Ely discovered water pooled on the laundry room floor and reported the flood to Mom. Together they mopped up the water with rags. Appliance said he could have a new pump shipped from Washing in a few days. I had procrastinated, and needed to wash my clothes that very day. I focused on yard work, putting off my evening trip to the laundromat. But when Terry and Pat, the nice neighbors, stopped by to visit, Mom told them about the washer and the laundromat and they insisted I come to their house to use their washer. “Do you want me to do it for you?” Pat asked kindly, but I do not allow anyone handle my dirty laundry, and told her I would enjoy doing it, thank you. Ely is a housecleaner. Dad has vacuumed the carpets and swept and mopped the floors and cleaned the bathrooms and scrubbed the shower walls his whole married life, but has run out of strength, mobility, and steam. Ely, a delightful, humble, thorough dual citizen, now takes care of what Mom and Dad can no longer take care of. They do not call her the cleaning lady; they call her Ely, their friend and indispensable helper. The house tidied, Brian and Avery arrived with two-year-old Lila to celebrate his 32nd birthday, and I was touched he wanted to celebrate with us. We set up cornhole and ring toss and a PVC scaffold onto which one tosses golf balls joined by short ropes. Lila objected to how my rope-tied-spheres hung from the rungs—“No! Gwampa Waja!” she insisted. She repositioned each hanging rope according to her adorable imagination, delightedly proclaiming the decorated structure her Christmas tree. At dinner, I decided ground sirloin is much tastier than hamburger, well worth the extra one dollar per pound. I had prepared a birthday dessert from my French cookbook—Brian chose chocolate mousse, which I have mastered after many trials. Into the dessert cups we jammed and lighted three candles. Lila made sure her daddy blew them out correctly. An unconventional birthday “cake,” still the result was superb (thank you Julia), with strong Pero substituting for strong coffee. The sun dipped low behind the house, and the air quickly chilled. Dad and I sat on patio chairs listening to the red House Finch sing with happy gusto, perched on a spiny blue spruce nearby. “Listen to that little guy sing!” Dad hooted. We commented on what a happy thing it is—a happy miraculous thing—that nature sings.
We moved our Baker extended family Christmas Eve party to December 23 this year. My (former) wife and I began the tradition in 1992 when we lived with my paternal grandmother Dora, in the basement of her little house, after our return from Portugal, where I had been a Fulbright student. We enjoyed a simple “shepherd’s meal,” with bread and cheese and nuts and fruits and cold meat. We recounted the birth of the baby Jesus, and we sang Christmas carols. Dora, a cute 83 years old, dressed up as Mother Mary and held on her lap my two-year old son Brian. This year Brian brought his two-year-old Lila as we continued the tradition with Mom and Dad and our extended family of Baker siblings and their posterities. We moved the party from December 24 to December 23 to add Dad’s birthday to the Christ-child celebration. We had planned the move for last year to celebrate Dad’s 85th birthday, but Covid-19 dictated otherwise. So, we rescheduled for 86. But Dad would not allow us to celebrate his birthday at the party. Though December 23, this party, he insisted, was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not the birth of Dad. He grudgingly allowed a few gifts, but focused on his Savior, and on another notable birth, also on December 23, the 1805 birth of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to whom the Father and the Son appeared in 1820. Those two birthdays counted, Dad said, not his. We rebuffed him with a respectful, “Yeah, whatever” and added Dad’s birthday to the trifecta celebration. Card tables and folding chairs accommodated the crowd, which passed by the kitchen island for plates of ham, scalloped potatoes, and my French glazed carrots and parsnips touched with ginger. And Sarah’s perfect homemade whole-wheat bread. We sang Christmas carols and rounds and hymns. We played a matching game with carol names and lyrics. We played again our indispensable traditional “Left-Right” game in which the group sits in a circle, each person with a wrapped gift, and passes the gifts to the left or to the rights as those words appear in the story Mom narrated about the “Wright” family, with laughter and chaos and flying wrapping paper—one never knew what gift one would receive. And Brian read the Birth story in Luke 2. And Dad blessed us again with his Christmas message of love for his Savior and love for his family and how the two inseparably embrace. The time came for everyone to disperse from whence they came, and Mom, Dad, and I felt content and happy and relieved that the Christmas Eve Birthday party—our 29th annual—had been a success, having celebrated the births of Jesus, Joseph, and Dad: quite our favorite trio.
