Friday, December 20, 2013

A Little Note About Christmas Cards...if I may......

There are so many things to write about during this time of year.  So many emotions to emote.  So many thoughts to jot down, each Christmas season holding its own promise of a good story or two but there was one tiny part of the whole preparations for the Big Day that always seemed to have put an abrupt end to the harmony in many a home.  It was the arrival of THAT annual "Christmas Letter"  that would put the brakes on the sharing of glad tidings and send families searching for a community vomitorium.

Varying in length, depending upon the magnitude of the past year's family accomplishments, the letter would show up in between the beautiful, heartfelt Hallmarks.  On more than one occasion, Mom would open a card and let out a little sigh or even a tiny gasp when she read the side note, handwritten in a space in between the card company's expressions of God's joy and prayers for peace on earth.

 "John passed from this life early in the year.  Life will never be the same but we're coping".

"Mary and Bill are finally getting married.  We're all so thrilled, he's a great guy"

"We welcomed Baby James in March. None of us has slept since"

Each year, Mom and Dad would get out the address book, add a few names and strike out a few.  Some would simply be altered to correct what would have been a horrible error the following Christmas, as in the case of  Mr and Mrs.John's wife who is now simply, Margaret.  Each year, the number of cards dwindled.  Friends who died or went into nursing homes.  Friends who decided that it was too much of a chore or too emotionally or physically painful to write and send cards.  Those little notes from the year before were so often a portend of what was to come and assumptions could not help but be made.

But, through it all, good times, bad times, deaths, engagements, marriages, births and divorces, came at least one annual "letter".  Pages and pages of typewritten self-aggrandizement.  Advertisements for the World's Most Perfect Family Contest.  One could almost see the tear-it-off-and-mail-it-in ballot at the end of the diatribe. I'm surprised they did not contain a self addressed stamped envelope!  Each year, we would all gather around, usually with my mother's sister and her family, to share in the reading of their cousin's letter from "abroad".  Little did Cousin from Abroad know that instead of oohs and aahs, the annual application to Harvard would be met with snickers and comments.  We kids dreaded this whole thing because after the snickers, we usually got slapped in the head for our under performance during the same year that.......

"Little Lizzie, the amazing tiny athlete that she is, has been pre-selected by the Olympic ski team who spotted her on the slopes in Zurich in February when she and one hundred of her best friends were there celebrating her third birthday"

Husbands dreaded the arrival because.....

"Well, you know that Ephram, he's such a thoughtful man.  It isn't enough that he needs a pick up truck to collect his Christmas bonus, but he got a raise again this year and he just could not help himself when we passed Bulgari on the Champs Elysee when in Paris celebrating.  We popped in, he got down on his knees and proposed to me all over again with a HUGE diamond that just happened to fit!! He's so romantic, isn't he?"

Slap, slap...."Go take the trash out Charlie, NOW!!!"

Barf.  Barf.

The moms, well, honestly, they just dreaded the entire thing.  Sitting there in the kitchen of the upstairs unit of our duplex home, my mother and Aunt Millie, both dressed in their finest cotton house dresses, each held her own copy of the newly arrived greeting and, after the Bronx cheers, the slapping of the kids and the banishing of the husbands,  the coffee went on and the Kleenex box came out.

While visiting my daughter yesterday, I could not help noticing the huge number of photo greeting cards taped to the wall in her living room. She explained to me that this is the new "thing", that everyone feels compelled to send a photo card, and it has become almost like a competition. I'm guessing this has replaced the annual catch-up letter.  I enjoyed the display, loved seeing some of the kids who I've known, vicariously, just a bit more grown up this year.  The cards are pretty, some quite unique, one of them even shows a family totally dressed in Disney costumes, a tradition for them.  I see cards with multiple photos, each telling a story, where they've been, what sports the kids are in, new baby sisters and brothers.  Stories, simply put forth by happy and proud parents.  These are fun, nice expressions of glad tidings, at least by those that actually displayed words that had anything to do with Christmas and it's true meaning.

