Friday, December 29, 2006


As this year comes to a close, I wanted my final posting to encompass all three aspects of Gray: West Point, aging, and ambiguity. At the same time.

A friend of mine gave me a bag of goodies the other day – a Christmas gift, pile of old PW, New Yorker, and Pages magazines, and a small piece of cardboard. The cardboard had a quotation on it. I think my friend gave it to me because of the quote. Or maybe because of who said the quote. Or maybe a combination of the two. Or maybe she had been using it as a bookmark, and it had accidentally ended up in the bag, a blue plastic tote which stated: “I’d rather be reading.”

The piece of cardboard looked like it might have once been the side of a tea bag box. It did not seem like a new tea bag box either. The color was a bit faded, and there were remnants of scotch tape on the edges where my friend must have at one time posted the saying up somewhere for others to see. Now I guess she was passing it along to me. Or not. I still think it may have accidentally ended up in the bag.

But presciently.

The quotation struck me. But what struck me even more was who had purportedly said it. I wager that you will not guess who said it. In fact, I so doubted that the person whose name was listed had actually uttered these words I did an online search to see what I could find. I Googled part of the quotation with the speaker’s name. I got multiple hits. The quotation, in a variety of forms, came up on several different online quotation banks under the person’s name.

Of course, that doesn’t really prove anything, but multiple people seem to think this famous person actually uttered or wrote these following words of wisdom:

“Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interests wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair… these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

“Whatever your years, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for ‘What Next,’ and the joy and the game of life.

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, and courage, so long you are young.”


Believe it or not, the originator of these words is Douglas MacArthur.

Douglas MacArthur. 1880-1964. USMA Class of 1903. Superintendent of West Point. General of the Army. That Douglas MacArthur.

As a young plebe, I had to memorize other of his famous sayings:

“Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”

“In war there is no substitute for victory.”

"Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory."

Those kinds of sayings.

Never anything about growing old. Or staying young.

The closest I can remember MacArthur ever saying anything about getting old was that melodramatic quote during his farewell address to Congress in 1951: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

I kind of like the tea box quote myself.

It is inspiring in a real world, catholic sort of way. We may not all serve in the military or fight wars on actual battlefields, but as long as we are alive, it is inevitable that our bodies will grow old.

Our hearts and our souls, it would seem, are another matter. One left up to us.

May 2007 be a year of faith, self-confidence, and hope.

May you be… forever young.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Richard the Lionhearted

One day, a long time ago, my mother told me that if I had been a boy, my name would have been Richard.

Over the years, I have built up a whole persona for Richard, my brother who never was. For Richard, simply would not be me as a boy. Oh, no!

Richard would be tall and handsome and athletic. He would also be really smart, but not in an annoying, know-it-all way that the males in my family seem to inherit. He would be gentle, sensitive, and extremely interested in literature and writing and the arts. He would play lots of sports. Well. Very well. He would be kind, strong, and dependable. He and I would be best friends. We would go to movies together. And plays. We would go hiking, cross-country skiing, and biking. He would be a tremendous uncle to my boys. They would adore him. He would be funny, witty, and make me laugh out loud. Snort even.

He would be “Richard.” He would not be “Rick” or “Dick” or even “Rich.” He would always, at least to me, be Richard. I don’t particularly like the name Richard, all of its derivatives even less. But since Richard is my brother and I adore him, the name has grown on me over the years.

He has a knack for giving gifts which are perfectly chosen. He KNOWS you well and selects things which he knows you want but might never pick for yourself.

He likes a good glass of wine. Enjoys beer. Knows his vodkas well. Does not care for scotch. Thank God!

He likes steak grilled to a medium rare. And lamb chops. He likes to cook. From scratch. And doesn’t mind cleaning up afterwards. He likes it when I cook. Sometimes we cook together, trying out new recipes.

He can sing.

He is handy around the house. He could be a plumber or an electrician in his spare time. My mother absolutely adores him. He plays golf with her two or three times a year and totally enjoys it. She usually beats him. But not because he isn’t trying.

