Category Archives: Christmas stories

I wish I had a river*

I like that song. I was listening to Sarah McLachlan’s version of it this afternoon while wrapping a few odds and ends to put under our listing faux tree with most of the lights burned out. All I’ve got to say is it’s a darn good thing I can vaguely, if I try hard, remember the reason for the season. It’s to rejoice about health care reform, right? Just kidding, Bonnie. Earlier in the day, I scrummed around in the back of my brain (and heart) trying to get in touch with the part that fully appreciates the GREAT BIG GIFT but I was also busy chasing down the cheapest and simultaneously least flimsy and cartoonish gift wrap I could find at CVS. CVS is not really the place to get in touch with your inner Christian (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc.), btw.

It doesn’t feel much like Christmas around here and even though my mother, damn her, has been nagging me to make all 6 of the traditional family cookies, have the perfectly trimmed tree, put an orange in the toe of each and every stocking and put really nice ribbon on every precisely wrapped gift, here are the facts of the matter:

All my cookie cutters and my rolling pin and the Lenox tiered cookie plate are somewhere in Cincinnati and it’s been so long since I’ve seen my “stuff” that got boxed up and hauled off to storage when we left Chicago that I can’t remember if I even like it or want it anymore. Except, now, I miss the hefty smooth wood of my grandmother’s rolling pin and I think that’s the only thing of hers I own so I’m having a little breakdown over the rolling pin. But that’s not the real issue. The real bugger is we have no children or family with us for Christmas this year.

Abigail graduated (with bells and whistles. More on that soon) and left two days later for Russia. She’s with Misha’s family somewhere south, near Georgia and the Black Sea.  They flew to Moscow and then took a 27 hour train ride to his town; that seemed impossibly long to me but when I looked at the maps it started to make sense. They had never met Abby and his family was so pleased to see them that everybody turned out with signs and confetti to greet them at the train station- the parents, brother,cousins and aunts, uncles, neighbors. Abby has sent some pictures and it all looks very close knit and Russian. I can only imagine how happy his mother must be to have him for these few weeks, along with my daughter. But I’m glad for them, that they are able to be there. They both worked a lot of extra hours, especially Misha, so they could go and if their luggage was any measure they took half of Best Buy with them. Abby told me on Skype that the other day they got up at 530 am and that whole big crowd piled into a van and drove to the highest peak in Europe. Except it’s in Russia. It’s Mt Elbrus. I had to look that one up it was so puzzling and then I also google-earthed it to try and feel closer to her but it looks so vast and distant that I ended up feeling further away. I’ll talk to her tomorrow again on Skype. Here are two pictures she sent.
(Keeping up with her can be a challenge.)

(Does he look like a spy to you? Sometimes I worry about that. Do those lifts look safe? I think not. )

Anyway. She’ll be gone for her birthday, too. Technically, winging her way back here on Singapore Air but not yet home. Daniel is in Ann Arbor, busy with his friends (actually, it’s a woman and I haven’t met her and I’m sure I’m not supposed to talk about that here at all) and he’s also getting ready to head out for a west coast tour in January with NOMO so I won’t see him for another while and I’m not happy about that, either. Rich’s girls (well, they are my girls, too, but we still sort of say my kids, your girls, whatever. Blended families. But we think of them all as “the kids.”) are in their respective places, with work and lives of their own (the nerve) so there you go. No children for Christmas.

Bud is in assisted living now, having made the transition from independent living. He’s in the same nice place and I asked him what the differences were and he said, “Well, there are two. One is they give me my pills instead of me taking them myself. (or not, somewhat related to the move). The other is, every fifteen minutes they say to me, “Bud, are you where you’re supposed to be?” ” He seems somewhat more vague but he is still cognizant of the loss of independence he enjoyed at Lost Loon Lodge. He does have a new “friend” of the female persuasion and I’m happy about that. When he talks about her, it’s ridiculously giddy and more lustful than I want to think about. It makes him a lot less lonely. But where did my mother go? She’s still around, in lots of nooks and crannies but you know, it’s kind of painful. Bud asked me to send him the folder with all my mother’s papers-her journals and press clippings from her environmental efforts and the obits and what have you- that he left in my safe keeping. He wants to share them with the people in his “retirement place”. I pulled them out of the file drawer yesterday and I just glanced through them; that was enough to let me know that I didn’t want to send them off directly because they might get misplaced and they might also be more upsetting to Bud than he’s thinking. But really, that’s not my decision to make. They are his papers after all. I guess I’ll send them to my sister and let her figure it out.

