my beloved “morning service”.
How beautiful, truth is and no one is better at truth, than trees. Their bare arms, covered only on frost, bravely proclaim, broken, jagged branches and the scars of former storms. The earth rests in winter and does not harbor hidden agendas and falsehoods, nor does it plot . The earth rises to the needs of all that call it “home” without showing privilege or discrimination. Therefore, I will renew my pledge to seek peace and cause no harm. This is the way I will do battle.
I love winter mornings. They are so still. In the absence of bird song , the day is born in silence. Now, the mornings sparkle, for frost covers the territory and any sound at all seems to crack the air. The trees shine their beautiful truth, in the first light. Now they hold no secrets. The older I get, the more I value truth-good or bad -truth liberates the soul. It really does “set one free”, as it is written.
Now the time of Christmas wanes like an old moon. I will celebrate til January 6th, for I love “old Christmas” and somehow commemorating the visit of the wise men , seems a fitting and natural conclusion to such a glorious, time as Christmas. Now, like everyone else, we had a different sort of Christmas, this year. We settled for visits, instead of the usual large gathering, on Christmas night. After the trip to Raleigh, Mama and I spent a day in Elizabeth City with Will, Jenny and my beloved little girls, Brynn and Lyla.
The grandaughters were brimming with anticipation,of Sanats’ visit. Lyla was practicing her best behavior, so that the elves had nothing to tattle about. Mama and I toured their new home. It is a beautiful and sensible home-and within walking distance of the “laughing river”. How grateful I was, to see this blessing for them, first hand. What contentment welled up in my heart and I prayed for the home to be filled with goodness and mirth.
The day passed too quickly and while Brynn dozed in her mothers’ arms, Mama and I headed home.
A few short days later, my sisters and I were at Mamas’ house. We tried as best as could to divert ourselves from the great sorrow of not having Daddy with us. In some way, I had dreaded the affair altogether, Knowing we could not deny, that we all had this grief in common, the prospect of any merriment, seemed impossible . . .but I was wrong. We had a lot more in common, than grief. We had Mama and each other. We had the same elders and shared the same memories. We loved each others’ children . . .and so there was great solace in that.
I spent Christmas eve at Mamas’ house. On Christmas day, Tres, Sarah, Kyle and Christian came. Mama and I had prepared a meal and so this day was much better than Thanksgiving. It was fun cooking together and it was wonderful to wait together, for everyones’ arrival.
Outside, the coldest wind of the year blew, fiercely. The little community was quiet, other than the howling of that wind. Hardly a car drove by, for covid was in the neighborhood. Several families were in quarantine and had to cancel any prospect of celebrating together. A beloved neighbor was fighting for his life . . and losing. His wife was home alone and had to rely on phone calls from the doctors to know anything about her husband. She never got a bit of good news. Each call was worse than the one before it. The final call came on Christmas night. Our dear friend left us the next morning.
This man was but a few years, older than me and every bit as active. In the thirty years, we knew him,no one has ever had a bad thing to say about him. As far we are all concerned, he left with a “clean slate” . . .and that says volumes.
If death, does not make us think about living . .then I suppose nothing will. No matter what you believe happens after death, this life counts. What we do with it matters. In youth, man dreams big and with a lot of determination. We are often convinced then, that we will change this world and therefore leave our mark in some spectacular way. One way or another, we all end up in the same “rat race”. Some acquire more stuff than others . . .some acquire prestige . . some have some sort of power. I guess, it all comes down to whatever mission we select.
Thankfully, circumstances prevail, that allow us to reevaluate and help us define our priorities with a more seasoned precision . We continue making these wonderful discoveries, of who we are. What we truly love is out “front and center”! It comes to light and may even shock us, though it was there all along. . .likewise, our undesirable traits. Suddenly, you at last know yourself and this is the one mission, we all really share -and the one that matters most of all, I think. Our path is sacred, twisted, shadowed and how sweet those patches of light. Ever so often, a truth, our truth, leaps out, shining like a beacon or . . like an awful rock to fall over. Either way, we are the better, for the light-and the rocks, too.
I had several more revelations, during this quiet Christmas. Each one seemed like a Christmas gift, of sorts, but I will write about them at the more timely New year event, when most people do consider such things.
Mama will spend New Year in Raleigh and tomorrow, I leave for Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney should arrive tomorrow evening. I have never been sentimental about celebrating the new year. . .but I am sentimental about seeing my children and grandchildren. . . after all. they are “my patches of light”.