He is knowledgeable about foreign affairs. He votes regularly. He has strong feelings politically, but does not ram them down your throat.

He is open-minded and not the least bit judgmental. He loves gossip. Secretly. You can pretty much tell him anything, and it will be safe with him.

Did I mention that he was gay?

That would mean he and my father would not have gotten along. Unfortunately. But Richard would still have been loyal. He would have been the one who would have taken my father to doctor’s appointments and bathed him when he no longer could. Richard would have been there. To the end. No matter what.

Richard calls me a few times a week. He is one of the few people I have on speed dial on my cell phone. We talk frequently. Not for long periods of time. Usually. But sometimes. We talk often.

Right now Richard and I are listening to a CD of Broadway show tunes. He thinks I am stereotypical. He says it is I who likes Broadway show tunes so much. He can just sing them. Well. Unlike his musically impaired sister.

Richard likes to tease me. But that’s OK.

He is my rock. My hero.

He is my confidante. My encourager. My supporter. He and I can do a mean foxtrot or cha cha with the best of them. We share books and recommend movies to one another. He hardly ever pisses me off.

Well, sometimes he does. But not often. And not for very long.

He knows just when you need a hug. Or a kick in the pants.

He laughs at my bad puns.

He would be mortified if he knew I was writing all this about him.

But, secretly, I think he would be pleased.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Auld Lang Syne

As this year comes to an end, I wanted to reflect a bit on why I selected “Gray” as the title of my blog.

I chose it, basically, because I thought I was very clever to come up with it. And I like to amuse myself.

I found something particularly poignant and brilliant about the fact that West Point is all about gray (the Long Gray Line, gray uniforms, gray buildings, “black, gold, and gray,” etc.); aging is symbolized by the color gray (and we were all hitting middle age); and there are so many “gray areas” in life. Gray, gray, gray, gray, gray. So many meanings and shades of meaning encompassed in one tiny four letter word which isn’t even a cuss word!

The impetus for starting this blog came from my 20th West Point reunion, which I attended reluctantly but dutifully at the behest of a close group of women classmates who have supported me and encouraged me during some of the darkest days of my life. I had not been back to West Point since 1986, for the graduation of the class that came after mine. Actually, I had flown back from England, where I was attending Oxford as a graduate student, to attend my former West Point roommate’s wedding. Her fiancé was in the Class of 1986, and they were getting married right after his graduation, which was a fairly typical arrangement for West Pointers, who were not allowed to be married while at the Academy.

Only the wedding was called off at the last moment, and I didn’t find out about it until I received a long distance phone call from the fiancé who embarrassedly told me he realized I was coming all that way for nothing. I was stunned, yes, but it was too late really to change my plans. After West Point, I was flying on to join my husband for the summer at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was stationed with the 101st Airborne/Air Assault. I had to fly through New York anyway; I would still come up to West Point, attend graduation, and spend some time with my former sponsor and his family.

If it comes as any consolation, my former roommate and her fiancé ended up marrying afterall a few years later. Which seemed somehow very right. I am not in touch with them any more, however. This is one of the problems with military families: everyone moves so frequently, if you miss even one move you can lose touch with people forever, or at least indefinitely. I have no idea where my roommate is. I am not sure that she and her husband are even still married. She did not attend our 20th West Point reunion. She does not list her address with the Alumni Association. I tried searching for her – and her husband – on the Internet, but to no avail. The best I could come up with was the last known address and phone number that I had, and neither of them worked. Mail returned to sender, phone disconnected.


I would love to reconnect and catch up with J. We were so different, yet got along so well. She was like a breath of fresh air at an uptight, male-dominated military institution, a woman with heart and soul and chutzpah. She was African American, from a small town in Florida. Sanford. I used to call it Sanford and Son. I think her Mama was actually her grandmother, and she didn’t grow up with a father. But she had a very loving and devoted extended family of sisters and nieces and cousins. She was wild, dedicated, worldly, irreverent, a hard worker, funny as hell, and loved Prince, Chaka Khan, and Rick James, whose poster hung rebelliously on the back of our barracks room door. And she smoked. I, on the other hand, was an uptight, prudish, naïve white Catholic girl from a conservative, upper middle class suburb in the Northeast and an overprotected, idyllic childhood. We roomed together for three years, whenever we could, often with another roommate added into the mix as well. Finally, in our last semester at West Point we ended up rooming alone, just the two of us. We used to call ourselves the Pointer Sisters. A whole lot of laughter went on inside that room as we impatiently bided our time, ready to burst forth from West Point’s gates and take on the Army and the world at large.

