Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Each year for over 40 years, my suburban church has held a joint Thanksgiving service with a nearby Jewish congregation. The tradition was upended in 2020 by Covid. A joint Zoom service was held instead. But in 2021 we gathered together again. In masks and socially distancing, the joint service was held again.

A few days before the service was scheduled, another member and I came to the church to decorate the communion table. We came prepared with gourds and pumpkins. A cornucopia, fall leaves, and bittersweet garlands were used to signal the harvest and God’s bounty. And when the evening service began I was in my pew ready to give thanks with our two faith communities.

The service proceeded as it always had. The pastor welcomed all who attended. The combined choirs sang. The rabbi gave us her sermon. It was all very wonderful I’m sure. I think. Because, well, I was somewhat distracted. You see as I looked at the Thanksgiving decorations on the communion table I thought I saw something strange.

For there between the fall leaves, alongside the brimming cornucopia was something, I couldn’t quite make out. I squinted in an attempt to see just what was the thing that was nestled in the decorations. Had one of those little jack-o’-lantern flowers somehow turned upside down, and from my somewhat distant pew, make me think it was more than just a flower?

It looked like, a small orange, tiny, toy tiger.

I was sure I was mistaken. Sure, that what I was looking at was just a play of light and color and the need to have my eyeglass prescription checked. Certainly no tiger lurked in the flora and fauna.

The service ended and I waited until the coast was clear before approaching the table for a closer look. Once I was close enough to tuck the bitter sweet garland a little more securely to the table for the next days service, I could see exactly what caused my eyes to play such a trick on me. Up close I could see that, it was, a tiger. A tiny, orange, toy, tiger. There on the be decked communion table this tiger had stood proudly if not too tall, all during the worship service. And it would seem I was the only one who saw him.

The minister was clueless, the rabbi seemed unaware, just me, I was the only one who knew or saw him there. The minister laughed when I told her. We talked about how he probably got up there on the table with the fruit and the vegetables. She thanked me for the decorations. I suggested she retire the tiger before the memorial service scheduled for the next morning.

Thanksgiving is weeks in the rearview mirror now. Christmas is straightahead. But that tiger. I can’t get him out of my mind. Here at my church, we’ve deck the halls with boughs of holly. There are candles and wreaths in our windows. The crèche is on display. But what about the tiger?

Yes my church is decorated, my home is a wash with Christmas sparkle. Maybe your home and house of worship are also dressed in holiday finery. But what about the tiger?

As we worship in face coverings to protect each other, as we scale back or cancel holiday activities we’ve continued to decorate our surroundings. We’re trying to establish that our traditions matter, our holidays are important and they will continue. But what about the tiger?

Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize. To me that little piece plastic and whimsy is also a reminder. A reminder to look past the decorations and just try to see beyond them. A reminder that the meaning of any holiday can be lost. Thanksgiving itself is often lost in the rush to Christmas. The true gifts of Christmas are easily overlooked in the shopping, the hustle and the bustle that happens even in a worldwide pandemic. Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize to truly discern Christmas.

A few weeks later the children of the congregation presented their Christmas pageant. Unable to sing due to the Covid protocols, they wore their holiday best and offered their Christmas truth.

Wearing masks they performed as a bell choir. They presented readings about Christmas. And the clever choir Director even had them play percussion instruments in a wonderful rendition of Joy to the World . But to me the true gift of Christmas was this. With only the piano quietly playing and the voices of three adults in the background, the children presented the classic Christmas carol Silent Night in American Sign Language.

Just perfection. A tiger burning bright indeed. I’m just Say’n.

