Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Eagles... and Rita's New Guy

Mom’s breathing is audible, with a hint of a rasp, but not quite a snore. Francie brought in a comfy blue and white striped quilt that is snugged up close to Mom’s chin. She is still as a mummy, but sleeping peacefully after a wretched morning of nausea and vertigo. Thank god for the medications that soften such miseries, but looking at her now, I can believe this is actually happening.  

Mom has moved to Muirfield, a healthcare center four minutes from 638, the house she has lived in for over 50 years, the house I think of as my third parent. Her room here has a wide bay window now brimming with yellow and white roses, lavender hyacinth, top-heavy sunflowers, and graceful orchids.  

Much as she’d hoped to slip away without fanfare, word has gotten out about Mom’s illness.  I can only imagine how hard it is for her friends to grasp that mom - vibrant, beautiful, active Mimi – is the one dying. In this, I’m grateful that it’s Mom’s turn to go.  It’s been brutal for her as dear friends have passed, and I can’t imagine the depth of her grief if she’d had to face the passing of her remaining cherished friends. 

Until this morning, Mom has had three good days in a row.  She was able to dress in a turtleneck and slacks, and sit up in a chair.  Her hair was brushed, silvery, and lovely, swept back in a headband, as always. This was important to her as two of her grandchildren, Casey and Campbell, were here for the weekend, and Mom wanted to be the Greemie they know: chatty, cheerful, and interested in every minute detail of their lives. 

Casey gave Mom a much-needed manicure and let the time linger as she held Mom’s hands, massaging them with Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion in the yellow bottle, a longtime staple in the medicine cupboard at 638.  Campbell and Mom played Yahtzee, hooting, as they are wont to do, over every full house and large straight. When Mom was back in bed, Casey snuggled up close. Mom is actually not one for snuggling, but with Casey, it has always seemed natural, and my daughter, who thought this might be her last visit with her Greemie, was holding on to Mom as much as she was holding on to her hand.  “Are you scared, Greems?”  she whispered.

“No.  Not at all.”  Mom responded.  But then she got teary, “I just wonder how it’s going to go…” 

I hope Dad is hovering, unseen, nearby.  Maybe Byeo and Poppy, Mom’s parents?  Perhaps Uncle Ding?  Might they all be here, perched on her bed, or surrounding us as we sit in our portable sling chairs? Are they waiting for her, urging her on, excited to get her back as much as we dread losing her?  

“Oh Mom, I hope they’re planning a party to welcome you to the other side!”  I whispered one night while we held hands in the dark.

“They better be!” she said, and we laughed.  But oh, I want it to be true!

                                    *                      *                      *

Rita’s nails are painted green, and news anchors on the TV mounted on the wall at the foot of Mom’s bed are abuzz with projections.  The police have smeared the lampposts in the city with hydraulic fluid to discourage fans undaunted in the past from shimmying up when plain old grease was the deterrent.   Fans’ “irrational exuberance” is a municipal concern as the Philadelphia Eagles face the New England Patriots for their first shot at a Super Bowl win in decades.   

Brash of him given the hype, Dave is wearing his Patriots jersey and fends off much good-natured ribbing as nurses and aides stop in to check on Mom and take a look at the score. A synchronized murmur resounds through the hall as every TV is tuned to the same channel for the game.  Mom’s room is crowded with folding sports sling-chairs we’ve brought in to supplement Muirfield’s two comfortable, upholstered wingbacks.  The chairs themselves – in jewel tones of burgundy, green, and royal blue – add a certain festivity to the room.  Shopping bags brimming with potato chips, pretzels, and cheese popcorn loiter against the walls.  A cooler holds wine, beer, humus and cheese.  Could be a playoff party anywhere.  

We pull up a Saturday Night Live YouTube skit portraying the colonial rivalry between those annoyingly successful New Englanders and the cocky folks from Philadelphia and watch it twice. Hysterical!  But to me, the game itself seems endless.  All those time-outs!  Thank god for the commercials. When everyone else loses interest because the game is suspended, I perk up because the commercials are funny.  I’m not a football fan, and no matter how many times the rules have been explained to me during drunken fogs at college or currently, while Dave watches his Patriots, I just don’t get it. But Mom knows this game is historic and although her eyes are often closed, she insists on “watching” to the end.  When the Eagles win, a riotous hubbub rumbles down the halls, while whistles and firecrackers ricochet through the neighborhood outside. 