(Pictured above: a family service project with Mom and Dad.)
The neighborhood women of the Church Relief Society, whom we call Sisters, invited all the women with October and November birthdays to a birthday luncheon, in true Relief Society fashion. Mom drove herself up the street to join 20 other birthday girls. She was so happy to associate with her friends, neighbors, and fellow Sisters. And she enjoyed the soups—creamy chicken noodle and spicy chicken taco—not to mention the desserts. Several Sisters stopped by with birthday gifts for Mom, including Barbara R., who brought a small loaf of banana bread (adding walnuts because Mom is “extra special”), Barbara N., who delivered a potted plant, because we all need to be near green living things, and Judy, with a fresh baguette and raspberry freezer jam, which went perfectly with our dinner of pork loin topped with a sweet deglaze of boiled dark stout Guinness and raspberry dressing. Such events and interactions greatly enrich Mom’s life.
The day began with creamy apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast, gourmet for Mom’s birthday. She turned 82 today. The extended family in Utah gathered for a celebratory dinner. Cards and gifts piled up on her lap. “I think about you every day as I go about my day.” Later came chocolate mousse birthday cake, and candles to blow out. “I love you with all of my heart.” So many thanked her for their happy memories: camping trips in the mountains; picking blackberries and wild asparagus; surgically pressing the “record” button on a cassette tape player to sensor the song’s profanity; playing badminton in the back yard; watching for bats at twilight; playing owl calls so the owls would come; teaching us to read; directing the church choir in which we all sang; teaching us the family songs. “I really like Grandma’s hugs.” She raised six children and suffered with us and cried and laughed with us. She served dinner promptly at 6:00 every evening, and drove us to our music lessons and sports practices. She called a soprano “Yoo-Hoo!!!” when it was time for us to come home. Her favorite flower is the yellow rose. “My love always.”
I left Mom and Dad for two days while I took my two youngest sons to visit their older brother John in Idaho for his 24th birthday. We rode the five-mile Sidewinder mountain bike trail, a fast flow trail aptly named, although Hyrum’s chain broke and he coasted and pumped the whole distance down. We explored a long cavernous lava tube in the sagebrush-covered Idaho wasteland. We ravaged the local pizza buffet. And we climbed at the gym where John works as a much-appreciated route-setter and climbing instructor. I have been watching my children climb in gyms and on real rock, and have belayed them all, for 15 years. But I myself have never climbed. Suddenly excited to conquer my fears, I pushed past the panic and scaled a 5.8 climb—my first climb ever—with my three sons cheering their old man on. We ended the trip with “Happy Birthday” and gifts and games of cards: Golf and SkyJo. On the windy drive back to Utah, a bike rack strap snapped, and the bikes hung precariously by one strap while I pulled off the highway. The getaway with my sons was delightful—I appreciated the break—and I was happy to come back to Mom’s and Dad’s house, which they insist is my house, too. “Welcome home!” Dad cheered when I walked through the door. “Tell us all about your trip!” Back to work today, I attended a law training, complete with a sandwich lunch. After stopping at REI for strong straps to re-strap my bike rack, I arrived home in time to help Dad rake deep red pear leaves out of the bushes and load them into the trash container. “I am so tired,” he lamented, “I need to sit down.” I invited him to come into the house for a lunch surprise. “OK, I am ready for lunch. Today must be Monday, because I always feel so tired after my Sunday ‘day of rest.’” Inside, I served Mom and Dad two beautiful sandwiches, one club and one turkey avocado, which they split and shared. The training organizer had invited me to take the leftover sandwiches for my parents. “We were going to drive to Arby’s,” Dad said. “But this is much better,” Mom chimed in. While they munched sandwiches and chips and sipped Coke (Diet for Dad and Zero for Mom), I re-strapped the bike rack, happy for their lunch enjoyment, and grateful I did not lose the bikes on the Idaho freeway.
The entrance to Civil Defense Caves lava tube.