The holiday melancholy swings on its annual arc, bringing that nostalgia and
hints of winter’s chill. It was a whirlwind ride of 250 miles yesterday to visit family and friends. The usual suspects decked the tables with their warming scents and familiar satisfaction.
The wheel turns and carries us with it, bringing valentines and Easter eggs, fireworks, turkey legs, and stockings full of welcome mysteries. But the way that wheel speeds up as we get older…that is a thing I did not expect. Age brings that introspection and patience as the challenges of the season assault us in the grocery store and on the street. Best to step aside and let that frantic soul pass – that, the lesson age brings.
As Trooper works another long shift and the dogs sleep from their day of snacks and running around, I’ve time to remember the holidays before…of mom’s hands – not so gnarled – expertly managing every dish, the timing and logistics managed with the grace of long-experience. Each year we have the annual scorching of the crescent roll in her honor. A humorous gesture I am sure she’d laugh at, it was still a solemn moment of acquiesence. No more that bend of her head into the stuffing to sniff at the herbs and call it sufficient. She wouldn’t call again for someone to hold the heavy oven rack as she spooned more butter over the turkey’s glistening crisp skin. All these things we have taken away and made our own, trying to do as she did with as much quiet certainty.
I remember the first time I prepared the feast, taking the burden from her shoulders for a year. A rite of passage, a passing on of the rites – fold this, scald that…it was close but not the same even when it was my nose buried in the bread sack to breathe in the sacrament of sage and pepper.
And no more the walks on snowy streets after, the digestif of the pedestrian. I can recall dimly an ice skating rink of frozen corraled water over the dead grass at a park with “cheater” blades that helped not at all. And a sister, blonde and perfect, whose pom-pom’d leather boots skimmed with delicate hissing across that mysterious transparency.
Older, I remember a quick knock at a back door of a basement apartment and a mother’s confused face as she carried in a basket full of a holiday’s feast-making. She was not one for charity, the queen of Making Do. But I still remember her glistening eyes and furrowed brow – waves of anger, shame, and relief rolling one after another across it. I was too old to be concerned with such old fashioned familial concerns. I had alley assignations to attend to, and blue-crusted snow to break in a dangerous night stroll. I never really understood until much later the importance of that moment…the salvation of her duty provided by the kindness of a stranger.
So it is that a suggestion or request the other morning in a sleepy down comforter haze came with surprise, shame, and confusion…I’d given up that role and surrendered it all. Did I want to do it, in nearly the same late age as she did, so that the hands that wipe tears and pull warm rolls from an oven bear the same lines and thin skin?
Thoughts whirl, years blur, and I think on immortality. On giving more meaning to the season. And it scares me half to death.