Tag Archives: From This Place To That

A Sibling Christmas

By the week before Christmas, my siblings and I would finally be out of school and sick with anticipation.  This manifested itself in several ways.  Conspiratorial whisperings late at night as to how to catch Santa Claus.  Manic running through the house, so furious the glass ornaments on the tree tinkled and clinked together, the old wooden floors groaning under our pounding feet.  Arguments over nothing ensued, some playful slur or accidental elbow thrown, ending, as all such romps ended, in a fist fight. 

Not a true fist fight, of course.  We were careful not to hit faces or torsos where all the best organs lived, but there was some slugging and rolling around involved. My mother, bent over the jam cake batter, hollered that way she had in the moments just before she snapped, and we retreated to our rooms, relieved to flop on our beds and save ourselves from ourselves.  We tossed insults at each other across the hall but really, our hearts weren’t in it.

Evenings and we lay under the tree, fanned out like spokes in a wheel, the room dark but for the tree lights, as we discussed with great solemnity, the existence of you-know-who.  My brother, Billy, and I were old enough to have seen price tags left of toys the year before:  W.T. Grant, Kuester’s, Sears & Roebuck.  This required an elaborate series of events to explain, ones involving managers late on Christmas Eve letting Santa in the backdoor.  We accepted  the logic that he couldn’t carry all the toys for the world at once, while still accepting the fact  that Santa delivered toys by sleigh.

The little kids joined us under the tree, all sweet-smelling in their flannel pajamas, and we were as happy as we ever were, lulled by the dark and colorful lights, all our energy spent for one day, and filled with generosity and goodwill as we anticipated the generosity and goodwill soon to be coming to us. 

That’s the thing, isn’t it, how easy to be generous when we have enough.  How kind we are when we anticipate kindness from others.  How calm our hearts after a good scolding when we know we deserved it and to see, when the dust settles, that whatever it was that got us in trouble isn’t even forgiven, but completely forgotten. 

We have new babies in the family this year.  Four of them.  They are far-flung and we have yet to have them all in the same room together.  Right now they are new and fresh and still a wonderment to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Their job is to be gazed upon and adored, to reach for us so we will pick them up, to squirm and fuss until we find just the spot where they fold into us and find our fit. 

The fit that will be different with each child. 

And we will study them like lab experiments, working like the teacher’s pet to understand every nuance of their movements, their burbles and grunts, until we believe we are the best in the class, unlocking their codes. We will study them for the rest of our lives.  We all want straight A’s in the knowing of these children. 

I find myself looking to my young niece, who is the true expert on her infant son, and take instruction as if I’ve paid her for tutoring.  I all but take notes.  I don’t get much of the new mothering these days: sleep sacks, tummy time, back sleeping.  But I get that, for all the baby’s squishy rolls of fat, there is something delicate about new life, like those old German Christmas ornaments, big and brilliant and shiny, and fragile as egg shells. 

There will soon be siblings for these babies to love and fight with, new babies for us to learn head to toe.

I have my own version of time under the Christmas tree now.  It involves visits with friends, long chats on the phone with pals I might not see for months and months.  Christmas music going, sometimes the old holiday classics, sometimes Trans-Siberian Orchestra, sometimes medieval chants, sometimes sweet nuns singing to me in Latin. 

No longer waiting for Santa Claus and bribing him with cookies and milk, I will toss seeds and nuts out my backdoor on Christmas morning for the birds and squirrels still inhabiting my yard.  I’ll make my mother’s jam cake.  I’ll wear flannel pajamas to bed, although I am warm natured. I won’t miss slugging somebody, but I’ll think on the that particular form of sibling love that says, I may hit you but I won’t hurt you.  You can trust me.  And you do.

Mr. Davis Has Elephant Ears

With spring comes a freshness, a green that won’t appear again until this time next year.  It arrives on the edge of thunder and hail, and even as you are righting all the lawn chairs, flipping the lids back onto the toters, there is that certain whiff in the air.  It is the scent of renewal, hope, forgiveness, even.  It is the scent of spring.

And it smells like mulch. Image

Mulch is the Epcot Center of gardening.  You know what I mean.  At Epcot you can visit the Moroccan and China Pavilions and believe you have traveled to those exotic places. But it’s better.  Everything is just so clean.  And neat. And effortless.

And the best part, you won’t be plagued with those pesky intestinal bugs that the poor slobs who actually go to China and Morocco find so inconvenient and vulgar.

Mulch is like that.  It is nothing more than yard waste, shredded trees and twigs, some dirt and some composted something.  But bag it and stack it on pallets, or store it loose in a giant bin like prized free-range dirt, and it becomes something more than itself, something bigger, something better and we dream of it.  Covet it.  Think we deserve it, because look how hard we have worked, or think about how hard we would work, if only we had some lovely mulch to inspire us.

As strange as this weather has been, you would think we would be bracing for natural disaster, or organizing our bug-out bags, or getting our affairs in order.  But no.

We are not doing any of these things.

We are mowing our yards.Twice a week.

We are out buying plants. Mulch.

We are showing up at work on Monday with sunburned faces and arms, already, here, in mid-March.

Me, I’m buying elephant ears.

Mr. Davis lived next door to my grandmother for as long as Il could remember.  He had a lush green lawn when no one had a lush green lawn.  At a time when yards were mostly clover and Bermuda grass, his was dark and tall and looked like it could hide Easter eggs right past Halloween.

Across the front of his house was a herd of elephant ears.  Gigantic elephant ears.  Ears that he had been nurturing and tending for years.

They are a tropical plant, which  make sense when you think about where elephants live.  The bulbs won’t survive our winters, so every fall Mr. Davis chopped off the foliage and dug up the bulbs.  They must have been immense because the holes they left were impressive.  He dried them, stored them in his basement and in the spring he planted them anew.

What fascinated and sort of disturbed me was the fact that he would plant them, dig them up, plant them, dig them up, year after year.  I had no reference for this kind of care and attention to gardening.   Landscaping at my house consisted of mowing the grass right up to the house, half-heartedly trimming around the sidewalks, and scattering grass seed a few times a year over the spots we rubbed bare with our bicycles and baseball games.

I had gone out to get zinnia seeds because anyone can grow them.   But right there, by my feet in a cardboard bin, were mesh bags of elephant ears.

I must tell you, I have never seen such a thing these. They were easily the size of cantaloupes and I simply had to have them.

I could see the cool dark corner of my yard where I would plant them, could see the small children dressed in  organza playing amongst them as they trip around my garden sanctuary on a dragonfly afternoon.  Could almost hear the crack of the croquet ball, the clinking of ice in the lemonade pitcher, could see the sloping lawn of my estate in the sun gently sets.

All this from a pack of zinnias and three oddly shaped cantaloupes.  That’s right, and so what? I have smelled the mulch.