It was a season of near disasters. Two weeks before Christmas I lost my aunt’s pearls, a graduated strand of Mikimoto beauties which her husband had brought back from Japan after WWII. Just as I was getting ready to confess, that same aunt had a fall and landed in the hospital. She recovered, the pearls were found, and thus did the overcooked tenderloin on Christmas Eve and the overnighted presents which didn’t arrive by Christmas take their proper place in the ranks of what is not important. (My advice to Hamlet: readiness is not all. Perspective is.)
It was also a season of unexpected gifts. Here’s one, from my daughter Lizzie:
Out of the overturned nest fall four eggs, and out of the eggs fly nine origami birds. I didn’t get the symbolism at first, but with a little help I understood. An empty nest. Re-birth. Possibility. Next fall, when the last of my four leaves for college, I’ll have my mobile to remind me to look at the situation with hopefulness.
The second unexpected gift was from my youngest little bird. On Christmas Eve after everyone had gone to bed, she stayed up for hours cleaning out my laundry room/office. It was a big job. Piles of laundry, stacks of books, framed prints, unframed prints, office supplies, loose papers, notebooks, textbooks, photo albums, boxes of pictures, and probably plain old trash had covered the floor, desk and bookcases. When she presented the tidied room on Christmas day, I nearly fell over with joy on the empty floor.
The third gift I’ll mention is related to that room, before it was cleaned. Truly I had despaired of ever organizing the mess there. My husband, who usually delights in throwing out things I hoard, had refused to help me because I had un-done his past work. So a week before Christmas I was ironing (unusual in itself) and looked at a pile of books stacked on a chair (not unusual at all) and decided that while I was waiting for the iron to heat up, I could at least put away a few books (highly unusual). I picked up a book of Edna St. Vincent Millay poems belonging to my father that my mother had recently sent.
While I was thumbing through the book, I found a letter. It was from my sister-in-law’s father, now deceased, to my father, also deceased. Des was writing to thank Don for loaning a book, and ended with this:
“I think one could meditate forever on Francis Thompson’s lines in his final stanza:
‘Is my gloom, after all, shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?’”
I re-read the letter a few times. I forgot about the iron, forgot about shelving the book. I was overwhelmed by the humanity of it, there in my hand, this intimate record of two old men trying to understand themselves, their lives, their emotions. Des’ handwriting as elegant as his expressions.
Here’s the gift part of the story: I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if she wanted the letter. She wrote back immediately. Turns out she had just been thinking of it. Long ago, shortly after her father died, my father had read her the letter. She didn’t ask for the letter, although she wanted it, and had wondered over the years what had happened to it. By chance, it re-appeared in her life, just a day after the anniversary of her father’s death.
Make of that what you will.
I also found this in the book:
A crumb of food. It’s a little disgusting, but also touches me somehow, this image of my father reading a poem-play and, maybe bored or maybe just sloppy, eating a cookie and dropping his crumbs in the pages. Hardened now and preserved in a closed book, evidence of his constant reading, his yearning for things beautiful, his love of sweets.
Happy New Year! Thanks to all you wonderful readers!