                             *                             *                           *

Rita has a boyfriend. It's been years since my sister dated and long ago she reached the point where “I do NOT want a man in my life!” Apparently her guy, Bill, has heard this refrain more than once.

Dear Bill.  He came into my sister’s life, into all our lives, at just the right time.   

Rita had been out for a drink at one of her favorite restaurants when she spotted two men, one taking a photo of the other.  My sister is not shy.  She marched over and said, “If you’re taking a picture of him for, this isn’t a good background.  Try the shot over there.  And by the way… is the picture for Match?”

It was. 

“Then I have a friend who’d be perfect for you.  I’m having a party on Saturday; why don’t you come?”

Drew, the hopeful, agreed, and Bill, who was the photographer said, “If he’s coming, so am I!” 

As it turned out, Drew and Rita’s friend were not a match, but Bill and Rita were. By the night of her party, her friends and sisters had heard the lilt in her voice, and had seen the sparkle in her eyes we thought had disappeared for good.  We couldn’t wait to meet him and as excited as we  were, poor Bill faced a gauntlet of eager faces and quivering antennae as we all tried to make sure he was the dear man Rita thought he was.  

Since then, he has been proving himself to be so as he joins our men in being support staff for us and for Mom.  In the weeks of waiting, Rita’s basement flooded.  Bill met with the Service Master people so Rita could be with Mom.  When Dave and Matt, the extraordinary chefs Francie and I married, leave Muirfield early to cook sustaining and sumptuous dinners for us at 638, Bill joins them in the kitchen. (We are now enamoured of his shrimp with spicy chipotle sauce.) And best of all, when Rita leaves us at night to go home, she doesn’t return to an empty house.  “Not like when Dad was sick,” she says ruefully. 

In fact, we think it’s possible Dad orchestrated their meeting from the other side.  

While at Mom’s bedside, nothing gives us greater joy than teasing Rita.  All we have to say is, “So, how’s Bill?” and her eyes brighten, a little flush creeps to her cheeks, and a grin she cannot suppress suffuses her face with light.  So good for our saddened souls.  

                              *                          *                     *                         

A few weeks at Muirfield have passed. Mom is eating well and enjoying the delicious food offered. She’s had some dark, terrible days, but there are still mornings when we come in hesitantly, peer anxiously around Mom’s door, and find her sitting up, in good spirits, and eating a hearty breakfast.  So we aren’t surprised when Rita says, “Normally, I wouldn’t THINK of having Mom meet a guy unless we’d dated for months, but she wants to meet Bill, and he wants to meet her.”

On the day of The Meeting, Mom makes a big effort to get out of bed and get dressed.  She wears gray slacks, a maroon turtleneck and, of course, a matching headband. She looks beautiful and expectant, ready to meet this man who is making her daughter happy in the midst of deepest sorrow. 

It's a chatty, companionable visit. Mom clearly relishes the exchange and obviously likes Bill. Mom has always been a master at coaxing out her listeners’ interests, and Bill hits the right chords of warmth and concern without getting into painful territory. He times his departure well, and Rita walks him to the door.  When she returns to us, she is beaming, so proud of this dear man, so grateful that Mom has had the chance to meet him.  

And then, she bursts into tears.  

That is how it has been for us… a welter of emotions running close to the surface, leaking out in a mix of laughter and tears. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mimi, Mom, Greemie

After a sleepless night of headaches and heartburn followed by a day of crushing news, how can Mom look so beautiful? As always, her silver hair is swept back in a hairband, and her skin is smooth and clear, the muscles of her face, relaxed.  Is she asleep or simply at peace with her decision and what lies ahead?

