Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

pears-bartlett-copy

 

 

Reading on the Move

Some books seem appropriate on trips because they are of the place. Others are complete contrasts – like “A Tale of Two Cities” in a tent, or Ann Patchett’s “Run” during the long airplane flight to Thailand.

Patchett’s story is about the Doyle family, mothers, a father, sons, and a daughter. It’s set during and in the immediate aftermath of a paralyzing Boston snowstorm that narrows the world so people unknown to each other, but possessing the closest relationship, can meet.

The book is wonderful. Patchett so effortlessly buries profundities in snow banks. I loved all the characters in this book, but maybe Father Sullivan best. Suffering from heart failure at 88, “His heart woke him to remind him that in life there was never a limitless number of nights.”

Awake, he considers life and afterlife: “In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future, instead Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine.” He realizes, “Life itself had been holy.”

I read another author celebrating the holiness of everyday life on a more recent plane ride – Adam Gopnik’s “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.” Gopnik’s little book has an encyclopedic scope, he searches for meaning in the history and culture of food – and in his own accomplished cooking.

I haven’t finished the book, but so far, Gopnik describes French cooking, seasonal food, eating animals “from nose to tail,” and local produce in his insightful, thoughtful language. He tells about the 19th century English writer Elizabeth Penell, “the first to see the cookbook as a literary form,” and includes the emails he writes to her (emails as literary form).

But he hasn’t yet addressed the particular meal I savored while reading him – an Alaska Airlines Mediterranean tapas box – olives, a little tube of hummus, multigrain crackers, almonds, dried apricots, and a tiny bit of dark chocolate. Heavy on the packaging, but at 35,000 feet it’s a great pleasure to pop an olive on the hummus on the cracker, enjoy the presentation, and keep on reading.

Gopnik writes “Good cooking is beloved because, when it is good enough, it gives more immediate pleasure and then recedes more rapidly, more gracefully, into the metaphoric middle distance than any other cultural thing, letting us arrange our lives, at least for one night, around it.”

Or one airplane flight.

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Downtown Abbey in September

On this visit to Downtown Abbey we celebrated our wedding anniversary and Mr. Carson’s birthday. Then he left for his brother’s bachelor party – a hike in the Sierras – a guy tradition no matter the already changed bachelor status.

The Alaska end of September weather seemed familiar – cold, with darkness creeping in. We even woke to snow one morning, flakes filling the street lamplight and accumulating on cars and lawn. It didn’t last – by mid-day the sun shone and the mountains wore “termination dust.”

Lady Baby and I took walks with her stroller to the park. She’s bundled in a fleece suit now and wearing her new pumpkin hat. With bottom drawstring tightened up totally, one of Mr. Carson’s jackets slips over her legs like a small sleeping bag – the hood and arms cozy up and around her making her wind and waterproof. We had great walks – often with Lady Cora.

Lady Baby knows what it is to be alone in a room now. If you are nine-months old and sitting happily on the living room floor, surrounded by intriguing plastic objects that nest and clunk, and nearby is your mom or dad or other familiar big person – the world is good. If that person leaves, to stir the soup or get a cup of tea, a small fret crosses Lady Baby’s face, followed by specific vocalizations. It’s easy to put yourself in her position – just barely mobile and very small.

It seems to make evolutionary sense for a baby to develop separation anxiety at this “cusp of moving” time – it must have kept caregivers nearby and prevented many a baby from a crawl toward the fire or the cave’s entrance.

Lady Megan’s passing colored the week, will color life. She’s been such an important dog, so sweet of face and disposition. I am thankful for her last summer of lying on the back porch to bake in the sun. To write here about her is to recognize her loss for Mrs. Hughes – they had such a life together before anybody thought of Downtown Abbey or its denizens.

I read Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder” on this trip, and she reminded me of the painful truth about loss: “There was no one clear point of loss. It happened over and over again in a thousand small ways and the only truth there was to learn was there was no getting used to it.”

I will miss Lady Megan. I am sorry she is gone, and thankful Mrs. Hughes gave her such a good life full of love.