She read at my wedding; she would have been my Maid of Honor, but my only sister filled those shoes. She did shots of Jack Daniels with my new father in-law out in our driveway, forever endearing herself to him as a woman who could hold her liquor in a man-to-man showdown. I visited her in Germany where she was stationed as a new Ordinance LT while I was studying at Oxford. This was after her wedding had been called off; she had met someone else. But that didn’t last long, and she eventually ended up marrying her former beau, whom she had known since Cow year at West Point. After Germany, she joined us at Fort Hood, Texas, where my husband and I were finally stationed together after three years of being separated by the Army and schooling. Her first year there, she livened up an otherwise sedate Thanksgiving dinner that we were hosting for my husband’s soldiers, and then she deployed to Desert Shield/Desert Storm. She was in DISCOM, the division’s support command, in the Materials Management Center (MMC). I used to call her MMC Hammer. She finally married her West Point beau, and the two of them headed off for a tour in Korea. When their active duty commitments were done, they got out of the Army and settled in San Antonio, Texas, where they took over a Western wear supply company from an older couple who wanted to retire. My former roommie sent me, her craft-impaired friend, a glue gun and beads and western silver bits and taught me how to make my own Western wear belts and necklaces. We stayed in touch via phone and letters and Christmas cards, and they came to visit us once when we were stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The boys were born by then, and Auntie J brought them Hi-Ho Cherrio!, which became their favorite board game of all time.

Somehow, somewhere over the years, however, we lost touch. It was probably during the time we were stationed in Germany and moved three times over the course of our four years there. I know that when we moved back to the States, I tried to locate her. They had been in San Antonio for quite some time with the Western wear company, but I couldn’t track them down. The company seemed to have gone out of business, or changed its name and location at the very least, and the addresses and phone numbers I had no longer worked. I think maybe J may not have wanted to contact me again for she could have sent something to my mom’s address, which has remained the same after all of these years.

I have no idea where she is now or what she is doing or what has happened to her or her husband. Their company might have folded, or they may have decided they’d had enough with Western wear and moved on to other endeavors. They were always coming up with creative ideas for new business ventures. They may have divorced. I am not sure if they ever had children. They had been trying to have kids, without success, for several years and had talked about going over to Korea to adopt a mixed race baby. Her husband was an Air Force brat himself, half Korean, half Hispanic. She said if they adopted a baby who had been born to a Korean woman and an African American soldier/airman, the baby would look just like their own.

Little does she know that I divorced after eighteen years of marriage and moved back home. I never thought I would live back here in the town where I grew up. She doesn’t know I went back to school, became a librarian, and am raising my two sons as a single mom.

I would LOVE to reconnect with J. I hope that wherever she is, she is doing well. And is happy.
My sons are almost 13 and 15 now, but they refuse to give away the Hi-Ho Cherrio! game which their Auntie J brought them. It still sits on their game shelf, surrounded by Risk and Clue and Fellowship of the Rings Monopoly. In my mind, which is romantic and prone to fantasy, I imagine her showing up, unexpected and unannounced but always welcome, at our front door one day, and she and the boys would play Hi-Ho Cherrio! For old times’ sake. And it would be a lot of fun!

They would get me to play. There would be a lot of laughter and teasing and remembering. Ribald jokes and bad puns. Southern Comfort and diet Coke. We would laugh so hard, tears would come to our eyes. The Pointer Sisters back together again.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Act of Contrition

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been X weeks since my last confession.
I have…
· teased my sister
· used bad words in vain.”

