REPORT A PROBLEM
I love Christmas for the lights, decorations and cheer. My big reservation about the season is over-spending. I don’t actually go overboard on buying gifts. I like to think I give appropriately. The problem is that Christmas shopping takes me into the stores much more often than I would normally be in them. I keep seeing things that I would like. So I end up indulging in a lot of impulse purchases for myself. Not only is this bad for my pocketbook, but it is bad for my conscience. I feel like I am spoiling myself too much.
At least I can say it is good for others when I treat myself to selfish holiday purchases. The guilty feeling I get from that provokes me to give more generously to charities I support. I like to make a one-time large donation to each of them in the month of December. But that leads to more feelings of guilt throughout the year because the donations immediately set a process in motion in which each of those organizations begins sending me reminders to give more. I wish they would not waste I give them sending me back junk mail.
So far only two holiday cards have arrived at our office, and nothing has shown up at the house. I have heard that a lot of people are abandoning the practice of sending cards. They are wasteful, it is true, and it costs a lot of money for postage. But, in the past, I have always relied on cards as an integral part of Christmas decorating. A nice string of cards adds cheer to the decor. And to me they are an honest adornment – not something contrived like the ornaments being pushed at us from every side in the stores.
I have a confession to make – I keep all the prettiest of the Christmas cards I receive. There is a box of them in the filing cabinet in my workroom. I always think that I will make ornaments from them, or make collage cards to send out to friends. As if buying cards, addressing them and stuffing them with a Christmas letter is not already enough of an effort to push me that much closer to a panic attack – like the one I may have this weekend over having to get a Christmas tree, put it up and decorate it.
I have revealed to you that I am a packrat. It is very hard for me to throw away anything that looks like it could have an alternative use in the future, or anything that is attractive even if it is useless. It is not pathological; there is nothing that is a fire hazard. There is room to move in my house - no maze of stacked-up junk. But all the same it is a weakness. I apologize to my children in advance. They will have no fun cleaning the stuff out the house once Steve and I are gone.
Later that morning the telephone rang. The mechanic. “The oil pan is corroded,” he informed me. “On this make of car that part is made of pretty unstable material. It needs to be replaced.” I held my breath for the cost. “The part is only about a hundred and fifty dollars...” I sighed with relief. “But with labour...” I had almost stopped listening, preparing myself for a couple of hundred dollars. “...it will be around two thousand dollars.” “What?” “Sorry, the oil pan is under the engine. The only way to get at it is to hoist the engine out.
“My name is Carlotta. Perhaps your husband made mention of me to you? We grew up together.” My mother was obviously miffed, but she pulled herself up and composed her face before answering. “When my husband came to Canada he was determined to start a new life. Sorry, he did not tell me about you.” Mom neglected to mention that when I was born my father had insisted my second name be Carlotta. In honour of a beloved, departed aunt, he told us. Carlotta was not ruffled, “Oh, I can understand why Leonidas would want to put his past behind.”
“You’ll be up at the butt-crack of dawn,” she laughed. Janice was prone to colourful figures of speech. I had the image of a rump-shaped sun raising its cleavage above Lake Ontario like a giant plumber’s ass, getting the work of the day underway. Janice’s constant patter of irreverent quips was a welcome distraction during those weeks of concern about my father’s health and my mother’s mental state. This weekend the tension was particularly high. My mother was worried that Dad did not seem to be recuperating as fast as he should.
I took a moment to admire the sunrise. Several shoals of clouds slashed diagonally across the sky, swooping from the south to the northeast. The bottom of each band was smoothed by the wind to look like polished alabaster, with rococo curls of gold filigree ornamenting the upper side. All around the air was infused with a glowing mist lit from behind by a fiery yellow sun. The skyline of Toronto was like a vision of heaven with soaring gilded buildings rising above the haze. An ironic vision because that glorious radiant vapor would translate into an air quality warning…
I looked at the collection of photos, still in good shape from not being handled much, and kept away from the light. Some formal photographs, some casual snapshots. Although I had never seen them before, it was easy to identify pictures of Dad’s parents -- many photos were groupings of the three of them, obviously family portraits. There were poses of Dad at various stages of his life -- in school uniform; dressed for a sporting activity; snapped in front of landmarks while on vacation. His mother was richly and elegantly dressed, often with furs draped over her shoulders ...
