Friday, March 20, 2020

What? No Hugs?

The days run, one into the other, and it’s hard to pinpoint when change really set in. When was the last day that felt pretty normal?  For a long stretch, the Coronavirus was a challenge for the people of China and Italy, but not for us. Hasn’t that been the way for so many things? Wildfires in Australia, mudslides in Thailand, drought in the west, blizzards, tornadoes, and earthquakes – all devastating and tragic, but mostly devastating and tragic for others.  We are learning that we were kidding ourselves; those never were losses just for others. Always, we have been in this together, but if the planet’s protests were distant, it was easy to see them as separate from us.  

Now, distance, even of the social kind, is required. When most we want to meet up at Old Post Tavern or Molto, hug each other like crazy, devour some hot pasta, and share a bottle of wine, we can’t.  Our comfort and answer to hard times has always been long-lasting hugs, beloved faces as close as we can get them, and eyes soft with empathy holding ours.  What kept us afloat in the past is now dangerous.  

A week ago, I made my first stock-up-for-real trip to the grocery store.  There was not a roll of toilet paper to be had, but oddly, I, like others, had laid in a supply a few days before, so no worries. There was plenty of food on the shelves, and the usual number of shoppers. Everyone was cheerful and friendly as we strove to maintain maximum space between us while navigating the aisles with full shopping carts. 

I ran into Cathy, Mary Ellen, and Linda, friends I don’t see often.  Shelter-in-place had not yet been urged, dinner plans with others had not been cancelled, restaurants and gyms were still open, and yet, somehow we must have sensed what was coming, for my heart filled upon seeing them. We opened our arms wide, miming an embrace from six feet apart, and said,  “It’s sooo good to see you! This is my hug!” Each encounter was similar, and the faux-hugs were funny; we hadn’t missed out on too many real ones yet. 

Last Sunday night, Dave and I took pasta, spinach, and a saucepan of (meatless) sausages and peppers to Casey and PJ’s for dinner.  When PJ met us at the door, Tallulah, the dog, scrabbled at the stoop striving to escape, and Eleanor gazed out at the driveway from PJ’s arms. When she spotted us, her face lighted, her mouth opened wide, and she clapped and said, “Yayyyyyy!” a greeting I will treasure forever. I handed PJ the grocery bag in trade for the baby.  She put her arms around me, her head on my shoulder, and kick, kick, kicked those chubby little legs. Ah, hugs!  That one was a ten!  

Casey was on her computer, processing the news that Lululemon had just announced the closure of all stores. For her, this was sobering, as she’d opened her new, twice-the-square-footage, store three days before. Given the situation, I was relieved, not wanting my daughter exposed to the virus in the course of a day selling yoga-wear.  We had a tasty dinner while watching “Outbreak,” Casey’s choice. I consider myself lucky she hadn’t selected “Night of the Living Dead,” although that, too, was among the “Masochists’ Delight” listed in the Boston Sunday Globe. 

Did we hug PJ and Casey good-bye when we parted that night?  I think we did. How long will the sense of those hugs have to last?

Tucker, Lisa, Paul, and Lexi came to visit two weeks ago, so we had snuggles in abundance then. We’ve chatted via FaceTime twice in the interim as they work from home with the kids buzzing about. 

Four-year-old Paul is newly captivated by the word “poopy” and is generous in its application. Lexi, at 17 months, wants to hold the phone. So, the phone spins in its travels as Tucker strives to right it, and Lexi makes her moves. We see the ceiling, Lexi’s grin, Tucker’s thumb, and Paul’s sparkling eyes as he answers our questions about his day with a jubilant, “Poopy!”

Several times, Dave has participated in staff meetings on ZOOM, like Google-Hangouts, an extraordinary tool that will be the saving grace of businesses and relationships during our Coronavirus isolation. During his first practice session, I snuck a peek at his computer to see the beloved faces of my former colleagues ranged in tiny boxes around the screen, each waving at me from the security of their homes. Again, my heart surged to see them.  “Look at you!  It’s so good to see you!” I crowed, and oh, how I felt it. Hugs are out of the question, but even visuals are a boost. 