Those were the two most common “sins” I used to report, err, confess, as a young girl being raised as a Catholic.

I used to DREAD going to confession. I hated going into that box/closet contraption where you were in the dark and had to kneel on a kneeler and talk through a darkened screen. The priest – or ONE of the priests (you never knew which one it was going to be) would be hidden on the other side, in HIS little dark closet.

I can only imagine how tedious and boring it must be for priests to listen to everyone’s confessions. Somehow, I imagine them on the other side doing one of those Word-Search books or leafing through a back issue of Playboy (or- Girl, as the case might be)….

I would confess my sins and then cringe, holding my breath, preparing myself for the worst, trembling in fear at what the priest was going to say back to me. Clearly, I must be a horrible, evil person. I should incur the mighty wrath of God! With very few exceptions (in fact, I can’t think of any exceptions), the priest always rattled off some rote prayer and told me to go say ten “Our Fathers” and ten “Hail Marys.” Which I did, quite penitently, out in one of the main pews upon emerging from the dark closet of sin. Then I would proceed to go out and tease my sister some more and use even more bad words in vain.


I was shocked yesterday when someone at our work Christmas party (at a Catholic university) where people at my table were discussing confession, for some reason unknown to me, said she preferred to confess her sins face-to-face to a priest. I think that is admirable, don’t get me wrong. Far more mature than going inside some stupid, dark box and talking to a screen! But I would NEVER, EVER want to do that. I would be too scared to talk to some priest face-to-face.

Of course, my problem has always been that I could never understand why I needed to “go through” a priest – or anyone else, for that matter. Why couldn’t I just talk with God directly and confess my sins straight to him? How was it anybody else’s business, besides mine and God’s, what sins I was committing?

The year we were preparing for First Communion (second grade), we had to attend our First Confession in preparation for our First Holy Communion. I was absolutely terrified. I was filled with angst and guilt about all of the terrible, dreadful, awful things I must have done in my life thus far. I remember lying awake in fear the night before we were scheduled to attend our First Confession. I was totally overcome by feelings of guilt and shame. I had stolen some bubble gum from the Thoroughfare with my sister at some point in my pre-second grade youth, and I was now beside myself with feelings of unworthiness and guilt. I had worked myself up into such a state of anxiety whilst lying there in bed, I didn’t know how I could POSSIBLY wait all the way until the next day to confess my terrible, awful crimes against God and humanity. Suddenly, from out of the blue, this thought came to me: why couldn’t I just confess my sins right there, right then, to God? Surely, He would be listening. He already knew all my sins anyway, didn’t He?

And so that is what I did. Lying there in the dark, I silently confessed all of my terrible misdeeds to God. And as soon as I did so, I felt IMMENSELY better. Relieved. Like a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I will NEVER forget that feeling. And I still went to my official first confession the next day and re-confessed all my sins, after waiting my turn forever in line and following Janice T, whom I could hear through the closed confessional door. She had done really bad, bad things, like teasing her little brother and yelling at her puppy.

This is not to say that I really think God “forgave” me on that night I confessed my sins from under my bedclothes. Or even that He was listening. I don’t really see God in that way, anthropomorphized into the old white-haired, white-bearded man in flowing robes from The Bible Story who might look down from on high, omniscient as we all know, but willing to bend his ear towards my tiny bedroom window and give me thirty seconds to bare my breast and then absolve me of my sins and send me on my merry way. My point wasn’t about God or the merits of confession, but rather the fact that I, at age seven, decided I should be able to talk to God myself, one on one, and having done so, I felt MUCH better inside.

One of the (MANY) things I dislike about the Catholic religion is how it trains people to feel guilty about EVERYTHING. Clearly, missing mass is NOT a sin. Clearly, eating meat on Friday during Lent is NOT a sin. Clearly, a whole lot of things are not sins. Made up Church obligations versus actions of wrongness. We all do bad, wrong things, often over and over again, regardless of how sorry we might be that we do them at some point in time. I think most people strive to follow the Golden Rule, at least to some level or degree. We can all think of exceptions to this, but I am an idealist (a naïve idealist, to boot!) and I see man as basically good. Yes, I realize that there are bad people out there, evil people even, and that they do terrible, awful things. I also know that most good people do bad things throughout the courses of their lives. It is a very human, imperfect world that we live in full of tragedy and sorrow. But also goodness and joy.

