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-six days since the election and every day the news brings despair. The cold fronts are sweeping down from the arctic and pushing us inside to the warmth of our homes where we flip the light switches on against winter’s darkness. I have become late period painter Mark Rothko, abandoning the yellows, bright reds, and oranges of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York, in favor of blacks, burgundies, grays, and deep greens. This is what happens in old age, but this is also what happens at any age when despair is heavy and sits on your chest and makes it difficult to breathe. It is important to remember this. It is important to be aware of the burgundies and grays and it is vital to remember the yellows and oranges. This is what I want to share with you, here in the middle of the night, squinting through the darkness to write this, I want to share with you that I have not forgotten the yellows and oranges though they have become fuzzy. On the east side of the Buffalo, New York, in my youth, a patch of land was scraped and leveled. I cannot remember what stood in its place before the scraping and leveling, but I remember what they put in its place. Though I didn’t know it then, the scraping and leveling was the beginning of a long decline of my neighborhood. In place of the thing that I cannot remember that occupied that corner, they built a Burger King. The corporation had come into the neighborhood with its cheap shiny construction. In the opening week they gave away New York Yankees cards with cheeseburgers and I built a collection of Bucky Dents and Thurman Munson’s. My grandmother loved the french fries and we would walk the block from her house past the Baptist church that always seemed closed, to order fries and if I was lucky, a drink and sit on the curved orange plywood benches. She ate them one by one and the cars outside passed and we watched them pass. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just say in silence. She watched me eat french fries and I watched her eat french fries and then we walked back to her house, maybe stopping to say hello to someone on a porch, me kicking at weeds, or looking at a stack of newspapers tied with twine and set out on the curb, a dog barking in the distance. This is what I remember, in the darkness, there is light and we carry it within ourselves and it moves us forward. It is the middle of the night, and it is cold, and winter dark, but my Nonnie is eating a french fry and the light is streaming in, bathing her in something true and golden. We are walking down the street again, before the corporation, before the weight and despair, when the light was in the hand you held and in the eyes of all the people you loved and loved you back.