o Christmas Tree

ChristmasChristmas tree (1) trees have always been at the center of my Decembers.  The lights and ornaments chase away the dark and gloom and essentially get me through the month until the Winter Solstice, which conveniently falls on my youngest grandson’s birthday. Then I can breathe again, knowing that the days are getting longer and we’re on the downhill side of the darkest winter days. 

I love winter for about twenty minutes and then I long for spring.

Around fifteen years ago, give or take, it dawned on me that I could no longer handle a freshly cut, or even lot cut, Christmas tree.  It was too messy, too heavy, all the too’s that said, go forth and buy and artificial tree.  At the time, I remember looking at a 7 ft. tall Christmas tree at the exorbitant cost of $79 and debating its worth.  I bought it and hauled it home where it has stood proud and well decorated, gracing the Christmas holidays.

A Christmas or two ago, my two middle grandsons — just entering their teens and sprouting like weeds — stood silently in front of my tree. Then, they turned in unison and announced with all the wisdom of 13 year olds, Grandma, when we were young, your tree seemed enormous and so tall.  But now….”

With that, a wee bit of Christmas magic simply evaporated into the pine and cinnamon scented air.

In the midst of this last move, I took a  critical look at the tree.  It was old and tired — of course, so am I — but, it was a tree and it was time.  So, the tree and I parted ways without so much as a tear.

Now, as daylight savings time is no longer and the darkness of winter has closed in all too quickly, I am in search of a new Christmas tree.  But, 15 years older, I am well aware that I can no longer lug 80 lb trees around and set them up, even if they’re artificial and look like the real thing.

My old neighbor, who is now my new neighbor in one of those ironies of moving — except she’s still much younger in years — purchased an artificial tree last year that is very beautiful.  Armed with iphone photos of the box and label, I went in search of the tree.  It looked a whole lot better in her home than the Lowe’s forest and I quickly realized that it was still going to be a challenge to set up.

Thank goodness for Goggle — how did we function pre-goggle, internet and smart phones? — and there is an encyclopedia worth of information regarding artificial Christmas trees. I narrowed down my selection and, as luck would have it, there was an artificial tree farm in the bay area in addition to their online farm.  I decided to make the three hour trek down to the farm.

Who knew there were so many choices?  Vermont, Colorado, Stratford, Norway, Blue and Red Spruces; Balsam, Frasier, Douglas Firs; Pines, Redwoods — the choices were overwhelming.  It was akin to walking down a hundred cereal aisles of the local supermarket, except this time I couldn’t just zero in on the old fashion oatmeal.

I walked up and down the rows of trees, tall trees, short trees, narrow trees, wide trees, trees with led lights, warm lights, clear lights, multi-color lights and the newest tree, the tree that rolls in on wheels and then just flips into place. It really does flip. I flipped it. A flippen’ tree.

This was not your Charlie Brown Christmas tree lot.  Far too many choices, and, no, I still haven’t made up my mind.

A Thanksgiving Turkey

turkeyIt’s amazing how we carry on traditions.  My mother hosted Thanksgiving for the extended family until, one year, she was done and the tradition was handed down to me. 

As the kids married, we tried T-Day at in-laws and out-laws, and we all agreed, it just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving.  Traditions die hard.  In short order, I got the day.  I tweaked the menu a bit, asking my son-in-law and daughter-in-law to bring their favorite dish or two from their family Thanksgivings.  Those dishes have become a part of our evolving tradition.

In addition to the meal, I also inherited the china, silver and crystal, which I used until the last few years ago when I purchased a new set of pottery that I like so much more and, even better, can be put straight into the dishwasher.  No one seems to use the finery any more, not that I ever used it much in my adult life.  But, it was an opportunity to teach my four grandsons all about forks; the oldest, my granddaughter, had already gotten that training from her other grandmother.  The boys all stepped up and, each in turn, helped train the next youngest in fork and dining etiquette. 

Not only do they know forks, they know not to eat until after Grandma’s Grace, which is what their parents call my once-a-year blessing. The grandkids know to patiently wait and remain silent while their parents provide the mocking setup for the annual event. The younger ones know full well not to mess with Grandma; Christmas is just around the corner.

Just to make certain the grandkids have the next holiday on the calendar and can start bugging their parents, each one of them gets a Christmas ornament with the slice of pumpkin pie.  Retribution is a grandmother’s prerogative. 

A few years back, I had minor hand surgery in early autumn.  The surgery went well; the recovery not so well and, in one of those small percentage glitches, the wound had a rough time healing.  It finally started to do what it was supposed to do in mid November when I went in for my weekly visit with the surgeon.