I was experiencing more car troubles as I made my way back to Toronto at the end of that last weekend with Dad. Everything was fine for the first leg of the trip. After I had been driving for about forty-five minutes I came to a stop sign. The car idled happily for a few minutes until my way was clear to cross the intersecting road. When I put my foot on the gas, however, it stalled. I had to shut off the engine and restart. My face turning red, painfully aware of the impatient drivers behind me… Zoe barking…
The dream of the insects came more and more frequently that summer. It was a dream that had come to me four or five times in my life up until then, but now it was coming several times a month. Most often it came when I visited my parents… almost every weekend, to help Mom take care of Dad. He was not a cooperative patient; insisting on doing too much for himself. It was hard to keep him in the daybed in the sun room. Even though my mother had done her best to provide him with all he needed.
Eric’s face began to gather in my mind’s eye. A mental picture that was more phantom essence than a detailed image. When I tried to focus on them, his features melted away before they could coalesce into a definite presence. And yet I could practically feel him beside me. On the book shelf in the living room I found the photo album with pictures of my own childhood. Now that he was so far in the past, moments such as these were fewer and farther between for me, but I knew Eric would never completely disappear from my thoughts.
Janice’s brother was a mechanic who worked for a dealership and was completely turned off American car-makers, especially the company that made mine. When she heard I was in the market for a car, Janice tried to drag me down to her his garage, where he did a modest trade in used cars. I always bought second hand because in the past it had turned out to be very economical. But he was located in the small town south of Hamilton where Janice grew up, and I balked at taking the time to make the trip down there.
There were photos of mysterious woman stretching back to childhood. I tried to put them into chronological order. The earliest photo was of her posed with my father when they were both young children. They looked like Hansel and Gretel. He wore a pair of leiderhosen and an Alpine hat; she in a dirndl with an apron, her hair in golden ringlets; behind them a quaint mountain chalet and cattle grazing in a meadow. The two of them held hands and smiled at each other. And down through the years, every picture of them together showed the affection between them.
the cafeteria had undergone a transformation. Once there was a long, dreary counter where there was a choice between cold, cellophane-wrapped sandwiches from a refrigerator with sliding glass doors, or hot beef or turkey sandwiches with canned peas and soggy fries. There was now a circular food service area with a selection of hot and cold foods and a salad bar in the centre. My mother and I virtuously chose salads, but lost all discipline when we got to the cash, where an array of cookies and pastries were laid out. We both felt the need for comfort food.
I would think of him on my deathbed with the same mixture of sweetness and bitterness as I was feeling at this moment. My constant companion of youth. I knew his family albums held as many snaps of me as mine did. I still had conversations with him in my heart. Telling him of my accomplishments and my setbacks. Wondering if he would think I had made the right choice. Sometimes wondering myself if I had made the right choice. But that kind of thinking brought too much pain. I closed the album and put it back on the shelf.
It was a relief to be in the cool church basement. People milled about, juggling plates of little sandwiches and cups of coffee. My father had been a pharmacist and owned the only drugstore that served the area until he retired. Because of that he knew just about every resident of the small town and the outlying farmland. There were many relatives from my mother’s side because she grew up on a farm a few miles past the outskirts of town. She was a pharmacist, too, and helped Dad run the store. My parents had served the town tirelessly.
She watched a delicate little white butterfly, flitting lazily across the tarmac, become a streak toward oblivion as it passed behind the jet engines. The aircraft began to move slowly forward. Joan stretched her arm across the two empty seats beside her and smiled. Later, during the long flight, she looked forward to being able to sleep lying down. Badly needed rest after the gruelling send-off she endured the night before. Of course, her relatives had only the best intentions. After the pub closed, the party continued in her aunt’s kitchen until the wee hours of the morning.
She was in a state of extreme desperation by the time she got off the plane. The crush of passengers pushed her through the long baggage, hall which funnelled into the customs area. Maybe the customs officer could see she was at the end of her rope because he waved her through to the arrivals area with minimal interrogation. Joan’s parents knew her flight schedule. They bought the tickets for her. She assumed they would be waiting for her. Everybody else was hugging friends or family; collecting baggage; getting into cabs. After awhile Joan was the only one left.
Finally it came time to board the bus. She had forgotten how crowded that bus got. To procure a seat at the downtown terminal, it was necessary to arrive well before the departure time. Getting on at the airport, there was a good chance there would be no seats. The bus the driver was standing by the door. Joan showed her ticket and climbed on board. There were about ten people standing in the aisle and all the seats were occupied. She took a deep breath to keep from weeping… there was no telling how long before a seat became available.