For a few weeks, Casey has been texting me, “Mom. I’m worried about you and Dad.  You have to take this seriously. You are in the vulnerable age range.” Her concern is dear, and I’ve assured her, “Dad and I are great. We’re healthier than a lot of people younger than us. Don’t worry.” When dire reports of danger to the elderly emerged, my mind went to Dave’s 95-year-old mother. Certainly they don’t mean us… 

But, they do. Two nights ago on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper seemed almost teary as he spoke of his forty-year-old friend who has the virus, as well as his concern for his 80-year-old father.  Tapper shed his role as a newsman for a moment as he made an emotional plea for social distancing. He was critical of youthful revelers in Florida who were still packing beaches and bars, and said something like, “Who the hell do you think you are?  You might think you’re safe because of your youth, but think of older members of your family.”

Dave was solemn when he turned off the TV. “That was unnerving,” he said. “I think I’ll skip the news for a while.” 

So, we’re hunkered down at home and choosing movies over news. Have you seen “Knives Out”? So fun! Watch it on Netflix!

We live in the woods, so we can go for walks, and wave at our neighbors. Dave loves to cook and we’ve been eating well: asparagus and mushrooms in a lemon-wine sauce over pasta; roasted salmon, mashed potatoes, and spinach, with plenty of leftovers for lunch. Dave’s baking his bread, so our breakfast routine is unchanged: Dave’s toast, butter, jelly, and coffee. This afternoon, I might make a chocolate chip yogurt cake. 

Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed a lot of phone visits. I have projects to do, an attic and basement to clean, essays to write, and that cake to bake, but given the uncertainty and suppressed worry, connection has been my comfort. Long chats, emails, and texts have filled the days: with my mother-stand-in, Mom’s friend, Beverly; my sisters, aunts, cousins, and in-laws; my friends from work and friends I’ve loved from kindergarten through college. Many I haven’t hugged in years, but it’s important now to make contact. 

Next to my senior year picture in the 1971 Farmington yearbook, reflective young girl that I was, I chose Joni Mitchell’s lyric as my quote, “Don’t it always seem to go you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” At the time, my nostalgia was about friends and the school; never would I have imagined what we’re currently facing, that hugs would be denied me. 

Virtual hugs to you all! Stay safe!

Thursday, March 5, 2020


In the final week of December, 1999, I ignored Dave’s reassurances and light teasing as I stocked a carton with canned goods, bottled water, toilet paper, soap, changes of clothes, and a hand-cranked flashlight and radio. Oh yes, and sleeping bags and a can-opener.  While the year 2000 did not turn out to be the crisis some Y-2K enthusiasts anticipated, I did not want to be caught shivering and cowering in our primitive 1700’s-era basement with only a rack full of past-potable wine to sustain us. As cases of Coronavirus are reported in the U.S., the situation is reminiscent. How to tread the line between science, sense, and alarming all-caps headlines?  

A recent online article reflecting exactly that quandary listed a number of tips.  Top of the list was “DON’T PANIC.” So helpful. Others were more so, advising that one purchase extra tissues, toilet paper, and alcohol based cleansers; make sure all necessary medications are up to date; keep one's hands away from one's face; and above all, “WASH HANDS REGULARLY.” 

As I rule, I’m a moderate hand-washer. I wash when you hope I would, but not before every meal, and not every time I come home from an outing. Plus, I gather from the article, that I’m doing it all wrong anyway.  Do I always use warm water?  Do I rub between every finger?  Do I scrub for 30 seconds? No. To all three. 

My kids are far more diligent about this, especially with their little ones. “Mom, did you wash Eleanor’s hands when you brought her home from daycare?” Casey will say, knowing how often I forget that. My son, Tucker, and his wife, too, march their kids into the bathroom first thing after school for a good hand-wash. Mind you, they travel the T in Boston to get home, then up escalators with railings any child, grandmother, or Coronavirus carrier would trail their hands along. So a good scrub at home is probably wise.

Even though his mother is lax about hand-washing, Tucker took it seriously from the time he was small. As a result, his hands were often chapped, so at night, I’d lather them with Vaseline and encase them in socks. It was adorable, actually, those dear little paw-like mitts. “Do you think we should sock my hands tonight, Mom?” he’d ask. 

Now that we have the next generation of precious children in our lives, I worry more about… everything. I want them to be happy and safe. I want them to inherit a peaceful, healthy planet still inhabited (at a distance) by free-roaming elephants, wolves, rhinos, and gorillas.   And I want them to be well. So I pay attention to those headlines… and wonder if the kids should wear masks. 