I am going on a bit here, especially considering I’ve been in the woodwork for a while. Ah, me. Anyway, back to the reason for the season. Late this afternoon, even though we had early dinner plans with our good neighbor friends, I drove down to feed Shadow and Thinman, the red shouldered hawks at Boyd Hill. They are my new charges. (Terrible photo quality, taken on Rich’s cell phone. But yes, this work makes me happy.)

Last season I had Wheezer and Stretch, the ESOs but now I’m hand feeding the two hawks as well. I drive through the south side of St. Petersburg to get there; I like the eclectic mix of bail bond places, liquor stores, community centers, Harry’s Hot Garlic Crabs and churches that I pass before I hit the lakeshore at the edge of the nature preserve, where it all changes to great blue herons, cormorants and gators. One of the church signs read, “Let Earth Receive Her King!” and I was reminded how we refer to Him as him and the earth as Her. The earth part makes perfect sense to me. At the risk of sacrilege, He, at least as the stories go, had more of the attributes that we generally think of as feminine. Nurturing, conciliatory, gentle and forgiving. I was discussing that with Shadow while feeding her slices of beef heart and she pointed out to me that she is the more assertive and dominant of the two Red Shoulders. She also pointed out that it is my religious holiday so it’s not entirely equitable that she will be having a fasting day tomorrow. In any case-Earth or King, both- appreciating a gift of this magnitude definitely transcends nit picky issues like gender. It’s important to accept a gift in the Spirit in which it is given.

In keeping with the spirit of the season (not the Christmas one. The bad economy season.) Rich and I decided to veer away from material goods this year and focus on the wonderful things we are blessed with (which don’t include health insurance or children home for Christmas). I made Christmas cards (of wool felt, naturally. Overly ambitious, naturally. Effen glue gun mess, naturally) and I packaged up gifts and Rich waited in line at the post office where we paid a lot of money to mail things priority only to hear that northern snows meant none of it was getting there on time in any case. And then we went shopping for each other. We set an absolute 50.00 limit on what we spent and settled on Target, drove together, got two carts and headed off in opposite directions. I got hung up in that dollar corral where it’s mostly Little Kitty schlock but I did find him a very high quality wooden and metal hanger for his belts and ties. I saw a lot of things I would pick for myself under 50.00- little kitchen gadgets and garden gloves but then I refocused and found about 5 more things Rich will like and checked out at 49.67. Rich got closer at 49.83. I guess I’m getting more presents. Then I went back through Target and bought the cats the most expensive gift- another fancy variation on the scratching post idea that they will ignore like every other. After that we went with the hoi polloi to Steak n Shake and had paper-thin hamburgers. My body hardly rebelled at all to such a minimal invasion of beef. That was a lot of fun, those few hours together, so we’ll probably make it a new tradition. Heaven knows we don’t need anymore stuff than we already have. Somewhere. In storage in Cincinnati. The main thing is this: Rich and I will be spending a peaceful, loving and quiet time together, just enjoying each other . For part of the day, we will drive down and visit old friends from Michigan who have a place on Anna Maria Island. It will be a good Christmas, even without children, parents, brothers or sister. I just miss everybody. That’s all.

And finally, in the end, along with trips north to see Bud and Abby’s graduation, I got so busy making felt art for gallery sales that I didn’t have the time or, ultimately the inclination, to make really nice gifts for all the people who matter to me most. Sigh. However, I did make you a card, with a dove on it. Here it is:

It’s past midnight and I can actually hear the church bells ringing because here in Florida we have our windows open tonight. It’s officially Christmas. Merry Christmas to you all. You are my friends and I wish you peace and health and happiness.

*It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

(Joni Mitchell)

What? You came looking for Buckminster Fuller?

Although I did (Christmas miracle!) update this site last night in the post above, Bucky is HERE. I still love this post and the memories it brings of my childhood Christmases. It still gets many hits when folks do a search for Fuller or the Ford Rotunda. I think the photos of the Ford Rotunda have expired since I first posted it three years ago in 2006, so here is the image. Have a most wonderful Christmas.

And it’s a wonder the silver dragees didn’t kill us in our sleep

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I wasn’t sure we would make it out of Chicago but that’s the way it is when you travel at Christmas, isn’t it? The last hour of rushing around maniacally slapping ribbons and name tags on gifts is nerve racking. I always have to re-open several to remember what they are and who they are for. I am making sure the kitties leave their cookies for Santa and the neighbor, as his representative, has their gift-which Sophie will be revisiting, already soggy with tooth marks, since she discovered and enjoyed it twice, in the three days before we left- and screaming at each other: Did you turn the heat down? Did you give McCloud his poop medicine? Do you have those thumb drives off my desk? and so forth and so on.