Last week end in Raleigh, was”time well spent”. Mama and I arrived on Friday. It was an unseasonably warm day and so not long after getting there, I took little Ryan out for a stroll. A few trees were still celebrating autumn with bright apricot leaves-and some were golden too. How they lit up the landscape! We met an older woman hand delivering her Christmas cards. This cheered me, for it was something familiar. With Christmas so very different this year . . I found the encounter, beautiful. . . and did not take it lightly. Likewise, a simple wreath on a door, did my heart “good’. I remembered how I especially love familiar things.
I remembered a time, when folks did “hand deliver ” their Christmas cards – and how decorations were simple, but spoke volumes, anyway. Grandmama made her “fruit cocktail” cake and sat it on the “deep freeze’ and the Christmas albums were played daily. The house smelled to “high heaven” of apples and oranges at Christmas – a tradition spawned a century ago, in my family, when such things were only available at Christmas. When things changed, my elders did not. One of my sweetest memories, was Delores and I waking up to the smell of apples and oranges-and calling out to one another, “Wake up! It is Christmas!”
How fitting it was, that Ryan and I went home to Sydney and Mama in the kitchen, baking gingerbread cookies.
I lost count of the books, that Mama read to Ryan, that night. I am thrilled that Ryan dearly loves being read to-and Mama was more than willing to accommodate him. Later, Brant took Ryan for their usual before bedtime revelry while Sydney, Mama and I watched It Happened on Fifth Avenue-and ate cookies.
On Saturday, my sister, Delores and niece Dana. came for a visit. Mama would leave for a visit with them, as they live just under an hour away. This was the first of our new plan for Christmas. Visits with one another, instead of our usual large, ‘all in’ gathering. It really is a fine alternative, under the circumstances, though, it does lack the luster of the former feelings of Christmas ‘ past. . .but who knows, this altered state of Christmas, may at last force us to dwell, on the “holiness” more than the holly.
On Sunday, Brant, Sydney, Ryan and I, traveled to have lunch, at my sisters’ house -and to bring Mama back. it was another day, like late April, but it was Christmas inside. The tree was lovely, though Delores was not pleased with it initially. She is quite picky about her tree and spent the best part of two days, this year, selecting one. Surely, whatever qualms Delores had, are now dismissed. I was quite moved to see the collection of nutcrackers, that I had given my nephew, Brandon, over the years, displayed all over the downstairs. How many years, they reflected! I was glad. to have started the tradition, for they all seemed to fill the house with a proclamation of love.
After our lunch, we all went out to watch Ryan frolic about. Ryan loves sticks and acorns and leaves and he will usually have at least one of those things clinched in his little hands. He would rather be outside, in the first place, which pleases me. I love to see his fair face facing up, gazing at the sky. I carry this picture with me, to rely on, when there is distance between us.
We came back in the mid afternoon, and fell right back in to that routine of Mama reading to Ryan, and all of us eating cookies. That night we watched “The Bishops’ Wife”, which I had suggested on multiple occasions, ever since I had arrived. I do not know, if Sydney had ever watched movies that old. She was delightful company and is too well mannered to complain. . .and I think she enjoyed them!
Regular readers know, that I am hopelessly sentimental and “old fashioned” too. It is true. When I find something good , something authentic, something worthy enough to carry , I can not “leave it behind” like a burned out strand of lights, that certainly has no further use. Instead, ” I keep lovely things”. ..like souvenirs, tucked lovingly in my heart. I practice the old ways as best I can, for it is another way to” tell the story” to my grandchildren and to honor the memory of the elders. To the old ways, we add new ways and so the story grows into our unique version.
One day, the grandchildren will ask me why the house smells of apples and oranges at Christmas. . .and I will say “let me tell you a story . . .
These latter days of autumn are very akin to winter. Nights are cold now and so we rise to heavy frost that shines and sparkles in the first light. The barren fields, are covered in a dazzling luster. I woke to a strong north wind, yesterday. that stripped most of the leaves from the old trees- and carried them to their destiny, far from the rabbitpatch. Now the shade on the territory is scant, reduced to thin lines that curve and zig zag, across the territory, when the sun shines.
Recently, I don a coat and gloves in the early morning and the car must be warmed up. I do not mind cold as some do, but I will complain if there is a gusty wind, in addition.
With this being our first Thanksgiving, without Daddy, and my friend, Julie dying just before the holiday, well, it was a gloomy time. I counted my blessings, reciting them all day, for I have so many. . .but grief was ever present. I could not shake it – and to say otherwise,would be sheer falsehood. Mama and I spent the day together, with brief visits from Kyle and Christian -and Jenny, Sydney and Sarah brought the grandchildren in the afternoon. Those moments were bright spots. Our family would be gathering on Friday, so Thursday just felt hollow and so lacking. I suppose a parade could have passed by, and wouldn’t have altered our state of mind. Mama and I went to bed early.
