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Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

streb fly 2

STREB/Ringside: Photo by Lois Greenfield

Maybe the talisman doesn’t save us after all. Maybe something suitable just happens to be within reach at the moment we need to be saved.

When it comes to rescue, coincidence can look a lot like fate.

Several months ago, I “threw my back out.” An uber-intense workout involving a particularly brutal instrument of torture called Jacob’s Ladder twinged something in my lumbar region. Within hours, pain immobilized me.

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The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)


 

 

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collard greens 2

I tear from their stems
leaves as big as elephant’s ears,
dino kale, mustard, Russian red.
Friends came
bearing this plastic sack of plants.
I hugged close
the friends then lifted out
one giant collard leaf
and pressed it against my cheek.

These succulent greens grew
in a stark suburban yard
stripped bare of topsoil
and shade. It took a few years
and the season’s first frost
to draw sweetness up through veins
threading bitter lamina.

The tough, cold fiber
yields to a tug,
its surprising suppleness
as porous as my own
skin, as ready
to give.

I did not want
to cook something new. Dinner fuels
me, most days that is
enough.
In the pan, oil spits
at the intrusion
of garlic and broth.
The spatula’s flat wooden blade
gilds ashen leaves
and they shine with the sharp scent
of roots, ice, chlorophyll, flame.

The flavor makes my mouth
ache like when I’m close
to crying. I eat
slowly, marveling at how far the comfort
of routine has carried me
from pleasure.

It is wonderful to see you
is what we say. It used to be the other way
when sensation raced
to the side of the bed, bouncing
on its toes,
get up get up, come look.
Taking notice comes first
now. This is the shift
that marks the start
of growing up. We wake
to walls and grab
at threads of hunger,
at any texture that can mimic
or at least stand in
for wonder. We pause
still hoping for a surge
until we surrender and step out
as first light
splits the horizon and say
It is wonderful
to see
you.

We learn to lift
ourselves towards desire. We learn to proceed
with our hands
extended, feeling
through weed and loam, inviting
something to stroke our wrists
and yank us over
into the bright fat flesh
of the world, the place
all around us
where explosions as fleeting
as one leaf
against tongue, skin,
or sky can make us catch our breath
in a thrill of awakening, breaking
us open in gratitude
for a visit
from that part of our heart
that left home
we thought
for good.

 

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Last night, my Mister and I talked across our nightly distance. We told each other stories of gifts. What had we received that had really knocked our socks off? What were we proud to have given? Both of us had to reach far back for the most shivery memories. A brother’s model aircraft carrier. A first double-cassette stereo materializing in the bedroom on Christmas morning.

The specifics of most of what we had given others were hard to recall. Small recollections bubbled up of warming open some light in our beloved or kin. Also slashed across the arc of memory were those blistery scenes of our efforts missing the mark and landing (massage chair? bunny slippers?) with a splat. We’d seen the pinched mask of gratitude slip down over our dear one’s disappointed face before the box was even all the way open.

Mornings into years into decades. We sort of remember making someone really happy. We try to call up exactly who, or even if. Those are the gifts we hang onto, the ones we keep close. We make silent promises that we’ll give with more of ourselves. That we’ll find a way to make the next offering — the content or the way — light up in the hands of the one who receives it.

Tonight, Bug abandons dinner before he’s even taken three bites. Claiming homesickness, he pads over to curl up on the couch under our blue fleece blanket. We read together a book he adores, a saccharine holiday story called Santa Paws. My boy’s creased brow softens against my shoulder. Then he tells me he is still hungry.

“Can we have a picnic by the tree?” He asks.

We drag the blanket across the room and shake it out on the floor under twinkling lights. I re-heat broccoli and spaghetti and we work as a team to transfer forks and sparkly drinks to our quasi al fresco purlieus.

The cadence is different down low in the company of a blue-silver gleam. Bug lolls on his belly slurping up whole wheat pasta as I rub the dog’s woolen neck. The question that carried my Mister and me down last night’s wintry path meanders back around to now.

“Buddy, do you remember any of the Christmas gifts you’ve gotten before?”

“Yeah.” He rolls a little, hair falling back from his face. “The ring cat.”

I pause and try to connect this image to some toy or game in his collection. “The ring cat? What was that?”

“Mom!” He gives me a sideways grin. “The one where you put your rings on the tail. You know.”

Then it comes. I’d said “the gifts you’ve gotten” and he heard gotten for others not received. I say a little quiet thanks for imprecise vocabulary. “Of course I know,” I tell him. “That guy is the best.” It’s a small, green moulded cat that stands near the jewelry box on my dresser and holds up my stack of rings. “What else?” I ask

Bug proceeds to catalog all the items he remembers giving over the past few years. I listen in stunned silence as my seven-year-old prattles on. He remembers the football keychain he gave his granddaddy. The matching basketball fob he gave Tee. The earrings he chose for his gramma two years back and the gemstone ring he chose for her the next.