The Empty Bough

Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Do you have favorite ornaments? One of my favorite looked to be spun of pure threads of glass. It was heart shaped, its only embellishment a narrow pink ribbon. It was quite beautiful in its simplicity. But more important to me was its provenance. The ornament wasn’t mine. Rather, it was a gift to my then, eight month old daughter on the occasion of her christening. A dear friend and neighbor so special she served as another grandparent to my older son was the gift giver. It was perfectly beautiful as we hung it on the tree each year over the next 20 years.
And then I broke it.
The ornament simply slipped out of my fingers onto the unforgiving newly refinished floor. The carpet was gone and now the ornament was shattered. I was reminded of that broken ornament again recently when another close friend called to comment on my recent Facebook post. One where I shared the surprise gift of a trip to Chicago to take in the holiday decorations and the Nutcracker ballet all provided by our adult children.
My friend wanted to say how wonderful she thought the gift and the day looked. She did. And then she began to cry. Our day of holiday fun reminded my friend of similar trips she and her late mother had made over the years to celebrate her own December birthday. And it made her sad, Missing her mom, the times they shared before Alzheimer’s took her mother away, years before death parted them. She apologized for her tears not wanting to sadden me too. I told her those tears were well earned and valuable. Just as important as anything else the holidays have to offer.
You see, to my way of thinking (and this is after all my blog) Christmas is complicated. It’s a beautiful time of sparkle and fun. But it also is full of poignant moments. They catch us unaware and can stop us in our tracks.
I was buzzing about busily at my own Christmas party this year. Filling the punch bowl, passing the appetizers when one of my guests caught me off guard with a hug and these words. “I’m so happy to be at your wonderful party again this year. But I’m also thinking of the people who’ve been here in the past who are no longer here for you, and it makes me a little sad.”
Zing. Wow. How did she channel that huge bold truth? It was there in the house with me amid the tree and the decorations and the candles shining brightly. Yes, there were spaces left where beloved folks had been. An older neighbor who always entered with a booming laugh and a giant hug for me. My mother in law sitting quietly, shyly near the tree, my son’s godfather early to arrive and always one of the last to leave.Usually he would be one of several friends at evening’s end sitting, talking eating the last remaining Christmas cookies. Sweet memories.
My friend’s tears for the holidays with her mother, my absent party guests, they are part of Christmas too. Remembering the people who we have loved and who have loved us gives Christmas its depth of color beneath the shiny sparkle. The empty spaces between the boughs are filled with no small amount of longing for what we can no longer see; a parent, a friend, a sibling, a child, a spouse.
They give our tree, our life a dimension, a counter point to the busy rush of the holidays.

In my mind my beautiful Christmas tree will always be missing one special ornament. The space it filled within the branches will always be empty. Not because it was such a lovely ornament but because the love it came with was so dear.
I will miss it forever.
But, I will continue decorating my tree and home each Christmas. Knowing that sometimes the most beautiful decorations shine only in my memory. But shine they do.
And they warm the winter night.
I’m just say’n.

The Fifth Bowl

The Fifth Bowl

I was emptying the dishwasher, one of the most mundane of household  tasks, when I came across a bowl. Nothing fancy.  A plain glass bowl for  a dinner salad, or morning cereal. As I returned it to its shelf I counted its set. Five, five glass bowls. Not six, or four, but five bowls nestled in the cupboard. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I had purchased them years ago after we  had moved my mother-in-law to our Wisconsin community from  New Jersey. I knew she would be often having dinner with us and I wanted enough bowls for us all. So, five bowls.

There was an envelope on the  kitchen table with the rest of the mail when I came home from work one evening this past fall.  I recognized the name on the return address immediately, the husband of a good friend and college roommate, who had died a couple of years earlier. As soon as I picked up the envelope I knew what it contained. Photographs.

It’s Christmastime again. And I can’t help thinking about these two things and the people they remind me of. They are both gifts of a sort. Inadvertently placed in my hands and challenging me to see their worth.

My friend Barb was many things. Really smart, very short (shorter even than me) and a prolific picture taker. Armed with her Kodak camera she was famous in our college circle for taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Later we would learn she would catalogue the pictures into albums with copiously hand written captions of who, what when and where in her famous ,fine,  (nun instructed, she always added)  small print. She created huge photo albums of our college years that sat on her desk.  The first time I visited her in her hometown, I saw she had even  more albums. Her family life and high school years all recorded in color, and a sprinkle of black and white.

So, I knew what was  in that envelope that day. Inside were more than a dozen pictures of Barb and I through our college years and the early years of my marriage. Lifted carefully from her albums, along with a note “I thought you would enjoy these.” from her husband. And I thought about what those pictures meant and about what I learned from Barb.

Likewise that plain glass bowl reminds me of my mother-in-law and what I learned from her. She was different from me in many ways.  In other words she was quiet, very quiet. In the early years of my marriage I was certain that she did not know  me well enough to dislike me, certain and sad that  our relationship would always be distant. But after a few years, two grandchildren she adored, and many salads we found our friendship. Her quiet acceptance of her immersion into our midwestern cold winters, big golden retrievers, and our family life taught me to try quiet and steady as attributes. And while I still would never be described as quiet, I know how to use that muscle. A gift indeed.