Each year, our own collection of cards is dwindling as our collection of friends is growing.  That makes no sense except for the fact that we get to personally wish people Merry Christmas, no card needed. Some of our noblest friends have elected to send contributions to charities in lieu of cards and we think that is wonderful, truly.

We've received a few photo cards from friends of our kids and a few from proud grandparents who capture the entire family during their annual family reunion.  Gone are the days of the "letter", not missed.
Now, I'm just looking forward to the day when fully grown, mature adults no longer find the need to send cards displaying photos of themselves, not a kid to be found in the foreground or background.  I simply do not get this "tradition" and personally, I think it ridiculous rather than charming. But, I write essays and opinions and if you didn't enjoy what I have to say from time to time, you probably are not reading this.

So,  frankly, I'd much rather get the little note, or maybe even the letter.  It would beat those photos of you and your spouse......getting old.......while we aren't.  Just my opinion.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Note to self

Do what you like to do most

Do what you do best

Be who you are always

Like what you do and who you are


Write what you feel

Cook only if you want to and only for who you want

Surround yourself with beauty, what you consider to be beauty, not others

Read what you want

See who you want

View what you want

Go out only when you want to

Stay home if you wish

Wish for what you want, if only to have what you want and don't stop until you come as close to it as you possibly desire

Ah ha!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cold Feet

There will be a reward.  There will be a reward to the person who finds my three pair of winter boots.  I've lost them somewhere in this tiny house.  I'm sure they are together, just where I put them. When, I do not know.  Where, totally escapes me.  But, I do know that I did not throw them away nor did they walk out of here on their own.  One was a pair of black snow boots, practically brand new.  Another, a pair of short brown, with a brown fur trim. Not sure where I bought them but I've had them for a while and wore them more than the others.  I counted on them. Now they're gone.  The third, a pair of black lace ups.  Real suede, also short. These were lined with something that looked like white lamb fur.  I know exactly where I bought them. Bloomingdale's in White Plains, many years ago. They all still looked good.  You gotta figure, you don't wear them a lot so they can stay looking new for a longer time than shoes.  But where the hell are they?

I've been misplacing a lot of things lately.  No, not actually "losing" things.  Just "misplacing" them.  I'm not quite sure what the difference is but Joe always made that abundantly clear when he and his father owned a jewelry store and a repair got "misplaced" NOT "lost".  They sweated those out!  So, I've misplaced not only my boots but a little bag of things that I know I bought last week and I know I put somewhere in this little tiny place where I live.  The bag contained some little gift bags and a package of guest towels, all of which I intended to use tomorrow when I have guests for lunch.  Guest towels for my guests.  Gift bags, for candy for my guests.  Nowhere to be found.  Gone.  With the boots?  Do we have a ghost?  Or, am I losing my mind if not simply my memory?  Where the hell are those boots?  The little gift bags and the towels, I can live without but my feet are going to freeze.

Forty three years ago, almost to the day, we lost the top of  our wedding cake.  It was one year after our wedding.  Pretty good on that calculation, seeing as I've also lost my calculator.  Picked it up from Aunt Millie's house where it had been wrapped and stored in her deep freeze, waiting for our first anniversary.  We know we had it, we drove home with it and didn't give it a second thought until the next morning when both of us looked at each other and chorused "where the hell is the cake?"  It vanished. Into thin air.  Gone.  We tore that place apart. Nothing. Gone with THE wind.  Not quite.....more likely gone from the top of the car where we probably put it before or after arriving back in our parking lot.

Of all the things I've lost, I really miss my mind the most.  Or, have I simply misplaced it?  Whatever.

Good thing I still have a warm heart.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Days Before Christmas

It's all such a nuisance, it's all so messy and so much trouble.

It used to be fun.  Anticipation was the word for it.  I used to count days....each one lasted forever.

I shopped for gifts, made lists, planned menus, baked, sent cards with little notes to recipients.

I trimmed trees, made wreathes, perfectly placed lights and ornaments.  Lit candles.  Listened to carols, wished they'd never end.

Got married, two days after, many years ago.

Grew up

Forgot the meaning was more important than the mess

Until just now.  I looked out the window.  The sky is black now but the moon, it is white, bright and full, just the way it is supposed to be at this time of year.

