Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home.  ~ Carol Nelson

This is my favorite time of year. I love Christmas. The spectacle, the decorations, the music. All of it. The only thing that could make it any better is if it were warm. Oh, and if Dad were still here.

I was sitting with Dylan last night waiting for our dinner to be ready when I started wondering what I could write about this week. I had already had Christmas on my mind when I started telling him some stories about his grandfather. I told him about the time that Dad thought it would be a great homage to his five daughters to immortalize their initials as Christmas decorations. This is one of the favorites of all the sisters.

I can’t remember how old I was when this story took place but I do remember it happening. The tree was already up and the entire second floor looked as if a bomb of tinsel, glitter and lights exploded. Dad, as usual, was in the thick of it. Cursing and laughing and yelling and making the spectacle even grander. I don’t remember how the idea came to him but I do remember having to get wire hangers. Lots and lots of wire hangers.

He sat there in his chair, bending and twisting, cajoling and finessing, forcing the wire to his will. Some initials were easier than others. The L for example was pretty straight forward; the B not so much. I don’t know how long it took him or how many innocent hangers lost their lives that night but the carnage was immense. After creating all five initials (D, P, T, B, L) it was time to decorate them. With garland. Miles and miles of pretty garland.

Where, you may be wondering, was Dad going to put his masterpiece(s)? Not just anywhere. No. They were going to have prominence. They needed a place befitting of their magnificence. Naturally, they were hung over the sofa in the living room. Yes he did. Not only did he hang them, he hung them fancy. In a V pattern. Starting on the left with Deb, then Patty slightly below and to the right, Tracey made the low point in the V pattern, Barbara (that’s me) directly across from Patty with Laura mirroring Deb at the upper right.

It was as horrifying as it sounds. The letters were easily a foot and a half tall and he didn’t even use the same color garland for each letter. Nope. Each letter had its own color. In the intervening years, I decided he chose each color to reflect the uniqueness of each daughter but it’s more likely that Dad’s mantra of “more is more” won out. He was also color-blind so I can only imagine what it looked like to him. I’m sure it was amazing. To everyone else it was kind of a hot mess but in a good way.

We’re busy making our own Christmas memories and traditions. One of my favorite (and Dylan’s too) is when we all pile together in the living room to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. We have homemade snicker doodles and fancy hot chocolate. But we can’t do that until we decorate. Hmmm, guess I know what I’m doing this weekend. Although I can almost guarantee that no wire hangers will be harmed in my Christmas decorating this year but ya never know.

Enjoy your moments where you find them; you never know when the memories you’re making are the awesome ones. I really miss Dad and his crazy ideas. I miss his big mouth, his bigger laugh and his absolute delight in his family.

Merry Christmas Dad wherever you are. Your spirit lives on in each of our hearts especially at Christmas.

Ramblings of a Mad Woman

I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paperwork.  ~Peter De Vries

A friend asked me recently how the writing was going and if I was starting to run out of ideas. I laughed and then I thought for a second and said, “No, I’m not running out of ideas but what is getting hard is keeping track of what I’ve already said and which anecdotes I’ve shared and all my insightful witticisms.”

I have tons of ideas and I can crank out the first 200-250 words pretty quickly. It’s the finishing. The polishing. The trying to make sure I don’t say the same thing over and over and over.  You know, belaboring the point.

Writing never came naturally to me, talking that’s another matter. I swear I was born running my mouth. And loud. Hahaha. Extra loud. I’m from a large, extended family if you wanted to get heard you had to get loud. I have a paper trail now and that’s a little daunting. People can actually go back and check on what I said. I imagine my words floating out on the interwebs being read, eagerly, by adoring (and not so adoring) fans who will then turn on me and fling my words back in my face.  What, I have performance anxiety.

Just hit the 200 word mark and I’m starting to flounder. I have my ending; I have my beginning; I need to tie them together. But how? Another story about the kids? Something that Pat did that drove me crazy? A sarcastic take on a current event? What? I’m starting to think I should pop on over to Facebook and see what’s up. Maybe one of my awesome friends will inspire me. Wait, the dog needs a walk. Maybe I should call my Mom to see how she’s doing. That’s when I know I’m desperate!

