Tag Archives: Christmas



The last place my Mom and Dad lived in before he died was out in the country, near Lake Fork, Texas. There was a big plate-glass window in front of which Dad had hung bird feeders. Among the many birds who winged in were cardinals, crimson feathers startling, vivid, unforgettable. Whenever I see cardinals, real or otherwise, I think of Dad, I think of that place, a home place for him, a vision he’d worked toward all his life. And I think of my mother, too, acquiescing to him, sharing his dream. What was hers?

In Pier One yesterday, caught like a magpie by all the Christmas glitter and glow, I saw LED candles with tiny red cardinals on them. I had to stop and touch the glass. My throat got tight as I thought of my father, but also of my mother, 13 years down with Alzheimer’s, bedridden, incontinent, unable to turn over or ask for what she wants, able only to croak sounds and smile her occasional but still lovely smile. I didn’t buy the candle. I bought five small, red clip-on cardinals, glitter on their tails and shaken like salt in among their color. Foolish, I thought as I checked out. She won’t see them.

But today I go to place them in her room, among the bits of holiday tinsel I put up even though she doesn’t know. My heart hurts, my throat is tight. I think I summoning Dad to bring her on home.



singing bird

Keep a green tree in your heart and a singing bird will come….Chinese proverb.

I’ve been nursing myself through Christmas for years, missing the breakup of my family, dealing with a fractured holiday where kids have to split in two to see all the parents, missing the young family I had, the young me so busy and so organized.  This year, I realized my work…..on defining what I and no one else but I….want for Christmas has paid off. The heartbreak seems to have been sealed off, like a leak in an old boat. The vessel may be creaky, but she can sail. I’m enjoying myself. Small things delight me:

Buying the three living green wreaths that unleash my decorating and never decorating them the same but just letting creativity flow…..

Noticing the beauty of the Christmas cactus blooms when they finally open; the closed blooms themselves are so satiny beautiful and then when they open….wow…

Letting myself be fully present at whatever small or large Christmas do I’m at, and it doesn’t matter if the only pair of wool slacks I have are too tight at the waist; I’ll diet in the New Year….

Punting around the kids’ schedules but having something Christmas Eve day with them….

Singing my heart out at the Unity Christmas Eve service, all by myself if need be…..

Going with Youngest Grandson (2) on admiring Christmas lights walks. “Light,” he says as he carefully navigates himself near the lighted object. “One finger,” he says, as he’s been taught, as he carefully touches a single light of each object. His masked, furtive delight that he’s talked me into allowing  him to walk down the sidewalk with me rather than placing him in the stroller could not be more obvious or more joyful to me. I get one more grandchild to do this with….

Buying reindeer antlers and a red nose for the car, laughing at how silly I must look because the cars I see with them on look silly….but happy, too….what if we all put such on our cars for this time of year…..wouldn’t that be a hoot?

So….a green tree did grow in my heart again around this season, and ten years ago I would never have believed it. I can’t be the younger woman with the world I once had, but I can enjoy the season again. Merry Christmas, ya’ll………

paperwhite new year

I bought them late, in December, snuggled them among glass stones, poured in gin water. I didn’t expect them to bloom so quickly, for the stalks to shoot up so taut and green once the bulbs were fed, didn’t expect to see the blossom already swelling inside its green casing. Two of the groupings I made have opened into paperwhites, the small fragrant blossoms that are such a contrast to the brown bulb that begins and then feeds them. The paperwhites are in the dining room, kitchen, living room….taking the place of the Christmas decorations I’ve so firmly put away, before a stray sorrow from Christmas past can find me and puncture my carefully restored peace with the season. Somehow there is a metaphor to these paperwhites. Somehow their fresh promise of opening comforts me––I always miss the frolic and red of put-away Christmas. It’s a new year. Without my realizing it, I placed something in my new year life that is already blossoming. What hope for me. I no longer believe in the resolutions I used to make––too many of them broken. I know without a doubt a year may bring sorrow and challenge as well as joy. But I can watch the paperwhites open.  (I’m a sucker for blossoms….once I saw the paperwhites were going to take, I explored around to see what else was there. The Christmas cactus, always late, had budded tips, one or two grown to near blossom stage. And I opened the front door and saw a cameilla bud still tight and small, but its color showing––impossible that the many petaled beauty that will emerge can all be in that bud, but it is. And one rose on the climber offers butter yellow sweetness.)

It’s the promise in buds that I love so much….particularly if I know the flower that will unfurl. I wonder if God feels like that about us.

What’s your new year paperwhite?

another season begins

First Christmas tree of the season went up Thanksgiving weekend. Not mine, but my daughter-in-law’s. It was wonderful to be around her enthusiasm. We had to savor every ornament. Each one means something to her, as once mine did to me. We had to fret over Christmas lights….the ones she has always bought are no longer available. Oh, no, what will we do? The tree smelled so evergreen and slightly minty. There was a new person in the family–their baby–to keep away from the tree. We attempted to teach him to touch “with one finger” rather than grab with a fist. It makes me feel so happy to see her  vigor and unstained happiness around Christmas. I hope she never feels as tired and sad as I once did. Christmas can be a terrible season––divorce, death, loneliness, family drama all undoing the shine of its promise. I had to let go of my grand Christmases, had to remake the season to sustain my hurting heart. My heart is well now. Part of my season is to watch the younger women in my life create their Christmas worlds and to revel in their joy. I have my own joys, but they are mostly smaller ones.

What does Christmas mean to you? Do your traditions sustain or hurt you? Have you had to remake the season? How did you do it?

