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