Saturday, November 30, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. almonds
2. those long fluffy duster things you can use to get cobwebs off ceiling fans
3. Guglielmo Marconi*
4. having a fire in the fireplace
5. weekends so long you have to think a minute to figure out what day it is

*and not just because you can pretend his name is pronounced Googley-Elmo and that maybe he's not the inventor who helped develop long-distance radio but instead the inspiration for googley eyes. But that, too.

Friday, November 29, 2013

On Thankfulness, Pie, and More Thankfulness

Yesterday, Jed and I hosted our fourth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner. We've been hosting Thanksgiving since our second year in this house, and each year we invite anyone who wants to join us—family, friends, an assortment of international students who would otherwise be spending the entire weekend in the almost-totally-empty dorms on campus. I'm a good baker and a good cook, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love cooking for it; I love hauling out both sets of good china and the silverware; I love owning 30 matching napkins. I love the whole turkey-filled shebang, and I feel strongly that this particular meal should be cooked by someone who feels the exact same way. Every year, we get together with people we love and just enjoy some community. While I suppose there are multiple ways in which this could go wrong, it doesn't happen here—the family members absorb the friends (or "chosen family," as we like to think of them) and the students. The students are charming and often hilarious. The dogs get extra belly rubs. There's pie. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves, and when it's all over and I've come home from dropping the students back at campus, I put on some PJs and pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy having my feet up.

When I was a kid, we went to my grandparents' for Thanksgiving, and for every other major holiday for that matter. Some of my happiest memories are of the cousins sitting around the same table. The kids had their own table in the living room; the adults ate in the dining room. One year, Turquoise got promoted to the grown-up table and was back with us by the time dessert rolled around. One year, after my grandparents had moved to the beach house full time, and we were all basically adults, and the cousins all still sat at a separate table, two of the younger cousins set off on a mission to secure an entire pie for the kids—what followed was an elaborately yet spontaneously choreographed dance, with Jonathan grabbing the pie while Eric distracted the adults, then a hand-off while Jonathan chatted innocently with an uncle, then another hand-off and another conversation, on and on until we erupted in cheers in the sunroom when the two of them arrived, victorious, with the pie. (Note: it was the cheering that did us in, because my dad heard it and came in to see what the fuss was about. Grown-ups: 1; Cousins: 0.)

I've been trying to think if Turquoise was there for that Thanksgiving—I think it was before she moved to California, but I'm not sure. For that matter, I'm trying to remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. If it weren't for the pie, it could have been almost any time—we often gathered in groups at the beach house, and for all the family's struggles, those times were always filled with laughter. The cousins grew up cracking each other up around the same table, whether we were wearing towels wrapped around our swimsuits in August or sweaters in December. But there was pie, so I know it wasn't summer. I hope Turquoise was there.

I can tell you this: Turquoise was here yesterday. In one of the last conversations we had before she died, she asked me if I would take her wedding silver—she wanted it to be well-used and well-loved, wanted it to go to someone who wouldn't find it a burden, to someone who got the same emotional recharge by gathering people around a table, to someone in the family. It was the same pattern our grandmother had, and she loved it. I told her I'd take it, and it arrived in April, almost a year after Turquoise died, in a small box along with a pair of pearl earrings. After a lifetime of postal correspondence—well over 30 years' worth—this was the last time I would go to my mailbox and find something from Turquoise. The package came, and I unrolled the felt bag that contained the silver. I took out a table knife and weighed it in my palm, then put it back. I opened the little plastic zip-bag that held the earrings, which were a surprise. I left the silver on the kitchen island and carried the earrings into the bedroom and put them, along with a necklace she had given me on the last day I saw her, on top of my jewelry box, where I tend to lay out the jewelry I plan to wear the next day.

