And I'm not going to push another book on you, unless it's one of the three Ann Patchett books I'm currently floating among -- her marvelous essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage or her recent novel, State of Wonder, (the opening alone being worth the price of the book, or at least a trip to the library), or her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which serves as my bible/muse for the writing of my own first novel. You already have your own too-long reading list.
As I write this, Jack is sitting in a deer blind somewhere in southeast Iowa where he doesn't even have cell phone reception. To talk to me requires a trip to town.
I've told him I'm not sure I want to put a tree up for Christmas this year. For one thing, none of the kids are coming. And, for another thing, it feels as though I just took last year's down. It would take time. Time away from writing, from reading, from being in my regular life.
I used to pride myself in selecting perfect Christmas cards and having them stamped and mailed by the first of December each year, personal handwritten greetings included. Over time, this practice got left by the wayside. After many years, I still shopped for the perfect card, but only wrote a handful, or one, or none. Pretty soon, I stopped searching them out. Then I stopped noticing them altogether. Right now one lies unopened on the dining room table.
Will our entire set of traditions go the way of the carefully chosen, handwritten and embellished Christmas sentiment? Hard to say.
The entire five years we lived in Kansas, none of the kids visited for Christmas, and we did not decorate our big tree. I focused instead of the one I put up at work, where we spent most of our time. I do recall the one year I started celebrating on the 26th. I had baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and Christmas morning Jack and I ate a couple with our coffee. We then proceeded to eat cookies until noon. I put on a pot of chili and we drove into Wichita to walk on the river (Arkansas River--pronounced "Ar-Kansas"), and discovered a neighborhood near the Art Center with block after block of charming, beautifully kept bungalows. It made us feel like moving.
Something about that afternoon inspired me the next day to write a whole batch of Christmas cards to our friends, telling about it. I even got out a few decorations.
One of those years in Kansas, three of the kids showed up on January 8th to celebrate. I remember the date because January 8th is Elvis's birthday. More than that, I remember the date because at eleven o'clock that night, Daniel told me I was going to be a grandmother for the first time.
The girls had been acting squirrel-ly all evening until finally I said, "Am I missing something?"
"You're totally missing something," Sarah said, and they turned to their brother.
"Beth's pregnant," Daniel said.
Beth was his girlfriend. I had never met Beth.
I'm not going to reiterate what I said because it's embarrassing. But it sounded a lot like something you would probably say. Sarah got mad at me, we all went to bed, and I didn't sleep well.
By the time I saw Daniel the next morning, I was feeling elated.
"But you could work on your delivery," I told him.
On my walk yesterday, as well as at Emmaus House, I was pondering the fact of so many leaves still on the ground, slightly out of sync with December and the holiday season. I think it's because of the early cold snaps we've had, two or three already, with snow. People simply got interrupted, and now they're onto other things, even though it's warmed up. (Warm meaning forty degrees, too warm for a deer blind, Jack claims.)
And people aren't out cleaning up leaves because they've turned their attention to Christmas decorations, which traditionally seem to go up Thanksgiving weekend.
One of our neighbors outlines his entire roof in lights, and outdoes the rest of the neighborhood lighting up his shrubbery. Another neighbor does only this: change the front porch light to green, and the side porch light to red. Every time that catches my eye, I think she's backing her car out of the garage. Another neighbor down at the corner, thankfully, and facing the other direction, has strung giant flashing snowflakes across the front of the place, making it look a lot like a casino. Think Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas movie.
While, as I've already said, at our visually quiet house it's leaves.