Monday, December 22, 2008

Anticipation-I think there's a song about that

You can't buy it, but sometimes you pay for it.
Anticipation is an integral component of Christmas spirit, and mine has been in short supply for a number of years. In part to protect myself, I think, from that possible payment if disapointment set in.
Anticipation has ingredients of hope and faith in the future. I haven't always been good at that. Maybe that's why I've always had a short Christmas season--two weeks or so. I couldn't sustain anticipation for much more than that.
This year, I wake up with anticipation for almost every day. It makes a difference.
A friend commented to me once that of course not all Christmases are equal. Not every Christmas can be great, or you wouldn't have any baseline to compare to the great ones. I'm already anticipating this one. I will be with my family. We'll have a good time. And I have my novel stashed to begin reading on Christmas night when everything calms down. Been doing THAT for 40 years or so.
I bought a tree. It's a little one about 31/2 feet, very full "real" fir. It looks like it belongs out in a magic glade with lit candles on it and all the animals slipping in to look in wonder. Call me just a wide-eyed woodland creature. I've put tiny gold lights on it, and my grandmother's clear glass ornaments that this year are 105 years old. I haven't bothered with much else. It just doesn't need it. WRR is playing classical and Christmas music. I am baking, and the smell of warming evergreen and melting chocolate fills the air. (I really think smell is my most enjoyable sense for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.) I've talked to many friends, seen a bunch more, and actually attended parties this year which I couldn't do in my last career because of work pressure. The first year or two I retired, I maintained my basic love/hate don't go out at Christmas stance. I've mentioned a tree and family, but you know, anticipation doesn't rely on that. We manufacture our own ingredients for anticipation.
And I anticipate my Christmas spirit will continue to change. Yep, I anticipate. I can't buy it. It isn't one of the five senses. I can't touch it.
And it makes a huge difference in the quality of life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's all in the telling

I attended an open house this weekend, getting there the last half hour. No one was left but the host and hostess and a man introduced to me as their good friend.

We all sat down to chat and nibble a bit, and the host asked the other man about his wife. He had noticed she was wearing a leg brace. The man gave us a great deal of personal detail about his wife, who has suffered a disability since childhood. He said she has taken a doctor's statement many years ago to mean she should not exercise at all. The man said he had talked to her current doctor and asked him to prescribe physical therapy, which the doctor did, and his wife has carried through. (His smile said, ha!the poor dear doesn't realize she has been actually exercising.) So she exercised dutifully as the therapist instructed and had been getting around much better when she fell and cracked her kneecap. The recovery has been difficult and the joint has had to be immobilized. Healing has been slow. And, of course, there's her weight, he smiled conspiratorily at his host.

"She hasn't figured out yet that there's any connection between her weight and what she puts in her mouth--nachos, desserts, quesadillas..." he trailed off and the two men laughed companionably. I noticed the hostess didn't laugh, and neither did I.

I could not think of anything tactful to say, so I simply asked, "And so and so is your wife?" and stared at him unsmiling. He answered yes and looked at me in puzzlement, finally letting his eyes wander around the room. My host looked down. There was a silent pause and then conversation resumed on a different topic.

I know there are a lot of men and women who tell their spouses' personal business to all and sundry, often spinning it so the speaker comes out the better by comparison. Magnaminous, even. It is not very loving. I would not blame this man's wife for taking comfort in food to fill an empty place she has in her life. I have never seen her, so I don't know if she is huge, or just heavy enough to interfere with her ability to get around better. I don't know her strengths, but I know a lot of her weaknesses,if he spoke at all truthfully. What this man told a complete stranger is that his wife is a fat twit, and he has to guide and direct her. He does seem fond of her, in his way. Also scornful. And I haven't given a tenth of the personal details he told about her. It wasn't his to tell.

And he doesn't get it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Stockings of Christmas

Listen up, children and grandchildren. This includes, I think, anyone under, say 60.

Once upon a time, in the lifetime of some people still roaming the earth, there were Christmas stockings. But they weren't decorations. You put them up on Christmas Eve, just before bedtime. And no one saw them but the persons who put them up or their caretakers.