The first Merry Christmas of the season to you………


Another Christmas done. They’ve arced through a continuum of joyous for so many years that I thought such joy would always be mine to a lost wandering through the internal debris of the blast of divorce, hurt to children, loss of a first, dear, unexpected love affair. The landscape was bleak, desolate, incinerated, nothing green, only smoke, small fires, charred and ruined trees, writhing memory, hissing doubt. I thought I would never heal. It was unbearable this time of year. And yet… I’ve slowly created a Christmas I can bear, a Christmas which brings me small joys. I am content, grateful, humbled to have them. I celebrate friendship at lunches and Ann’s wonderful brunch. I go to a play or festive event. I watch my grandchildren at their music pageant. I buy too many gifts. I decorate, for me, not on the scale of my once-upon-a-time life, but on a scale which pleases the girl who thought she’d have what she wanted forever, that there was nothing that could overwhelm her. I cook and serve a homemade dinner, adding fine folks to family so that the ruin of all I once had isn’t the ghost of Christmas past sitting silent and pale and mocking at my dining table. There’s a saying from the Talmud: every blade of grass has an angel bending over it, whispering, grow…grow. Heal is what my angel whispered. Not possible, I thought. Surely when one’s psychic legs are cut out from under you, you never walk again, you always feel the ache of what is no longer there. First I lay weeping. Then I crawled. One day I stood and stumbled forward into my life. Green has reappeared in my once desolate forest, widened, reaches skyward again. I almost dare to hope, to expect, in the wild way I once did. Almost….but not quite.

The clay


I was talking to a friend of mine who is an artist. I was complaining that I’m having a hard time writing the ending of this next book. She said an interesting thing, that she can’t control her creativity. That what comes out comes out, even if she has something else in mind.


Yes, being patient, waiting for the shape of the story to show itself takes more than I have in me sometimes. I have to put words down, though, or the shape doesn’t show itself. It’s as if the words, the scenes, the sequels, on the page are the clay. If I never put anything down, I never have anything to touch and mold into something else. It’s only after words are down that mind starts flashlighting the better shape for me––have him say this, have her do that, take that out. The scene changes, but it can only change when I have written it down. I must bear the imperfection until the muse refines it to something that works for the story. Christmas has me frazzled. All my creativity seems to be going into that. But maybe I have to do what I’m doing, errands and cooking and decorating and making or finding presents and having lunches with old friends, no time at the moment for the book. I guess that’s the clay of my life, the way it’s shaping it to its final form, to its one and only story.

Snow on Wednesday

Christmas sights this week:

6 members of the Salvation Army choir singing their hearts out at the entrance to Walgreen’s, their voices carrying through the air to my car as I drive by…..santa

Great Christmas lights in River Oaks where enormous oaks dangle long strands of light from limb to ground…..

Snow, last snow 2004, next snow who knows, snow on Wednesday evening, swirling down fast enough to stick. I have to take a walk in it, stand under street lights where I can see it best. Its beauty shakes my heart. Who knows when I’ll see it again. And sure enough, by the next afternoon, it’s almost temperate. Houston in winter….

Out to Mom’s to make empanadillas, Puerto Rican meat pies, once a family tradition. We’ve upgraded. My daughter found a meat pie dough, already cut in circles. Still, it’s a lot of work, cooking pork, the smell of onion, garlic, capers, everywhere, adding a little olive, a bit of hard-boiled egg in the filling. Mom dozes in a rocking chair as we fold and fry. The meat pies are good, but not as good as memory. Isn’t that true about everything…?

Uncomplication and purity

Well, the neighbors have done it again, put up Christmas lights with complete abandon, mayhem, and disorder. It’s wonderful. Lights lurch above the sidewalk to encircle the trees. Tree trunks are wrapped haphazardly, great gaps of space between the light strings. Old fashioned tinsel garland sweeps across the front porch, thrown in the mix probably because it now1was there, and the lighting committee isn’t one to waste a thing. Lighted-wire animals are crammed in the small front yard. There’s a big peace on earth sign lit by a single hard spot. Overhead and around the house and on the fence and through the trees, lights blink, spit, twinkle. Some have tiny bulbs, some have large, some go on and off, some stay solid. No rhyme or reason as to how they’re joined. Nothing matches. Nothing ends well. In fact, it looks like when they run out of light, they just flat quit. It’s a blinding, dazzling, incoherent mismash of color and holiday spirt. I love it. Every other house is yuppified, prissy, timid. If a tree trunk is wrapped, it’s wrapped so tight that even an anal retentive can’t complain. But not the neighbors’. Every year they decorate with growing panache and anarchy. It’s garish, happy, and completely in the spirit of Christmas, reflecting both uncomplication and rash purity. It makes our redeveloped, more and more upscale neighborhood hark back to old times, when everything didn’t have to look like Martha Stewart designed it. (We used to have a house in which the owner had built a replica of a plane crashing into the roof. Those were the days.) No sir. No matching for the neighbors. No plan. Just a spectacle of color and gallant, brash, in-your-face-hurray-it’s-Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

By telegram

I’ve been thinking a lot about Daddy, she says. He died in 1992. And sometimes she calls my brother, “Daddy,” with that questioning arc at the end of the word. DadDEE? I find an old scrapbook of hers, of her wedding shower cards. Old pressed roses from Dad are dust in the wax paper she pressed them in. There is a telegram in among the cards and rose dust, sent from aboard his ship when he was a new merchant marine officer, sent from the Newhall Hills by radiogram to a Western Union office. It arrived by telegram on the 24th of December 1946.

Wishing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the most wonderful person in the world Love Clyde, it says.

I am amazed by look and feel of the old telegram, those pieces of paper delivered by messenger that once apprised people of important news, usually not good. It is thin and fragile, nearly tears at the folds from age. I frame it for Mother’s Day, and when I bring it I think about timing, seen and unseen, wondering if Dad is speaking to her from wherever he is, sending his love one more time by telegram.