I’m sort of kidding about that, and every local store has run out of them anyway.  Others are clearly ahead of me on this, and calm preparation is not a bad idea. So a few days ago, I reviewed the tips in the article, added some items to the existing grocery list, and went to Shop-Rite and CVS to stock up, I mean, shop.

Everyone out and about seemed particularly friendly.  We held doors for each other, smiled a lot, and cheerfully said “Excuse me,” should we brush an elbow or bump a cart.  It felt as if we were all quietly doing the same thing, reaching for alcohol-based cleaners – which seemed to be running low – and doing this whole “Don’t mind me: I’m just a little black rain cloud” Pooh-bear routine as we casually inched toward the Purell.

Except, there was no Purell. Not at CVS and not at Shop-Rite. Hm.

Did I race off in search to Stop & Shop or the CVS branch two blocks down the road?  No. Truth is, I was running a little late to pick up Eleanor at daycare and didn’t really have time, and I have a new bottle of rubbing alcohol at home that I figured would work just as well.

And I can always run down to Stop & Shop tomorrow if need be….    

P.S.: I DID remember to wash the baby’s hands after daycare that afternoon.

P.P.S.: That carton of Y-2K provisions is still in the basement along with the same bottles of wine-turned-vinegar.  So, we’re good if we suddenly need to hunker down

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Winter Tree

It’s February, and we just took down our Christmas tree. I’d begun to feel sheepish about it’s lengthy tenure, but every evening, when early night shuttered the world beyond our windows, we’d turn on the tree lights, and their glow banished the season’s bleak darkness. 

“We should take it down,” I started saying in mid-January. 

“Not yet,” Dave would say as he looked gratefully toward the tree beaming in the corner. “I’m not ready.”

I wasn’t either, but somehow it felt slovenly to hold onto Christmas for so long. 

We were late, for us, in getting it up in the first place.  A storm had encased twigs and branches in ice and we’d hoped for a thaw before heading to Maple Row Farm to choose and cut a tree.  This was the one week of winter that held the cold, however, so our boots crunched over frozen grasses, and light glanced off brittle ice trees by the time we walked into the farm fields. 

We thought the cold would limit our usual meandering hunt, that we’d be willing to settle for the gaps between branches or lack of aroma that usually eliminate contenders. But no. We trudged up the hills, to the edges of the rows, stopping to mull over each other’s finds, diplomatically taking a pass, and continuing on.

Finally, the tree was selected and lugged, heavy with the weight of its icy coat, to the side of the trail for pick-up by a tractor.  When eventually we loaded it onto our car, the farm hand who helped us said, “be sure it thaws before you bring it into the house, otherwise the warm air will shock it and it’ll drop its needles.”

A fortuitous caution: we hadn’t thought of that.  This meant an added delay in putting it up, so we were entitled to enjoy it for all those extra weeks. Plus, our 14-months-old granddaughter, Eleanor, loved it. Whenever she came to visit, she immediately looked to the corner, pointed at the tree, and if the lights weren’t on, pointed at the switch. Then we would stand, the baby in my arms or Dave’s, our faces bright against the green pine, as she reached for her favorite ornaments.

I’d unhook each one from its branch, and Eleanor would stroke the fur of the tiny fuzzy fox, marvel at the sparkles on the delicate glass balls, and clamor to hold felt angels and Santas. She never seemed to develop the affection that Dave and I have for the cardboard toilet-paper-roll angel that Tucker made in 1985 that graces the treetop every year, but she was fascinated, of course, by the fragile glass icicles and longed to clutch them. 

I wonder what she’ll think when she arrives on Saturday and the tree, by now a familiar fixture, is gone.

Last week, our daughter-in-law, Lisa, called from Boston with little Paul and Lexi to FaceTime. We showed the kids the tree, and I said, “You know, it’s not really a Christmas tree anymore; it’s a Winter Tree.” Paul remembers everything, and I know the name will resurface when next year’s tree stands firm in that corner in February.  

The tree stopped taking water about two weeks ago.  We’d add a little periodically, just in case it was thirsty, but we’ve made the mistake in the past of keeping the tray filled and dealing with a mess when the time came to cart the tree out. This year, the mess wasn’t about water, but pine needles. For the past few days, without any hint of air currents or someone brushing by, the tree would release a shower of needles, their descent an audible pffffttttt as they flowed through their brethren to the quilt encircling the base. This morning, a number of branches were totally bare, and the needles on the floor were inches deep. I could have started a business making those little pine souvenir pillows they sell in Vermont gift stores.   