My gut feeling – and this is probably a shameful thing to say -- is that it is not good to be raised Catholic, because I don’t think you can EVER truly get rid of those feelings of guilt, or the propensity to feel guilty all the time. It was years before I realized that most Protestants, or non-Catholics of any bent, do not have these same feelings of constant, pervasive guilt. “How lucky they must be!” I thought to myself when I first realized how the whole guilt trip thing was such a Catholic thing. And how angry I was at the Catholic Church.

Not that I don’t at times see beauty in the Catholic religion. Because I do. But I become discouraged by the closed-mindedness and exclusivity, which seem so non-Christ like to me. I see this in other religions or denominations, too, especially more fundamentalist ones. And it makes me sad. Most of my problems with religion have nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the men who arbitrarily make up silly rules to suit their purposes and self-interests.

As I write this, I am listening to Christmas songs, many of them religious and deeply moving. Sure, I like the Santa, Frosty, Rudolf, Jingle Bells songs well enough (my favorite non-religious Christmas song is “Winter Wonderland”), but I truly love the deeply religious songs about the Nativity story and the baby Jesus. One of my favorite is “Ave Maria.” I am not really sure how it is a Christmas song, but we seem to hear it most often at Christmas time, sung most famously (and most ironically, as she is Jewish) by Barbra Streisand. I also like “Silent Night,” but in the original German. “O Holy Night” by Nat King Cole. And, of course, “The Halleluiah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. (Again, I am not really sure why that song is traditionally sung around Christmas time. You would think it would be more part of an Easter celebration.)

Then again, I don’t know that I like particular Christmas songs for the meanings of their words as for the beauty of the music and the way they sound to my ear. Plus, Christmas songs offer a comforting sound, songs I know well, effortlessly, without having to think hard upon their lyrics because I have heard them so often, over and over, all throughout my life. While I may be musically impaired, I tend to know the words to most Christmas songs and can replicate their rhythms and notes. In my head, anyway. There is something comforting about that. During a time of year that is really pretty stressful, I find comfort and meaning in traditional songs. And in tradition. And ritual.

Although the commercialism and consumerism of modern day Christmases get me down, as does all the rushing around and stress, I truly enjoy Christmastime.

It is one of my favorite times of year… I have to confess.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent II

Words of wisdom: If you celebrate Christmas a week early, Advent is even shorter.

[I am sure that statement is sacrilegious on oh, so many fronts!]

But… and I don’t think we are unlike many families where kids have to celebrate the holidays with two parents who are divorced and live in different places, you have to play with the cards which were dealt to you. Sorry – my younger son is learning about idioms in school, and I just had to add one in for good measure!

On odd years, the boys are with me for Christmas and then go to their dad’s the day after Christmas and for the rest of their holiday break, while on even years, they go to their dad’s as soon as they get out for holiday break. Since this is an even year, it means they will be going to visit their dad the day after they get out of school, which will be Friday the 22nd. Thus, in order to celebrate “our” Christmas, we did it THIS weekend. Strangely, if you decorate your house and follow all of your normal traditions, it “seems” like whichever day you celebrate Christmas IS actually Christmas. Until you leave your house or turn on the TV or go out into the world at large.

Truly, it SEEMED like Christmas morning this morning. The tree was all trimmed, the house all decorated, the presents wrapped and under the tree, the stockings all hung by the chimney with care, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I about killed myself to get this far this fast. And, yes, we have not actually finished decorating the tree, but who can tell but me? Well, OK, my mother and Martha Stewart, too. The boys got all their presents, wrapped, and arranged in predetermined piles under the tree, those presents from Santa wrapped, of course, in Santa paper. The stockings were stuffed and overflowing. One poor son’s chocolate Santa had actually started to melt, from the heat of the artificial fireplace, which his grandmother had installed and turned on “for effect.” It was about sixty degrees outside today, NOT normal weather for December in this part of the world, but not all that terrible, either. Yes, I DO like a white Christmas, but if it can’t be white, then sixty and pleasant is fine with me. Because it means I can go for a long walk after I have eaten WAY too much food.