Bug picked out every one of these treasures at a country store children’s market held every December at a local park. Either Tee or I have taken him for the past three years. You give your kids a list and some money. The parents are sent off to entertain themselves for half an hour or so. The little ones go in with a volunteer and come out with wrapped gifts. Just like everyone else, you have to wait until Christmas morning to find out what the kiddos have picked out.

Bug continues down his list. He tells me this: “I gave you something you really like to do. Remember?”

I don’t, but I take a stab. “Writing?”

“Yep. You remember that pen?”

A vague image resolves into a sparkling shape. Beads. “Was that the one all covered in shiny pink?” He nods. Then he kind of drifts off for a minute and says, “Maybe — no, I gave that to Gramma.”

“Remember how you helped Gramma pick out journals for me one year?” I ask.

“Yeah. I went with her to the book store. You like to write in those.”

Bug rolls over and takes a bite of the giant chocolate cookie I’ve brought him from work. I gaze at him, crumb fingered and lit in purple. In his perpetual motion he’s wriggled over next to the small pile of gifts waiting for our pre-departure family gathering next weekend. I think back on seven Christmas mornings. Heaps of gifts for Bug pile up higher every year. I remember the Thomas train set. The wooden blocks Tee made by hand. The play kitchen they assembled together. The carved sled with its smooth ash body and metal runners perfect for Colorado snow. The rocking horse, ukulele, easel, puzzles. The tractors, board games, baskbetball hoop, pillow pet. The legos legos legos and more legos.

We are closing in on our eighth festival of excess. Every gift is chosen to light him up. Every gift is filled with loving care in the hopes this child will shine with pleasure or wonder or maybe even gratitude.

“Baby, do you remember any of the gifts you’ve been given for Christmas?”

He gazes into his chewy treat and thinks.

“Nope.”

Lights are on the tree. They are under the tree, too, and even inside the packages bearing my son’s name. It just never occurred to me that what matters is not the “To” but the “From.” In all these heaps of stuff, the most valuable gift we’ve given Bug may have been to hand him $40 and his list of names, and then to send him on his merry way.

My boy’s face gleams as he gazes into the twinkling branches. His voice is drifty now. “Remember I got that necklace for you?”

I smile. “For sure. The silver one with the mama bird and baby bird. I love that necklace.”

“Yeah,” he says. “You do.” He touches one of the low ornaments, watching his reflection ripple and arc.
 

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Friends gave me a bed. My Mister helped me rent the van and drive it over the river to collect my friends’ bed. The student from Afghanistan with the big smile who lives with my friends grabbed one end of the mattress as my Mister grabbed the other. My friend risked fingertips and bent with me to unlatch the frame of the bed.

We drove off through my city. My friend called when we were down the block to let us know we’d forgotten a cross brace for the bed. We turned around. My friend was waiting by the loading dock. We opened the doors and my friend smiled. “Long time, no see!”

My Mister drove back over the river and I fielded a call from another friend trapped in the belly of a divorce.

My friend’s hitching breath. My friends’ hands. My friends’ offerings. My friends’ voices.

In my parking lot, I walked circles around picnic tables talking to my friend about her upcoming move and the new commute to her kids’ school. My new neighbor hopped over and offered to give my Mister a hand hauling the mattress and boxspring up the stairs. We set up my friends’ bed.

My Mister drew me into arms he says are mine.

Later, alone, I shook open white queen-sized sheets that once belonged to my parents and stretched them across my friends’ bed. I unfolded my pillowcases, the ones I sewed myself from swaths of sunflower fabric blushing with green dragonflies. My great-grandmother’s quilt with its pastel hexagons and fraying green piping drifted down across my friends’ bed. Biggie, my giant white polar bear buddy, settled down on a pillow. He was a gift chosen by my son’s dad and and my former brother-in-law, well before either one was either one.

Afternoon slipped around my curtains. The island blue weave is faded from sun that followed the drapes along my winding road from California to Colorado to New York to here. September light made its way through the treetops alongside the thrum of I-66 to warm my window and spill across my friends’ bed.

My circle of light. My circle of friends. My finding my own way. My finding everyone.

My return to the beginning.

My home.
 

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As we round the second hour of opening gifts,  the 17 people crowded into the living room press on. The Christmas spirit will not be defeated. Neither will the commitment to go in turn around the circle, youngest to oldest, until every wrapper has been ripped from its mooring.
 
“Wait, who gave you those earrings? Who? I can’t hear.”
 
“What are they? Gold? Let me see.”
 
“Pass them over here. Who were these for?
 
“Where did she find them? They’re beautiful! Really!”
 
We holler over each other against the silvery tree. Its branches spread out over the only window in the room. All day, a relentless barrage of icy steel has been raining from the sky. No one has walked or run. We eat giant handfuls of Chex mix and leftover sausage balls. The mimosas are flowing.
 
“Who’s older? Who’s next? Come on, you’re not next! What year did you graduate?”
 
Cackles and shrieks. 1965? 1966? My grandmother argues with her youngest son.
 
“Mom, you graduated in 1938!”
 
“Don’t tell me. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not that far gone. It was 1937.”
 
“You were born in 1920.”
 
“I know when I was born!”
 