And what did I learn from smiling for the camera in all of Barb’s photographs? Well simply to smile. And really anyone who knew Barb would tell you that was one  her strongest dearest qualities. She was a smiler. She chose to be  happy every day that I knew her.

Back in the day before selfies and cameras in phones, Barb was an unintentional historian, to our lives and friendships. And unlike most people she arranged and curated her pictures rather than boxing and forgetting them.  People and  memories, were to be cherished and remembered, in Barb’s world.  So that is what she did.

My husband and I recently made our annual trip to Chicago to view the Great Tree in the Walnut Room. It’s the old venerable restaurant on the seventh floor, in what used to be the flagship State Street store of what used to be, Marshall Fields.  Lately absorbed by Macy’s, and now no longer with an eight floor viewing site, the tree was beautiful but the shrinking of its home was sad.  Despite  this, we enjoyed the tree and made the predictable comments on changing times and old traditions changing or disappearing.

Christmas marks many things including the end of one year and the passage of time. Gift giving has long been a part of the holiday but sometimes Christmas gives us a chance to ponder the gifts not wrapped in colorful paper and bows. Rather it gives us an opportunity to look back and see the gifts we received from those no longer with us that we may not have recognized  when received.  The Christmas song Happy Happy Christmas sums it up,

                                        I hear them singing outside my door..      

                                       But I know you’d want me to sing in the snow        

                                                            Live well and let go

                                                        Happy, Happy Christmas

                                                Love the ones who love you too,

                                           They say time flies, baby it’s true so

                                                 Happy, happy Christmas to you

I’m   just say’n.

                                           

 

 

The Mother Thing

Recently, I was selecting my Mother’s Days cards. Looking for just the right card for a neighbor and another for my cousin, and a mix for my girlfriends.  My own mother died 25 years ago.  I still remember that first Mother’s Day with out her. The card racks in the local Hallmark store practically brought me to tears, and the holiday brought a level of sadness I had not planned on.

When your own mother is gone you not only miss the intimacy of the bond but the immediacy of that font of support and information. Advice and knowledge on a range of subjects you never realized you would miss that she shared.  Sometimes with out you even asking for any of her input at all.  Oh yes, a mother’s prerogative.   From stain removal to work issues, chicken pox identification to book reviews, my mother always had something to add to the conversation. And when that voice was gone the silence mocked and saddened me.  The next year I made a plan. I would send a card to the friends who had helped fill in the blanks, the ones who had “mothered” me.

And so to the friend. who showed up to help me pack my mother’s kitchen when I moved my parents closer to my home I send a card. The packing was work.  But the conversation while we marveled that anyone would have that many colanders, was light enough to keep me moving in the face of my mother’s illness.  To the friends who called me and held my hand when an adoption plan went south, I send a card. And when that longed for baby finally arrived and friends showed up to hold the baby, take his picture and make a fuss with the same enthusiasm as if I had experienced labor and delivery, I sent a card.  The other moms in my playgroup,who helped me navigate roseola and teething, card worthy indeed. Then there was the experienced cousin by marriage who cemented her place in my heart with her steady reassurance during the tumultuous teenage years. She told me that I was capable and loving and that all would be well.  Mothering friends helped me navigate the healthcare system when my parents faced their final illness.  And mothering friends helped me plan memorial services for another friend when he died. These women took my child to soccer/school/ballet when I was sick and my husband was out of town. They made me soup after surgery, picked up my daughter and cared for her while I was at the emergency room with my son. They even stepped in to visit my mother-in-law when we travelled, to ease our worry when we were far away. And when the time to close up and pack up my parent’s final home came, so did a  friend or two to help with the task and hand me tissue for my tears.

Sometimes I hear people say that women treat other women badly. That at work or socially, we undermine and attack.  Like the characters shown on one of those “real”  television shows, we plot and plan to hurt and demean.   That has not been my reality.

