Mom, Dad, and I were blessed to have family visiting as we turned the calendar to 2022. My sister Jeanette and ten-year-old niece Amy. My oldest son Brian and his wife Avery and my two-year-old granddaughter Lila. My son John and his wife Alleigh, expecting their first baby next month. Others stopping by and video calling. We splurged a bit on our New Year’s Eve dinner: Jeanette and I cooked sautéed bay scallops topped with a reduction of butter, drippings, and white wine, plus linguini alfredo and garlic bread. And we allowed ourselves bowls of ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies and M&Ms and brownie bits and caramel syrup and whipped cream, because we could and because it was New Year’s Eve and we were celebrating. Earlier in the day we took the girls to the park to sled in the new snow. On our first run, Lila sat with me in the toboggan, and as we crested the little hill she stiffened and grabbed my legs and I put my arms around her to help her feel safe, though I am sure the sled felt like a roller coaster toppling over the cantilevered edge of the ride. At the bottom of the short hill she announced, “Out!” and spent the rest of the outing tromping happily in the snow and riding the swings and sliding down the slides, wearing her great-grandmother’s stocking cap. And at home Lila carried around my Olaf and Winnie the Pooh and Little Growler the lion, calling “Papa Roger!” in her little bird voice, the prettiest sound I have ever heard, right up there with the house finches and cardinals and black-capped chickadees singing in the snowy spruce trees. And after dinner we played Telestrations and Apples to Apples and laughed and told stories and watched a funny movie. Life is simply better with good food and good friends and fun games. Life is better with family.
Family gathering together is what makes the holidays special. Family, in all its forms. We arrive, ring the doorbell, and are welcomed with hugs (or grunts.) We eat and laugh and tell stories, catching up. We play out the human drama in the family microcosm. Older family members display what they have learned for younger generations to see, if they will. Funerals, though enormously sad, have been some of my most meaningful family experiences. We grieve together, share the family lore, and partake unquestionably in love. Weddings, while hopefully more joyous occasions, strike me as similar. Baptisms. Bar-mitzvahs. Holiday celebrations. Sunday dinners. Even the mundane moment, however, gives families powerful moments to bond, to contemplate, to rejoice, to mourn, and to hope. The poem “Monday Night,” below, describes one such moment from my family’s past, and relates to Chapter 16: Around the Fire Pit post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
and we gather again,
sitting on cinderblocks
around the fire pit;
holding long applewood sticks,
like fishing rods,
with points in the flames,
with the warmth, the glow,
the power and mystery of fire.
singing songs about
head, shoulders, knees, and toes,
and the beauty of God’s creations;
reading poems about kitties and calves,
and forks in the forest path;
telling stories of inspiration and faith;
munching popcorn and brownies;
keeping the cats away from our cups of milk.
toss sticks into the flames,
poke smoking sticks into the ground,
carve their special sticks
with knives that are somehow always dull.
Sun sets behind towering pink and orange
Cumulous that dwarf the snow-capped mountains.
Fire settles into a ringed bed of shimmering coals.
Children quiet themselves
and stare into the ebbing heat and color.
Mom and Dad look to each other
and share an unspoken gratitude that,
for this moment,
life is good.