We children were told if we weren't good, we would get only hard lumps of black coal in our stockings. I, for one, knew what that was because we burned it in our fireplace. The fire was nice. It burned, though, to keep us warm. We didn't have furnaces, most of us. We had fireplaces and maybe a gas heater or two in the most frequented rooms. I knew what coal was, and I didn't want any, and in the childhood grapevine, we all had heard of some child who misbehaved so badly, especially in the weeks before Christmas, that they received only a lump of coal. Or maybe two. And the kids I knew, we all believed in Santa Claus. In my family, I was told that while Santa put presents under the tree for me, even my parents got goodies from Santa in their stockings. Not the good--er, big--stuff, but something from Santa.

So when I went to bed Christmas Eve, I hung up, not my stocking, but my sock, preferably the oldest, most stretched out one I could find in the drawer. And my father hung HIS black sock, fitting a size 12 foot, and also old and stretched. And Mother hung one of her nylon stockings, one with a run in it--do you know what a run is in hosiery, people much younger than I? Most practically, it's one that was also stretched out and tattered and ruined and due to be thrown out, but great for Christmas Eve.After all, the neighbors weren't going to see these. Only the people who hung them.

I remember sighing with envy when I saw Dad's much bigger sock, and sighing even more heavily when I saw Mother's stocking, which hung so low it had to be hung on the side of the mantle away from the fireplace so it wouldn't catch fire.

Christmas morning, no matter how tempting the array under the tree, first we had to take down our socks and open them. Mine always had a candy cane, I remember, and Christmas ribbon candy, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't, and a few things, maybe a tangerine as well. I loved tangerines. Maybe a package of No. 2 pencils with my name printed on them, and/or a yo-yo or some such. Jacks. Pickup Sticks. (yawn) Pleasant. I always checked, and my mom's looong stocking was never more than half full, with stupid stuff like an apple and an orange in it. Ha! Dad's usually had monogrammed handkerchiefs in it, which he always seemed pleased with. Well, Kleenex hadn't been invented yet, either.

Sometime during the 50's, Christmas stockings became ornaments for decorating, with our names on them. Someone made a killing churning these out for the new refurbishment of Christmas decorations, but no cigar or patent, I think, for the first designer/originator. With uniform sizes, it did away with some significant whining ("his foot's bigger. It's not fair!") And so Christmases became, more festive, more merry, more festooned, and for some merchants, more profitable.

In families with multiple children and a paucity of beds, stockings always were hung in twos or threes on the foot of the bed. And with the cheap felt, uniform red stockings with white fluffy tops, again, decorative and uniform for all children in the house, Christmas decorations invaded the bedrooms, not just the room with the tree.

American women across the country still sew or knit and design their own. I was one of those grateful for the storebought ones. I say American women. How chary of me. Some men across America are doing the same thing.

In my own sons' youth, stockings always had some kind of chocolate, and usually windup toys that included robots, and didn't necessarily come first. In fact, they often came in the interim after Beneath the Tree and before Christmas breakfast was served. My own stocking once had an opal ring in the toe, which made me cry emotionally with happy tears.

Christmas stockings have come a long way, baby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Start of a Gratitude Journal

I talked to an old friend today, someone I hadn't seen in a couple of years.

She said in the last few months she has started a gratitude journal. Each day she writes down one blessing of her day. She commented on the bad things always around us, the news, hassles, frustrations, and that you have to be aware, pay attention to see that the good things are happening right along.

This fits into so much of my last year that I was amazed. I don't usually write it down, and I think she has a good idea. In the last 10 months, though, I have gotten used to waking up, saying thank you, and then paying attention to the blessings in my day. Some are big, some are little. A couple of days ago, it was raining, the sky grey behind a radiant red oak, and I stopped just to look. To remember. To sniff the air full of wet leaves and wet ground, and cold--at least cool--air that has its own smell. To listen to the rain. To feel the cold seeping through my sweater. To feel alive, so alive, all my senses in that moment. And I won't forget. What else happened that day? I don't remember, but it was good day.

And I am grateful for it.