This past winter, a week or so before Christmas I was in the parking lot of our local gift/card/toy emporium.  The same one where I buy all those Mother’s Days’s cards. On this day, I saw a young mom soldiering toward her car carrying a baby in a carrier,while she tried to shepherd two older boys into her mini-van.  The older one, maybe 6 or so was cooperating, but the younger perhaps two or three-year old, was having a good old fashioned melt down.  I knew just what had happened; toy department, little boy, two parts fatigue and one part “no toy” disappointment. This almost always equals tears and the dragging of feet as mom tries to get everyone home, something we all remember.  I parked my car and walked back to the family. I didn’t want to add to the drama so I asked her quietly, “Can I help you?  Would you like me to carry the baby while you get the boys into the car?” By the time she had everyone in and seat belts fastened she and the younger boy were in tears. He had tried to make a run for it but between the two of us he was finally in his car seat.  “Thank you so much,” she said between sniffles, “I don’t know what I would have done.”  I smiled and told her she would have been fine. “We’ve all been there, you were so patient and calm you’re  doing great.”  She thanked me again, this time with hug, and we said good-bye.

So this year once again I’m buying Mother’s Days cards. For the women who’ve  taken the time to lovingly mother this motherless mother. I couldn’t help thinking about them that day in the parking lot.  I think each one of them would have done the same thing I did. Being a mom is hard, but being a mom with the mothering of others helping and supporting us, that makes the experience more rich and meaningful. Thanks, and Happy Mother’s Day, I’m just say’n.

Let’s Hear It For Dads

I’m embarrassed to say that this will be my first post for Father’s Day.  Let’s face it, dads sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to their special day.  So as I was walking on this beautiful summer day I was thinking of my Dad.  I often think of him.  But this time I was pondering which story to share that would illustrate the relationship we had.

My Dad was talented and smart. He could repair almost anything we had. His natural gift was probably enhanced by his military training as first a pilot and then, when an old baseball injury scrubbed him from the air corp, his training as a radioman and later his  work on un- manned drones. Before he even joined the Army he was trained by his father and uncles as a working carpenter. So if he couldn’t build it he could probably still fix it. Cars, big appliances , small appliances. The Stereo cabinet (very 1960’s) my bedroom dresser, and a big beautiful wooden playhouse came out of his work shop. But it was something much smaller that he made for me that still makes me smile.

When I was seven my second grade teacher decided that our class should learn and present a play as puppet theatre.  We read the play in class, The Princess and the Pea, then we would be assigned parts and perform the play for the other grades all from the puppet theatre in our class room.

I don’t remember how I felt about this project, only that I was home sick the day students were assigned their roles.  When I returned to school I learned that all the parts had all been taken.  The Princess,  the King and Queen the assorted folk of the village everyone had their part. There was just one role open–the Prince.  I remember not being too happy with having to take a boy’s role.  But this was the ’60s, the teacher told me I was going to learn the part of the Prince and that was how it would be.  Second grade puppet theatre had two important tasks first, for some still unknown reason we would have to memorize our parts. (Remember this was a puppet show we were behind a puppet stage no one could see us.)  Second, and this was what really scared me. We had to provide our own puppet.

Now if my Dad was “Mr. I can make it or fix it” my mother, although a classic “homemaker” of the era, was not as we say now a days, “crafty.”  Our Halloween costumes were store bought, our clothes form the Sears catalog. And that was fine. But, how was a royal prince puppet to be created?  I brought this dilemma home to mom and I must say she looked shaken by the thought of providing my thespian debut so important a tool.

We went to the only how to manual that wasn’t about cars, mechanicals and woodworking in the house.  My trusty Brownie Girl Scout hand book.  Eureka !

There were puppet making directions in the book!  Great. It involved large spoon and a napkin. You drew a face on the back of the spoon, and worked the napkin around the handle forming a cover for the puppeteer’s hand.  Believe me what you imagine that looked like would be better than it actually turned out.

And so I set out for school with my spoon puppet in by book bag.  My teacher was less than impressed.  I don’t remember how she explained to me, or how  her note to my mother was  worded.  But we were both informed that a spoon-napkin puppet would not meet  the  teacher’s theatrical standards. Back to square one.

I think that afternoon was spent with neither one of us wanting to talk about the dilemma. I know I felt totally clueless about puppet design and creation.  She probably did too. By the time my dad come home for dinner  the house was pretty quiet.  I also don’t remember who told my dad about the puppet problem but soon after dinner he got to work.

And a couple of  hours  and old white pillowcase later a Prince was born. No spoon and smiley face here. This prince sported an ermine-like black and white jacket and a jaunty face drawn on a puppet body that fit my seen year old hand perfectly.  My mother’s old black Singer sewing machine whirled and stitched while my father fed the fabric under the needle.  The first and only time I ever saw him at  the machine.

