Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas after all

On Christmas eve, my husband climbed into bed sometime in the afternoon and just slept, a sure sign he was under the weather. He seldom lays himself down like that, but this time he listened to his body, and rested, because we would be traveling in three days, and he needed to be well. I confess I didn't mind the thought of staying in when he lifted his headachy head and said he didn't feel up to attending Christmas eve carol service, followed by our usual Christmas eve gathering at the home of two friends. Later that night, though, I missed the social connections. The usual cues were missing, I didn't feel Christmasy. The sadness crept in.

My daughter kept in touch from upstate, where she was spending Christmas with her boyfriend's family. She sent me this picture of her and her love in matching jammies with Nina, the dog they sit for every Christmas. That helped. Meanwhile my niece was at her new love's house, meeting his whole family for a holiday meal. Her happiness carried us through opening presents the next morning, and then I climbed back into bed, binge watching season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (loved it), and crying in between. I thought of my cousins in Jamaica, living through their first Christmas without Aunt Grace. It was reason enough to cry. I texted a dear friend, a soul to whom I could tell the whole truth of the dark place I was in. That let in some light.

My son was coming over later. As a newbie firefighter, he had to work the holiday. My niece's new boyfriend would also be joining us for dinner, as well as a young woman who is one of my heart daughters, and a gentleman friend of hers. My husband, bless him, was cooking the meal for us all, while my niece was baking a cake. No one was requiring anything of me, I had it easy, so why was I wallowing? I made myself get up and shower, and afterward, while playing Dvorak's cello concerto in B minor, performed by the incomparable Jacqueline du Pre, I began packing for our upcoming trip to Jamaica. The music and the activity lifted my spirits a bit, and then I heard my niece, who is a wonderful cellist, start playing Christmas music in her room. So I turned off my recorded music to listen to the live music in my house, and that lifted my spirits even more.

I went into her room to tell her how beautiful it was, and she offered to play me the theme music for Game of Thrones, which she had been wanting the score for, and which I gave her for Christmas. She might not know it, but those wailing chords pulled from her instrument finally melted the bubble of sadness around me.

My son came in soon after. He had caught a huge fire on 69th Street earlier in the day, his engine was the first on scene, and he and his fellow firefighters were inside that flaming top floor apartment, dousing the inferno. Thank God no one was seriously injured as they got the flames under control. He was exhausted but exhilarated when he got here, showing us the response video and pointing out exactly which window he was inside of, as bright orange fire licked out of it. They opened up a hole to the roof to vent it (if I'm getting it right), and that conflagration on the roof at about 6 minutes into the video is what he and some of his squad put out, while other members tackled the fire shooting through the front windows. You can see my son at 17:53 after the fire’s out and he’s exited the building. I have to not think too deeply about what a day at work is like for him. I told him he'd performed a great Christmas Day service in taming that flame.

Someone took this picture of some of the firefighters afterward. That's my brave boy, second from left. He hadn't eaten all day. The firefighters on duty were just putting lunch on the table at the firehouse when the call came in. And yet, after our boy greeted us all, picked at the baked honey ham and opened his Christmas gifts, he curled up on the couch under a blanket. Shall I make you a plate, I asked him. No, he said, I'm too tired to eat. And then he was asleep. There is something about my children sleeping under my roof that fills me with the utmost peace.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

12 Nights of Wine

See that red box and that white box on the table? They're gracing my workspace these days. Outside, the ground is hard with ice and salt, yet sunlight fills my house. So different from the last few days, which brought unrelieved rain and snow. Last Friday, on an especially rainy, sleety night, my daughter and her boyfriend were supposed to come by. Given the weather, I wasn't surprised when my daughter called to say that she'd just gotten home, had walked the dog, and now she couldn't get up off the couch. But, she said, her love still planned to come over because he was determined to give us the Christmas gifts he’d got for us no later than that night. "You'll see why," my daughter said.

It turns out he had got my husband and me a Vinebox each, an advent calendar in the form of twelve different wines, each glass vial containing a perfect 6.3 ounce pour. Last Friday was the first night of Christmas, and he wanted us to be able to have a wine tasting on each of the twelve nights before Christmas. It's a stupendous gift, but best of all was his excitement in giving it, his joy as he watched us open and appreciate it. My mother and aunts always said 'tis more blessed to give than to receive, and his obvious enjoyment in giving made his thoughtful and entertaining gift that much more special.