As Dave and I gingerly plucked off ornaments and unstrung the lights, more needles, the tenacious survivors, sprinkled on our shoulders and sleeves. Long gone as it was, still the tree treated me to a waft of balsam-sweet scent as I gripped the trunk and lifted it when Dave freed it from the metal stand.

We maneuvered it past the piano and out the door to the screened porch and then the yard, leaving a green scattered path all the way. As I do every year, I was a little teary as I said good-bye and whispered, “Thank you. You were beautiful.”     

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dave's Bread

Every few weeks, Dave gets out an enormous antique white porcelain bowl. He scoops in grits, corn meal, oatmeal, and teff, then pours in boiling potato water.  He doesn’t measure anything. He lets this brown watery soup sit for a while, then adds warmed honey, heated beer, milk, yeast, and a mix of flours. Finally he blends them, stirring laboriously with a large wooden spoon. The batter is then left to rise, occasionally puffing over the sides of the bowl onto the counter. 

Dave has always enjoyed making bread, but it became a loving, healing compulsion when I started chemo ten years ago. 

On matters of diet, my oncologist was firm: no whites. No white flour, no white rice, no white sugar, no white potatoes. I live on bread and pasta, and mashed potatoes are my absolute favorite, so this was grim news. Chemo steals appetite and perverts taste, so finding foods I could eat, much less enjoy, was going to be a challenge. Dave, my dearest Dave, pursued that challenge at every meal.   

I loved the English muffin bread Dave baked periodically, but white flour was the primary ingredient, so he upended the recipe, substituting oatmeal, quinoa, amaranth, and rye flours for that forbidden white.  The combinations varied with every baking, as did the addition of corn meal, beer, honey or molasses. Always, the kitchen filled with an aroma that conveyed health, caring, and coziness. The result was darker than the original, made to be toasted, tasty on its own, and delicious with butter, jam, or honey.  (I know, you’re reading this and dying for a slice right now.)  

Ever since, we’ve begun each day with coffee and two slices of toast. Also since then, friends have gotten frightening diagnoses or lost loved ones.  What does one do in the face of illness, fear, and sorrow? 

Dave bakes, and gives bread. As a result, his batches have increased, as has the frequency of baking. He loves the robust mixing and miraculous rise, and we both love the comfort of an oven radiating warmth and heavenly smells, as well as the thought of the pleasure those loaves might bring. 

Love is always life’s most necessary ingredient, now more than ever it seems. A piece or two of Dave’s hot, buttered toast is like adding a heart and body-sustaining hug. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

What Future for Them?

When we call our son for a phone visit, he and 4-year-old Paul are watching “Cars 2.” 

“Can you say ‘hi’ to Lealea and Tato?’” asks Tucker.

A dear little voice complies with a greeting, but, when Tucker suggests pausing the video to talk to us, not surprisingly, Paul declines.  My son, however, is willing to miss out on the action; the movie is one of Paul’s favorites, so it’s had plenty of screen time.

While we chat, in the background, Paul says something about Lightning McQueen, the snappy red racecar hero of the movie. I can picture my son snuggled up with his boy on the soft gray sofa in their living room, Lightning large on the TV before them. I want their lives to remain healthy, safe, and happy, as comfortable and normal as this afternoon on the couch. 

But to me right now, normalcy seems suspended.  

The impeachment hearings have not haunted my kids and their spouses, any more than Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair haunted me when Tucker and Casey were little. As I was then, my kids are worried about their little one’s colds, Eleanor’s double ear infection, Paul’s happiness at school, Lexi’s propensity (and astonishing ability) for destroying the sturdy board books that survived Paul’s babyhood.  Just keeping their toddlers safe at this age is a challenge. And at the end of a work day, getting the kids fed and to bed leaves little energy to rail at Mitch McConnell’s collaboration with the White House, the GOP Senators’ betrayal of their oaths to the Constitution and before God, and the strategic distractions of the defense team lawyers.

So agonize on their behalf.  What will reverse the heightened crumbling of democracy, social justice, tolerance, alliances, and the planet’s systems under this administration? 

My incomprehension and anguish are entwined. Many of the GOP Senators who voted to acquit the president were born within a decade on either side of me. They experienced the sixties and seventies too, the revulsion to war, the surge in social movements and environmentalism, the reverence for this miraculous planet and its workings. We understood that stewardship, not dominion, was our role. As I did, these senators must have worn tie-dye and bell bottoms and sung ‘”The Age of Aquarius,” with its yearning for “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding.” 