Friday was better. It was a mild day and just right for our outside gathering. There were all sorts of tasks and that helped too. I stirred the caramel sauce and Mama decorated the garage. A turkey was roasting and Brant and Tres were frying another one. Sydney came in with a huge pan of macaroni and cheese, that took the place of the turkey, the minute it came out. Jenny had a corn pudding, my sister, Delores came in with a ham and a casserole. Delores began organizing the food and Ryan sought out little sticks and rocks, Brynn stuck close to her Mama, as she is shy. Often she will cover her face,if she is given too much attention. Lyla and Christian took a walk . .and so how soothing the hustle and bustle was. We wore masks, when we weren’t eating and took extra precautions to be safe. Those practices are habits now, for us.
Tres is out of school now and so he is at the rabbitpatch! Christian and I are thrilled. The boys have cut wood, fixed the dryer and Tres fixed two doorknobs that have not worked for a year. We have deep conversations- real content, that provokes thought. We have tackled science, government and religion, already. We have discussed documentaries and of course, what to have for supper. Conversations with Tres, always inspire me to “do better ” .
Will and Jenny moved this weekend! Wills’ mom had a home just a few miles away, in the same vicinity. It is a smaller home and so, they “downsized” before me! The new location will not hinder my walks by the”laughing river”. It is also closer to “Aunt J”, which thrills all of us. I cried with happiness when Jenny spent the first night. How good it felt to know that she was safely tucked in -as if she were six all over again. The heart of a mother does snot recognize the difference time oughtto make. This was a “milestone” to celebrate. I hope to visit in the next few weeks . By then there will be a wreath on the door!
Ryan is cutting a tooth and every little consequence of that has worried Brant, terribly. He even fed him chicken broth, one night! Sydney, is concerned, of course, but oh, how calm she remains for Ryan AND Brant!
Now, it is Monday, and with my lessons posted , my sisters and I are meeting at Mamas’ to decorate for Christmas. There is a chilly rain falling in silver drops that beckon to you to make a fire-and to serve a hearty supper.
Delores had arrived the night before. She was hanging a bow on the mailbox, as I drove up. What a sweet sight! Connie and my niece, Hayley, were right behind me. With everyone gathered and Bing Crosby singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, a sense of celebration filled the house.
Hayley had a surprise for us, right off. She had pillows for each of us, made from Daddys’ shirts. Of course we all cried, for we are missing Daddy and most especially during the holidays-but at least some of our tears were for the beauty of this gift. I was deeply moved by Hayleys’ thoughtfulness. Moments later, Connie and Delores were unpacking the Christmas china, while Dana and I gathered up the many cardinal ornaments , we would use . Mama had decided on that theme, for this particular year. We had a light lunch, and celebrated Delores’ and Hayleys’ approaching birthdays.
Everyone worked again after lunch. It got about cold and so we hurried along on the outside garland and lights. Both of my sisters are quite handy at the things that I am not, so there is never a quarrel about who does what. By the time that the world dimmed, the house was aglow with Christmas lights and Delores had put bows on most any thing that did not move. I glanced back, as I drove away and thought, what a good day.
On Friday. Mama and I will leave for Raleigh. We are doing Christmas a different way this year, due to the virus that is raging through our “neck of the woods”. We will have several small visits, with family, instead of the usual large gathering.
Being so very sentimental, I really love tradition . . .and so I am already missing the way things were. Hayley and I did not linger in a bookstore this year, while the others shopped. . .nor eat fine chocolate, because “they were taking too long”. The grandchildren will not gather to visit with Santa and Mama will not need to supplement seating in her house, on Christmas night. With the violin program, closed at school this year, I have not heard “Jingle Bells played a thousand times . . .well, on and on I could go proclaiming the woes of this creature of habit, for life has changed in general.
It makes me feel quite shallow to whine about it, when I consider that my grandparents had a Christmas meal, on ration cards. I think of the many folks, who lost their livelihoods this year and the many “empty chairs” across the entire world, this particular year.
I have come to realize a few things. Fortitude is quite under estimated and we ought to cultivate it in ourselves-and in our children, with great zeal. You can bet your life, it will be needed as surely as water. Likewise, gratitude. We must learn to recognize our blessings. We get so very used to them, that we treat them like an old beside lamp. But oh! how we like that light on a long winter night. Really, gratitude sparks joy, which is another element, we will need . . again like water. Current conditions implore us to look deeply and to see clearly, what does really matter. We all have the chance, to define our truth with precision.
I can not afford to miss this opportunity, for it is like a “baptism” . . and I so hope “this one takes” . . . “for wild and sweet, the words repeat . . . Peace on Earth, Good will to men.”