You know how the story ends. Everyone loved my puppet. And as we performed for the other classes I rendered what I remember as an inspired prince of a performance. The kids laughed at the Prince’s antics.  He gestured with his little puppet hands, scratched  his little puppet head as he performed his princely lines. I was a smash hit as a puppeteer. The  teacher congratulated me as the Prince  took his bow.

In a drawer of my dresser I keep the beautiful gavel with inlaid wood my father made me when I was elected presiding officer of  my local Rainbow assembly.  In my living room there stands a beautiful grandfather clock he built and passed on to me. But on this Father’s day I’m thinking about a puppet prince and the man who designed, sewed it and sent me off to school to be the best prince any little girl could hope to be. Sitting over the old Singer at the kitchen table stitching a memory that will never fade. I’m just say’n.

Ride On A Time Machine

I recently changed the cover on my ironing board.  Well, actually I recovered the old cover.  The cover my mother put on it when she gave it to me 36 years ago. On my birthday, ten days before I was to be married. I puzzled then over the gift. Somehow not the sentimental type of gift I imagined I would be given just prior to such a life changing event.  But I kept my questions to myself,  accepted the gift (graciously I hope) and got married. And I even did the ironing.  But recovering that old ironing board recently propelled me back to my mother’s kitchen and that day in August. Whoosh, like a time machine.

Gifts can do that to us. And at this time of the year when gifts are such an integral part of the celebration of Christmas, we can be riding a roller coaster of memory and emotion daily.  That may be one of the reasons we all hit  the mall, and the internet.  Not so much trying to buy love or win the best gift contest. But rather, trying to connect with our family and friends and earn that place in their memory. A special place where it is not the gift that is valued but the relationship, yes the thought.

Have you ever given someone the perfect gift? The one you know hits all the right notes in your relationship?  Have you ever been present when someone else gives the gift and witnessed the look on someones face that says “This is just it!”

Maybe.  Or maybe like me unwrapping that ironing board, and the cover my mother put on it you received the perfect gift and didn’t realize it for quite a while.

I want to be clear. I am not a regular iron-er of clothing.  I love permanent press as much as the next person. I iron only sporadically.  But I don’t remember any other birthday gift I received that year.  And I never iron without remembering my mother. I can see her ironing in the living room, there’s a game show on the television. She works her way through my father’s dress shirts, the sheets, my own cotton dresses. I see her, hear her voice (correcting my ironing technique sometimes) every time I haul that a board out of the closet.

Last night as I walked by my Christmas tree one of the ornaments caught my eye.  It was backwards. A simple muslin square with a holly wreathe and a red bow. The design did not show so I re -hung it.  Whoosh. Time travel.  The ornament in question was given to me by my college roommate. She gave it to me the year my husband and I bought our first home. She had come to our Christmas party and she brought  a set of or muslin ornaments to give me. I remember I asked  her if she had made them. “No, I just liked them. Saw them on vacation, and picked them up.” That was 30 years ago. This year no one had any idea she would not make it to Christmas. She passed away in early spring. We had lived together our sophomore year. She stood up with me at my wedding. She had given me other gifts I’m sure.  But it was that  Christmas tree decoration that propelled me to that Christmas long ago. To her smile. Even to her voice.

I am sure her sisters, brothers husband  and son, will have similar experiences this Christmas. I hope they’re comforted by the memories of their own time travel. I hope her other friends, of which she had so many, will also be reminded . Of her voice. of her smile. Of her ability to sing the entire score of “The Sound of Music.”

That’s one of the gifts of the season. The connection we feel to those so special to us in our lives. Our parents, a dear friend, gone but not ever forgotten.

That’s what the unexpected perfect gift can bring us. Someone once said, Christmas is a time machine. The rushing, the noise, the wrapping is just background noise. Listen carefully. It’s a carol worth enjoying. I’m just say’n.

Original Recipe

The Thanksgiving feast was no sooner put away when I began to think about when I would begin Christmas baking.  Not because I love those cookies so much but rather I love what my family says about them.  They speak of my egg nog logs in dulcet tones, they praise my Mexican wedding cakes  with effusive smiles. But, I don’t for a moment think it is because of my superior baking skills. I think it is because I have harnessed an important part of the holidays.  Repetition.