Her life is flashing before my eyes.  Her years as a child with her brother Ding and devoted parents at 12 Upper Ladue in St. Louis, her reign as the Veiled Prophet queen, her joy as a bride, young wife, new mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I feel it all. For Christmas, I made her a photo book:  “Mimi, Mom, Greemie,” and for weeks, I’d been immersed in her milestones – many of them so intertwined with my own.  

I started the project in October while home at 638 for a visit. Mom had gone to bed and I’d retreated to the back room that once was my sister's and now was used for storage.  There were bins and boxes of photographs as well as Dad’s old desk, a high chair, and some glass cases from Mom’s antiques show days.  I knew I couldn’t take some of the larger photos home because Mom would notice, so I began to take pictures with my phone, sorting through a sea of moments lovingly frozen in film by Mom’s father, Uncle Ding, and Dave.    

Suddenly, around midnight, I heard Mom’s voice, “Lea? Where are you?” 

I peeked into the hall and saw her standing at the guest room door where I have stayed since my teen-years-bedroom on the third floor made the transition to another storeroom. In her pale, blue nightie and her hair loose around her shoulders, she squinted in the bright light and beamed at me. "Oh!  You’re looking at pictures!  Let’s look at them together!” Somehow I herded her into the guest room and we sat on my bed for a “lovely chat” - a cozy, in-the-dark, pre-bed chat, so named by my grandmother Byeo when I was little.

I had never had a middle-of-the-night lovely chat with my mother before!  I knew it was precious, kept telling myself to drink it in and enjoy it, but those bins of photos were calling me and I had to work to shut them up.   Mom and I talked for 45 minutes or so before she began to fade and headed back to bed.  I returned to my project and hit the sheets around 3:30. 

For weeks I was immersed in a world of soft matte sepia. Byeo and Poppy always elegantly dressed, Byeo’s hair in controlled curls coiffed close to her head, gloves and hats customary for outings.  Mom enviably lovely at almost every age.  Dad finally entered the scene in ‘48, wearing civvies for his visits to St. Louis, but handsome in uniform with his lieutenant’s bars for formal shots.  And ultimately, appear, a plain, peaked child, “but we loved you to pieces anyway,” Mom assured me. 

We celebrated Christmas at Thanksgiving in Weekapaug this year, so all of us were together. Mom twisted her ankle when she leapt to her feet at the temptation of a TJ Maxx shopping trip, so that slowed her down.  Other than that, she was her usual cheerful self. I’m so grateful we didn’t know, that she didn’t know what was brewing inside her.  She loved her book, and I sat beside her as she turned the pages, and grinned, pointed, and wept over beloved faces and phases. 

It is barely two months later that we are in the hospital, and a CAT scan has revealed lesions on Mom’s lung and three masses the size of golf balls on her liver.  Dr. Spitzer spoke to my sisters, Rita and Francie, and me, in the hall outside her room at the hospital before he confirmed these findings with my mother. 

Mom was dressed in a blue and white hospital gown, sitting up in bed, propped against white pillows, covered with a white sheet, her hands clasped on her lap.  When we walked in, she smiled at the doctor and the three of us trailing behind him.

Dr. Spitzer is slight of build, with dark hair, and black-framed glasses.  He stood at the foot of Mom’s bed and rocked from one foot to the other while meeting her gaze. “Mimi.  We know why you don’t feel well.”

Mom sat up straighter and appeared pleased.  Is it possible she had no idea what was coming?

“It’s not good.  You have metastatic breast cancer.  It’s gone to your lungs and liver.” 

Her smile held, suspended in the gulf between her life as it had been and this news that it would soon end… and then we all burst into tears.  But only briefly. Mom wanted information.  She had decisions to make. 

“How long do I have?”

“I can’t say for sure, and others might say differently.  We’ll have an oncologist come in to chat with you as soon as possible. But I’d say one to three months.”

Mom sat straighter as she drew in a long breath. My sisters and I stood taller as we did the same. One to three months?

Mom recovered more quickly than we did.  She smiled at Dr. Spitzer who looked as stricken as we felt.  “Well.  You know how I feel about this, Peter.  No treatment.  I always thought 86 would be a good age to die.  Who knew I’d be such a good predictor?”