I didn’t have to turn out a holiday meal, thank God! We went to brunch with some family friends, a tradition we started several years ago and do a weekend or two before Christmas. I will have to cook Christmas dinner NEXT week, on the actual Christmas day, for some family and friends, but that will be very low key and relaxing, not frenetic and involving a giant, fricking turkey with all of the trimmings. I really LOATHE preparing a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It is not really all that hard to cook a turkey, but it is time-consuming to cook a turkey dinner and all of its side components. You prepare and cook all day long, people devour everything in about six and a half minutes, and then it takes you hours to clean up and put all the leftovers away. While everyone else is off watching football games or getting drunk or having family tiffs. Or all three. GAHHHH!!!

Do I really LIKE doing Christmas a week early???

No, of course not.

Do I like celebrating Christmas with my family, whether early or late?


I heard the bells on Christmas day (or the week before)
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Tuesday, December 5

I remember Advent as lasting…FORREEEEEVVVERRRRRRR. Interminable. Growing up we had Advent calendars, and it was FOREVER to wait to open up the next window. My little sister used to cheat. She would open up windows and then try to shut them again, like, what, nobody was going to notice?

Now I barely have enough time to say the word “Advent” before the entire month of December has rushed by in one giant WHOOSH!

People already have their lights up; their atrocious oversized, blow up Santas, Frosties, and Rudolfs inflated; and their trees decorated by Thanksgiving. Overly efficient people who have the same DNA as Martha Stewart, no doubt. I hate them, one and all. It only makes me think how behind the power curve I am.

I seriously considered boycotting Christmas all together this year. The boys are going to go visit their father for the entire Christmas Break. I am just not in the mood. I don’t want to bake cookies, I don’t feel like doing Christmas cards, the thought of putting up a tree and decorating it makes me want to shoot myself. Uggh. What is the point?

I have done some Christmas shopping. I used to be much more efficient. I used to buy gifts throughout the year as I spotted them or they went on sale or I saw something I thought someone would like. I don’t do that as much anymore. For one thing, as kids get older, their tastes change more drastically and they want increasingly more expensive items.

I made the mistake of getting Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan’s latest Christmas CD. Don’t get me wrong: I love it! But it might not be the wisest musical choice for me at this point in time. I popped the CD in as soon as I got in my car this morning, and I wasn’t out of the driveway before my eyes started to mist up. I was bawling like a baby by the time I got to the highway. Sarah McLachlan always makes me cry, but add her plaintive voice to traditional Christmas songs (knowing my kids won’t be here for the holidays), and it was like the Hoover Dam breaking across the Interstate. Just call me a masochist. I wish I could write the way Sarah McLachlan sings. It’s not so much that her voice makes me cry, as that it moves me so deeply. And then I cry.

It’s like agreeing to watch a Hallmark Hall of Fame special with my mother. It is not enough that the sappy special invariably moves me to tears, but every single frigging Hallmark card commercial (and there are a LOT of them during the course of the movie!) makes me cry. Even if I have seen them umpteen times before. It is ridiculous!

I am ridiculous.

I wish I had an Advent calendar. I LOVE Advent calendars. When we were little our godfather’s wife used to send us one every year. It was the first sign that Christmas was coming, and I really enjoyed opening the little windows every day. In anticipation.

Advent literally means “coming to.” (Five years of Latin have to be worth something!) Actually, Advent comes from the Latin “Adventus Redemptoris,” which means the “Coming of the Redeemer,” or the “Coming of the Savior.” Thus, it has a dual, or nuanced meaning, for Christians. Not only is it the remembrance, the celebration of Jesus’ birthday (the First Coming) that we are looking forward to, but anticipation of His return (the Second Coming) as well. Very clever! The Alpha and the Omega. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be….” He was, He is, and He will be.

