It is 3AM and the words that I need to bring this year to a close in my journal of life are tumbling around in my mind, refusing to gather into reasonable order. It seems that I haven’t written anything since we returned in October from the Cross Country 2022 journey, but of course, that isn’t really true. I wrote and wrote and finally finished the stories and blogged our mid-October return on the last day of November. Just one month ago. “The Holidays” begin at the end of October with Halloween and race along in a jumble of family gatherings, cooking, and for me, a big part of the Holiday season is decorating.
We are ready for a wedding and Mattie is a witness
This week between Christmas and New Year feels like I am caught in a space in time. I am ready to move forward toward the new year and yet not quite ready to take down the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights greeting me in the early mornings are so cheerful, and let me forget that it is very dark and very chilly and very wet in the outside world. For me, memories are reinforced by the photos I take and store and label and review. I recently wondered, as I lay awake in bed in the early morning hours trying to compose this post in my mind, if any of my memories of people from long ago are memories of them in actuality, or simply memories of the photos I took of them. It is the photo memories that come to mind when I think of some of the truly deeply loved people in my life who have passed.
My friend Maryruth always marvels at my memory of the dates and years when things happened. I know that isn’t any great memory ability, but simply that I am putting all those photos into chronological order and storing them in so many versions online and off that I hope will never lose them. Is it a way to stave off the loss of memory of old age? If I write enough and take enough photos, the memories won’t fade and the people and places I loved will always be alive. So I write, and I photograph, and sometimes I share the photos and the thoughts on a blog, or on Facebook. But the driving force for this blog has nothing to do with sharing, it has to do with my own ability to remember, and a fear of approaching the eighth decade of my life and facing my own mortality and that of others near to me who have left the planet or are in the process of leaving.
A sweet friend from long ago is in the process of passing with grace and dignity. She is in hospice many hundreds of miles distant, and I will not see her before she goes. Her impact on my life, beginning in 1988, was life-altering in ways I never really understood. After an intense friendship, we grew apart by years and miles and changing life priorities and values. But her approaching death is always on my mind in the early mornings when I wake and can’t sleep. I know that I need to write about October, November, and December before those memories fade into the past with so many others.
Can I do my simple process of beginning with “now” and going backward in time? It is the only way to corral the words and the experiences of the last two and a half months. Christmas was so special this year, and shared with just a few and yet incredibly precious.
My daughter Melody has been with Robert for seven years now, and their relationship is a sweet one, they are solid and best friends. Melody wasn’t sure Robert would ever want to marry, but she had come to accept the fact that it might never happen and was OK with it. They bought a home, and they traveled to Mexico, to Italy, to the desert to camp on the ground and search for rocks. Then a surprise. She told me they were going to marry before Christmas and could they say their vows at our home. So Christmas became a surprise preparation for a wedding ceremony, attended by me and by Mo and by my eldest daughter Deborah who lives close enough to be part of Christmas with us.
It was a simple ceremony, quiet and lovely, with only the two of them in front of the fireplace saying their vows as we watched. Melody’s words were elegant and thoughtful and reflective of her deep personality. Robert’s words were simple and perfect; I had no clue that he took them from a song. Robert has a crazy sense of humor, and he chose the perfect words that also happened to be from a song from the ’80s that has been used for something called “rick-rolling”. I had no clue what that was, but Melody burst into laughter and said, “Have I been Rick-Rolled at my own wedding??”
“I am never going to give you up, never going to let you down, never going to leave you and desert you.”
What could be more perfect? I can’t explain rick-rolling but if you aren’t part of that generation X you can look it up on the internet and get a deeper sense of the humor of the moment.
When Melody first told us, Mo said,” We need a wedding cake!” How to find a bakery willing to do a small cake just five days before Christmas? With some searching and some phone calls, one baker called to say she was booked until late January but could maybe fit in a small cake if it wasn’t too complex. Done. It was fun to surprise the kids with the cake after their vows. The champagne toasts all around were sweet and they did the traditional cake cutting and feeding each other. It was a perfect wedding and my mama’s heart is so deeply happy that this youngest daughter of mine has not only found love but companionship and friendship and someone who is truly her partner in life and living.