But here we are in Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo, tucked in cozily between my sister’s beautiful Victorian and the B and B five doors down. This year, there are the three sisters plus spouses plus children (my two, Laurel’s one), Bud safe and sound from the U.P. and Betsy’s two cats. One of the cats has set the world’s record for longest active case of rabies and never has there been a more fearsome and crazy cat. He guards the stairs and if anyone needs to go up we have to yell, “Betsy! Come get Cujo Claus so I can go to the bathroom!” Yes, he is indeed named after Santa. Go figure. Bruce and Alison remain in Massachusetts this year, with plans to come to St. Petersburg for Bud’s 80th birthday in February. (We might go to Disney World, dammit.)
Bud made it down by the whiskers of his chin. Hospitalized for kidney problems, electrolyte imbalance and atrial fibrillation, he was released and packed on the small SAAB prop plane by the visiting nurse with the notion that he was better off under the watchful eyes of his family for a week than alone in the North Woods. Laurel had been with him for a few days at the hospital in Marquette, 150 miles from Lost Loon Lodge, but she needed to make a stop back in Wisconsin to tie up loose ends before coming down here, so he had 48 hours to get his own self organized for Christmas. We all accept, with some anxiety, that Bud has made his choice to stay at his small cluttered, beautiful cottage in the tip of the Keweenaw and we will all, Bud included, live and die with the consequences. And so it goes. I understand his wishes: there is no place else I know of where a person could get such a stunning picture of the night sky behind tall jack pines, all those stars brightly shining. I even know the precise latitude and longitude, for it’s right near the place we scattered my mother. And it was late summer, not winter- but then we don’t know for sure where and when that star was shining in the East, do we? One more thing we take on faith.
Betsy and her husband teach at Western Michigan University and last year we did Christmas in Chicago so it’s a relief to be here. It’s warm and cozy with a fragrant and fat Christmas tree, a warm fireplace, lovely stained glass windows, a brand new gorgeous kitchen with a butler’s pantry bigger than either of my kitchens (not that I’m going on and on with envy in bed last night, explaining to Rich why I deserve, in this life time, a kitchen worthy of me.). Betsy’s house feels very much like a family home.

So, this is Christmas. With five inches of beautiful new snow last night and my family and children at hand, I am happy. In lots of ways, it was a tough year with annoying concerns about health issues, worries about the state of the economy and more, the state of the world and all the usual fussing about the children. There’s never a way to protect them enough (meaning as much as I want, which is 100 percent) from the challenges and pains of life and on the other end, aging parents lead to an even greater sense of helplessness when it comes to fixing life. I guess the lesson is we don’t fix life. We live it, try to help where we can and feel blessed with what we have. And how blessed we are. Merry Christmas to all of my friends who celebrate, and to those of you who don’t- even as you enjoy Chinese food and go to see I Am Legend at the theater- remember, you’re blessed too!

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Silent Night

In that post where I go on and on catching you up with my (yawn) life and self, I sound like a real social butterfly. I’m not. When I was a tot, my father was still of the ilk that children should be seen and not heard. I was small and shy and sometimes sightless for long stretches at a time so I was mostly quiet, busy trying to get oriented. The subtlety of sounds rather than noise became important. Occasionally I would do something like put on a blue tutu, burst into the living room and leap onto the middle of the blond-wood 50s coffee table to dance my version of the Sugar Plum Fairy before skidding off into a large pole lamp, but mostly, I was just trying to stay upright and on my father’s good side.

During the holidays, things became much more hectic around our house. My father came from a large family and they were busy reproducing noisy cousins rapidly. We lived in post-war suburbia where cocktail parties and open houses were de rigueur. My father was in the world of advertising and marketing. (Ah, the irony in our lives! Rich has been hooked on a series called Mad Men about business marketing in the fifties and I find that I just detest that show.) Also, remember that my father was with Ford Motor Company and at Christmas his job took us to places like Hudson’s massive underground warehouse in downtown Detroit. There, Ford tractors were used on the floats for the Thanksgiving Day Parade that was second only to Macy’s, in size and stature. Amid balloons that dwarfed my field of vision further, countless marching bands and clowns on stilts, I was completely overwhelmed by the privilege of this annual event. The giant Ford Rotunda at Christmas time, with the world’s largest Christmas display of it’s day and the Henry Ford Greenfield Village– those were the Christmas icons of my childhood: all bigger than life, very bright and loud places, swarming with enormous crowds.

