Hashtag throwback Thursday. Remember that Joni Mitchell song with its melancholy opening lines of “it’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, they’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace” well we’re living it now. It’s funny isn’t it, how sometimes the melancholy creeps in to the most beautiful time of year. Winter with its peaceful cold, that makes you curl up beneath blankets or makes you stir soups in scratched pots. Christmas always seem to come to me with all of its ghosts. It is as though I am looking through a window heavy with condensation to see it again. I try to take the time in between the shopping, to praise those moments of the past and all of the loved ones who are no more but surround us. Yesterday, my niece posted a photograph on her Instagram of my mother’s old nut grinder. Clearly the praise runs in my family. She and my sister were making Christmas cookies and all at once, in the photograph of a vintage nut grinder was my mother again. All at once, there was the set table, the candles, the tree. There was the flour and walnuts. My mother let me turn the little handle to break them up just as she did my sister and brothers and just as she did with my niece and nephews. There is the plate of Italian snowball cookies. Here is the ornament she picked out on my tree. In the quiet of morning, there is my mother and grandmother. There are my aunts. There is the bottle of wine and the Lucky Strikes. I still have a set of Charles Dickens books she gave me one Christmas, and I still have a sweater she gave me, but the gifts are the least of it, it was the hand that picked up the books and thought I might like them and now is no more. In the quiet I praise her ordinary life which was to me extraordinary. There is the food on the table and here always surrounding me is my family.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been thirty days since the election and I am as angry, full of despair and despondent as ever. And it is the beginning of winter and it is coming on Christmas which has its own challenges with the melancholy of remembrance. I am throwing it back to the winters of my youth to help myself put the despair into perspective, to narrow the focus to the moment we are in while carrying with us the moments that have made us who we are. In the very early morning, it comes back to me, the white of winter, the biting wind, the raw smell of cold when entering a heated house. The house itself, a furnace kicking on, the coveted spot before the metal register, a telephone cord, a basket of yarn. I am sitting on the radiator at my grandmother’s house again, the white of winter obscuring the houses across the street. I am in the blowing snow again, where the wind stops your breath until you have to turn and walk backwards for a moment to catch your breath from the battering, then turning again head bent into it and following the bootpack on the sidewalks. I don’t remember anyone in my family ever complaining about the cold, about winter. It was homemade soups and pots of red sauce. It was gnocchi and polenta and a bottle of red wine against the winter. It was the way my mother would tie a scarf around my neck when I was little. It was that Christmas when all I wanted was a pair of moon boots and got them. I was an astronaut every time they made a new track in fresh snow. it was this and more, it was the way winter made time slow and the way it made the sounds of rushing life quiet or muffled for a moment and left you with yourself again. On the east side of Buffalo, New York, the winter storms came in over the lake, picked up the moisture and dumped it on the city. The neighborhood was a fresh sheet of paper. It was endless and open and expansive. For a moment everything from before was erased. It’s important to remember this. The feeling of first snow when everything is new and can be redrawn. When more is lost than found, it is important to remember that in the middle of winter there is quiet and hope and through the darkness you find yourself walking toward the light of spring.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me and my sister taken about six years ago on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I want to praise my sister. There is much to praise. Her toughness and overwhelming kindness. Her heart, which is all encompassing. Her love. Her love. Her love. I am getting ahead of myself. Six years ago was a year of relentless rain in my life. One of those years where the 1% probability of a 100-year flood occurring actually does occur. I was wholly unprepared for the deluge, without raincoat, umbrella, or galoshes, but still, that rain fell and fell. It fell so much that it saturated the ground and crumbled foundations and swept them away. In wet shoes and wind I gathered up the pieces as best I could, but the whole of everything I knew was gone. In that storm my sister came out in a thin coat and tied a rope around my waist so that I should not blow away and disappear. It was an incredibly long rope. She was in Buffalo and I was in Texas. It was in that storm that I began to see my sister, who is considerably older than me, she being the oldest and I being the youngest in the family, in a way I had not seen her before. I will try to be clear. As my world was falling apart our mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So the storm continued in a hospital near Christmas where we gathered around my mother. My brothers, my father, my sister. All of us talking in that quiet way when the person you love is resting but needs you all there, needs you to be all around them. In that quiet, a group of carolers came to the door and asked if they could sing. My sister said yes. Yes. The carolers sang Silent Night with its sleep in heavenly peace and unknown to them it was my mother’s favorite and that made my sister cry who had said yes. I had rarely seen my sister cry and that made me cry. In the room that night I saw the old Polish kindness, love, and toughness that was my grandmother and my mother come into the heart of my sister. I saw it extend further back to my grandmothers mother and then to her mother, both of whom I never knew, and then I watched it come back to settle in the heart of my sister. I remember feeling a sense that everything would be okay. In some quiet way my sister made me see this, made me see the bright sunlight through the storm. The wall of grief and uncertainty that had been built around my heart seemed to weaken. The waiting and wanting seemed to drift away. There was a brightness of my heart, and a calmness of my mind. I felt as though I could see myself from a great distance. Surrounding me was the quiet, the beauty of work, the lake, and all of the moments of those who had come before me and who had brought me to this place and then would carry me forward. The connection to everything became concrete again. There was a lull in the storm. As my mother slept, my brothers and sister and I walked through the old neighborhood of our youth where we had been formed. My sister told us the story about how she had dressed me up like a girl and then paraded me around the neighborhood. This had occurred when I was just a milk-bellied toddler with huge blonde curls. I was ringlets of golden sunshine on a glowing head that smiled and smiled at the attention and she had walked me around the block waving to everyone, showing me off. A spectacle. This was during the time of tube socks, rock and roll, and buttons. I didn’t have a clue, the only thing I knew was that my sister made me feel special and important and beautiful. At the telling of the story, she stopped and looked at me there on the street in the old neighborhood. Battered and stooped, she saw me, and I straightened up. We all stopped. She gave one of my brothers a Kodak camera, the rest she told to get the hell out of the way. We had not made a picture together in many years, but she held me like she did when I was her babiest of brothers and I put my arm around her, and in that moment I knew everything would be okay and then the camera clicked and I went back to Texas where the rain continued to fall in that odd year. Still the rain wouldn’t cease, and just when it seemed like the sun would never shine, my sister sent me mail and inside the envelope was the photograph she had made.