“Geez, leave her alone! Not everyone is 18 when they graduate!”
 
“Let it go, people! Who’s next? Someone open a present!”
 
“I am! I’m opening this one!”
 
“What is it? I can’t see. Wait, who’s it from?”
 
On and on. A cousin steps away from the melee. A moment later, I stand to stretch my legs and refill my glass. The silhouette of the towering man, that cousin 10 years my junior whom I held as a baby, barely registers. He is loitering on the back patio smoking a cigarette. My head is half down. My attention is only on seeking relief for the pounding in my head. A third mimosa will certainly not help, but it is easier to come by than a nap. I wince when he slides the shrieking glass door open a crack.
 
“Hey. It’s snowing.” He grins and the door squeals shut.
 
I glance up through the glass and see giant globs of wet snow plopping onto the concrete. The white lumps splash between the puddles and mix to a slush. I grin back and nod.
 
Sneaking into the living room, I catch Bug’s eye as he waits with commendable patience in front of his pile of unopened gifts. I beckon him to me and whisper, “Come here. Look outside, out where your cousin is.”
 
Bug leaves the living room and steps through the den. He stands at the glass door and stares out, trying to make sense of what he is seeing. My big cousin looks down with his signature wry smile. Bug catches his breath.
 
“IT’S SNOWING!” He screams, races into the living room, and pounds right into the middle of the crowd.
 
“IT’S SNOWING! IT’S REALLY, REALLY SNOWING!”
 
“What? Now?”
 
“In Dallas? No way.”
 
Everyone drops their packages, their plaster smiles, their stiff endurance. All 17 folks unfold themselves from their couches and corners. The heavy wooden door sighs open and the assembled mass piles out onto the front porch.
 
“Lookie there! Snow!”
 
“Well, I’ll be.”
 
Bug is dancing from foot to foot. “See! I told you! It’s real snow!”  The other kids tiptoe out in their socked feet, mouths open, faces turned to the sky.
 
“Snow! On Christmas!”
 
“In Dallas. If I wasn’t looking right at it, I’d never believe it!”
 
All 17 folks get their fill of wet, frosty air and make their way back into the living room to finish what we started. No more order. Just opening, just trusting there is enough attention. Just smiles and noise and happy gathering. It is an embarassment of riches. No one can remember the last gift or the next. It doesn’t matter. We sit surrounded by tins of candy, books and Xboxes, jewelry and soup mix and hand-painted santas.
 
Outside, the snow turns to flakes and soon the white fluff dusts the yard. My headache is long forgotten. The gifts lay abandoned at the foot of the silvery tree in the empty living room. All 17 folks clatter around the kitchen, gabbing, running dishes under the hot water, laughing. The older kids run outside and have a snowball fight. Their bright eyes flash as they come in and press their red fingers to our warm skin before running away giggling.
 

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In the hours before we leave for the airport, the erratic artillery fire of footsteps rattles the house. Four of us, up and down and in and out. We somehow manage to eat a full breakfast and pull off an early-morning pre-Christmas gift exchange in the midst of it all. Bug purchased surprise tchotchkes for all of us from Colvin Run Mill’s gift weekend for kids. Volunteers take children through the country store with their lists and budget helping them both pick out and wrap the presents. Parents are not allowed. It if fun to see my little boy growing up enough to take pride in selecting treasures for each of us. He bought me a lime green kitty cat ring-keeper. Considering how much he loves to play in my jewelry box, the gift is especially sweet.
 
During our morning exchange, Bug crawled around behind the tree and made a pile for each of us. It is amazing how quickly he has put the alphabet together into words. He reads the names on the tags easily, tossing each gift into a pile. Never mind that the tags are hand-letters and a little smeary and that each of us goes by different names to one another. He understands whose is whose. He counts them out and makes sure we take turns.
 
Then we are done and off to the bath, the laundry, the packing. Giovanni stops by to drop off gifts and to say goodbye. This is not an easy moment. He is moving out of his apartment in a few weeks and we are seeing less of each other. The New Year will be very different than the last. After giving Bug the winning gift of the morning — a Lego minecraft set  — Giovanni kneels down and says, “Listen, buddy. I won’t be seeing a lot of you. If you ever, ever want to talk to me, you just tell your mommy that you want to call me. You can call me anytime, okay?”
 
“Okay,” Bug says, only half looking at him. Giovanni sweeps Bug into a bear hug and tells him he loves him. Watching him attend to my son through this farewell makes me shiver. I can feel those arms as if they are holding my own heart. I take a breath and decide not to cry as he kisses me hard before driving away.
 
Soon, we are at the end of the morning. We take out the garbage, empty the dishwasher, set up the cat’s food bowl for the kitty-sitter. All through it, the bump-bump-bump the overstuffed suitcases and the last remembered items shake the rafters.
 
Another Christmas awaits us when we land at DFW. My grandmother, still kicking at 92 despite the dementia and the broken hip, will have all five of her children and a good fraction of her assorted grandkid under one roof this year. It will be bright chaos. It will be a story to tell.
 
And we never know when it might be goodbye.
 

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