Let me explain.  We’ll return to the Thanksgiving meal. When my husband and I were  dating and he came to my family’s home for Thanksgiving for the first time, he was looking forward to a home cooked turkey dinner.  But not, he told me, to the stuffing. He did not like stuffing, he told me. As a matter of fact, he rather detested it. (Why I continued to date him after he confessed to this heresy I don’t recall.) He arrived at my parents home on time and suitably charming and as dinner began I watched to see how he would handle himself when the stuffing was passed his way. He must have decided that  tasting was the better part of valor and he took a small helping. Which he ate, I noticed.  And then he went above and beyond and asked for seconds. I whispered to him, “You, don’t have to.” “I want to.”  “You don’t like dressing.”  I said. “I like your mother’s dressing, a lot.” And that was that.

After we married I made the dressing for each holiday. And he asked most years “You’re making your mother’s dressing, right?”  If  I ever thought of  switching to cornbread or adding sausage, I was quickly   reminded of the superior nature of “your mother’s dressing.” And to this day the dressing (that’s what we call it now, stuffing no more) is much like my mother’s.  A basic herb seasoned, bread concoction with celery and onion.
Families are a lot like dressing and holidays. The recipe for our days depends much on that which we can count on. The parts we play in the theatre that is our life story are based on birth order, hardwiring, and repetition . Maybe we call it tradition. Big brother is freakishly adept at assembling legos. He grows up and is still the one everyone asks for help in assembling all that needs putting together. Princess daughters know/remember who wants/needs the gifts and where the nutcracker looks best. And everyone wants the dressing to be just as it always was.

“Should I make the onion tarte?” I asked my husband. “You will if you don’t want writhing on the floor and gnashing of  teeth,” he replied.  It makes us feel connected to the holidays of our past. And yes even to those no longer with us. I think of my mother every time I make the dressing.

And yet, some traditions are ripe for change. Like most people my age, I was served (and in my case, did not eat) canned cranberry sauce. It was probably a function of the 1960 grocery store that cranberries sauced or gelled and in a can, were most common. And it is a sign of the 1990’s and the 21st century that homemade fresh is so common today. But I have one friend who still loves that scary canned concoction complete with ribs imprinted on the the gelled  sauce, best. We serve it to him with a wink and a nod while everyone else enjoys the other. It is his tradition we respect.

So, here is my metaphor for the day. The food, the decorations, the music of the holidays are how we connect to our past, to our families, to our younger selves.

And here is my confession. Sometimes we need to tweak or refresh those recipes.  I make my mother’s dressing. But, a few years ago I snuck in mushrooms, and a year or so later I added wild rice.   It seemed to work. That’s  the dressing at my house now.

Our children grow up and bring others to the table, just like I did all those years ago. We set another place and add a chair. The beauty of the holidays is that they are able to grow and morph while still retaining their original “flavor”  if you will.

It’s a gift more beautiful than the crystal returned to the china cabinet, or any gift under a tree. We belong to each other because we remember  the dressing and how we all fit together.

It’s a dish we can have second helpings from. I’m just say’n.