The doctor and Mom laughed together, and he said, “But Mimi, you don’t always have to be right!”

May we all have a doctor like him.  He told Mom she was boss, and he would honor her wishes and see that everyone else did. He was loving and kind.  And he knows my mother well.  Over the years, they’d come to an understanding.  He would advise her to have this test or that procedure, and she would nod her head, smile… and refuse. Mom did not believe in excessive medical care, and that covered pretty much everything other than a visit when she really didn’t feel well.  

It was only a week ago that she really didn’t feel well.  

She’d felt “punky” when I went home to Philadelphia with my friend Joanie to join Rita and Francie at the Women’s March in January.  Mom has always been stoic, and she greeted us cheerfully when we arrived.  When we blamed her lethargy on lack of vitamin D and dehydration, she was willing to agree. 

“Are you drinking plenty of water, Mom?”

“Yes.  I always have some by my bed in the thermos Rita got me.”

“But have you been drinking it?”  

“Oh yes.  I take sips.”   But the sips were so sparing that the thermos rarely required refills.

It was comforting to blame such reasonable, easy fixes.

After the march, Joanie and I returned to Connecticut, and the next day, I tutored at Mercy Learning Center as usual.  After my students left, I stole a peek at my cell phone.  Whoa.  Ping, ping, ping: a steady barrage from Rita and Francie lit the small screen.  Mom had felt sick enough to ask Rita to take her to Dr. Spitzer:

Rita:  Mom has a nodule in her lung.  Spitzer wants to talk to me.  Ordering CAT scan.

Francie:  Do you want me to come over?

Rita: I’m good for most of the afternoon.  He wants us to stay with her at night as he knows she won’t stay in the hospital.

Francie:  I can stay all nights this week if need be.  Can she be alone at all?

Rita:  I can change plans and come over around 9:00 tomorrow. I can skip Jared’s [her son’s] game Thursday and spend the night.  We’ll figure it out.

Francie:  Yes, we will!  Thanks for being there today.  Just let me know what time you need me to come over.”

Here, there was a pause in the exchange, and then:

Rita:  She’s begging to go to the hospital.  Francie, if you want to come to Spitzer’s office, come.

Francie:  Coming now.

And so was I.  My mother hated hospitals.  She was begging to go?  With my throat tight, I sped home, packed clothes for a week, and headed for Philadelphia.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tallulah's Sleepover

Tallulah rested on the couch after a quick foray out to our frigid yard. She was a good dog and peed and pooped in the pachysandra, then raced one quick, wild tear down to the woods and over to the naked magnolia.  Ears blown back, grin wide, her flank almost touched ground as her whippet and Jack Russell genes kicked into gear.  She practically skidded to a stop at the back door and could not be coaxed into another run around.  Her footpads are pale pink and her fur, short and sleek: minimal protection in this week’s Arctic temperatures.

Forty years ago, most mutts seemed to be a mix of beagle, some shepherd, and maybe a little collie.  Now, it’s rare that they don’t have some pit bull. Tallulah is a generous mix of breeds, pit among them, but she looks more like a delicate boxer, the whippet input having slimmed her muzzle and streamlined her body.

This was our first sleepover with our grand-dog.  Her parents, Casey and PJ, courageous souls, had headed into the city for a New Year’s Eve Phish concert.  We all wondered how this over-night initiation for grandparents and dog would go.  While Tallulah and I watched from the window as her car pulled away - without her! -  she danced anxiously, her tail wagging in jerky, hopeful movements.

Um… they’re coming back, right? They forgot me!”

PJ and Casey always provide Tallulah’s part in any dialogue in a breathy little kid’s voice, and I find myself doing it too.  With her ears perked, head cocked, and eyes round with concern, her thoughts were apparent.

“They’ll be back soon, Sweetie,” I assured her.  “Would you like some frozen banana?”

Sure.  Sure. That’d be good…” I supplied her answer and the banana, then she trotted back to the den and climbed onto the couch to keep watch at the window.