And I stood in the bedroom and cried. Her death was as fresh to me as if it had just happened. There are always moments like that after a loss—I wake from a dream of her and mourn her again as I come back to reality, or I come across a picture of the two of us that captures something of what we were to each other at our best and my chest thickens and hardens until I want to howl. It doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it used to, and thoughts of her are likely to make me laugh instead of cry, but I am still astonished by her death, gobsmacked by the idea that someone so ludicrously vibrant is somehow not here anymore. Perhaps I've said this before, but I've begun to think some people are simply too big for this world to hold.

There are people who believe that the dead watch over us, that their appearances in our dreams are visits, that they leave us pennies or special birds or songs on the radio. I would find the thought very comforting if I thought it was true, but I don't. I really, really want to, but I can't. What I believe is that I have had the last contact I will ever have with Turquoise, that the rest of my life stretches out ahead of me without one of the people who helped define me from the moment I became aware of the world. Whether I believe in an afterlife or not—and despite the fact that I was raised with faith in one, at times of desperate grief it's easy to think of Heaven as a convenient lie invented to comfort the bereaved—it is now likely that I'll live as long without her as with her.

At the same time, she was here yesterday in a way. One of my sisters-in-law was wearing a bracelet made of pink stones. I have one just like it in green, a gift from one of Turquoise's closest friends, who gave it to Turquoise and then got it back after her death. Sue gave it to me because she couldn't bear to wear it, but I find it comforting. I wasn't wearing that bracelet yesterday, but I did wear the necklace Turquoise gave me during that last visit. And I asked my mom to make sure she set out Turquoise's silver at my place at the table—it was the first time it would be on the table since it came to me, and I wanted to be one of the first people to use it. I'm not sure why it mattered—Turquoise certainly wouldn't have cared; she just wanted it to be used, and used in a gathering like yesterday's.

Maybe because it's my grandmother's pattern, the silver felt natural in my hand. I have no idea how many times I've cut a piece of turkey with a knife weighted exactly like that one, or put a fork shaped exactly like that one in my mouth. For the most part, after I picked up the fork and knife for the first time, I didn't think about it at all. A student cracked a joke. Another smiled at me from halfway down a table so long it stretched past the length of the dining room and well into the living room.* Jed's mom called it a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. My dad helped someone finish off her pie. My brother-in-law and I discussed the secret of including mashed potatoes if one wants to create the perfect leftover sandwich. One of his sons handed me a turkey he made by tracing his hand on a piece of brown construction paper. I ate and laughed and tried to spend a minute consciously taking it all in.

I still think of Turquoise every day.  That will probably change eventually, but like most as-yet unfulfilled inevitabilities, I can't imagine it now. I do know that yesterday was our kind of day, hers and mine, and that she would have loved it.

*There's no kids' table at my house. Whether that's because I no longer qualify to sit at it yet would hate to be left out or because having 2 table-tall dogs precludes leaving the kids to their own devices is another essay for another day.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Black Friday Edition

1. not participating in this particular boost to the economy
2. wearing PJs all day
4. leftover pie
5. hanging out with my folks, Jed, and 3 sleepy dogs

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Thanksgiving Edition

1. you
2. me
3. being related to people who happen to be family
4. gathering with people I love
5. pie

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Not Your Average Tuesday Edition

1. a short (if busy) day on campus before a long weekend
2. pumpkin in my oatmeal (who knew?)
3. all 3 dogs actually hanging out in their own beds
4. coffee instead of tea midweek*
5. coming home to the sounds of Jed vacuuming

*"Luxury"--but only if you use the Monty Python "We had to go live in the lake!" voice to say it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Getting Closer Edition

1. wrapping up 101 for the Thanksgiving break
2. getting the grocery shopping done
3. chair and table delivery
4. cleaning up the china
5. being so close I can almost taste the pie

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Pre-Thanksgiving Football Edition

1. breakfast with relatives I don't see often enough
2. not having the dogs wake me up at 3AM*
3. banana bread
4. not having a ton of stuff on the agenda
5. Tom Brady