With that early history, I am really more like Chauncey the gardener, happier watching than participating. I really dislike small talk and someday I might even become an elective mute, especially if I see another dentist in my headlights. If I think about the erratic nature of my writing here, it’s similar. I get caught up chattering and then I just go silent. The silent part feels more like the real me. Don’t get me wrong- a good conversation, especially one where I am discovering something new or helping someone else discover something- well, that’s the best. And, although my preferences run to birds and tomatoes and weather, I very much enjoy being around some people, reading or hearing what they have to say. But just blah, blah and yada,yada I do not like. I also dislike business dinners or events where I keep on smiling and nodding and I really dislike malls and amusement parks. There’s only so much humanity in my immediate space that I can tolerate and if you add spinning and shrieking and flashing lights to that-ah, no.

So in the middle of that mad dash between Chicago, Florida, oral surgeon, house tour and glass blowing, what did I do? I went to Disney World. Disney World is a place I have studiously avoided for all but one bleak afternoon of riding the Small World boat around and around when Abby was 4- and only then because I felt guilty that my children had to endure a divorce. Well, I went there 2 weeks ago. For 24 hours. A mere 48 hours before 1247 people wandered through my bedroom.

As with the Super Bowl or the Final Four, some folks say, “Wow! You got to go to Disney World, stay in a luxury Beach Club suite, eat potato wrapped red bass in a veal demi-glace and drink fine wine at the Flying Fish four star restaurant, and have a gold pass to go anywhere you wanted, front of the line, at Disney World for free!?!?” I did indeed. While I tried to figure out how long the average American family has to scrimp and save to go, I was there for free. And, as with the Super Bowl and Final Four, at Disney World I was an ungrateful wretch who shouldn’t be allowed out in public. It’s not that I misbehave other than cringing and wincing a bit much. They just shouldn’t allow ingrates like me to be in places like that for free. Rich, you might recall, is in the sports marketing industry and Disney owns Wide World of Sports, so he had a meeting and those kind people were generous and gracious enough to roll out the carpet for me as well and that’s how I landed at Disney World, muttering to myself about too many people and the evils of amusement parks.

I wandered over to Epcot and took that stroll around the lake, stopping at various countries along the way. I felt as though I was living The Truman Show and fully expected to bump into Jim Carrey any moment. It was so clean. So pastel. So processed. You know how Kraft Singles are like that? Really delicious on the one hand but somehow just not right? It was like that. I loved the surround movie of France. It was filmed the way that movie Winged Migration was filmed- from hang gliders or hot air balloons or something. And it was all around me, every where I turned. (When I was a child I went to see How The West Was Won in Cinerama; it was like that more than IMAX.) Then I bought an apron from Provence in the shop. I saw a Japanese performer in full regalia explaining the significance of Oshogatsu, (Japanese New Year) but I kept wondering what he looked like in jeans and a golf shirt. I mean, he doesn’t dress like that all the time, does he? Then I went to the Canadian pavilion, which was embarrassingly rustic and I bought Rich a pair of moose boxer shorts for Christmas (shhh. It’s a surprise. You know how I’m always trying to upgrade his wardrobe.) Finally I went to that space mission simulator in Future World where I got to be the “navigator” on a space mission with a family of four. I was the odd person they tucked in to fill the fifth slot and I got very concerned that if I failed in my role that whole family would be dead on Mars before Christmas. Right after that I walked outside and guess what? The real space shuttle was scheduled to launch so I watched in the sky for that but it never went. Probably some navigation problems.

So. With that anxiety I had enough of Disney World for the day and I went back to the Beach Club and our room to wait for Rich and dinner. They have a sand bottom swimming pool there. I think it must be a real bear to keep it so clean. They also had a 1500# working gingerbread carousel in the lobby. Now THAT was something and it smelled great, too.

There I was, somewhere between awe and a seizure, but I did manage to smile all during an exceptionally fine dinner. The people at the restaurant were all sports guys because they were broadcasting the Wide World of Sports College Football Awards that evening. Tim Tebow was there. (Mrs. FC would have enjoyed that, I think.) I, of course, did not know who he is. Everybody was incredibly nice, friendly, perfectly gracious- good people. If I liked people more and hadn’t been working so hard to deny my toothache, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more but let me repeat: It was very very nice.

Where is this all going, you ask? One of the perks we were given were front row seats to the Candlelight Processional and Massed Choir Program, a Disney tradition Walt started in 1958. On the scale of is this something? this is Something. Big. Each night 400 choir members, a full orchestra and a celebrity narrator tell and sing the story of Christmas. Rock Hudson did it once. This year Chita Rivera, Andie MacDowell, Dennis Franz and Gary Sinise are guest narrators. (Gary Sinise was also my flight commander during the space mission. More confusion.)

