Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

Beloved new Christmas sheets.  
Simple holiday decorating this year.  The wreath and tree are long-ago gifts from Mike's mom, and the little snow-covered church was a gift to us from my sweet Aunt Laurie this Christmas.  
Our Christmas tree is tethered to the wall with a bungee cord this year, and onto the curb it will go in a few weeks, so no matter.  It is filled with love and color, like Christmas trees and life should be, and it makes me happy.  The "Deck the Halls" sign was passed along by my sweet friend Madai.  The hearts are salt-dough ornaments I made last year.  And the angel at the top was made for me by Sommer's mom the first Christmas after Som died.  Love, love, love.  
And a heart-shaped bowl of buttercream-frosted sugar cookies for Santa (who I think will be wrapping my presents and filling my stocking tonight in the living room while I finish his and Stuffed's gifts back in the bedroom).  A phone call to my parents earlier this afternoon.  New Batman pajamas for Mike today and a not-quite-right holiday haircut from last week that's now in pigtails for me.  Emmet Otter-movie-watching and supper-that-Mike's-making-eating in awhile here.  Fancy Feast-enjoying soon for the kit-kat.  Breakfast cinnamon roll-baking later.  Much love to you all tonight and always.
~  Val

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Christmas Eve

Now that I'm decades older than I was in this photo, I better understand how much effort it took my parents to make the kind of Christmas for me and my brothers that's pictured here.  In the mid-1980s, my parents were in their thirties, my brothers and I were all under the age of twelve, and only my dad worked outside the home. Although Christmas Eve dinners at my parents' house for a number of years now has meant a shrimp tray, oyster stew (or clam chowder?  I skip it and don't remember), a pot roast, and various sides and desserts, Christmas Eve's supper was not that elaborate when my brothers and I were kids.  I don't remember what we ate in those days, and whatever it was, I'm sure my mom made it special for us, but she and Dad are certainly living more comfortably now than they were in the mid-1980s.  

Awhile after we'd finished eating supper one Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the front door.  Our nearest family was my grandparents half an hour away, and we knew it wouldn't be them, so none of us could think of anyone who would be visiting us at such an hour the night before Christmas.  Dad roused himself from his blue slipcovered chair and stepped out onto the front porch, while Mom and my brothers and I waited and wondered.  After a few moments, Dad called out  a Goodnight and Merry Christmas to whoever he'd been listening to and walked back into the living room carrying with a large pizza box.  "From Marv and Debbie!" he declared, explaining that the delivery person had said that our neighbors across the street had ordered it for us and wished our family a happy holiday.  Our neighbors!  A pizza!  A second supper of anything--and on Christmas Eve!  Mom quickly cleared a space for the box on the coffee table that always served as our snack table back then, and soon we were laughing at the surprise and novelty of it as we ate our slices.  I remember that we all agreed how nice it was of our neighbors, and I remember too that that pizza was loaded:  I'd never seen so many toppings before and probably wasn't even aware that pizzas could be topped with all the ingredients our neighbors has ordered for ours.  Green peppers?!  Black olives?!  Sausage?!  Wow!  Ours was an especially happy--and especially full--family when we went to bed that night. 

I only remember a few moments from a few other childhood Christmas Eves, and that is the only Christmas Eve meal I remember at all.  I'm sure Mom and Dad thanked the neighbors, and if we hadn't done so already, I'm sure we kids decorated sugar cookies for Marv and Debbie later or colored a winter coloring book page for their refrigerator.  Marv was a walrus-mustached older man with glasses who I remember as always wearing a white t-shirt that showed off his arm tattoos.  Debbie was also older than my parents, and her bleached-blonde hair contrasted memorably with her year-round tan.  If Marv is remembered as sporting Fonzie-esque t-shirts, Debbie always comes to mind wearing a tank top.  Surely, this isn't what they wore in cold weather, but this is the only picture that ever comes to mind of them.  Their home reeked of cigarettes.  Their motor-home remained parked outside their garage the three or so years they lived across from us.  They gave me and my younger brother a giant stuffed dog that had belonged to Marv's now-grown son.  When Marv's high school-age daughter visited him one summer week, she and I were allowed to camp out overnight in their trailer and then go back-to-school clothes-shopping together at the mall the next afternoon.  "Don't show me what you bought.  Try it on for me so I can see you wearing it," Debbie chided us as she mashed her cigarettes into one of the many ash trays around the house when we returned.  "If I wanted to see clothes on hangers, I'd just go to the store myself."  I still hear her saying that every time I show Mike or my mom any item of clothing I've bought.  The Christmas Eve Pizza remains their most memorable kindness to our young family, though.  It speaks to the sweetness of surprise and the comfort in discovering that someone has been paying attention and is looking out for you.  Angels tend to be depicted in flowing gowns and gossamer wings, but in the mid-1980s, two chain-smoking ultra-tanned and multi-tattooed ones visited our home in the guise of a pizza delivery driver, and their act of kindness gave us not just unexpectedly full bellies but also delightfully full hearts.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

