The most wonderful time of the year

It almost spoils it when Christmas stuff starts showing up in stores and people’s front yards the first of November– those funny one-dimensional wooden deer with red bows or wreaths around their necks, and the blooming cactus, baby Norfolk Island pines, amaryllis, poinsettias and decorations all over the stores. Usually the funny, larger-than-life snow globes don’t appear till later, or the inflatable carousels that even play music.

But it doesn’t quite ruin it really, not for me.

Maybe my brain tunes it all out. Maybe I just don’t process it as present-day. Maybe I pass it through a “by-gone” filter so as not to spoil the sweet joy of the advent of a time so timeless that it truly does stay in my heart all year (well, most of the year). Or maybe I realize that’s just how some people open up to what is happening in an over-the-top kind of way.

Since I was a little girl I have loved this time of year and not for presents. People always seemed kinder, happier. People looked forward to something, something they were excited about celebrating. As if something so long-awaited, something that would make everything better, brighter was going to happen. And many of us were anticipating the same thing but even if we weren’t there was an inescapable aura that touched everybody.

My family would have Christmas Eve dinner. One year we piled in the car not only to go see all the houses decorated with lights and candles and wreaths but stopped to visit friends and wish them joy. Then we’d go to our church’s Christmas Eve service.

This was the best part, for me. Almost better than Christmas morning which nearly always got lost in the tinsel, wrappings and bows.

This was the moment. This was the excitement, the anticipation of something so wonderful, so vibrant and alive with hope and love that I have never forgotten how it felt. Singing out those beautiful carols, listening to the lovely prayers, the soft glow of candles and the ageless Bible story of the miraculous birth, a story that never got old.

No matter where my family lived, no matter what we were going through. Something about Christmas transcended our ills, our arguments, our differences, our angers, our disappointments. And more often than not after Christmas day we found we had moved on beyond whatever it was that had got us hung up, stuck.

There was a beauty that touched each one of us. We no longer saw or felt whatever ugliness had our pride reared up in self-righteous rightness against someone or something. It was gone. Disappeared. Vanished. Vanquished in the beauty of Something far greater than anything we harbored.

Advent. The coming of something. The brink of a moment. The event that does not end, is always coming, has never gotten old. Every year.

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Thanks Giving

My mom loved a good party. And she gave some of the best. I can remember being about 5 not a few Sunday mornings waking before anyone else and wandering downstairs to find all the residue from a successful cocktail party– filled ashtrays, empty nut bowls, canape trays stacked in the kitchen sink and martini glasses, some still with an olive, to which I helped myself (maybe that’s why I do not drink alcohol).

I think Mom’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. She loved Easter and Christmas, too, but Thanksgiving was when she really pulled out all the stops. She invited anyone and everyone, there was not an empty chair around our food-filled dining room table. Grandparents, neighbors and their children. She loved nothing more than a house stuffed with congenial friends, laughter and good food.

Preparations began very early, my grandmother and mother stuffing and basting the enormous bird, all manner of vegetables, scalloped oysters, and pies. The Macy’s Parade started at 9 and my brother and I were glued to the television until Santa came along, I imagined myself in the freezing cold marching sassily with one of the heart-pumping bands, or cozily wrapped in a thick, warm coat waving from a float, or even maybe hanging onto the ropes of one of those amazing balloons. And the luscious mouth-watering aromas wafting from the kitchen with snippets of “No, I’ll do that, ” or “keep stirring! It’s lumpy if you stop stirring!” or “did you remember the pearl onions in the green beans?”

The guests began arriving, some wandering off to find my dad, my grandfather and company in the den, or striding back to the kitchen catching an apron off the back of the swinging door to see what needed doing. The voices and chatter finally melded into a constant white noise sparkling with laughter, the clatter of dishes and “where’s the gravy boat? I always put it in here…”

Finally everyone was called to the table, ambling amiably, finishing off their drinks and marveling at the heavily-laden side boards. We all stood at our places until everyone arrived, then sat and Dad asked the grace. After his deep, gravelly, “Amen,” chatter and laughter resumed, dishes being passed back and forth with the chink and scrape of silverware on china. At the end we barely could even think of pie, but of course we did more than think of it. Regretfully? No. We did not care at all how full we were. As Dad would say, “A bumble bee could play with me now.”

So this year my family is greatly diminished. Mother and Dad have passed on. My son will be with his girlfriend and her family, my brother’s wife will have her mother and sister, perhaps an additional friend or two. Maybe the two groups will combine, who knows…

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I will watch the Macy’s Parade, eat the two pies I will have made– a (very) small pecan pie and a turkey (maybe chicken?) pot pie, maybe even splurge with home-made crust.