It's all about that brightness in the darkness and it's all about joy that is so much bigger than Santa.

And it's all okay, it's normal to act like an adult now.

Tree's up.  We vacuumed and it's not messy any more.

I'll stop being that person and start again being me, the one who got married two days after Christmas and is still in love with that same person.  The man who wants the tree in the living room, he who makes the moon shine so much brighter because he knew I needed to walk arm in arm through the supermarket this afternoon.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Phoebe Grace Colket

You say "dancing" I say "Al Pacino".  And that is because........

Years ago, Joe and I decided that it was time that we learned how to ballroom dance.   So, we enrolled in a class in Tarrytown, New York and we dutifully showed up every week for however long the course was.  Our classmates were of mixed nationalities and ages.  Their motivations for learning to dance, also mixed.  Some came to learn in time for a first dance together at an upcoming wedding.  Some, to get out of the house on a winter evening and clearly, a few came with the hope of meeting that special "someone" before retirement.  The teacher was a long, thin and attractive woman with a British accent.  I want to call her Terry. She needed to round the numbers off, allowing everyone to have a partner, so she planted one or two of her favorite male experts in and we were all set.  In addition to dancing with your own partner, each student had to rotate and dance with the other students throughout the evening.  We were taught a different dance every week and of course, the first week started us off thinking this might be fun and we might really be able to master it with an exciting entry into the Disco world. How could we lose when dancing the ever popular "Brooklyn Hustle"?

As the weeks went by, the dances became more traditional and our frustration level grew and grew.  Our classmates, most of them now very serious in their approach, glided through all of the new steps.  The lovely Indian couple seemed to be intent on getting the right postures and facial expressions to match the dance, making it almost impossible to take one of them on as a partner without a complete crack-up. No matter how hard we tried, we could not maintain our composure, most of the time, laughing at our ineptness.  Joe really did try.  But, it was the look on his face, the tight lips, the wall of concentration there, that started my giggles.  Of course, this was all made even more hilarious when we realized why Terry was addressing Joe as "Al".  By Class Two, we thought it was time we corrected her.

"Oh, I'm so sorry.  I can't help but think of Al Pacino when I look at you"

From that day forward, I was the wife of Al-Pacino-Guardino, the one without the billions.  The one who could not Tango with a straight face.  Why could it not have been Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who she saw when she looked at us.  Things might have turned out so differently.

I know that the word "dancing" easily brings happy thoughts to most people, especially to women and children.  The word dance has been used in countless metaphors.  Images of dancing bears, dancing babies, folks dancing with joy, dancing through life, just a small share of the possibilities.  Our misadventures at dance class aside, I have a huge confession.  I do not like to dance.  Perhaps it would be hard to tell if you saw Joe and I doing our own version of a ballroom duet. He twirls me around (one of the things we did learn from the Hustle), we sway and move around the dance floor, giving the appearance that we actually know what our feet and hips are doing.  We have zero idea.  We just get out there and do it and we have fooled many an envious on-looker.  "Oh, look!  They must have had dance lessons" or "There go Lynn and Joe, let's stand here in a circle and watch them.....they really got a lot out of those classes".  One would never guess.

When I asked my good friend Jay to help me with finding my voice for the prompt "dancing", he did what he usually does so well.  He told me how he feels and knew that I would share those feelings in the same way we share our intense dislike of Savannah Guthrie and chain restaurants, about so many things that "other" people love. We both agree that dancing is uncomfortable and awkward and that is is usually associated with something we both really don't like, weddings.  When the dancing got started at the last wedding I attended, I found a place to hide until it was okay to make an early exit.  Loud music, flashing lights, lots of inebriated people jumping up and down, typical stuff that makes me grouchy, not happy. Perhaps I really am growing into my age.