What became of that idealism and the hopeful future it promised to shape? 

When the hearings began, I knew, as everyone else did, that Trump would be acquitted.  This was not a surprise. So, why am I so furious and unnerved? 

 - Because I listened to Chaplain Barry Black open the fourth day of Senate hearings with the prayer, “Eternal Lord God, You have summarized ethical behavior in a single sentence, ‘Do for others what you would like them to do for you.’ Remind our Senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct. Lord, help them remember that they can’t ignore you and get away with it, for we always reap what we sow.”

 - Because I heard Adam Schiff quote Alexander Hamilton in describing the rogue president the impeachment clause was designed to guard against:

 “When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper . . . despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"

 - Because, having watched much of the House hearings and testimony, I heard the House Managers provide credible evidence of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

 - Because I heard the House Managers outline the repercussions of acquittal as this president perceives himself vindicated, and, freed of the threat of impeachment, is emboldened, unfettered by honor, facts, or moral behavior. 

 - Because I read Republican Lamar Alexander’s statement, “There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven,” and yet conclude that compromising national security by pressuring a foreign power to influence an election and obstructing a Congressional investigation were merely “inappropriate.”

Is it possible the Republican Senators were unmoved by all that, or didn’t believe it? I don’t think so, and that’s what sickens me. At our peril and that of democracy, they chose their ambitions and loyalty to Trump over country.

So, I worry for Paul, Lexi, and Eleanor.  For Hazel, Miles, and Charlie.  For Ava, Taylor, and Mariela. For Lily, Maddie, and Mia. I pray that in casting a vote in November, Republicans and Democrats alike consider, not just their own present, but the future their little ones will inherit.    

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Frustration, Fury, Fear... and Hope

Greed-driven policy enabled by power, ignorance, and ambition is dangerous to us all.  When Mr. Trump leaves the White House and returns to his chosen career in development, he will have – literally – cleared the way for his projects. 

Trees and plants once protected by the National Environmental Policy Act will be flattened. Impervious surfaces once limited by regulations will pave greater swaths of land. Wetlands that collected and absorbed storm water will be filled. As homeowners and townspeople around the world grieve while flood waters surge, unchecked, through their streets, towns, and houses (unless they live in a zone consumed by flames) the president is seeking to diminish the very systems Earth has in place to minimize disaster. When discussions with Trump supporters invariably turn to their satisfaction with the economy, I want to scream, but what about our grandchildren? What about our fellow creatures?  What about the PLANET?

What to do?  What to do?  What to do when scientific evidence, extreme weather, and the president’s bullying, incompetent, childish actions and words are ignored? When honor and dignity, endangered species, immigrant children and families, treaties, alliances, and hope for peace are sacrificed?

You march. 

So, on Saturday, Dave and I took the train to New York for the closest massive group hug and support system around, the Women’s March. We bundled up in multiple layers, the coziest of socks, sweaters, and coats.  Of course, I wore my pink pussy hat, my talisman, uniform, and sign of solidarity. 

The soft-white skies promised snow, and the thermometer read 24 when we left the house, but we never felt the cold as we joined the thousands gathered in Columbus Circle. With cries of “Shame!” we admonished the local structures that symbolized this administration’s hold on our country: Trump Hotel and the FOX News building. A drum corps roused us to exuberant dancing while we chanted, “Tell me what democracy looks like!  THIS is what democracy looks like!” It was a raucous sea united in anger and worry, but also, in a belief in equality, justice, love of the planet, and hopefully, in a broad sense, love of each other.  

Right on time, 1:00 PM, a light snow began to fall, a benediction of white confetti, swirling from the heavens, dusting shoulders, scarves, banners, and pussy hats. Men and women of every age and color brandished signs reflecting my own frustration, fury, and fears, yet the vehemence, energy, and optimism of the young gave me hope as they held high their declarations: “Respect Earth” “Not my America!” “If you build a wall, my generation will knock it down,” and “Little girls with dreams become women with vision.”

As Trump careens forward, blundering into increased hostilities with Iran and trashing decades of alliances and environmental protections, I (correctly accused of being a bleeding heart liberal) am stymied by loyalty to labels. What could be more conservative than demanding clean air and clean water? What could be more Christian than compassion toward others? What could be more universal than the wish for a nonviolent future and healthy planet for our grandchildren? How can voting for a party mean more than these? 