After the ceremony, it wasn’t long before we were all settled into pajamas after eating our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and laughing together while we watched a sweet and silly Hallmark Christmas movie.
With Melody and Robert in the guest room, Deborah decided to skip the offer of the MoHo for her nighttime privacy and chose to sleep on the sofa with quilts and a pillow in the light of the Christmas tree. It warms a mama’s heart to see a child sleeping on Christmas at home, even when that child is going to celebrate her 60th birthday before the end of January. Memories. Where oh where does it all go? The lament of almost anyone who has lived this long.
This morning, as I walk the quiet halls toward the living room and wait for the timer to turn on the Christmas tree lights I know that all that decorating that I do will need to be undone. I began a bit early this week, taking down a few of the outside lights, and putting away a few of the inside treasures. I started decorating right after Thanksgiving, taking my time and enjoying the process. I have enjoyed the lights and the treasures around me for more than a month now. There is one more day left in the year.
Still, the memories are coming as I write. Christmas Day, with fabulous snack food created by Deborah to add to the yearly ham purchase that provides delight for the day and for many months to come from the frozen leftovers.
A Christmas puzzle on the table pushed aside the placemats so that we could all play with it. It was a fun way to spend the day, with another Christmas movie and taking time to watch a recording of the original Avatar movie for afternoon entertainment before we went back to the puzzle. Simple things. Simple Christmas. Simple sweet memories of family.
A phone call with the middle daughter and her husband who lives far away in the deep snowy country of Northern Washington. Phone time is punctuated with more sweet memories of our recent time together in October.
Great-Grandkids Theron, Tearany, and Orion
Videos of the great-grandkids shared by their mom, opening the annual Christmas jammies from Grandma Sue. My now 15-year-old great-grandson said specifically when I saw him last fall that he still wanted his Christmas jammies. He now wears men’s sizes. Memories, as I watch those videos of the kids opening presents, come of Christmas mornings decades in the past when I watched the delight of my own kids opening their presents. More words tumble around in my mind with memories as I try to write about December.
Early in the month, I spent a sweet day with my friend Kristin, who offered to drive us to Medford for a girl shopping and lunch day. It was simply a little extra treat that she drove her new Tesla. No way to describe that car except when she hit the gas my head hit the headrest. I have no clue that an EV could have that kind of get up and go getting out of the way of oncoming traffic when needed. She let the car drive itself for a bit on the freeway.
The car took a complete charge while we shopped at Target and has a driving distance of 400 miles between charges. The future is here no matter how we might resist.
On December 10th, the Grants Pass Book Club repeated a Christmas party at Kristin’s, and it is now a tradition. Eight of us laughed, ate great food, and exchanged wrapped books with only hints as to what might be inside showing on the wrapping paper.
Mo and I fed our puzzle addition with three different Christmas puzzles throughout the month, enjoying almost every minute. Some puzzles are very frustrating, however, and we tore our hair out trying to get the blues to match up in this one.
I started making cookies late in the month. Simple cookies with chocolate, cranberries, nuts, and peanut butter in various combinations. Of course, Fantasy Fudge is also a tradition that I celebrate. During Covid, it was almost impossible to find the special marshmallow crème ingredient that makes this fudge so creamy smooth, but this year it was everywhere, at double the price from years past. Yes, inflation is real, and I come home from the grocery store often in shock at some minor item that has actually doubled in price. On a happier note, this week with Christmas behind us, I was surprised to see many prices dropping back to something that might be considered reasonable. Oh please. Wouldn’t it be nice if inflation slowed a bit and let my federal pension and social security COLA raises keep up with all the extra costs of fuel and utilities and food? There go the words again, wandering around in my head as I try to write about December.
On December 22nd, my friend Maryruth had an appetizer party with a fabulous prosecco Christmas punch and 11 people from the neighborhood to share. It was a fun time, made more so for us because Maryruth also invited Connie and Jim, (Connie and Jim are book club friends who met Maryruth and Gerald at my home last summer). Mo and I aren’t particularly fond of parties with people we don’t know so the addition of mutual friends made the evening truly delightful.