On a more practical level, there is a HUGE difference between anticipation, waiting, and expectation for Christmas, the holiday, and the modern anxiety, stress, and worry for Christmas, the phenomenon. We are expected to produce, in 21st century America, THE Christmas experience. Wow those neighbors with all our sparkling lights and tacky decorations! Send out those amazing family photo Christmas cards and newsletters! Buy and wrap mounds of presents that put us into debt for months on end. Bake massive amounts of cookies and breads and bars and treats that we really don’t need to begin with. And how does all this fit in with the coming of the Savior…? I’m not really sure.

My mother bought a Christmas tree the other day. We still have to bring it into the house and decorate it. Merely getting it into the stand and set up exactly the way she wants it is enough to drive one to drink. She has marked what she has decided is the “front” of the tree. She had my younger son twirl the tree around until she could “find” the front.

I am hoping I don’t really have to do anything to the bottom of the tree to get it to fit in the tree stand. Last year I had to saw off bottom branches and trim the trunk a bit. With a saw. Several times over actually. To get it to fit in the damned tree stand. I think we went through several tree stands, too. One was too small. One was too big. One was defective; the legs wouldn’t fit into the slots right and the stand was unbalanced. The tree came in the house. The tree went back outside the house. The tree went back inside the house. My mother had a bag she’d bought to go over the tree, specifically so no needles (well, the fewest possible, anyway) would drop onto the carpet. This was not just some Hefty bag she had cut a hole in or something. No, this was an official tree bag. She bought it specifically for this purpose. I mean, I didn’t even know they made things like that. I would have just used a vacuum cleaner to sweep up errant needles. Silly me!

The bringing in of the Christmas tree was NOT a happy family bonding activity. I think I was about ready to cancel Christmas by the time we got the tree finally set up the way she wanted it.

“I wish I had a river, I could skate away on….”

Saturday, December 9, 2006

I bought an Advent calendar today. Never mind that it is already December 9th, and I have missed the first eight days of December. I can open windows retroactively. No problem.

I decided that it is just not Advent without an Advent calendar. Naysayers and pooh-poohists, be damned! If I want an Advent calendar, I’ll get one, goshdarnit! And I will open the windows each day. And be happy. If others decide they want to open windows, too, they will just have to get in line and take turns.

Advent. It’s not just a time of waiting, it’s an adventure!

Friday, December 01, 2006


A tree fell on our house today.

No one was hurt.

And we don’t have a new skylight or anything.

It’s dark, so I can’t really tell what the structural damage is.


I wasn’t even home when it happened. I was at work.

We had that weird cold front with the gusting winds come through today. We had been experiencing unusually balmy weather for this time of year. When I left for work this morning, it was 67 degrees. When I got home this evening, it was about 37 degrees.

At about 11 this morning, there was a torrential downpour with horrendous winds. When I peered outside, it looked like God had turned the entire world into one giant car wash. You know, the kind where you stay inside your car and ride on through the high-pressured, sudsy wash, wax, and dry while your car is pulled along by some motorized chain thing.

There were wind gusts of up to about 60 miles per hour. Scary just to think about, if you ask me.

The house I live in is 180 years old. It was built in 1826. It is one hundred years older than my mother. It is…, for lack of a better word, … OLD.

The house is on the side of a hill; it is surrounded by trees. Some of those trees are very big. And very old, too. One of them has a huge branch with a giant split in it; several years ago this tree was hit by lightning. The wind whistles through the split in the branch in a very ominous manner, even during the best of times.

Normal winds tend to bring down twigs and branches in a rather pell mell fashion around the house all the time.

I was kind of worried what 60 mph winds might do.

At about 4:00, my older son called me at work to tell me that the power had just gone out. That did not surprise me. I could hear the wind howling in the background as my son was talking to me. That DID surprise me. He was indoors.

About an hour later, my younger son called. One of his friends was inviting him over to spend the night. Oh, and by the way, a tree had fallen on the house.