The Senate impeachment hearings are underway, and my prayer is that the senators will be humbled by the solemnity of their duty. That they will assume the mantle of responsibility, honor their oath before God to be impartial jurors, call witnesses, and consider the testimony presented. As one sign at the March entreated, “Silence now is not a privilege… it is a betrayal. Listen. Be brave. Speak out.” 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Walking Home Together

My email inbox is a daily delete extravaganza. I’ve signed countless petitions since the 2016 election thus granting email access to every hopeful Democrat running for office in every state; and every climate, immigration, animal rights, and environmental organization striving to keep me apprised, active, and donating.  So, I click, click, click… delete.  Click, click, click… delete, stopping occasionally to sign another petition or make a small donation.  Yes!  I know! I’m only encouraging them, but our times are dire, and I can’t totally check out. 

As a result, I’m impatient with emails; I just want to get through them.  Sheepishly I confess that when I get animated cards, I often “click to the end.” What a sad metaphor for life.  I can’t even take a few minutes to watch sweet lovebirds string ribbons into a heart on a Valentine’s Day card?  To watch buds sprout and daffodils bloom on Mother’s Day?  To watch deer and squirrels gather beneath reddening oaks at Thanksgiving?  How many smiles have I sacrificed to more quickly empty my inbox?     

True to form, when in early December, my Farmington friend, Whip, sent me and Jen, my junior year roommate, the Jacquie Lawson Cotswolds Advent calendar, I thought I’ll take a quick peek and move on. Wisely, Whip sent a heads-up text first, with an added, “BTW, in your ‘Cotswold home,’ click on the various objects for games – and every day you can click on the bookcase to read a little about the theme for that day.”

Bookcase?  Games?  My Cotswold home?   Hm. Still. I wanted to zip through emails and get back to my To-Do list. I clicked on the link, followed instructions, and the calendar opened… with music, a horse-drawn cart clopping down the street, and a gentle snow fall.

Ohhhhhh.  Something pinched and rushed eased inside me as, using the slide bars on the side and top of the computer screen, I “strolled” through the village past cottages with leaded windows and peaked dormers mounded with snow.  I followed a nice couple over a stone bridge and gazed at the Christmas tree on the other side of the river. Chudleigh’s Tavern beckoned from a side street. It looked like my kind of place: I’d like to grab Dave for a beer and glass of wine there sometime soon.  

When given the option to “decorate” a woodland tree, I chose from an array of ornaments to drag and drop in the boughs of a bushy pine.  I clicked on my garland of choice and tried to drag it to the tree, but it wouldn’t move. I tried again, nothing. Suddenly, the tree lit up… and shimmered.  It was beautiful,and the surge of elation filling my chest took me by surprise.  If that weren’t enough, when I clicked the blue star to go into “my house,” my tree was there in the corner, exactly as I’d decorated it. 

With clicks, I lit the candles on the mantle and set the fire ablaze. Two kittens curled in a snug nest by the fire, and a friendly dog lying near the sofa lifted his head and looked at me. I was flooded with giddy wonder.  I felt like… like I did when I was 8, opening the tiny door of an advent calendar, yearning for Christmas to hurry up and get here, a feeling I hadn’t had in decades.  I had to share this with others, so I went to Jacquie Lawson’s website and sent off calendars to a few friends, my daughter, and daughter-in-law. 

Soon, Casey texted, “So fun! I JUST WRAPPED PRESENTS!”  How delighted she’ll be when she sees her wrapped gifts under the tree in “her house.” 

When Carey opened her calendar, she wrote, at 2:00 AM, that she was getting a kick out of coordinating fireworks with classical Christmas music. No doubt, given my post-menopause affliction, I was also awake at 2:00 AM, but not looking at my calendar.  So the next morning, I was fascinated when I saw her message.  Fireworks? I pulled up the calendar and clicked like crazy, but again, nothing. Clearly I don’t have instinctive computer skills. 

“How did you activate the fireworks?” I texted. 

“I’m not sure,” she responded. “Maybe they only happen at night?  Am I right that the calendar has day and night?” 

Whoa. Day and night? I want to write Jacquie Lawson a thank you note and applaud her brilliant creativity.  

Once darkness fell, I whipped out my computer, and opened the Cotswold scene.  The sky had darkened since I checked in earlier that day, and a silvery light bathed the village.  The calendar moon was in the same phase as the moon rising beyond the barn across our street. Amazing. I clicked on the sky and boom!  A bloom of red lights! Click.  Boom! Green!  Click. Boom!  White!

