Monthly Archives: December 2014

Late blooming

I know “late blooming” mostly refers to an adolescent’s delayed development but this time of year, it puts me in mind of paper whites, which I like to grow during the weeks before Christmas. I started a few pots of them early in December but in our cold and dark house — kept this way because no one is ever home — they seemed delayed in their development: stumpy and gnarled like fetuses, like bulbs (which are flower fetuses, you could say), only loosely rooted in their cold beds of stone and dirt. More like graves than beds, come to think of it.

But then the holidays were truly upon us and I filled the fridge with food and the kids filled the house with messy bags of their stuff and carols filled the air and there were packages wrapped in bright paper and fires in the hearth and Christmas cards stacked on a silver tray and stockings hung with care.

And in response to all this, the paper whites bloomed.

Or maybe it was just because we finally turned the heat up.

paper whites

paper whites

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This is what 80 looks like

Joan Dideon

Stayed to long at the fair?

“Loss” is the word I think of when I think of Joan Dideon. She is brilliant and chic and a cultural icon as well. But I associate her with the time when Merrie was dying. Merrie and I and others went to see Vanessa Redgrave in “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It was Merrie’s last trip into her beloved New York, on the occasion of her 48th birthday, the last one she would have. The book and play are about a lot of things but for me they are all about loss — of Dideon’s husband (the “year” is the year following his death) and her daughter, who would pass after its publication.

So Dideon is alone now and she looks alone in this photo. One of the lines from the book — although I’ve forgotten its context — is “Have I stayed too long at the fair?” Until I figure that out, here the lyrics from the Billy Barnes song, best-sung by Rosemary Clooney.

So wistful, so much about being passed by and alone. And there’s even a reference to the midway: “The lights of the midway are fading above me, have I stayed to long at the fair?”

wanted the music to play on forever,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I wanted the clown to be constantly clever,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I bought the blue ribbons to tie up my hair,
But I couldn’t find anybody to care,
The merry-go-round is beginning to slow now,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
The music has stopped, and the children must go now,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

Oh, mother dear, I know you’re very proud,
Your little girl in gingham is so far above the crowd,
No, daddy dear, you never could have known,
That I would be successful, and so very much alone.

Here in New York, I’m many worlds away,
From people who are dear to me,
Here in New York, I’m learning every day,
How very sad a carnival can be.

I wanted to live in a carnival city,
With laughter and love everywhere,
I wanted my friends to be thrilling and witty,
I wanted somebody to care,
I found it was easy to capture success,
But now I’d be willing to settle for less,
The lights of the midway are fading above me,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I’d better run home to the people who love me,
For I’ve stayed too long at the fair.

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please, thank you

There’s a secular kind of prayer I make when I fear something in my life is about to be lost. It goes like this: please, please, please, please.

On an everyday basis that thing is my phone and I am asking the Maker (of Apple Products) to reveal it to me as not lost after all. Please, please, please, please, I think. And there it is: my phone, tossed heedlessly into my bag, hidden in the black recesses among sundry other black things: a black wallet, a black notebook, a pair of black tights (whaaaa?). I feel a little spangle of relief; it’s a company-issued phone and I simple can’t tell the tech-support guy I lost another one. On most occasions, I remember to send up a thank you to the Maker that goes something like this: “You have saved me so much inconvenience not to mention groveling on this day and for that I am grateful.”

As a mother of two “children,” now in their twenties, I’ve had far too many occasions to send up that prayer to another Maker, who, although not well known to me, probably doesn’t reside in Cupertino.

 

Please, please, please, please, I would think as I pounded the playground looking for a lost Lily, who was not over by the swings, not underneath the life-sized concrete hippos, and not where I last saw her at the teeter-totters, before I fell into a conversation with another mother, complaining about our kids, in all likelihood. When Lily is found — trolling for food from the sanctimonious mom who always remembers to bring baggies of raisins and Goldfish — I don’t care that Mother Superior gives me a side-eyed look for losing my daughter and having no snacks. I send up a thank you to Whomever for restoring Lily to me, for making this day a perfectly ordinary one. I remember, at least in that moment, to stop wishing that extraordinary things would happen to me (“Hey lady, you look like a novelist! Got a book we can publish?”) and appreciate just how sweet ordinary life can be.

“Thank you,” I think, brushing the Goldfish dust from Lily’s round cheeks. “I will never complain about my children again.”

Fast-forward many years and Oliver, Lily’s younger brother, has offered to drive to Vermont to pick up his sister from college. It is Thanksgiving break and we are too cheap/broke to fly her home. As darkness is falling, some five hours after he should have arrived, Lily calls to say: “No Oliver.” I try his phone, which goes straight to voicemail but I don’t really worry until Lily calls two hours later with the same message: “No Oliver.” I try to go about my ordinary activities, shopping for the holiday, but my brain is scrambled with anxiety, and the grocery store is making me more nuts than usual: the bafflingly numerous choices when it comes to buttermilk, the throngs of shoppers in that supermarket-stupor of torpid movement, the grocery baggers in their grating Santa hats (it’s Thanksgiving people! If you feel you must wear a holiday topper, why not a pilgrim’s hat?). I am blinded by visions of Oliver, all of them catastrophic: car crashed into a tree or car out of gas and he’s walking down the road accosted by a crazy person or forced to sleep in the car, temperature plummeting, his vehicle black by the side of the black roadway, an obstacle the other car can’t see until … and so forth.

Please, please, please, please, I think, praying, in my way, for my ordinary life to resume. And it does, with an annoyed Oliver calling from a gas station up by the Canadian border, having missed his exit, having had his cell phone die, having had to listen to ten (he: “seriously, mom, ten?”) increasingly frantic messages from me. The next day I am still weak with relief over having both my children — and many other people I love — around the table. And even though the turkey is on the dry side and the gravy is on the thin side and the biscuits are a little weird (wrong buttermilk) and the cranberry relish is hated by all, I couldn’t be more grateful when my guests compliment me on the lovely meal.

“Thank you,” I say to them and also to Whomever. “Thank you so much.”

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