I love Christmas pageants and I was particularly spoiled in Ann Arbor where we would go to Hill Auditorium for The Messiah and Concordia University for Boar’s Head Festival. Exactly two minutes after I get the dishwasher loaded from Thanksgiving dinner I break out the Christmas CDs. So this was, for me, the reason to be at Disney World two weeks ago.

However, although this “massed choir” was great stuff, in a Truman Show sort of way, it lacked passion. The soloists held microphones the way headliners do on TV or in lounge acts. There was quite a bit of big hair and makeup. It was a show. An event. It was an experience rather than a feeling. Maybe it was just us, but here was one thing: the choir members wear different colored robes that, once they all get organized, make them look sort of like a giant Christmas tree. On the very top riser is the tree topper and that involves someone wearing a bright yellow headpiece that is reminiscent of only one thing: Beldar, the Conehead. It didn’t help that the night we went the guy wearing it looked just like John Belushi. What can I say? Me? I could have overlooked that except Rich started to laugh and couldn’t stop. It was that stifled, spit sputtering kind of contagious laughter that quickly gets out of control.

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Alright now. I didn’t start to write this post to be haughty and sarcastic. There was a point and I’m there now. Here was this 400 member, very earnest choir and a remarkably good orchestra and celebrities and front row seats, lights, trees and some giant sort-of stained glass window panels, in that Kraft Singles way. And the Conehead guy. They were singing all of my favorite Christmas carols and hymns and reading the scripture of Christ’s birth. It didn’t even particularly bother me that it was so very Christian (okay- they played eight measures of high spirited Dredl, Dredl, Dredl in the opening medley but after that it was strictly CHRIST-mas, as billed. Miz S’s Josh would have been singing right along.) And although I love this Christmas music, the program wasn’t doing it for me. It was really nice but it was overly processed nice. My attention began to wander and I shifted to people watching and then I saw her. I saw the woman who was standing off to the side of the stage signing in ASL the entire program, song and readings.

Here is where words will fail. I guess that’s not a surprise because she was signing. And I don’t know how to tell you how very beautiful, how very full of genuine feeling, how very real the Christmas story was for me, watching her sign. She was a lovely person to begin with, quietly elegant in black clothing, with her long blond hair pulled back simply. I think she was maybe in her forties and everything about her spoke to a quiet dignity. And when she signed! It’s such a magnificently expressive language to begin with but I had no idea. The signs for “angels”, for “fall on your knees”, for “King of Kings”? If you don’t know ASL you have to take my word for it. It wasn’t as though she was projecting anything extra into it and it wasn’t acting or dramatic. She moved naturally from a gospel bounce of “Shout for Joy” to the French lullaby, “Il Est Ne”. When she signed “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I heard it more clearly than ever before, all fresh and new and not the least bit pasteurized. Believe me. This was the most powerful rendition of the Christmas story I’ve ever (not) heard. Hands down. Hands up. Her hands were nothing short of magical. I could not take my eyes off of this woman and I wanted it to last all night.

It didn’t and then there were massive fireworks over the lake with a giant floating world opening and closing and too many people and too much noise and all I could think was that if they do that every single night the lake must be a bear to keep Disney squeaky clean. But what I took back to our room and then back to the bungalow and now into the week before Christmas was the beauty of that woman signing “Rejoice with Exceeding Great Joy.” I later scoured the program for her name but all it said was “ASL provided by office of services for guests with disabilities.” I called the front desk to ask for that office so I could say thank you and, after some hang time the operator said, “I’m sorry, I can’t find a listing for that office. Have a magical day!” That’s what they all say down there, ad nauseam: “Have a magical day!” Makes you want to smack someone.

But that woman? She gave me the gift of remembering the magic and the wonder of the whole season and I thank her.

And there you have it. A long drawn out Christmas post, yada, yada, blah, blah and the part I really want to share with you- there are no words for that. To say that the sign for “stars brightly shining” had this woman gently touching the night sky, rising higher and higher in a way that gently touched my heart- well, that doesn’t do it. To say that my spirit lifted when she signed “angel’s voices” with a soft lifting of her hands from her shoulders- words don’t really convey that to you.

Christmas comes in many packages and most all of them are blaring, glaring glitz. And yet, beneath the stress and excitement, conspicuous gifting and extended credit, both fiscal and moral, there is still and always this: the calm and the peace and the hope and the gift of that most special silent night. I wish the spirit of the season for you.

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