Saturday, December 18, 2010
The real deal, if there ever was a real deal about telling the truth and there isn't one that I know of, but my father invented Christmas. Straight up stuff, he did. Two trees would be decorated, one in the front window and a second in the family room in the basement. A wreath on the front door, ribbons and bough would be festooned on the mantle, plates of cookies, and candies and nuts& chocolates would be decked on the dining table and a pot of cider laced with cinnamon and orange peel simmering on the stove. Orchestral Christmas music on the stereo. He would always wait in the front room for everyone to arrive. His sister, Aunt Helen, was already there when we pulled up. So was my sister and her husband and their two young boys. I guess it will be hard to see that house this year after remembering how all the arrivals then were treated then, how the house looked then. Mom is in a nursing home now, the house mostly empty, the dishes are gone, the closets are bare and all the Christmas ornaments sit like bones in a pile of boxes in the old family room but back then all those bones were fresh, promises and love, and Dad, if he truly did not invent Christmas, was one of it's foremost practitioners, adherents, and the family room with the adjoining kitchenette was where he strategized it, directed it and admired it. Dad, I believe, thought of Christmas as one big nest of family and he would decorate as a way of welcoming all back, his only real wish for Christmas.
The afternoon was creeping easily into darkness when my young brother, all six foot eight of him, the rumble of his deep canyon voice of him, the sack full of unwrapped presents of him, arrived. John eschewed wrapping presents, or would wrap them in old newspaper---"don't waste trees". John's presents were always things like jars of honey and herbal teas or hand carved walking sticks, wild bird seed, home made beer or mead or wine.... it was a goodness he never learned to knit or there would have been wild hats and scarves, too. He would bring himself into a room and immediately the room would become small and then he would laugh and smile and like the magic only a giant heart can produce, the room would expand three times it's walls. The Hunter, though, my older brother, and his wife had still not arrived from the Cities and, with a dread, I began to wonder if they would.
Dad's eyes showed the pain he felt when he finally said we would save some diner, but the rest of us should eat. Even as he spoke I could see him look to the front window for that last set of headlights, that last piece of his nest. We all knew his heart was sinking, the old man's, and that he couldn't really shake off what had taken place three weeks earlier, that this year would not be Christmas as usual no matter how much he tried to make it so.
Dinner ended, the dishes cleaned and still no headlights in the drive and the old man's eyes, with a last glance out the window, looked at me for help. "He'll be here," I said, " Let's go open some presents before the little guys get tired." We opened family presents on Christmas Eve, Santa brings more in the morning. And we went to Christmas in the family room.
My older brother had always been my father's favorite despite all his efforts not to have favorites. Chuck tramped the woods that my father, with his polio afflicted leg, never could. Who fished, canoed, camped, traveled. Older brother got married young, at twenty, and provided most of his and his wife's food by hunting and fishing. I remember the stories.... how he would take to the woods after his college classes for white bass or deer or rabbit. It was a passion that never left the Hunter. Even when he turned into a Big Biz executive,,, the hunting and fishing were still a big part of his life. Dad thought that was the stuff and that Christmas he eyes kept looking toward the window in the basement that looked out to the drive. for the headlights that should have been there long ago.
Now, all these years later, I have never been able to produce a Christmas with all the trimmings like my father did. I tried and I guess when my kids were young I pulled it off pretty good, but what happened that year has always rather prevented me from really getting into the 'Spirit' as it were, and even as I write this now, that year still chills me.
Here is how it went.
We opened the presents. And waited. Cheryl and I announce our engagement and it was good. Despite my brother not being there we brought in a little cheer. My sister and her husband took their boys home as the hour grew later. Aunt Helen retired. John went off to see his old HS buddy Gus. Cheryl and I kept vigil for the headlights which, finally, at about 10pm did arrive. The Hunter had come home. But without his wife. His son was not with him either, but we knew Nicholas would not be along this year.... we had buried him in the cemetery south of town just three weeks previous.
I have to break this off. I need to take a walk.
Friday, December 17, 2010
They say you are what you eat in which case I am a bizarre combination of potatoes, peanut butter, chicken cordon bleu, hamburger helper, Cajun meatloaf, Oreos, smoked oysters, extra sharp Cheddar, ham hocks and beans, cornflakes, eggs benedict, bouillabaisse, brie, bratwurst, and whatever else is expedient at any moment I am hungry and have neither the ambition to cook nor time and enthusiasm. I truly do not want to be what I eat. And I have always been suspicious of that whimsical designation of ‘they’. I have met enough of them. I could say that I am what I breathe, but that would be Marlboro’s and whatever pot I can find.. Again, just like eating, breathing is an expediency that I tolerate merely because, when you think about it, it is more a reflex than a choice..