And then we will venture to my favorite place in the world to walk off having over-stuffed ourselves.

The beach.

“A bumblebee could play with me now…”

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Birdies

Carolina wrens are really in-your-face out there kind of birds. They are territorial and pretty fearless. They are amiable, though and friendly. I have had them nesting in my garage where I had to leave the garage door opened 4 or 5 inches so they could get in and out if I had no plans to open it otherwise any given day. Their babies  fledged and then I could have it operate normally.

So I was working at my computer this week, it was a beautiful day and I had doors and windows open to enjoy the fresh, fall air. My dogs were dozing nearby. I heard a soft *thunk*, the dogs raised their heads, cocked their ears. I walked into the bedroom down the hall and saw a brown flash darting across the ceiling.

Carolina wren.

If you know a birder these are also known as “lbj”s. This familiar term includes sparrows and any other small “little brown job” bird. These birds are quick. This bedroom isn’t overly large so I figured I’d be able to catch this bird in a few minutes.

Wrong.

I turned off the ceiling fan and the bird flew over to the top of the window frame.

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From there it got pretty clever. Under the dresser, behind the bookcase, under the beds, behind a picture still waiting to be hung on a wall, behind the bed headboards, on a wall shelf, behind a plant –at this point I figured I had him… he could not see me behind the plant pot, or so I thought. Just as I had my hands positioned to close over him he dashed out again.

Describing this it sounds like mere moments but no, this went on for nearly an hour. I began to understand how a shepherd feels when one of his sheep wanders off then, enjoying its imagined freedom, refuses to allow itself to be captured until exhaustion from running and evasion it gives up to the safety of the watched-over flock.

I don’t know whether or not this bird was becoming over tired, I know I was, but it flew between the slats of the window blinds and I reached over and closed the blinds. It hopped back and forth and I cornered it on one side, placing my fingers between the blinds so I could hold it by its legs. It was suddenly still.

I walked outside with this bird, eyeing me the entire way. Once outside I opened my hand so it sat on the flat of my palm. It continued to look at me almost daring me to touch it again.

And then it flew away.

Poll Observing

So this election Tuesday. I got involved in it beyond casting my own ballot by agreeing to be a poll observer. Basically invisible, these are people who are present at polling places, even early voting. They speak to no one. They may or may not wear a badge designating who they are. They carry a clip board and pen to note any suspicious incident that cannot be resolved at the polling place. These reports are given to the local and state boards of elections as well as all political parties.

Observers go through rigorous training, are given state statutes regarding election procedure and protocol for observing. Contact information if an incident requires immediate attention or any questions arise.

It sounds much worse than it is. Once the chief judge of the polling place where I observed found my name on her list I was told where to sit and to keep my mouth shut. I did both of these for my allotted 4 hours. During that time I saw nothing that alarmed me, nothing worthy of concern.

I did however, receive an education in how parents are raising their children.

Being a Saturday many parents do not have alternative care for their kids and probably want to be with them anyway so many children accompanied their parents. I saw strollers, wagons, many by the hand or in their mom’s or dad’s arms. The “little ones” big enough to walk were what surprised me. They were holding their mom or dad’s iPhones, iPads or car keys. As though Mom and Dad have abdicated authority over these on weekends. When I was a kid if I even thought about touching my mother’s purse, car keys or anything personal it might be months before I was allowed to go anywhere with her again. There were definite boundaries between what was the adult’s and what belonged to the child. Doesn’t seem to apply these days.

This separation of personal property lent a modicum of respect from the child for the parent. This made it apparent who “the Mommy” was here. There were clear boundaries between us and children were more than just “little people”, we were not adults. We had different rights and even though we may have at times wanted to wear the high heels and buy the groceries, the fact remained we did not. We could not manage such responsibilities and our parents were right in keeping us from thinking or pretending we could.

I saw little ones grabbing the iPhone right out of Mom or Dad’s hands, playing with it, then thrusting it back at them dictating what game they now wanted to play and dancing impatiently until the device was handed back. I saw screaming tantrums over not receiving it quickly enough, or not receiving it at all. Maybe the parents think this is cute. Or maybe they are too tired after a long work week to argue or fight over this. But I am glad I was allowed to be a child in my childhood and not permitted to usurp my parents’ private space.

Besides, I might have dropped and shattered the iPhone.