Hahaha. Anyone still reading?

This fascinating glimpse into my writing process is not how I thought this would go. I was going for witty and breezy and I fear that I’m starting to sound whiney and desperate.

The family is over the novelty of me writing. Totally over it and over me. What they’re tired of is listening to me read every article out loud to them 872 times then making them sit and read them. Plus, they’re tired of me hogging the computer. I still ask for permission before I write anything about the kids and they appreciate that. I appreciate that they haven’t ever said no. Yet.

I can’t imagine my world without writing. Maybe one of these days I’ll tackle something longer. Perhaps the book that Aunt Carol is telling me I need to write. For now, I’m content to write for Patch and keep up my blog. It’s way more fun than my day job that’s for sure!

Not sure what this rambling mess has to do with parenting or anything really. Perhaps I can talk to them about persevering.  About being open to try new things. About having the courage to commit to something new.

Or maybe I’ll just demand they do something clever and cute so I can write about that.

Día de los Muertos

Mexican tradition holds that people die three deaths: The first death is when our bodies cease to function, when our hearts no longer beat of their own accord, when our gaze no longer has depth or weight, when the space we occupy slowly loses its meaning. The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returned to mother earth, out of sight. The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us.

November is, for me, forever affiliated with death. I was fifteen when Nana died. It was November 1, 1980 and until then I had known death only superficially. Most of my grandparents had already died. I don’t remember them, not really. I have vague impressions, but mostly other people’s memories masquerading as my own.

But Nana, Nana was different; she was in my life every day. We never lived more than two blocks away and it was a rare day when I didn’t see her. It became more than once a day when she finally left Mozart Street and moved across the street from Casa the Crazy.

Nana was a hard, unyielding woman. She was raised in foster care after the death of her parents and sister and life was not always very kind. I have memories of her both good and not so good. Most of my favorite Nana memories center on summers at Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. Up-country.diadelosmuertos

She kept a cabin, well cabin is a generous term since what it was really just a raised platform with four walls, a tarp ceiling, and three “rooms” delineated with fishing line and shower curtains. Quainter and cozier than I’m describing. It had a propane stove, a couple of bunk beds and a kitchen table. I learned how to play cards at that table, by candlelight. I also learned that I hated peas and had a bit of a stubborn streak.

We, the sisters and the cousins, spent most our time at Newfound Lake swimming, playing in the sand pit, exploring the woods, hauling water from the well, and just being kids. I remember camp fires and marshmallow roasts; Uncle Wally telling ghost stories and scaring us half to death; daylight trips to the outhouse; never – ever – after dark; diving off the big rock for Uncle Bobby’s change.

November makes me miss them all. It’s not grief that November provides but introspection. Autumn seems suited to melancholy. When the dead demand their due. We’ve lost so many, family and friends. Aunt Chris, Dad’s sister and a major player in the Joan of Arc saga (click here). Chris died a few short months after Nana. In the middle of her life. She was only forty when she died, younger than I am now and a mother of six.

Uncle Bobby. He broke my heart. We watched him die. Slowly. He never gave up and he never let you know how sick he really was. He was my godfather and one of the giants of my youth. I miss him still. His joy. His smile. His laugh.

Then Walter, Uncle Wally to just about everyone in the world. He was the best, quick-witted and funny as hell. He also gave me my love for funk music. Funny, I never think of him with sadness, thinking of Wally brings a smile every single time.

We’ve lost Dad and Al and Claire and Bernie. We lost Diane and Hazel. We lost Grandma Doris and Uncle Jim. Aunt Mary and so many others. We’ve lost fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children and friends.

Each death diminishes our daily lives but expands our capacity for living. For where we find heartache and sorrow we also find perseverance and strength. By losing someone we love, we internalize their best features and realize that we get to hold that forever in our hearts. We visit at our leisure. Sure sometimes they demand our attention but generally they are content to wait. Wait for us to pause in our living. Wait for us to realize that they still have lessons to teach us. And because they live in our hearts, we help keep them from the third and final death.

It’s important to remember the dead but more important that we embrace the living.

One is the past, the other the future.