I emailed Whip.  “Did you know about the fireworks?  Only at night.  Click the sky!”

Forty-five years ago, Jen, Whip and I lived in the same dorm and were close as sisters. After we graduated, we went to different colleges.  We wrote letters for a while, then our correspondence petered away to Christmas cards. Eventually, I dropped that too. About seven years ago, Meredith, the third in a junior year three-room with Jen and me, coordinated with Jen to plan a mini-reunion. Meredith has lived in France for decades, returning to the US in the summer. She is tenacious about traditions and friendships: she does not let them slide. That summer gathering has become an annual event, renewing friendships long dormant, bringing Whip, Jen, and Meredith back, actively, into my life.  
                     L to R: Andy, Meredith, Lea, Maurita, Vickie, Whip, Jen, 1971

Turned out Whip, the Giver-of-Cotswold-Joy, did not know about the fireworks. She passed the discovery on to Jen who looked forward to trying it later, noting that she was addicted to the calendar’s Solitaire game. Whip confessed to a similar compulsion, but added, “I shouldn’t be playing. I don’t have time to get addicted – work and Xmas stuff, plus my mom just got home from rehab, etc.”

Jen texted, “Hope your mom is okay.  Rehab?”

“Mom was in the hospital, and then was so weak she was in rehab for 3 weeks getting her strength back. Now she’s home, but too scared to get out of bed for fear she’ll fall.”  And she added, “Lea, I’m sure you’re remembering your wonderful mom with love this Christmas, and missing her a lot.” 

Jen texted, “I was just saying to someone the other day that getting old is REALLY hard… [My mother] absolutely refuses to use a cane or walker, though she is afraid of falling too. So she ‘furniture walks’ and is not nearly as active as she could be.”

By the time I checked my phone, the threads were long, a mix of calendar high points with a comforting purge of common worries and frustrations. Whip’s mother had become grouchy with age, adding to the difficulty of caring for her. Jen commiserated, “Sorry Whip!  I know how tough this is. I pray I’ll always be nice to my daughters.“

Late to the exchange, I chimed in,  “Hi! First, the happy thing… the calendar! Even on this rainy day, I woke up thinking Ooooo!  What will today hold? Last night I was able to click on the darting elf – a moment of triumph! – and he did a little wiggle dance! And the fireworks were such a discovery… how lovely to “walk” thru the village in the moonlight!  Thank you Whip!  Such fun!

“As to aging, Dave’s Aunt Cam, who was feisty and vibrant ‘til she died at 94 (her friend came to pick her up for Bingo and found her dressed and ready, but dead… THAT’s the way to go) Anyway, she always said to me, ‘Lea, do yourself a favor and don’t get old.’” 

Whip answered, “Aging is truly terrifying… I’m so grateful for my daughters, and hope I’m decent to them when I’m elderly. I didn’t know the elf did a dance when you click on him! I’ll try that!” 

“Age truly, is not for sissies,” I replied.  “Now I recognize how much courage it takes to age gracefully.  And re. the elf, not sure if it’s related, but when I clicked on the stockings, 2 little guys popped out and the elf ran thru soon after.  Hopefully we know more than our parents did about diet, exercise, and involvement in people and causes beyond ourselves.” 

As if on cue, Jen picked up the thread having returned from Pilates.  “I am SO grateful for my friends, more than ever in past years. I guess it’s partly age and partly circumstances that have really made me think about priorities. Now I’m going to get my calendar back up and try to find that elf!” 

Believe me, the elf is not easy to catch. But I loved the weird, wonderful weaving of calendar magic and… friendship magic; the comfort of facing life’s phases with women who have known me, and each other, for decades and decades. As teenagers, boys and schoolwork consumed our conversations, now, health, parents, kids, grandkids, and politics absorb us. Crazy. 

My favorite quote – a plea in today’s fractious times! – is that we are all here to walk each other home. The holiday season is expansive in its means to help us do that, through the spirit of giving, the smiles of strangers, the pull of home, the poignancy of memories, years-long bonds, and even shared glee over a Cotswold calendar. 

                                L to R: Whip, Meredith, Lea, Jen, Fall 1970

                                   L to R: Meredith, Jen, Whip, summer 2019
                                               (You all know what I look like!)