You would think, based on my series of Thanksgiving posts, that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. However, my fervor for Thanksgiving has traditionally been dwarfed by my absolute love for Christmas. After Thanksgiving, I found myself in an unusual state of apprehension toward Christmas. My ideas and plans for Christmas that I had set in June weren't feeling right, and I was lacking focus. Could it be that I had managed to actually make myself sick of Christmas because I started too early? That was a feeling most bizarre to me.
As it turns out, it was intuition urging me to pause. Last Thursday, while I was doing dishes, I heard my phone continuously buzzing. It was my aunt asking if I knew where my mother was and why she wasn't picking up her phone? My grandmother's care facility was trying to reach her because my grandmother was in very poor condition. My mom has kept her phone at her side every moment since my grandmother became sick in 2007. She is always paranoid about missing a call. This particular morning she was in a doctor's appointment and had her phone on vibrate as a courtesy. My aunt was headed over and I assured her I would reach my mother, one way or another. Luckily, my first call to my mother was answered with only about ten minutes between my aunt calling me and me relaying the message to my mother. It was time for hospice and maintaining her comfort--hoping she could pass peacefully. I wrote a thorough post on my grandmother's illness here --and my wording is confusing in this post. GG is my great grandmother, below is my grandmother.
|My grandparents, though they divorced, remained very close|
and in love in so many ways.
While my mom and dad, aunt, and grandpa and L were taking unscheduled shifts at my grandma's bedside, I was doing my best to keep everyone fed. And then some. I did not stop cooking all weekend. Even at 2AM with no one to feed, I was making vats of muffin batter for some unseen apocalyptic brunch when I just know I'll need five thousand muffins. I feel lucky that I have this role in my family. No one calls me for legal help or medical advice. Everyone knows I am too emotionally unstable to handle anything other than making pasta and pies.
|Repeat, repeat, repeat|
|Not one to usually slum it on the floor, Barbie sensed my angst and|
refused to leave my side.I had to bring her to work with me on Saturday.
My GG's house had a wonderful smell. It was spicy and floral, kind of like grapefruit zest and whiskey. Probably because she picked a grapefruit for breakfast and liberally poured Canadian Club the rest of the day. But there is also that Floridian mildewy smell that still smells good in a weird way. As I took a break from crimping pie crust, folding fruit into apocalyptic muffin batter, and transferring pasta from boiling water to yet another cream sauce, I took Barbie out. It was a cold and clear evening. Standing there as Barbie tried to trick a squirrel out of a tree, I was overcome with the aroma of GG's house. I mean I might as well have been seven years old standing at her bar topping her whiskey and a splash off with more whiskey because my splash was too long.
My mom was glad to hear she wasn't crazy for feeling it. We then decided we should get everyone together for dinner. I ran to the grocery for more pasta and wine.
I figured I would also get some flowers, to make sure things didn't feel too bleak. At first I was tempted to use my pink. My pink is fuchsia, and very bold. But as I thought more about it, I decided I would use my mother's shade of pink, which is very soft and peony-like. Then, I had a duh moment and realized of course I should use my grandma's favorite shade of pink. Her pink is shell pink, a little peachy and pastel and very sweet. Though there were many dozens of roses in my pink and my mother's, there was only one dozen in my grandmother's shade. I picked them up and figured I would supplement with other flowers. As I set them in my cart, I laughed in delight when I saw the variety name on their plastic surround.
|My GG's name|
|The roses are true conch shell pink, no?|
|GG and my mother. GG never said "cheese" for a photo. She always|
said "Knockers up! We paid good money for these!"
Note my GG's Standard Issue Queen Hair and my mother's
brushed out hot roller disco queen sideweeping do.
Losing daylight, I began to find the whole thing even funnier. My kitchen was a mess, I had vegetable scraps in Himalayan proportion piling in the sink, and was making a salad by candlelight. My vinaigrette was stupid and my attempt at parmesan-crusted grilled chicken was a shitshow. My security system was beeping incessantly and I banged into a wall in my dark basement carrying up candles. I finished that damn buttercream by hand, frosted my grilled cake, set the ugliest tables I have ever seen, and got started on the sauce.
|Good to know: in a pinch, a grill, rack, and sheet pan are an acceptable|
makeshift oven (sheet pan is elevated, not directly on the grates)
I just couldn't help but think that my grandmother was somewhere, giggling hysterically with my GG at my rapidly unraveling plan. This was precisely her kind of humor. It reminded me of the time my grandpa's tooth fell out on vacation, and then we got kicked out of the restaurant because my sister and I were too young to be there, and then we made a wrong turn and ended up driving off the island, and then we drove back onto the wrong island, hit a grocery cart in a parking lot that we told my sister was a person, and tried to pay a road toll with twizzlers because no one had any change. While my grandpa, sister, and I were intermittently annoyed by these circumstances (or traumatized in my sister's case), my grandma did not stop laughing for a second. She did not like potty humor, foul language, or raunch, but she loved bumbling misadventure.
I saw my grandpa pulling in my driveway and wondered how I could illuminate his path through the door. All of the sudden, there was a voom of electronics retooling and the power was back on.
I had my siblings, cousins, and I at one table in my kitchen, and my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandpa and L in my dining room. I don't usually separate like that, but I knew they needed to discuss the memorial service/celebration of life. I opted to exclude myself and siblings and cousins from that talk because it's not a matter where many opinions are helpful. Had I been there, I would have forged ahead with my idea and done my best to shut everyone else up. So for once, I can safely say that I respected boundaries of decency. They came up with a plan and I think it will be wonderful.
I continued to remind myself through the evening that this wasn't about the food, wasn't about the flowers or the table setting, it was about family. It was about gathering, sharing our love for our mother/grandmother/adored (ex) wife. My awful chicken, bad vinaigrette, and naked tables only made things better, and luckily my grill cake was pretty damn good.I have some plans for Christmas to include my grandmother beautifully and let her be the star, which she will love. I have an entirely new plan for Christmas and am now ready to dive in. I am way behind, but that's okay. The decorations will not be showstoppers, and the food will be plentiful and easyish. This may not be a year I wish to dazzle my family with Christmas, I think this is a year I simply wish to be with my family. But don't think this means there will be any less MSDE or pinecone glittering next year.
- Do not stand at my grave and weep.I am not there; I do not sleep.I am a thousand winds that blow.I am the diamond glints on snow.I am the sunlight on ripened grain.I am the gentle autumn rain.When you awaken in the morning’s hushI am the swift uplifting rushOf quiet birds in circled flight.I am the soft stars that shine at night.Do not stand at my grave and cry;I am not there; I did not die
- Mary Elizabeth Frye