Ralph, when I could still afford to see him and before he retired, would ask me about my dreams. I would never talk about them and that was the cool thing about Ralph that when I would just shake my head and snicker a bit, and call him an asshole, is that he would just smile and never push the issue. I guess he was satisfied that he made me think about them, even if I would not talk about them, but the truth is that I remembered the nightmares more than I remembered any dreams, which I always separated, you know, A dream being where you want to be and a nightmare is where you have been or a place you do not want to go to. Sometimes those sessions with Ralph would piss me off so much that I would immediately head to the store and get a couple of cans of sardines in mustard sauce and a couple of packs of cigarettes, some Ritz crackers and some cheap beer, thus ensuring nightmares. Ralph would piss me off… but he would also stock me up with free Prozac from samples he would get, he knew I was on a tight budget. I think he also knew that Prozac and sardines produce great nightmares and that wrestling with nightmares beats titling at windmills. I miss Ralph
So I cannot be what I eat, that is mostly crap, and I cannot be what I breathe, that being mostly toxic,, and what I dream is nonexistent and the nightmares have become merely friends I drink with, chumps that never buy a round, so I am stuck with what I write and they, there they are again, say that you should write what you know
Lately… that is nothing. No, that is incorrect. It is a bunch of scrawls in tablets and notepads. Sentence fragments…mostly, but occasionally whole paragraphs. But I do have something. That I haven't written.... that slaps me in the face every Christmas. Maybe I will get to it this year. It is a story 27 years old. I've breathed it, ate it, dreamt it.... it is what I know. Maybe tomorrow.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Only four days till film-maker/boy genius/ comes home from Portland.
He's already told me how "little" time he will have to spend with me and the family...... there are all his adoring friends he must must must hang out with.
On a positive note.... and remembering what his college apartment looked like.... I am rather relieved that he be staying at his moms.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Are you -- Nobody -- Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise -- you know!
How dreary -- to be -- Somebody!
How public -- like a Frog --
To tell one's name -- the livelong June --
To an admiring Bog!
just feeling oblique. I need a haircut and a beer.... and while it is too early for the later... and overdue for the former,.............
Monday, December 13, 2010
But the real deal is, Her&I, have a great divorce.
We had been 'together a long time....I am six years older and I met her when she was 17. Sounds funny, huh? She had graduated from HS a semester early and I met her in my taxi when she would get late night rides home from her waitress job and I would see her in the college bars...gees how was I to know? After awhile she would call for my cab specifically and bring me onion rings and hamburgers for the ride. Now that is love. So we dated for a few years and when she was in need of a room mate for her last year of college I just told her to move in with me. I paid the rent and bills and she bought groceries. And three years after that we were married. And then we had two children. It was good stuff. Nice even. I mean, there is more to all of that, but who wants to hear?
The whole thing fell apart a few years after children. By then she had a Masters Degree in what I call "Teaching Highly Fucked-Up People" and was working in a Wisconsin DOC facility. Working with sex offenders. Really really nasty people. Maybe beyond nasty. "Really-Truly-Extremely-Fucked-Up-People. Enough that you just can't leave all your emotions at work and bringing those emotions home wasn't working out with me. Well... again, who wants to hear all that shit.
So it wasn't working. And seeing as I had better health insurance and no one was "seeing" anyone else...we didn't get a divorce until about five years after the separation. The real deal, though, is that after a bad initial six months.... we reconciled just enough to decide, collectively, that we would raise two children not ripped apart by adults. And it WORKED!
Well.... mostly worked. He still hasn't a clue about getting a decent haircut..... and she runs on her own clock.....MT...Miriam Time...which can be irritating, but we have never had problems with them. Or never anything beyond the "Ward&June" kind of problems. Like yesterday.
See, Miriam had already called me saturday nigh to say she was snowed in just off campus at a friend's house, car was stuck. "Stay there, " I said, "we'll worry about it in the morning. It was already 9pm and there was no way to deal with it at night, it was a blizzard.
Her Mom calls me sunday morning. "Miriam is stuck." Well, I told her I already knew and we arranged to go pull her out. Three is better than two when pulling cars out of snow. I found the tow rope, grabbed a shovel and the Ex and I went off to digg the Kid out.
Well, by the time we got there the Kid's car is plowed in under about four feet of snow. The Ex starts shoveling the front, and I am working on the side and the Kid is sweeping off the windows and crawling in to start the thing. It really wasn't that bad; in about an hour, we are out. For about 5 minutes. See, I told the Kid I would drive her car, cause I am really really good about driving in snow, so it only took me 5 minutes to slip across the street and plow into a snow bank. Well, by pre-arrangement, I told the Ex we would meet her at this Fast Food joint that I had noticed DID have a plowed drive. So the EX is gone, the Kid and I start digging out again... with the help of some really cool passers-by. Twenty minutes later... out again. Five minutes later, on the way to the Fast Food joint, the Kid and I notice a college girl stuck on a side street, spinning tires, totally mired. The Kid looks at me and I knew we were going to push THAT car out, too. And we did. I can't begin to tell you how happy I am by this time.... especially since the Ex does not have a cell and we really don't know where she is. And where SHE is... is stuck about a block away from the Fast Food joint.... but we don't know and are sitting at said grease trap place wondering what we are going to do now. Which thankfully took only ten minutes until the EX pulled in... having some passer-bys ( is it Passers-by or Passer-bys?) push her out.
Well.... by now I am in a crabby mood, very cold, very wet, and feeling ugly (on top of just LOOKING ugly)..... and am in no way mood enhanced when the EX starts laughing at me. But she buys the coffe and the three of us just sit a bit and talk. About the Holidays. Her brother is coming home in ten days and all four of us are getting together for the Un-Family Christmas.
See.... the deal is, The Ex and I worked very hard not making the kids victims, too. Through the last 15 years we always made sure that the kids came first.... PTA, football, soccer games, violin recitals, plays, it didn't matter, we could still go to such events together. We reached a mutual decision that we could still be civil, maybe even friendly....especially when it came to whatever the kids needed....whether it was pulling them out of snow banks........ or letting them know that they both had two parents that loved them very much, and even if the marriage didn't work.....the divorce did.