Just as our malamute, Teyo, was our first child, so it is with Casey and PJ and Tallulah. And I am grateful she found her way to our kids. They love, cuddle, and spoil her, and she should have all that.  If she had the words to tell her story, it would be a tale with too much heartache. Within her first year, four other families “gave her a try,” but she was too active, or their other dog couldn’t get along with her, or they had to move to an apartment that didn’t allow dogs, or the added expenses were too much. Tallulah is active, but she is a dear girl, and I don’t like thinking about her feelings during those repeated abandonments.

One might say I’m personifying too much, but I don’t think so.  Human denial of animal emotions is a convenience that has enabled the meat industry, animal experimentation, and puppy mills: a multitude of betrayals.

Still, I know dog-ownership’s not easy.  About 25 years ago, I burst into tears in the grocery store when an acquaintance said hello and asked how I was doing.  After years of ease with an aging dog, we’d recently gotten a new puppy, Kodiak. I’d forgotten what that was like: the chewing, the stains on the rug, the need for training.  I had a full schedule of volunteer work while the kids were at school; what had we been thinking to get a puppy?

It was more about what we were feeling, I guess. We missed Teyo’s comforting bulk, loyalty, love, and calm presence.  And of course Kodiak became the beautiful, dear friend we were looking for.

                                                      Tucker and Teyo, spring 1982

Early in the adoption adjustment phase, Tallulah was a challenge; she has all that whippet and Jack Russell dancing within… and often, spilling out.  It didn’t go well when she chewed through the couch upholstery in the first month.  But she is expressive and endearing, and PJ and Casey are crazy in love with their girl.  

She is a snuggler and has spent most of her visit with us nestled in blankets on the couch.  Yes. On the couch.  “Not in our house!” Dave had said. He was firm and very clear.  “Not gonna happen here. She’ll just have to learn.””

She has not learned… Dave has.  We don’t give animals enough credit for intuition, and Tallulah knew Dave was the one she’d have to win over.  And she did.

 Last night, the Tone family joined us for dinner and a game of Code Names to usher in the New Year.  Knowing Tallulah can get agitated and jumpy when guests arrive, we conducted a few “welcome drills.” Repeatedly, I dashed to the window and said, “Is that the Tones’ car?  Are Maggie, PJ, Cathleen, and Don here?”  Tallulah would scamper beside me, rise up on her hind legs, place front paws on the windowsill, and scan the road.  When their car pulled up, she was ready: familiar with their names and happy to greet them.  Yes, she jumped on them, but just a little.  While the kids and Cathleen were delighted with her, she sensed she’d need to make more effort to win over Don.  He got all kinds of kisses and attention… not his first choice perhaps?

Tallulah was persistent, and I think she got to him.  And she was his cozy, if not so participatory, teammate for Code Names.   


Thursday, January 11, 2018


The mood around the BINGO table changed immediately when Mack, the caller, suggested we up the ante to $.50 for the final cover-all game.  No more banter.  No more snacking on popcorn and sugar cookies. No more knitting, nudging, or rolling of eyes when Mack called out numbers.  Such high stakes required focus.

Sad to say, I needed that focus.  Until this final round, my $.25 bought two cards and I was distracted - however pleasantly – by all the in-jokes and rivalry among the players.  Several times, I realized I’d missed a number that might have cost me a win.

Dave and I were visiting his mother, and the BINGO regulars welcomed us warmly.  They are a gracious group, yes, but I think the extra quarters in the pot held even more allure than the pleasure of our company.

Mack is about 58, I’d say.  He’s a big guy, a Viet Nam vet, and usually the only man in the game; it was clear he relished Dave’s presence.  While he frowned upon conversation among the rest of us, he chattered away to Dave, filling him in on his BINGO background and the stories behind the inside jokes.

Dave, Mack, and I were by far the youngest in this circle of residents at the senior community center. One woman was on oxygen, and two had healthcare workers in attendance.  Everyone, except for Dave and me, had brought a good-luck mascot to coax the numbers their way; a motley squadron of trolls, stuffed animals, and charms stood vigil before each card. 

