Saturday, December 23, 2017

Not white? OK, as long as it's not blue!

The 'ninth' candle, mine, is around
the corner to the right
This Christmas season may well be the weirdest one of my lifetime. Weird, as in singular, irregular, unusual. Any of those adjectives would be more dignified, but weird has the right connotation.

What’s different this year is it’s the first of my (soon-to-be seventy-eight) Christmases during which I won’t be getting together with someone in my immediate family. For the first twenty-two Christmases, it was the Johnsone clan; for the next sixty-five, with at least one Glerum (with crossover years bridging both).  

Initially, thinking about being without my favorite people for my favorite holiday made me sad, blue, pity-party worthy. But as the day draws closer, I’m realizing something important. I have no Christmas stress!

I’ve intentionally not done any of the normal activities of the season, including baking, Christmas cards, and excessive decorating. The only traditional activity I’ve done is to place electric candles in the windows of my townhouse. Jay started the tradition when we were empty-nesters, with four candles for our four grown children. He then added one for each grandchild. After he died, I added a candle for him—and this year, I added one for me, too! So now there are nine candles in our windows.

Baroque Putto dating back 'forever'
I did set out a few items on the mantel—a bit of seasonal d├ęcor here and there, including the baroque putto my grandfather obtained on a trip to Europe before 1900.  It’s something my mother always used (frequently on top of our Christmas tree), so it’s always been part of my life. But I left three boxes of seasonal treasures unopened, thus unused. 

Two weeks ago I gave away the beautiful artificial tree that Jay and I purchased when we moved to our townhouse. We’d always had a live tree, but the high ceilings and limited floor space in our new space prompted our purchase. It was too big to manage on my own, so through the miracle of social media, I located a stranger to give it to. She was so thrilled, she wrote me after she assembled it, yet-to-be decorated, “My son asked if we can’t leave it up all year, it’s so beautiful.” Her delight, as well as her son's, made me feel wonderful!

This angel mobile was purchased
in the Copenhagen airport in 2001,on our
way home from a December trip to Paris
I mailed packages early in the month because I had an out-of-town house guest  arriving Dec. 11. Usually I stand at the post office for an hour or longer in mid-month, bake cookies the weekend before Christmas, and wrap gifts as late Christmas Eve.  Only when the spirit moves me do I begin my holiday letter—never before December 15—then print it, address envelopes and write personal notes to the hundred-plus recipients. All this activity has made up my Christmases for years, and it makes for seasonal stress.  

Not this year! Without family to look forward to seeing, to decorate for, to travel to, to bake for, this time of year feels like any other dark, cold month. Without the reflection of my Christmas letter (I decided I just couldn't do one this year), I don’t feel compelled to take inventory of the year. That's OK because it wasn’t a great year, anyway.  I’m free to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, consider my propensity for angelic images, and binge on the latest season of a Netflix series. See? I told you it’s a weird year, but I’m going to take advantage of the absence of seasonal stress. That part’s a good thing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Daily Scraping Up of a Memory

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how one minor incident in a lifetime can trigger a perpetual memory that reappears every time the incident is repeated? Take, for instance, the daily task of squeegeeing the glass shower door. It occurred to me this morning that the minute I begin to wipe down the shower with the squeegee, I think of Chad—a man I haven’t laid eyes on for at least fifteen years. Chad came to work for me at WM Life in Seattle as a part-time clerk in the early ‘90s—he was freshman at Seattle Community  College. He was smart, trainable, a quirky and delightful addition to my staff. He proved to be loyal and hardworking—as good as anyone who ever reported to me, but that’s a topic for a different post. He worked for me on and off for a number of years—eventually leaving to attend Evergreen College in Olympia. Sometime after graduation and a full-time job, he contacted me. He had started his own window-washing business. Did I need any windows washed?

Glad to patronize his start-up, I answered “yes,” and a few days later he drove up our driveway in his old VW Van, loaded up with everything he needed to do the outside widows all around the house—some at ground level, and others needing extension pole or a ladder. Jay was delighted to delegate and pay for the service, and Chad did a splendid job (and returned for seasonal work until he found other work).

Yes, I’m getting to the point of my first sentence. It was Chad who showed me the most efficient way to use a squeegee. Until then, I had always stroked parallel lines from top to bottom of the window (I’d been washing inside windows for at least forty years by then—much more frequently than now, I must admit). Chad showed me how to swoop across the window in figure-8 motions, eliminating the constant need to wipe the drips at sill-level. Only one wipe was needed with Chad’s method.
And that’s why I think of Chad every morning, as I begin the figure-8 motion along the inside of the glass shower stall. Who would have thought . . .

When we think about it, it’s not any different from the memories popping up as we set out our beloved Christmas decorations. It’s the association with a person or event that causes such sentimentality. But who would have thought a window-washing tip could become a daily trigger of recall, one of great affection.  Chad, by the way, is now a successful chiropractor—and, by my rough calculation—is in his mid-forties by now. When I think of him, though, it’s as a young man  whose honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and hard work endeared himself to his boss.