Yes, I do enjoy looking at good, well trained dancers, usually on a stage.  I've seen all of the greats in performance; Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Godunov. I've even visited the grave of Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballet Russe, in Venice.  I've seen about a million performances of the Nutcracker, the most recent, just last week when my two little granddaughters performed. The Alvin Ailey Dancers were near and dear to my heart during my New York years.  But, I defer to the experts.  Their whirling, twirling and leaping through the air leaves me begging for more.  I'm comfortable in my seat and always ready to stand for an ovation at the end of the performance and I rarely find myself grouchy or wanting to hide.

But, there is a happy side to this dance interpretation.  There was one last dance class, one to which  I was not invited.  It was taught by my daughter and she had but one student in that class.  His name was Daddy Guardino and, after all their rehearsals, they brilliantly executed a heavenly rendition of Paul Simon's Father and Daughter, at the third best wedding I've ever attended.  I need not state here which was the first best but I will tell you that the second best was the one that found me dancing with my son, unrehearsed, to Eric Clapton's You Look Wonderful Tonight. Please note that these choices are in the order in which they appeared in my life, not playing favorites here, trust me.

In the arms of our children, Al and I made Fred and Ginger look like Lynn and Joe.  Terry would have been so proud of us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

If it's Tuesday

If it's Tuesday, I must be in Stop and Shop.  I'm there grocery shopping for my father.  God only knows, what would he have done had I not left New York six years ago and returned to the Cape.  When my mother died, I guess he would have starved to death because he can't purchase food. Or, at least, that is the general belief.

So, every Tuesday, I make the short trip, past the high school tennis courts, to his house to pick up his credit card. It seems like yesterday that he and I used to play together on those courts and now, he can't even buy a quart of milk for himself. I've mastered the technique of using the scan gun so I can get in and out of the market within twenty minutes, tops, before returning to his house and helping him unload his week's worth of frozen dinners, dog food, and treats that would make a second grader's heart skip a beat.  I don't usually hang around.  I know one day I will regret the fact that I am always in some kind of a hurry, that I fit the shopping excursion into my schedule as necessary evil, sandwiched in between other more pleasant activities.  My father generally seems fine with my not sticking around.  He likes to pretend that he is busy or has somewhere to go and dismisses me soon after the return of his credit card.

But, today, was different.

"Are you in a hurry?"

"Come on in and sit down, I want to tell you a story"

Well, an offer of a good story.  I could hardly resist.  So, into the sunroom we went.

"It was Christmas.  I was about thirteen years old.  We didn't have money for a Christmas tree. I wanted one for my mother but we didn't have the dollar to buy one.  I went to the store that was on our street and the owner of the store asked me if I would deliver a tree to one of his customers.  He told me to pick out five cents worth of candy.  So, I took the tree and.......I kept it.  I STOLE the tree!  Later that night, there was a knock on the door.  It was the owner of the store and the customer who bought the tree.  I swore to them that I delivered that tree and they finally left.  I LIED to them.  Good thing my mother wasn't there.  She was the superintendent of our building and she was busy somewhere.  If she had been there.....I would not be sitting here right now.  What I could never understand was how they knew my name and where I lived"

I'm sure I have heard this story before.  Each time he tells it, he is dead serious.  He's 92 years old and he says he still can picture it all vividly.  He has a need to tell me that he stole and he lied.  He seems so troubled about his evil-doings and has so much angst about his inability to figure out how he was found by the victims of his one-dollar heist.  His eyes, once a true brown, are now a cloudy shade of grey, almost blue.  They totally lack brilliance.  They are similar in color to those of a newborn.  As he tells his story, he squishes up his face as if he's studying a fleck on my face, about to tell me to sit still so he can swat it away.  Over and over, he makes reference to the fact that he has stolen.  He seems so pathetically remorseful, I almost want to rush out and find a priest to hear his confession and to finally give him a penance, if only to see his facial muscles relax again.

