There is no crisp air to invite a deep breath and a feeling of excitement for the holidays which will surely roll around sooner than I can imagine. No need for a muffler tucked around the neck, or that coziness felt from nesting inside while falling leaves drift by your window, or the first fire inside to cast a glow of romance in your lover's eyes.
Instead of leaves tinted that of a first summer sunburn, I have noticed that the lacey, May-blooming jacaranda tree I planted in the front yard as a memorial to my late husband, has surprised me with a sprig of its lavender flowers - like a single wave to me from heaven.
Traditionally we see the loss of foilage as the benchmark of winter with spring waiting in the wings like an eager ingenue desperate to take center stage. Some will say that California has no seasons - or worse, that we do, but it is marked by heat, fires and then floods of mud when the rain does hit. I tend to think that it's all perspective. We will still have our bell-ringing Salvation Army soldiers of mercy posted outside the grocery store where we buy our holiday turkeys and pumpkin pies, and there will be the over-priced bundled firewood for sale in front near the un-manned customer service counter, and in my cart a big bag of cranberries to mix with wine, cinnamon, orange and sugar.
When I hear disparaging comments about climate, I always wonder if our perspective is skewed towards attitude instead of gratitude. Recently I was lamenting that I had to take a pair of my favorite high heels to the shoe repair man, as the sole was wearing thin and the heels soon to lose that little rubber tip that keeps us from rat-a-tat-tatting into a room, a friend reminded me of something too beautiful not to recall here. She told me that my shoes could not have been run down if I had not been wearing them. Lori claims it was a typo that made her refer to them as fun-down instead of run-down. Of course I had to wear them out in order to wear them down. That's a no-brainer at first blush, but I pondered that for a bit. Where had those shoes been worn to in order to wear the leather so bare? I seem to wear them infrequently. Then I remembered that I love wearing them at night when I go out to sing, to restaurants to dine with a dear friend, and even a wedding or two. Ah, yes! They were not run-down, they were fun-down.
I'm of course looking forward to trading in my bare feet or my Birkenstock sandals for the long black patent leather boots that I was lucky to score because they actually fit my calves. And won't it be nice to wear the red hand crocheted scarf that Mom made me for a birthday one year! How lucky I am that Mom, at 89 is still alive and in relative good health. How lucky I am, though thousands of miles apart, to be able to pick up the phone and hear her tell me the same stories as the last time we spoke, or remind me that my sister and her husband who live next door to her, bring her dinner every night. In the next breath, Mom will tell me like she has for the last ten years, that she doesn't eat much. The irony is not lost on me and neither is the subtext. Though she may not have the appetite she did in years gone by, is not the point. Someone cares enough to cook, bundle up in a jacket and rainboots and walk next door in the 30 degree weather with a Tupperware in hand. She may not eat as much with her mouth, but her eyes are still hungry to see her daughter at the door. My sister Diane will sit and listen to Mom as if it is the first time she has heard Mom say the same thing for the thousandth time; that it always rains in southern Illinois. I am so blessed to have her taking such good care of Mom.
I am so grateful for family, though it seems they have scattered like whirling leaves from our family tree. My daughter is now 19 and married, living hundreds of miles away with her new family and starting her own traditions. Dad is gone, my eldest sister Judy passed just after him, and like I said, my husband Rob is no longer here - all gone the same year. My youngest sister Barbara moved to Texas and has ex-communicated me from her life for what she obviously feels is a wrong-doing, though it defies definition to me. You can reach out to people, but you can't open their hands if instead of a extended palm you received a fist, the same they profess to use in prayer. Yet, I am thankful for her anger - because it means she is feeling. Of course I'd rather know her love, but I see blessings in the oddest of places now. Before our sister Judy died from a complication of strokes and a heart valve infection, other than pain, it was difficult to ascertain if she was cognizant at all. I'll take Barbara's discord as a sign that she is in the moment, and that, dear friends is kind of like winter. Even a bare, twisted and gnarled tree appearing dead in winter, will again sprout green come spring.
In the past, this time of the year found me planning a holiday menu for as many family members as I could fit around the table adorned with Mom's hand-embroidered tablecloth made to complement my Country Roses patterened china that Rob bought in 1981 as our first gift together. Now, not so much. My brother Paul called me yesterday. Paul, now in his 60's is finding his stride of soul. For whatever reason, and there are a few, I remain the only one to invite him to the holiday dinners. And this year would not have been any different. The table has shrunk in size from that laden with enough for an army to that more appropriate of an old couple with a friend or two to share a much smaller turkey. Imagine my surprise when Paul asked me for the pleasure of my company this Thanksgiving. Yup. He asked me. "I've been thinking," he started, "you know, you always work so hard and do all the shopping and the cooking...so I was thinking I should take you out this year. And invite Al. He's awfully good to you. Whaddya think?" Before I could say too much, he blurted out, "Of course I'll miss your cranberries..." I smiled. "I'll still make you cranberries and..." I was cut off in his excitement, "And I could bring one of those Honeybaked hams so we have something to pick on, whaddya think?" I think my heart is filled with love and that what could be despair at the loss of what was, is filled with the joy of what is.
Maybe the collective symphony of my twenty-something year old wedding gift Waterford crystal goblets will not be so resounding as yesteryears, but three glasses will still ring out, and a smile will still cross my face as we raise them in a toast of a mutual blessing - "Happy Thanksgiving." and when all is said and done, and we return from a restuarant Thanksgiving dinner, before calling it a night, we'll enjoy a tad of my cranberries and a slice of that ham on a small china plate, use one of Mom's napkins, and my heart and soul will have been nourished and my high heels fun-downed a little more.