“Yeah. It was a big tree. We thought it was an earthquake when it hit.”


Did it come into the house?????


Where did it hit????

On the left side of the house.

What does THAT mean???? On the side that the backyard is? (I was envisioning several potential large backyard trees.)

No. A different side.

OK. A house tends to have FOUR sides. Which side exactly did the tree fall on?

The back.

Did it come through a window? The ceiling? A wall?


Well, can you tell me more about it? How big was the tree?

“Look, I need to call my friend back to tell him if I can spend the night or not. You’ll have to ask Grandma all these questions about the tree.”

Was it a BIG tree….????

Yes, it was a big tree.

Like the one in the front yard? (Which is a giant maple tree that must be well over a hundred years old.)

No. Not THAT big.


Now I am starting to think to myself: SURELY it cannot have possibly been that bad, or my mother would have called me at work. Right?

I mean, the woman calls me at work all the time. To tell me things like: she has mailed a bill for me. Or she wants to know if we should have corn or green beans with dinner. Surely, if a TREE had fallen on the HOUSE, wouldn’t she have called me????????

The answer to that would be…..


As I was leaving work, I called home to see if the power was back on yet.

It was. I got my mother on the phone when I called.

She reminded me that she was going out to dinner with friends. She said the wind was blowing really, really hard, and I should be careful when I drove home. And that the power had been off. But now, thankfully, it was back on.


And there had been a sort of …………… “disaster” earlier in the afternoon.

What sort of “disaster”? I asked.

Oh, nothing big. A tree fell on the house.


A tree had fallen on the house and THAT entered conversation AFTER the reminder she was going out to dinner???? AFTER she told me it was really windy outside???? AFTER she told me my son’s friend’s parents had just come to pick him up for a sleepover????

Meanwhile, I am envisioning a huge, gaping hole in the roof of the house.

No, she said. She couldn’t really tell what damage it had done. All she knew was that there was a tree down behind the house and branches and debris were all over the place, to include on the roof.

She wanted to know if I thought she should wear her black raincoat, or something warmer.


A fucking tree had fallen on the house. And all these people could think about was sleepovers and what coat to wear?????

When I got home, I grabbed my older son, and the two of us trooped out into the backyard and behind the house. I was carrying a lantern. It was still windy. And pitch dark. We found the tree trunk, sure enough. And there were branches and shattered wood bits all over the place. It was then that my son noticed there were bricks all over the place, too.

Where had THEY come from????

From the roof? he suggested.

No. There are no bricks on the roof, I said.

Then it dawned on me: the chimney. The tree must have fallen onto one of the chimneys. We walked around to the other side of the house to get a better view. There are four chimneys on the house. None of the fireplaces are working anymore, but they are still there, along with their chimneys. The chimneys are made of brick, and there is a brick arch over the top of them, I suppose to keep out the elements. I looked at the one nearest to where the tree had hit. The arch was completely missing.


I daresay the felled tree took out the entire top of the chimney.

I informed my mother, who was still applying her makeup and fixing her hair, that the tree appeared to have taken out a chimney.

OH. She nodded, smacking her lipstick-clad lips onto a Kleenex to remove the excess lipstick. That makes sense, she said. When the tree hit, it sounded like the entire house was falling down.

Oh, sure, NOW she tells me!

The boys thought it was an earthquake, she added matter-of-factly, this woman for whom NOTHING is matter-of-fact.

Well, that is because they have LIVED through earthquakes, I said. When we lived up in Alaska, earthquakes were not an uncommon experience.

Earthquakes here would be… weird.

But not trees falling on your house, apparently!

That didn’t seem to elicit much response or reaction at all!!!!

Small, teeny, totally inconsequential matters seem to take on great portent, while huge, fucking trees falling on one’s house, “like an earthquake,” are hardly worth mentioning.

Yes, clearly, I live in INSANO town with the insano family.

No one was hurt, though. And there IS still a roof over our heads.

So… in the grand scheme of things, I guess it is: "Ten bells, and all is well!"