It's approaching midnight on the 19th. Dad is in on the futon, reading his book and getting ready to hook up his sleep apnea respiratory pump. All those years Mother lived with, went to her grave thinking, that Dad was the world's worst snorer, and all he needed was a simple humidified mask that makes him look like a fighter pilot as he's dropping off to sleep. I don't know how Mother would have fared, waking up next to Darth Vader, so it's a good thing she made it all those decades comforted by his snores. Forty-six years of marriage, she read late at night and slept in, he was farm boy early to bed and early to rise. He snored and she listened. She smoked and he mostly didn't. She was often argumentative for no reason, and he was often what appeared to be submissive. [For many years I thought him obsequious, and mistook his quiet calm for weakness. I was wrong.] In many ways they were quite different, even oppositional, yet in that nearly half century of marriage they worked together on their relationship day in and day out, showed their love for each other and their families. No matter how their methods may have differed, their opinions, energies, or burdens, they both put the effort into making the relationship work. Both worked, both sacrificed, and it worked. The better attributes I have I got from one, the other, or both of them.
At times like this, family holiday get togethers, if you're very lucky you get slivers of insight into those who have gone before, morsels of your heritage you had never been aware of before, that become part of the mosaic that you will be after.
At this point, with Dad widowed and 76, making his pre-dialysis plans and starting to hunt for a kidney donor, the most cherished gifts I receive are these tidbits. Tonight he gifted me with an entire printed out family tree starting with his parents. I've learned to ask simple questions, and the answers - little things, all - are fascinating. [Well, to me. You, I presume, should see about finding your own family treasures.] Little things like Dad mentioning that his mother made all their bread on the farm, baking it in #10 sized cans, and he was in high school before he knew there was bread that wasn't round. In the mid 1930s when the entire family sold all their worldly goods for the sum of $150 and Grandma, Grampa, and six kids emigrated in an old car and trailer from North Dakota to Bellingham, Washington... they thought they knew cold winters, and they had known severe dry winters, but on the coast now they had to learn cold/wet/wind winters. Curious things like his dad and mother - clod busting simple farmers, both born in the 1890's - got together each midday for sharing a cup of green tea. Tonight Dad noticed a small antique glass cup on my desk that I've had for years, shot glass sized and scribed 'Albert & Co., Drugs'. I sort my morning meds into it each day. He said that it was about 150 years old, and had belonged to his mother's parents. We talked about his anxiety, a young WWII vet whose only skill was having learned to type, taking a chance to leave his brother's gas station to try a job at this little two-man office in Richland WA called "IBM".
I'm quite glad my son and his partner Thea were able to be here, and to listen in on these conversations, and I hope someday he realizes what jewels he has received in this.
I've gotta digress here for a moment, a guilty pleasure. Every office has a gossip. Ours, at my Other Job, is a very nice lady, one of the most efficient workers in the place, all sorts of nice attributes, but she is a bloodhound for gossip. Example - when Nia went into the hospital prematurely with her baby and I was so deep in shock, she asked a mutual friend "...is it his baby..."? When I heard I decided to end the wondering with a paraphrased version of the truth - I told her "It isn't my baby, but my anguish comes from the fact that she and her husband don't want their other lovers at the hospital when their parents are there." Not quite the full truth, but enough to stop her cold in her tracks. It was fun this week to see her fishing when I mentioned Dad coming to town, and "My son and his partner will be over". She extremely carefully asked, "Have you met your son's partner?", to which I replied "Oh, yes, nice person." Hehehehehehe. Bisexual son and his bisexual girlfriend enjoyed that one, her eternal wondering if my son is gay. It would have been even more fun - and accurate - of course if I'd have said 'primary partner', but that might have totally blown her away.
The kids came over this afternoon - I'd picked up Dad at Seatac yesterday - and we spent a fun casual family evening tonight, the four of us. #1 son installed Gnotella and introduced me to the fascinating sounds of Apocalyptica, a cello quartet from Helsinki that covers from Metallica to Edvard Grieg. He also put in Trillian, so that if Hanne is willing to use even one of the varieties of interfaces offered I'll be able to be in touch [and it has zero of the surge of advertising that ICQ has embraced recently]. I cut Dad a couple of CDs from my MP3 collection and found that he - a classical music only man - thoroughly enjoyed my rather obscure collection of "Club/Techno Remixes of Classical Pieces". House remix of Hall of the Mountain King, Techno remix of Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, Moonlight Sonata, Adagio for Strings, and more. Hell, he liked them! Never cease being surprised. I fixed my first prime rib ever, and learned to trust the thermometer next time. Beside that were the comfort foods - mashed potatoes and creamed corn. Yesterday on the way home from the airport I took Dad through Central Market, told him I was gonna buy a couple pounds of smoked ham hocks, and for him to gather a cart full of whatever else he needed to make some of his world famous home made soup. He threw just about everything in there from peruvian sweet onions to barley, black & white beans and lentils, fresh, powdered, and granulated garlic to stewed tomatoes. It simmered for about 24 hours and when the kids arrived this afternoon we greeted them with bowls full of a really tasty soup to warm up with. [Notice that about this point I'm pumping my fist in the air and yelling "Score!!" at myself for the successful idea.]
And now we're back from my ramble around to where I started, Dad wearing Darth Vader and sleeping quietly, and I'm sitting here reflecting on how good life is. My ramble through this diary entry is pretty much how we casually rambled through the day, and that's perfectly ok. As best as I can recall it, my extemporaneous statement of thanks at the table tonight was joining hands, and saying "We have much to be thankful for, many riches and a rich bounty of food and family. Our blessings are so good that when we're down, when we hurt, when we feel we are losing or lost, we need to compare it to how rich we really are, and give thanks to whatever powers that be for giving us all that we really do have."
Thats what the winter holidays are to me, deep in my heart. Family. Not the mall, not the muzak, definitely not the 'religion' - but family. This year mine happened on the 19th instead of the 25th. I'm just glad to have what I do have, whenever it comes. G'nite folks.