Looking good, he said. I’m assuming you do Thanksgiving.

Yep.

Not this year.

What???

The hand is still not totally healed.  You can’t do the cooking.  You can host it.

I can cook.

Nope. Not til it’s fully healed. Get the kids to help.

uh huh.

Seeing as no one answers their phones anymore, I sent a text asking for help as I was barred from the kitchen.  I could still host but the few days of intensive kitchen cooking was out.

My daughter was the first to respond. I don’t cook.

I already knew that. I raised her to stand strong and independent, which she is, except in the kitchen.  Her husband says she’d starve to death if she couldn’t find someone who could boil water.

My daughter-in-law was marginally more helpful. Whole Foods has a package deal.  We can do that.  I don’t do dishes.

My son jumped in.  We’ll bring paper plates.

This was proving to be more challenging than I thought it would be.

I texted back,  Thanksgiving. Traditions. Dishes. All that Stuff and Stuffing. Leftovers. Take out?

Silence.  Evidently, it was a take out or leave it proposition.

So I left it, sadden by the knowledge that when I can no longer handle T-Day, it might well evolve into a take out with paper plates day, given that everyone is too stressed in forty different directions to dedicate a day to family, gratitude and tradition.

In the meantime, thank goodness for the internet; there were entire websites devoted to make ahead Thanksgiving recipes.  I lined them up, and one at a time, got them done with no strain on my hand. 

And, on Thanksgiving, the kids proclaimed it was the best dinner ever. Of course they’d say that; all they had to do was show up and eat.

They still had to do the dishes. 

 

Last Exit

IMG_0226My friend Jane has a background in theater and music. Over the years she has occasionally been assigned to direct high school student musicals.  Usually, however, she hides and pretends she’s merely another English teacher, while keeping her fingers crossed that the current administrator doesn’t learn of her expertise. 

However, I think Jane is a frustrated director in need of an adult play and cast.  She’s been bugging me for years to take her concept idea for a Broadway hit and write the script.  She already has the title, Last Exit.  As soon as I started this blog, she called to remind me once again of the play.

As any of you reading these entries know, Jane and I consider ourselves sisters, part of a larger group of sisters and a decades-long friendship.  We’re pretty sure we were all family in some weird past life, and it’s always delighted me how we can simply pick up the thread of a conversation even if we haven’t been in touch for a while.

Dianne found us earrings that remind us of our sister relationship — taken from early cave dwelling artwork illustrating four women.  We wear the earrings at sister events or to lend support when it’s needed. 

I remember walking into a School Board of Trustees meeting and sitting down next to one of the principals.  Mary, one of the sisters, was presenting so of course I had on my earrings.

The principal leaned over to say hello, spotted the signature earrings and grimaced.

OK, I knew about you. I even knew about Suzanna and Peggy, but Mary? Mary? Mary is a sister too? Tell me it’s not true.

I smiled.  We’re everywhere.

He sighed. We do know about The Sisters.  If the group shows up to advocate for anything, we’ve all agreed to just let you have your way.  It’s easier.

I smiled. The administrators of twelve high schools and a central office prepared to acquiesce without debate or bloodletting. Countries should take note.

As we’ve retired, we still get together, but now we also show up en masse for illnesses or injuries, taking a day here, a meal there, a drive to the doctor’s or just visiting. We’re very fortunate to have one another.

With that kind of background woven through the fabric of our lives, Jane and I are certain it will continue until our final curtains. At least we came to that conclusion one evening over plotting, laughing ourselves silly and a bottle of something or other.  

Jane wants to make us into a smash Broadway hit, so we can all retire well above our current teacher-retirement means.  She has the plot down and most of our parts cast. I believe Jane has selected Ellen Bursten to play herself and Judi Dench to play me, which, in itself, it’s pretty darn cool. Jessica Lange, Allison Jenney, Shirley McLaine, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and Cathy Bates round out the headliners.  You really won’t want to miss it.

While not giving away the entire plot, because we will want you to purchase tickets, the play follows a group of aging sisters reflecting on their lives with lots of laughter and some tears.

The play opens with the sisters at Mimi’s grave site following her unexpected passing, which, in reality, happened almost four years ago.  We make a pact over a bottle or two of wine that when one of us is dying, the next youngest will, um, accelerate the transition — gently and with love, of course, but eliminating as much suffering, lingering and impact on the savings account as possible.

And, so it goes, one sister at time, until only the youngest — enter Helen Mirren — is left standing alone at the last grave site, waiting to face the music and police.

As she is escorted off stage by police, exiting stage right, she smiles grimly with her final words.

At least now I’ll have free room, board and medical care for the rest of my life.