So now every night we get to try a red, rosé or white with no sugar or additives. Many of the wines I've never tasted or even heard of before, but every one so far has been beautifully balanced and delightful, at least to my humble palate. Last night's offering, for example, was a flirtatious Loire Valley 2017 Tuffeaux, a mellow, full-bodied red with apple and clove notes that went down just fine. The man and I are having great fun trying to describe to each other what we're tasting, as our respective Vineboxes offer different selections each night. Can you tell we're both enjoying our wine advent calendars? I didn't even know that could be a thing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The season, the season

My girl and I went Christmas shopping last night, mostly to figure out gifts for the five people in her department at work. Then we went to dinner and figured out the menu for our time in Jamaica. We travel in nine days. Last time we stayed at the villas where we'll be, I sat down with the housekeeper on the first day and came up with a menu with her, but this time my niece, whose wedding it is, wants all our menus beforehand, and she's the boss. Planning a wedding, especially from overseas, is a lot.

It's been busy over here. Choir concerts, a cello concert, a tree trimming party, putting up our own tree, and trying to figure out Christmas gifts. I've spent way too much, but that train has left the station. When boxes arrive at your home and you don't immediately know what's in them, that's a sure sign you are over-consuming. Guilty as charged. I didn't meet with the personal shopper on Monday after all. I decided to wear something already in my closet to the wedding. At some point, you've got to stop spending.

What would it be like, I wonder, to be a svelte, graceful human, athletic and strong, walking serenely through the world, at ease in the body you inhabit, showing up everywhere without angst? Speaking of angst, the book is going much too slowly. I'm having a hard time concentrating. Also, if you can't find the exact right adjective, use no adjective at all. I think I'll spend the morning wrapping gifts, get that out the way. I'm feeling so scattered.

Here's a New York story my daughter told me. She was on the subway after work, it was already jam packed with commuters when the doors opened at Times Square. A woman stood on the platform outside and shouted, "Everybody make way. I just got divorced and I can't spend another moment in that man's company!" A woman's hand reached out of the crowd inside the train, grabbed the other woman's hand and pulled her in just as the train doors slid closed. The two women, one black one white, stood crunched against the door, almost nose to nose, talking in audible tones about their divorces and cheering each other on. Everyone in the train car hung on their every word. It was quintessential New York, my daughter said, and oddly uplifting.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Here comes the sun

As I sit at my dining table working, I'm entertained by the changing light. I take the same pictures over and over, marking the seasons, the hours of the day. I have a desk in my bedroom that looks out at a sturdy tree, but this clear wooden expanse of table in my living room is where I generally prefer to be.

I read an editorial yesterday that argued that the reason the Republicans keep screaming at us through the television screen is to provoke so much annoyance that people turn off the TV. They're staking the future of their party on low information voters—people with their heads in the sand. It might be working.

We are just two weeks away now from our trip to Jamaica for my niece's wedding. We'll be staying in a villa on the north coast, at the same property where our family reunion was held some years ago now. It's going to be so much fun. I'll be surrounded by all my favorite people. So why am I anxious about what I'll wear? I have no proper island clothing anymore, nothing floaty and colorful to wear to the wedding, and as for climbing into my bathing suit, well, let's just say some sort of beach coverup will be employed.

I called the very lovely personal shopper with whom I won a complementary session a couple years ago. I have an appointment with him next week. We shall see if I come away from that with my silly yet enervating appearance anxiety calmed. Why is showing up, even when surrounded by the people who know me best, always so damned hard? Here's another work table photo. Those sunbeams reached right into my house and posed for the picture.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bearing witness

I do believe we are watching my niece, who lives with us, fall in love with a young soldier who appears to be as smitten as she is. After he braved the throngs of her family at Thanksgiving, she traveled with him to South Carolina to attend the Marine Corps ball as his date this past weekend. He was a gentleman, she said, making sure she was cared for throughout, even as his fellow marines partied wildly in the post-ball part of the festivities. He introduced her to everyone as his girlfriend, leaving no doubt. She sent us pictures. His uniform made us all weak-kneed. I won't post any of those crystal clear images, because I don't know what's okay for this military man. I'll let this blurred screenshot from my niece's Insta story suggest the mood. Witnessing new love happen is the sweetest thing.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Angel voices

Here is a picture of me I can stand, soft focus, good light, all that. After I posted that photo on Insta, it reminded me of another image—one of my mother, taken on a Sunday morning many years ago, when she'd just returned from church. I suppose it was the red scarf that made me think of it, also the similar shapes of our faces, the identical line of our noses. Usually, it is my father's face I see in the mirror these days, but in this photo, I look more like my mother. Perhaps that is why I like it. Much as love my father, it's disconcerting to see his face staring back at me in the bleakness of morning. This photo of my mom makes me wish I could have this day back, though I know to be happy that we had it at all.