With a ping of a bell, the kind used by Victorian hotel receptionists, Mack called us to attention for each game. Some numbers passed without remark or drama, but many sparked a choral response, a snide or slapstick aside, or a performance. The B’s were a minefield of memories and rivalries.  If Jane - petite, spectacled, and ladylike - happened to be among us, “B-10” evinced an over-the-glasses glare from Mack.  Apparently she’d won a few too many times with that number. When “O-69” was called, Cheryl lifted an invisible trumpet and toot-toot-tooted with gusto. “B-4” required a group response of  “…and after.”  And “N-44”?  With disgust, Mack expelled air between flapping lips in a vigorous Bronx cheer.  Barbara, God rest her soul, used to win big with N-44, and one time she asked Mack to change the battery in her hearing aids.  His horror at the thought had tainted N-44 for good.

For those within reach of a BINGO win, praying for a particular number, Mack could be cruel. “B-4…” he’d intone, then add at last minute, “…teen.”  Oh, so evil! A potential $2.00 win snatched away with that extra syllable!

Mack knew most of the players “favorite” numbers and would glance meaningfully their way when those numbers came up.  Over 25 games, I’ve won only once at the center, so he hasn’t caught on to my “B-7.”  In 1965, I won $17.00 in a split BINGO win at the Weekapaug Inn, and B-7 has been my hero ever since.          

Dave and I love BINGO.  It has always been our favorite attraction at the annual Easton Fireman’s Carnival.  During the nineties, the town's agricultural heritage was reflected in the corn kernels used as markers on the BINGO cards.  Now they use thick, colored, magic markers and tear-off pages – three cards to a page!  Near impossible to manage!  At Ma’s place, they use the fancy version with the orange slide-down windows. 

A cover-all game takes time, and as I said, the four-dollar pot ended any funny business.  Mack intoned the letter-number combinations with crisp severity.  No one asked him to repeat a call; they didn’t dare ask and they didn’t need to.  The tense silence stretched on as a satisfying orange slick covered my card with five-in-a-row-straights and an early “4-corners;” they would have been thrilling developments earlier in the day, irrelevant now when the goal was a cover-all.  My chest was tight and I barely drew breath.  With only three numbers open, I was so close.

But it was not to be.  As is always the finale in this game, a spirit-crushing “BINGO!” rang out from the end of the table accompanied by a resounding chorus of disappointed, “Noooooo’s!”       

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Spirits

A handwritten sign for a tag sale on Meriweather Lane caught my eye as I drove home after some Christmas shopping.  A tag sale!  In December!  Did I really want or need to shuffle around a chilly garage perusing someone’s cast-offs?  Of course not.

But I took the left on Meriweather, pulled over to the curb in front of a brick McMansion, and parked.  I silenced the radio and Perry Como’s jolly partridges and pears and pocketed my keys.  As I walked up the driveway, a dog barked inside the house, and a male voice called out, “Be there in a minute!  Just putting on a sweater!”

The garage door gaped open to admit me, watery sunlight, and raw cold.  Tables laden with books, worn holiday decorations, tin cookie cutters, clay molds, stacks of vinyl record albums, craft supplies, and a battalion of miniature Eiffel Towers were set wherever they could fit.  I had to inch past a folded wheelchair to view items toward the back.

Drawn by the cover illustration of a koala, I flipped through the pages of a children’s book.  The colorful pictures of raccoons, owls, and bears were appealing, so I decided to buy it for my grandson, Paul. Other than that, my browsing was done and when the homeowner appeared, I was ready to leave.

He was pale and slight of build, and his flyaway, graying hair was disheveled, no doubt from the tussle with his argyle sweater.  He gave me a rundown on general pricing then added, “unless it’s something unique... like Susan’s wheelchair.”

He was clearly disappointed when I held up my lone find.

“Oh.  Well. That’ll be $.25.”

As I rooted about in my pocketbook for a quarter, I remarked on his courage in holding a December tag sale.

“Truthfully, I’ve been holding them off and on since July.  My wife – that’s her wheelchair – died in June.”

“Oh no.  I’m so sorry….”

“They wanted to put Susan in a home, but I promised her that as long as I lived I would take care of her here.  And I did.”