“That seat’s free,” he confirmed. She looked back at the people standing in the aisles. Nobody made a move toward the seat. Joan sat down. After the hard plastic airport chairs, the well-padded upholstered seat was heaven. She sank into it with relief. Looked up and saw a hugely obese Indian woman struggling onto the bus. Her heart fell realizing that this passenger was the occupant of the seat beside her. “A big fat squaw,” Joan thought, “Great.” She considered getting up and standing in the aisle, but it was too late to maneuver out of her seat.
She giggled and squeezed her upper arm, which was the girth of Joan’s thigh. Joan smiled uncomfortably, not knowing what to say. “Don’t worry, I saw it in your eyes earlier. You were afraid when you saw a big, fat squaw was going to sit beside you. Look at all those people who were standing up instead of sitting beside me,” she said, snickering, waving her hand toward the back of the bus. The aisles were clear now because the bus had made enough stops to divest itself of excess passengers. “It’s not so bad, is it?”
The house sat in darkness behind the cedar hedge that surrounded the property…. the wide verandah spanned the width of the house… nestled on its lot; neat, staid and comfortable. It had an air of endurance. A solid, brick home of clean design. Its high peaked roof sloped toward the street, levelling to a gentler angle as it swooped out over the porch. Four simple, square columns, evenly spaced across the front. Wide, welcoming steps leading to the front door… a huge maple tree towering above… Joan was back home and she was not sure how she felt about it.
The holidays are here. I have time to write a daily entry, again, therefore will not abuse you with excerpts, anymore. Although, even with freedom from work, I am writing what should have been posted on the 25th on the 27th. Well, screw it; I am not one to stick to regulations. So why am I writing on a blogsite that has such rigid constraints? – 100 words, no more, no less, recorded daily by each participant. Perhaps I joined on purpose just to flout the rules. Perhaps I joined to indulge a friend. I am impressed I lasted a year.
I know, I have written about rules before, and how they are a good thing; and then I state that I am not one to stick to them. The ones I do not stick to are the ones that do not affect other people. Like all those fashion edicts such as you do not wear black with brown. This month I am writing alone – the other two members of my writing group claim to be too busy to makes entries – and I guess that is why I am being sloppy myself. My loyalties were to them and not 100words.com
Writing for 100words.com is not exactly rewarding. It is kind of like posting a flyer on the side of a pole that is facing a wall. I doubt very much anybody is actually sifting through the thousands of entries that people make daily. Using it the way I do with my writing group, where we read each other’s entries and then riff on them, is fun. It feels really pointless to go it alone. I am just doing it this month because I have a strong urge to complete things I have begun. December will finish the year.
I wished somebody Merry Christmas a couple of days ago, and I got a dismissive reply along the lines of, “Well, it WAS lovely,” insinuating that I was rather late with my greetings. As far as I am concerned it is not over – we are only in the fourth day of feasting. January 6th marks the end, and New Year’s resolutions do not kick in until then. It would be sad if all the effort and money we spend leading up to Christmas was all for one lousy day of family tensions. Come on! Let’s make it worthwhile!
Yesterday we had dinner at our neighbours, followed by several rounds of cards. It was a lot of fun. The game was euchre, which is a game I hold dear to my heart because of my rural background. But I am happy with hearts or rummy, and often Steve and I play cribbage. One of my daughter’s friends came upon us playing and acted like an anthropologist who discovered some secluded tribe of people who still practiced a long-forgotten rite that was thought to have faded into history. It is hard to find people who play cards anymore.
Went to see my cousin in Dundas today. She bought a tidy little house there just this year and has finished renovations recently. She lives there with her little Yorkshire terrier. Dundas is a pretty little town. It would be a pretty walk in any direction from her house when she takes her dog out for exercise. I met Steve at a stage in life when I was thinking I would be settling into life as a single. I do not regret hooking up with Steve and raising a family. But every so often I think what might have been.
The holidays have gone by too quickly. I always think I am going to get a lot more done but projects are still sitting, waiting for attention, up in my workroom. I will have to decide whether to take the tree down on Sunday, or not. I like to leave it up until the Epiphany, which falls mid-week. Although I enjoy having the tree, it does take up a lot of room in our little house. But do I want to spend the last day of vacation on that rather lengthy chore? For now - HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!
The Tip Jar