I'm off to Queens this morning, where our choir will perform the first of three concerts for the season. I've enjoyed the music this term, and yet another of my friends has now joined the group, bringing the number of people I have brought to our choir to three. It's lovely to see my friends every week and make music together. I actually have four dear friends in the group, as it was my closest ghostwriting cohort who first invited me there. One of my neighbors then joined, followed a year later by a woman I grew up with in Kingston, Jamaica, who lived with our family when we were in high school (her father was my dad's best friend, and he and his wife were working overseas at the time), and with whom I shared a bedroom for several years. As you can imagine, we know each other like sisters. 

Then last Spring, another friend of mine joined, a woman I met on the first day of college orientation, my very first friend in New York City. We were standing next to each other in a line to register for courses; she was a Math major who was nervous about our freshman English requirement, and I was an English major who was nervous about Math, so we pledged to help each other and have been best buds ever since. All my friends in choir have wonderful voices, far better than mine, but I know when to just mouth a note that's too high and would come out as a squeak, and my ear for pitch is fine, so all is well. 

My husband, who knows my solo singing voice, shakes his head at my brazenness in actually joining a choir. But he shows up for our concerts anyway. He and our children and their loves are all planning to attend the family and friends concert later this week. My daughter and her boyfriend, bless them, attend every time. So does my friend Leslie. Choir is, for me, a completely stress-free activity. It's a performance, and yet I don't get nervous at all. Perhaps it's so outside my sphere of talent that I just embrace the experience. Plus I really enjoy our choir director and my fellow choir members, a lot of them delightfully quirky souls, including, I dare say, my four angel-voiced friends.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thanksgiving album 2019

This year we had a larger crowd than usual, twenty-seven people all told, and my left leg had decided to ache something awful, so picking my way among all the bodies and legs made me appear even more hobbled than usual. A lovely time was had in the end, even though someone turned off the oven by accident halfway through the cooking of the turkey on Thanksgiving morning, so dinner was an hour late, and the din of voices was at such a pitch that at one point I fled to the back room and just sat on a bed. My cousin Nicky noticed me disappearing down the hall and followed me. She sat with me chuckling and telling me to breathe, because she knows her cousin like the sisters we truly are. Meanwhile my niece Leisa—who is temperamentally somewhat like me and was also feeling overwhelmed—decided to just keep plying people with wine. She kept opening bottles and giving people refills, which made the mood even more festive but with a manic edge. Finally the food was served. It was all delicious, and everybody's energy settled to a murmur, and it was smooth and joyful sailing from there. At the end of the evening, we counted bottles and realized we had consumed fourteen bottles of wine, some from our own stock as well as bottles people brought to the feast.

People who weren't sleeping over left at around midnight, and the twelve people who were sleeping under our roof, plus my daughter and her boyfriend who ultimately slept in their own home, chatted and laughed and debriefed on the evening for two hours more. At some point my daughter and my four nieces began the clean-up, all of them refusing to let me into the kitchen to help. My son was fast asleep on the couch by then, as he'd worked the night before and all that day, arriving at 7 PM to join us from his 24-hour shift at the firehouse. As new man on the totem pole, not yet a year in the job, he will likely be working on Christmas day as well.

My niece Dani invited a young man she's been seeing to the gathering, and we all thought him very brave to agree to meeting the hoards at once. Dani's whole family was here from Orlando, as well her her aunt from Trinidad and many assorted other aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her young man, though a bit shy, held his own. When he left, Dani walked him out, and when she came back into the house we all started chanting "Dani has a boyfriend! Dani has a boyfriend!" like we were in grade school, just to balance our scrupulous effort to avoid making things awkward while her young man was there. She collapsed onto the couch laughing and covering her face. At that moment, my youngest niece, the one who was here last year applying to college, and who is now in her first semester in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced, "I am never bringing a plus one to Thanksgiving!"

The festivities continued until last evening, when we delivered the last of our house guests to the airport. Things are back to normal today, meaning it's time to get back to work—and to a more mindful eating plan. As anxious as I get before Thanksgiving every year, wondering how we will pull everything together in our small New York City apartment, I'm always happy afterward to have spent such intensive bonding time with my loved ones.

For my own record more than anyone else, here are some photos from another epic Thanksgiving celebration in the books.

That last one is my house this morning. Everything was so quiet after our week of revelry, a hush made deeper by snow on the ground outside. I'll be around to catch up with everyone soon, but right now I have to do a phone interview with a woman who was the high school best friend of my book subject. I have done absolutely no work since a week ago. It was a good break, but slightly nerve wracking as I'm feeling somewhat behind my chapter schedule.