January ENews, 2024
It’s the Little Things
New Year’s Eve started cold and dark, with the wet, dull of winter air, still and unflinching in its speechless candor: “There’ll be no bright start this year for you. Put on your robe and slippers and brace yourself.”
What I’d known of romance was gone these recent years. The late-night parties of young coupledom, the singing gig going into and after midnight, even the sip of German wine and slice of exotic cheese I tasted at the family New Year’s party as a child, were far away memories now. It was not a nice feeling.
This ordinary morning, I wouldn’t be making the call to my mother, gone nearly four years, who always lit a candle for her late father, whose December 31st birthday she marked each year. Even the announcement of the Strauss Viennese waltzes on the radio, Mom had listened to on the radio every New Years day, offered paltry enticement.
“It’s just another day,” I tell myself, as I wash last night’s dishes and wipe the kitchen counters. My morning routine, a sorry consolation for the melancholy, I curse the tedium of gathering all the loose coffee grounds that escape every attempt at espresso, make and hungrily drink two cups of lackluster latte in succession. And sit.
“Snap out of it,” a familiar voice in my head challenges. I take eggs, milk, butter and flour from the fridge and shelf, and prep the cast iron skillet. Set the table and light a candle.
Sleeping in the next room, their heavy breathing just short of snores, are two of my three grandchildren, completing the tenth hour of a long winter’s nap, as the dawn begins to break.
“Wake them up with the smell of breakfast on the stove,” I tell myself, summoning-up a kind of magical thinking, as I pour the thin, eggy batter for Swedish pancakes in the skillet.
In comes Olive, the oldest, her long brown hair tangled. Her sleepy eyes taking in the day. Her brother Cosmo follows, eager to eat quickly and get down to playing.
Over breakfast, we talk about how dark it still is at 9 am. We talk about what the farmers did in olden times on cold mornings like this. All the layers of clothing they must have put on. The socks, boots and jackets. How their hands were ungloved to milk the cows, and the roots of the farm breakfast.
Sitting by the electric fireplace now, they tell me about visiting their other grandparents family cabin among the big trees in Kings Canyon National Park, California. About the sticks they gathered with Grandpa Tom for the campfires, walks with him by stream beds, and wearing flannels in the morning chill.
“You can see SO many stars. I saw two shooting stars,” Olive tells me.
“Did you make a wish?” I ask. She nods.
“There are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand,” she says. Her brother mimics her: ”There are more stars than sand.”
She corrects him. “Grains of sand.”
In a short time the light shifts. We look out my back window.
“Snow!” they both exclaim. Within minutes they are down in the yard with coats on, wiping snow off the neighbor’s car, sweeping the sidewalk with outside brooms left on the stoop, and attempting snowballs.
I watch from the porch, still in my robe and slippers. Then call them in when the cold seems enough for their un-mittened hands. Grandmother’s house kind of things follow: warming coats on the radiator, drinking hot cocoa. Cosmo plays with blocks and Olive with the doll house.
We watch Craft in America: The Miniatures, a PBS special on tv, rapt by the stories: trucks made of painted cardboard by an artist in Cuba. Tiny pieces of furniture made by a woodworker from Oregon. Both crafting exact replicas of the real thing. And see a puppet show with a family of marionettes, made in the 1930s, now meticulously replicated, the original collection now part of a folk art museum in Santa Fe.
“What were your favorite crafts?” I ask Olive and Cosmo when it was done.
“I liked them all,” Olive says. “But I liked the puppets best.” Cosmo agrees.
They go back to play. Cosmo to his trucks. Olive comes over to me to help cut a piece of tape ‘for a sign.’ I drift off to nap, and wake to a rustling sound.
“You can have the last cookie,” I tell Olive, thinking she’s opening the Christmas cookie tin. “Or…what are you doing? ”
“I made a candy store. Want to see?”
In a tiny room of the doll house, she created a scene with wood blocks, where two fairy dolls sat, with small baskets on the counter before them, filled with silver and red foil objects. Minuscule, torn and balled-up pieces resembled wrapped candy. Like the miniatures we’ve just seen, but unlike anything I’d come up with as a child.
“That is really beautiful, Olive,” I tell her, taking her photo.
She gives me a simple smile, and humming, goes back to her work.
Lately, I am watching the aging of my peers and myself with blunt assessment. Making poetic sense out of quirky behaviors, and jokes of the malapropisms that leap out before I can retrieve the misspoke words and replace them with the right ones. I reroute conversations that dwell on bad knees, active stomachs and interrupted sleep patterns. Then start these same conversations myself, when a physical excuse can camouflage the deeper truth of what I’m really thinking:
The fear of what’s around the corner, as the calendar page turns; another month, another year.
Could it be that we live in the memories of the best of times, while wandering – present – among the young? Focusing anxiously on the horizon, while they watch for shooting stars?
Might I find peace in that notion?
At nine pm New Year’s Eve night, I get a text from my son-in-law with exploding fireworks behind the words: Happy New Year! There is a photo of my grandson Arlo, a cutout cardboard box on his head, like a fierce helmet, with the proud swagger and serious stance of a robot-superhero. The new year for him is just a few hours away, exploding with possibility.
I lay in wait, unsure of my next move, then I go to sleep before midnight, satisfied. Happy for the little things – countless as the stars, vast as the grains of sand.
“Everything that waits is also preparing itself to move.” Margaret Renkl (The Comfort of Crows)
Happy New Year!
Thank you to Tom Amandes for The Comfort of Crows book.