His eyes reddened as he spoke with admiration of Susan’s degrees, career, and command of five languages.  “When I think of her at a podium, speaking before large audiences… or here, hosting parties for her students… yes, she was like that.  We always had groups of students around.  And then," he paused, his voice wavering, "she had a stroke.  So, take care of any little health issues you have: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes.  These took Susan down.”

He pulled out a handkerchief and wadded it to his eyes as tears flowed. My own eyes filled as I imagined the difference in this man and this house when Susan - vibrant, brilliant Susan - was here as companion and hostess. 

Christmas is poignant even in the absence of loss.  The plastic bins hauled from our attic are filled with memories.  Christmases past are layered between white sheets of tissue: popsicle stick ornaments made by my kids in elementary school, the velveteen Santa from my parents for Tucker’s first Christmas.  Ornaments of bread dough and papier mache that conjure family craft projects in the early eighties.  So many Santas, angels, and artfully decorated Styrofoam balls given or created over the years by friends and family.  I miss those days when my own parents were youthful and strong, when our kids, giddy with excitement, snuggled in bed to wait for Saint Nicholas.

But Christmas Present is richly blessed!  The day itself has not yet arrived, and Dave and I have already celebrated in Rhode Island with my side of the family.  We attended a joyful musical performance at our grandniece’s school and reveled at the cascades of confetti at its end. We have gathered with friends over too-much food, joined the shopping bustle at Barnes and Noble and the mall, and listened, happily, to countless versions of “White Christmas.” And we helped our daughter and her husband prepare for their first party in their new house.

How many times have I looked over at my Dave through all these festivities and felt a prickle in my nose at seeing that dear, beaming face loving these people and cherishing these moments as fully as I am?  Soon enough, these will be the days that make me misty even as now I miss their brethren past.

We recently discovered a treasure from 1982, a tape of Tucker reciting "The Night Before Christmas” with the help of a few cues whispered in the background by his dad.  Dave and I listen and smile, eyes bright and damp as our little one’s childish sing-song voice announces, “BUMPF! Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound,” adding that ”BUMPF!” as we always did in reading the story to him, just as we add it now while reading to Paul.  And Paul hoots, “BUMPF!” with the same exuberance his father once did.

Recently my sister Rita sent a nostalgic text after she’d re-read a commemorative book she’d made with the hymns, readings, and eulogies from my dad’s funeral.  “I honestly thought it had been four years [since he died],” she wrote, “I’m losing time!  It’s been six!”  It’s hard to believe my big, solid, mischievous, boisterous, funny, beloved father has been among the ghosts of Christmases past for that long.

The other night, Dave and I were out to dinner at Molto, one of our favorite restaurants. Surrounded by the chatter, lights, and festivity of the season, I borrowed Dave’s handkerchief and tearfully confessed my maudlin musings.  I mentioned my nostalgic memories, and touched on my clash of joy, guilt, and sorrow in the staggering contrast between our lives and the suffering people of Syria, the hurricane-bereft homeless in Florida and Puerto Rico, and yes - the starving children of India.   I was on a roll, and I snuffled into his handkerchief while ranting about our poor country, upended by violence and inept governance. 

Dave regarded me, his brow furrowed with loving frustration.  “You have too many black crayons in your crayon box,” he said.

Maybe.  Maybe.  But it’s not so much about shadows as wishing everyone could have it as good as we do.  And I want better from our leaders. As he did to Scrooge, I want Dickens’s Marley to shake his chains and wail in fury at those driven by power and money. I want them to absorb his remorse over his pursuit of gold when he should have known that “mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business:  charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”  Let’s add the health of the planet and well-being of our fellow creatures to that list, while we’re at it.

And oh, how I wish Susan were still here to celebrate Christmas with her grieving husband on Meriweather Lane.  After paying for the koala book, it was time to leave.  Why would I linger longer in that cold, sad garage? In parting, I drew the man in his argyle sweater into my arms, and the two of us cried and held each other.  Then I returned to the blessing of Perry Como and my cozy car for the drive home to my Dave.