A Letter Not Sent

I am a card sending, note dropping, letter writing kind of person. I have raised two children who always send “Thank You notes.” It is an important touch of civility in a sometimes un-civil world. And I cling to the notion that sometimes a written expression of thanks, congratulations, or condolence is welcome and appreciated. So early this year when our dearest friend announced his retirement as well as his relocation to his Florida retirement home I knew a letter was in order. Almost immediately I started composing in my mind what it would say. In the five months between his announcement and his leaving I considered all his contributions to our family life and how to put them down in a meaningful way on paper. It would read something like this. “I want to thank you for all you have meant to me and mine and how much we will all miss you when you are soaking up the sun and enjoying your retirement. Over the past 39 years you have been the best kind of friend. More like family or “framily” as I have called it before. You have shared holidays, trips, good times and hard-times with us. A member of our wedding party, a pallbearer at my father’s funeral, you have always been there. When we were adopting our oldest and the process turned into a dreadful drama of disappointment and tears. You were with us every day in court. And when it all ended improbably with a wonderfully happy ending you were there too. Was it any wonder that we picked you to be our son’s godfather. You had already demonstrated your love. Six years later when we drove to the airport to pick up our daughter when she joined our family you were there again. That night I had carefully orchestrated the order of her welcome. First to hold her when she was brought off the plane would be her father, I would take her next. But after the ride home from O’Hare and the entrance of us all into our home, I handed her off to you. When I think about it, the relationship you have had with our children has been one of the most gratifying parts of our relationship. Even during those angst ridden teen years your presence was always appreciated by them. And the buffer you sometimes provided often gave their parents much needed breathing space. The laughter we have all shared, at holidays, sporting events, backyard barbecues, birthdays, graduations. These have cemented your place in our lives as a family and I am grateful for all of them.” That’s something how my letter would have gone. But, as summer went on busy days and no little amount of denial of your departure on my part, the letter went unwritten. So on that early morning of your departure I had no letter for you. Instead, I handed you a framed black and white picture I had taken of you with my daughter, both of you intent on the iPad she held. Perhaps you were helping her with her resume, maybe she was showing some goofy U-tube video. The picture just exemplified that close relationship you shared. You looked at the photo and I could tell you saw in it what I had. We hugged goodbye and you left for the airport and winters without snow and ice. We spoke often over the next several weeks. And you being even more dedicated to the U.S mail than I, sent me a card for my birthday as well as flowers. Ten days later our anniversary brought a card from you, I told you I would not open it until the actual date, just as I always did with every card you have sent for every birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day. You laughed and said you counted on it. I was still formulating the letter I would send to you, as we ended the phone call. Sadly I never wrote that letter. But you had one last note for us. For somehow, a dark insidious sickness had followed you on your journey. One you had hidden from all those who knew and loved you. From your brothers and sister, from your beloved mother from all of us. And on a rainy day one day before I would open that last anniversary card the darkness over took you. You wrote that you were sorry, you said you loved us all. And you were gone. My husband as shocked and horrified as all of us, warned me that we all would probably process the grief and feel anger at you and your decision. His expertise is founded on eduction and practice. And more than one person has shared with me that they were indeed angry with you. But I cannot find it in me to be angry. No, someone else can have my “mad.” The despair that laid you low was a symptom of a disease that you tried to protect us all from. It was the wrong choice, I wish your judgment had been clearer. But the dark cloud of depression somehow overtook you and we are left with sadness and only speculation of what might have been. So there was no final letter from me to you. And yet somehow I know that you knew everything I would have written in that letter. The understanding is there in your smile in the last photos I took of you. A group of us at the botanical gardens and then a concert at Ravinia, enjoying a summer day and laughing. You knew you were appreciated and loved by many. You will be missed. The poet Dickinson wrote, and I paraphrase, “This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me,- Her message is committed To hands I cannot see; For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me!” You could say our last notes to each other crossed in the mail. But the thing I will remember is that our lives crossed. And I am glad.

What We Keep

Christmas cookie time.  I’m measuring and sifting, mixing and  pouring. And for one batch of cookies I need to roll out the dough with a rolling pin. As I’ve written of before, I use my mother’s rolling pin. I think we can safely  call it old.

My mother was a very good cook. A maker of beautiful pies. But she was not a cookie baker. I have only one  memory of her making cutout Christmas cookies when I was about 7..She made them. No one ate them.  They were burned and broken. We wouldn’t make cookies again until I was in college and came  home with an idea and a recipe.  But I have that rolling pin.

The pin, wears a sleeve to better roll out pie crust or cookies. And when I was using it the other day I noticed that the sleeve is showing its age and has a few small holes in it. It also has one really old hole which it appears, my mother darned with green thread. (Darning; another word and skill lost in the years, perhaps a blog for a different day.)

All of this goes to say, that it is Christmas time and that I miss my mother.

Her Birthday is fast approaching and I will think of her and how we always put up our Christmas tree on her birthday.  These days, I put my tree up soon after Thanksgiving. She preferred a late tree trimming and remembered  fondly shopping on Christmas Eve.

Our  Christmas’  may not be picture perfect. The cookies may have been burned, or never attempted. But the season, the calendar, the sounds, the snow that falls softly from a gray sky. These all bring that essential sense of Christmas.  The feeling that even with our imperfections we are tied to one another deeply and often quite happily. Despite less than perfect cookies.  The rolling pin sleeve is worn, it is darned.  It may not last too much longer. But in those stitches made by my mother, are reminders that sometimes what we keep is something more than what we could touch.

I’m just say’n.