Once again, as we seem to do every year in December, Mo and I traveled to the coast for three magnificent days at Harris Beach in the MoHo. We snagged site A23, with a view of the ocean. In addition to beach walking time, we planned the trip to be sure that we could visit the magnificent Festival of Lights at Azalea park. This year Maryruth and Gerald joined us in the coastal city, staying at the Beachside hotel with a perfect ocean view. Their son Terry and his girlfriend drove north from California to spend time with Maryruth and enjoyed the show as well.
The lights were wonderful as always, with an addition this year of another million lights, bringing the total to more than 3 million lights lovingly strung by hundreds of volunteers.
The light show was great, but the best part of the trip was the incredible weather. Mornings were close to freezing every day and the temperatures never rose above the mid-forties during the day but it was sunny! No fog marred the morning views over the ocean, and by the time we walked the beach around 11 every day the skies were brilliant and there was no wind to interfere with our leisurely time on the beach with Mattie.
One of her favorite things is climbing the rocks to a high point. I think I have at least half a dozen photos of Mattie over the years on this very same rock posing for my camera.
Mo and I have another tradition with Maryruth and Gerald viewing the Christmas lights around Grants Pass topping it off with hot chocolate from Dutch Brothers. We live in the home city of the original Dutch Brothers which used to be a local Oregon thing, but somehow now is a huge company worth billions. Everything seems to be in billions and trillions these days.
The weather has been wet, with atmospheric rivers sending wild waves of wind and water over Oregon. Our light-viewing tradition was postponed until after Christmas and sadly the big wind event must have encouraged folks to take down some lights. We decided that we would be sure to see the town lights before Christmas next year. The local newspaper prints a map of the best houses for light viewing. I was thrilled when I saw a little red light marker at our house. We made the newspaper of houses not to miss when touring the lights. I did notice cars going by slowly now and then but not enough to be intrusive. After all, we are on a slightly remote almost but not quite in the country road. Still, it was satisfying to see that we made the map. Like the blog, I do the decorating for myself, but I still enjoy sharing it with other people. I would decorate if no one but me ever saw the house and I would write if no one but me read the blog.
Mo and I shared one magic day of brilliant sunshine and blue skies as the month came to a close. The storm brought crazy winds to Oregon that wreaked havoc on so many areas of the state. Many people in the Grants Pass area lost power but we only had one tiny blink and somehow escaped that particular bit of difficulty. We did have a lot of flying debris from our ancient trees. The Douglas-fir is especially susceptible to dropping branches in high winds.
A few were several inches in diameter and we later realized that the banging noises that we heard at 3 am during the worst of the storm were those branches hitting our roof. When we woke again the next morning, the skies cleared, and we could see debris scattered around the property. In addition, the fabric shelter succumbed to the wind and Mo had to remove the winter cover to prepare for adding a new one.
We decided that it would be smart to let the oak leaves remain in areas of the gravel driveways to kill the annual grasses that sprout every year. I have learned that I can’t mulch gardens with our oak leaves. The first year we lived here I used them in the flower beds and it was three years before I could get anything to grow well. The leaves work great under trees or shrubs, but not in soil flower beds. Once we left a pile of leaves on some grass in the pasture and discovered it only takes a few days for that pile of leaves to kill the grass. Why not let those leaves kill the grass in the driveway and skip the evil weed killer?! I’ll let you know next spring how our plan worked out.
While Mo worked on the fabric shed, I spent a few hours raking up leaves and debris and basking in the incredible sunlight and the Technicolor green of the winter grasses that love the rains. I treasured every minute of those more than ten thousand steps outside in deep winter. The news was filled with stories of the storms throughout the country. We escaped unscathed with the extra treat of one gorgeous sunny day between storms.
Now, hopefully, this crazy word salad of memories has been expelled, and I can close out December and get back to writing about October and November.