All Things Wise and Wonderful

While at the thrift shop last week, I spotted a paperback copy of one of the books from Jame's Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series.  Do you know these books?  My grandmother loved them and always told me I should try them, but although I devoured just about every other book and magazine in her and Papa's house, I somehow could never get into Herriot's writings.  I truly tried.  I read enough of them as a kid--then as a pre-teen, then as a teenager, then as a twenty-something--to remember, without even needing to skim through the book's yellowed pages for a refresher at Goodwill last week, how the veterinary surgeon/narrator was always being telephoned in the middle of the night by farmers in need of his help and how he always seemed to be traveling and working in the cold in the wee hours of the morning.  Grandma would urge me to take one or more of her Herriot books home with me after a visit, but I never did.  "I just can't get into them," I'd apologize to her.  I loved animals and nature and memoirs and history and (the idea of) England but still couldn't connect with her beloved book series.  It's just like that sometimes.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was another of Grandma's favorites, and she was always disappointed that I couldn't get into that story either. 

I would instead leave her and Papa's house with a paper grocery bag full of her "Best Loved" and "America's Favorite" poetry books, her biographies of John or Jacqueline Kennedy, her Reader's Digest Condensed Books, and her Golden Press nature field guides.  While looking at the tree book at their house, I would hold it up and ask Papa after every other page, "Have you seen this tree before?  Have you ever seen one of these?  Do they have these around here?"  Ditto for the American Birds book.  But the Wildflowers book was all Grandma and I, the two of us curled up on "her" chair in the corner of the living room or rocking side by side on the floral barkcloth-cushioned front porch swing as we slowly turned the pages.  Neither Grandma nor I were ever people who fell asleep easily or quickly, and it was while we were looking at the illustrated flowers one day that she told me that when she was in bed and couldn't sleep, she would try to think of a flower that begin with each letter of the alphabet.  It is funny what you remember.  When the time came in 2001 to help my parents clean out Papa and Grandma's house, I left behind many of their books because I assumed others in the family would also want them and I felt the person who had gifted my grandparents with certain books should be the one to hold on to them now.  I saved the "Disney's Wonderful World of Reading" hardcovers that Grandma had read to me before I knew how, and that I would later read and reread to her, in our afghan-covered reading chair, and I took a few more things from her bookcases, but I forced myself to be fair and let go of the rest.  

It was bittersweet when I finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn years ago.  Grandma was right and I was wrong:  It is one of my favorite books.  If Grandma had still been alive, it would have been something we would have talked about, or if we weren't going to see each other soon, I would have mentioned it in one of my letters to her.  I wish I could tell her that just recently, I shared with Mike Francie's mom's wise way of helping Francie feel "casually extravagant" by letting her dump her grown-cold coffee down the drain.  I love that. I also love thinking that Grandma knew me in a way that I didn't yet know myself as she watched me pull and then re-shelf books from her collection all those years.  She wouldn't be surprised, then, to hear that I bought the paperback of the James Herriot book last week--and that I am loving it too.  I have raced through the first forty-four chapters and will soon be done with the rest, and I've been bookmarking used copies on amazon of his other works so I can buy them with Christmas money later this month.  I want more, more, more!  Yorkshire is now home of the "World of James Herriot visitor attraction," I've learned this past week.  And an online shop of Herriot merchandise is, they say, coming soon!  While I can't buy Grandma a trinket from the store or museum and it is now too late for more book discussions out on the porch swing, I believe she's somehow shared my excitement this past week as I dip into Mr. Herriot's tales of performing Caesareans on sheep and pulling the village tailor's pins from the pads of his dog's paws.  I really think she knows.  As I cuddle up with the book in my own afghan-covered reading chair this week, it only seems right to believe, given all she knew before and all she knew all along, that somehow, Grandma knows.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stuffed with His Stocking

We began decorating for Christmas last night by bringing the wreaths, our biggest tree, the ornaments, and our stockings out from storage.  Since I was sick the first few months of 2012 and didn't get all the Christmas things taken apart and down to storage until really (really) late this year, it really (really) seems like I just saw all these things a few days ago.  That usual "Ohhh!  Awwww!  I'd almost forgotten about this!" feeling just wasn't there as I unpacked everything last night.  One of the things I'd been looking forward to bringing out this winter, though, was Stuffed's new-to-us-but-found-on-eBay-after-Christmas-last-year Garfield Christmas stocking.  It's actually a stuffed Garfield holding a little stocking labeled "Stuff it!"  Perfect.    It will sit between my stocking and Mike's when I'm done getting things into place here today.  Until then, Garfield is Stuffed's new best friend and they've been resting on an armchair together.  Stuffed's been sniffing him and curling up next to him and holding him (and his own ever-protected security blanket of a tail) down with one of his front paws.  Sweet Kit-Kat.  This might end up being one Christmas decoration that stays out year-round.