My father lost his mother a few years after the crime.  She died suddenly, leaving him alone with a father who did not want him.  I tried to tell him that the story was a nice one, that he didn't really do anything wrong, that the good he did for his mother far outweighed the deed. I tell him that he probably became a policeman because he felt it a duty to protect people and that he did such a wonderful job doing just that.  I tell him that he was brave in that role. I also suggest that, had the shop owner known that this would be one of the last Christmas trees his mother would have, he would have had a kind heart.  I did not let on that he had already told his story not once, but several times. Each time, I wait for him to start a flood of tears.  Instead, the tears remain behind the wall, clouding up the eyes that were once brown and full of life. I wonder if he tells the story with the hope that the flood gates will open up, releasing him of his guilt for once and for all.  Perhaps, one day, before his own time runs out, that will happen and he can enjoy just one more Christmas.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Camera, My Friend


I miss my camera.  I only had it for a little under a year and I failed to give it a name.I should have.  It deserved all that and more.  It never left my side.  Most of the time that we were together, my little Canon nestled comfortably in the palm of my left hand, resting and ready to go to work at a second's notice.  I tend to think of my little friend as a "she" for some reason.  Maybe that's because our relationship was intimate and we went everywhere together, inclusive of public restrooms.  So, she's been out and about and she spent ten months sharing a life with me and that is why I sat right down on a bench, clutching her dead body, and I cried like a baby on a street in Chatham on that sad day.  It was the day that I let my seven year old granddaughter take that one last picture......before she handed her to me and we dropped her to the flagstones below.  She hit hard.  I knew this was not going to be good and I felt worse about the fact that I was the only one of us whose life was about to take a turn.  The mommy and the two girls did not seem to have remorse nor did they understand what had just happened or why I was so brokenhearted. She was so much more than a camera. She really, really was.

There are so many things I am not "good" at.  Life on Cape Cod is a proving ground for that.  This little stretch of land is a mecca for people who are really good at things, finding me constantly in the presence of those who wow me and others with their art, their music, writing and multi-talents.  I'm always trying to become better at something but don't usually succeed.  Nobody is more aware of the biggest of all my shortcomings, taking care of myself, than my daughter.  That is precisely why she gifted me with my little Canon digital camera..  She knew I would never treat myself to a new camera as I was leaving for Italy last year and she wanted me to have this, a perfect one.  Sara is a photographer.  She's also an attorney.  She chose the creative life over the law life and is happy with her choice.  I'm sure she prefers seeing people through her own lens, their true selves revealed in ways that would demand so much more than the click of a shutter.  Her memory of her subjects is sharp.  The details of their personalities are preserved, their moods clearly sensed.  If they are relaxed, the photo shows it.  If they are tense or fatigued or in some way unwilling to be the subject, click.....there it is. No trials, no courtrooms.

My camera served me well.  I became good at something.  I became a better viewer, a really good observer of details, recorded with perfection.  Together, we captured faces, places and tiny details.  When I became overwhelmed with all I was seeing and feared that my memory would be lost, she came to my rescue.  Click, click, a shot of an exquisite piece of architecture.  Click, zoom, click and the rose window became mine to study later.  We had a great time seeking out sights and recording them so that nothing would be forgotten.  Her zoom lens made it possible to get in close and personal when we spotted an interesting face, the subject, never guessing that there was a portrait in the making.  Signs, posted bus and train schedules in another language that boggled my mind, no problem. Because she fit so perfectly in my palm, my ineptness could easily go by un-noticed. Click, and they were saved for translation and review later, making me more astute the next day. She was always the smarter of the two of us and there is so much evidence to prove it. Why, there is even a photo of a sign which clearly said that the next train to arrive would be the one that was going in the opposite direction of the one my departing guest wanted to be on.  Click. If only she could have said something more!  I'm sure she died laughing about this one!

Ahem......your train will be along in ten minutes....after the train to Foligno

And I am sure she died.  I even took her to my local camera shop, hoping that I would be getting a phone call telling me to come pick her up,that she was all fixed and ready to be held again.  But no, that was not the call.  She was not "worth" repairing.  The shop owner apologized for not being able to help.  Little did he know how stinging the reference to her worthlessness really was.  But, I accepted the truth and by that time, my initial mourning period had come to an end and a replacement had been ordered, one I will pick up next week when I visit my son who placed the order and has gotten points on his BestBuy account.  It was the least I could do to honor my departed friend.  Her legacy to my one of my children.

It should be noted that I did not ask my daughter to order the new camera.  She can get her own damned points!