When you go through a life changing event, the first holiday season is often like a test. There are many conflicting emotions, so much so that you almost want to just turn them all off just to avoid the clash. I can understand why some people are numb to the holidays; I get it now.
But we had a really good Thanksgiving surrounded by many cousins. The girls love having a lot of family around and it isn’t often that we can all get together like this. Geography now separates many of us, but since our parents are no longer getting together like they used to, we make that effort to keep the family going, just like when we were spending every holiday together as kids. Even with so many us together over the holiday break, it doesn’t hide the fact that there is someone missing. It may even magnify the absence of that person.
I visited my grandmother on Thanksgiving. Her studio apartment is always too warm, in the way that old radiators in NYC apartments sizzle and clank as the heat travels through the network of pipes. She has photos upon photos of family on every surface, many of which are old snapshots that have faded through the decades and some that are newer pictures of great grandkids. My grandmother is 92. Whenever I see her she tells me to take care of my mom the same way that my mom is taking care of her now. She tells me it’s good that I had 2 girls because they’ll take care of me too when I’m her age. She always manages to say that it might be the last time we see each other every time I visit.
After all the cousins left our apartment on Saturday, we went to our local tree lighting ceremony. I don’t think we’d ever been in all the years that the neighborhood has held them and we were surprised to see such a crowd and even news crews covering the event. Local businesses donated treats and carolers sang holiday songs. It was festive and it definitely felt like we had stepped into Small Town America (by the way, who else gets verklempt at that small biz AmEx commercial with the Simon & Garfunkel song? Well played AmEx, well played). Our neighborhood works hard to promote Small Biz Saturday and encourages neighbors to shop local – and rightly so, but in truth, many local businesses in our area have struggled with rising rents and online shopping. So many of us are trying to figure out this new economy.
I guess we’re officially in the season now, though Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier every year so it all feels a little less special now? I don’t know. Or maybe I’m a little less in the mood this year. There’s still time – 23 days to be exact – to feel that holiday magic.
Posted by Jenna | 18 Comments
Took a short road trip last weekend and was dazzled by Fall colors on the drive upstate. Just 2 hours north and it was like a different world, particularly since we came home to weirdly muggy weather for this time of year. Driving back home was like turning back the clock as we got closer to the city – greener trees and higher temps, but maybe the perception of time slowed down is ok. You know once Halloween hits it’s an accelerated rush towards the holidays and I’m not in any hurry.
In Ithaca we visited a big farmer’s market which I had never been to before. It was good to go someplace new in a town that has so many past associations. I spent a good deal of time here when we used to have long summer breaks in art school and I’ve camped out in nearby Finger Lakes National Forest. It’s beautiful out here with lakes, forests and waterfalls. Driving through the back country roads towards Ithaca where there’s nothing but farm country reminds me of those years when gas was cheap and we had nothing but time. Driving, for the sake of driving, with music blaring and windows rolled down seem like a luxury now. This part of the state reminds me of my brother too. He spent a decade attending schools and later working at Cornell and I used to love visiting him at the Vet School. He’d show me jarred animal organs floating in formaldehyde in the labs and we’d go visit the cows and horses in the barn. What I remember the most though was the barn cat. He had multiple toes, something like 8-12 toes on each paw, and he was a sight. I always point out the store where Ed adopted my cat for me to the girls whenever we’re up here. It’s a funny story, really, of the night that Tobi spent with him before he was driven down to the East Village where we were living back in ’97. He was tiny, just shy of 3 months old, and wasn’t particularly thrilled to be plucked out of the litter of cats. That night, my brother dropped a heavy typewriter in the living room a few yards away from Tobi and it sent him in a panic under the sofa where he stayed until he had to be pried away for the drive down to my house. Tobi was scarred for life and hated my brother since then. Cats, unlike dogs, can hold long grudges it seems.
For the past couple of years, our short trips upstate involve family and visits to a nursing home. It’s hard not to get sad during these visits no matter how nice the facility is and I find myself choking back tears whenever we leave. It’s a reminder of our own mortality too. We’re getting old alongside our parents and we’re all grappling with physical changes that we can, but also can’t see. Some things are within our control and we can change our lifestyles to shape our future, but it’s also just a roll of the dice with genetics and pure chance at play. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, but life isn’t always fair, is it?
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The golden hour is usually stunning wherever you are, but we had some really good ones out West. We ended our trip with a spectacular sunset on the pier and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains (we always try to end our trips out west with a water view and a sunset). Our time out here for me was bittersweet. My brother talked of wanting to move to Seattle in the last few months of his life. We talked about how nice it would be if we all eventually ended up in the same area, all of us old and retired sitting on lawn chairs with our garden gnomes, eating blackberry cobbler. I really wish he had made the move and I thought about what could have been as we watched the sunset. A fitting end, really, to summer.
Now back at home with school finally in session and September upon us, summer isn’t letting go quite so easily. It’s been hot – hotter than it’s been all summer – and while I’m not necessarily in a rush to usher in Fall, the weather does seem to contradict everything that Fall represents. I didn’t think I wanted summer to end, but now that September is here, I’m feeling that restlessness and surge of motivation that seem to surface this month every year. Also, boots. I love sandals, but I can’t wait to wear boots. Oh, the frivolous things.
So, along with all this seasonal motivation comes along this feeling that maybe the fog of summer is starting to lift. It’s like this: I woke up one day and realized that I didn’t have that weird and sudden social anxiety around people and friends anymore. I started to think again about project ideas that I abandoned late May when everything came apart. I still think about my brother everyday, but it feels less like a dark cloud even though it’s still an empty hole. I suppose this is progress. The time warp of summer was such a strange experience and I floated like a ghost for 3 months without ever really touching the ground. Now that I’m much more present, the stuff that I put aside still remains. All the big questions about life and work are looming large again. I think I’m finally ready to face them though.
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These are the sort of vacations that the girls will have fond memories of when they look back on their childhoods: a house full of family, meals eaten outside. This is a 70th birthday to remember – surrounded by family, a surprise Hawaiian dinner cooked by a son and a birthday cake baked in Seattle and transported 100 miles by car and ferry. Deer wandered into our backyard in the evenings and we saw the full spectrum of stars at night.
Orcas Island was the first island I visited in the San Juans and it’s still magical 21 years later. It remains one of my favorite places on earth.
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Looks like we escaped that crazy, record breaking rainstorm on Long Island just in time. We were watching the weather all day, wondering if our flight would get delayed, but it was on time and we even flew in 45 minutes early, missing the storm on the East Coast by a few hours. I feel like we’ve had some good weather karma this summer, escaping rain on market days when it’s been in the forecast.
The days here in Washington so far have been drizzly and cool. We come in August because it’s usually a guarantee of the best weather of the year. The sun usually shines and the temps are warm but dry, and it feels like an escape from the humidity back home. This summer in NY, however, has been unusual in that we barely hit above 85 degrees and for the most part, wasn’t as humid as you would expect when you conjure up images of hazy East Coast summers. The weather this summer has been spectacular, in fact. The grayness here so far has been fine – typical of weather here year round and it reminds me of the days when I lived here. I think about our vaguely loose plan of moving back here in 20 or so years – you know, when we’re ready to retire or whatever that means, and whether I can truly get used to the damp and the gray again. I get cold easily. But it feels good right now, wrapping a jacket and a sweater when we’re out in the mornings and putting on socks for what seems like the first time in weeks.
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