With her arms crossed firmly across her chest, the plastic shower cap back in place over her hair, and her face turned away, the witch is clearly pissed off. As she sits at the foot of the attic stairs, awaiting return to her winter quarters, she refuses to make eye contact. I can’t help but smile at her indignation. She has ruled the house from her hearthside seat well into November, but my two-year-old grand-niece, Ava, is afraid of her, so it is time for her to go.
Dave and I hosted Thanksgiving and it was no place for a surly witch, but I’d so loved her new look in her fresh velvet cape and spooky gray shawl, that, while I put away all the other Halloween decorations, the witch stayed among us. Not the right choice as far as Ava was concerned.
In the week following Hurricane Sandy, Dave and I were powerless. Eight days without heat, light, or water, yet we were fortunate as we’ve heard of houses flooded or crushed by trees. And we were blessed by power-rich friends and family who offered showers, warmth, and the giddy companionship born of gathering together when storms blow.
My in-laws, Dave’s brother Steve and his wife, Debby, took us in for three evenings of potpourri dinners. Before leaving our cold, dark house, we would stand in front of the fridge. I’d hold a flashlight while trying to visualize the contents of the freezer. “Okay, I think there’s a bag of shrimp in the bottom section on the left side,” I’d say. “Quickly now!” And I opened the door while Dave made a blind grab, his hand emerging, victorious, shrimp package in hand.
It was strange to leave our dead house, travel roads littered with leftover limbs and leaves, the curbsides piled high with sawn trunks, and arrive at Steve and Deb’s bright, cozy haven.
We weren’t the only ones seeking refuge. Ava was there with her mother, Lisa, and my nephew, Trevor, as they, too, were without power. So, we made shrimp, chicken and salad and played cards with what was on hand - a pile of identical coasters. “Which card has the color green on it? Which card has an ‘X’?’’ Of course, Ava won by a landslide, identifying colors and letters and shapes like a champ, earning hoots and applause as well as a hefty pile of cards.
Eventually, the boys fetched their guitars – it is not a Sylvestro gathering without music – but we passed on the Rolling Stones and Jonathan Edwards’, our usual fare, to sing boisterous rounds of the Eensy Weensy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And after all the singing and cards and applause, Ava, who had always been shy with Dave and me, gave us kisses before going home to bed. Joy.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, however, I had many weepy moments. At this time last year, my father suffered his most terrible days, and the anniversary of his death draws near. Oh, I miss him so. I am remembering holidays past, memories gauzy with candlelight and the scent of pine, dinners at my grandmother’s, and the car rides to her house, snug in the back seat with my two sisters while Mom and Dad sat up front. Or, more recently, bundling little Tucker and Casey into blankets and car seats to make the trip to my parents’ for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s a magic time, the holidays, if one is as lucky as I have been, in having a family to kindle that aura of security and anticipation, a sense that lodges soul-deep, for a lifetime of annual re-awakening.
As Dave and I prepared for Thanksgiving, I was excited to see our house transformed, alive with all the hospitality of her 230 years emanating from burnished chestnut floorboards, glowing fireplaces, and sturdy beams. I made the mistake of inviting Witchy, of course, but still, we set out my grandmother’s silver, re-arranged the tables and chairs crafted by our dear friend Labs, brought out porcelain turkeys from Mom, and for Ava, pulled up an antique high chair from my parents’ old house in Vermont. And I realized that this is the next phase unfolding, when Dave and I are the grandparent generation, hopefully creating for Ava and what grandchildren may come, a soul impression of the holidays that will re-awaken for a lifetime.