On this first day following Christmas, or as my wife who lived in England for two years would call it, Boxing Day, I have awoken to discover it’s the birthday of David Sedaris, the wonderful humorist who once quipped,
“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.”
So on this snowy, sleet filled day as I look out my window to see my friends the Oaks swaying slightly now rather than thrashing about in the high winds that visited us just a few days ago, I’m glad they haven’t had to give up their pulp for my scribblings.
When I got my pups back inside, they were covered in snow but excited to have their breakfast and eventual post-prandial nap. In their canine enthusiasm, it was just another morning to them, though. No trappings of the holidays excited them, except perhaps for the memory of the aroma of the duck roasting close by in the hot oven. After all, every morning is Christmas for them. As is the case every other day of the year, they were eager to grasp the moment, bark simply to hear their own melodies, and race through the yard on patrol, always anxious to see what the night had brought.
Their memories are not full of sadness or of fallen litter mates. They seem not to pine for some thoughts of puppyhood when all was well and safe, snuggled up against the bellies of their mommas, enjoying a warm smoothie. They recall no thoughts of illness or visits to the vet. The treats of yesteryear, those chew toys and doll babies whose button eyes are always the first body parts to be torn off, do not seem to get them up early to sniff under the tree to see what’s there for them. They are content unto themselves, sensing that the moment will bring what it will. Just some attention and a good scratch behind the ears brings almost tears of happiness to them.
So as I “enjoyed” this cold wintry morning, sitting here inside, dry and warm, reading about how the world has evolved since I last tuned in, I think of Christmases past. I can still see my dear Aunt Dolly sitting with me on the floor, serving as non-compensated technical adviser on how to build little structures out of my Lincoln Log set. I see my dad, who had labored during the post war days on the railroad, now laboring to understand how my Lionel train worked. No switchman there now as on earlier cold and bitter mornings in the late 40s to help throw the links that moved the freight onto the right track. He was on his own and feeling the pressure.
A recent newspaper column asked a group of scientists what “scientific” gifts they had received as children that might have been the sparks that lit the way to their careers, now full of accomplishments as well as new challenges still playing out. Up jumped some interesting objects from chemistry sets full of flasks and test tubes and neat stuff to mix together for exciting results. Others remembered their Lego blocks with boxes full of squares and rectangles to make all kinds of contorted structures that wobbled on their pins as often as they stood firm. Others recalled their scouting days when they were intrepid collectors of bugs, rocks, and flower petals, not to mention all those shells they gathered on beach holidays.
A friend told me today that the article triggered memories of his reflecting telescope. He smiled as he remembered spending hours outside in cold winter weather when the sky was clear staring at the moon and stars. And his mother had never bothered to go out to get him when it was finally time to go to bed. His father was a machinist and had made a complex apparatus that enabled the enthusiastic young boy to try to take pictures of the moon with his Brownie box camera. The two of them spent blessed time outside together looking upward and bonding over the miraculous universe. And they didn’t have to find their sense of unity by comparing professional baseball statistics or other sports trivia. Just nature.
And now, my beloved daughter is instilling a great sense of curiosity in her own daughter, Lia, a lovely child of 6. They’ve mummified a chick who didn’t survive long after hatching, dyed fabric together in “bugga” colors, learned to speak in Old English, gone on camping trips to learn more about the natural world, perfected the fine art of dressing in costume, and many other adventures, all part of encouraging a love of learning, questioning dogma, and instilling a zest for life.
It’s hard to beat memories that are founded in this kind of spontaneous and formative thought:
Quoth Lia, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, because I’m painting and I’m with you.”
So as we watch the last days of this tumultuous year come to an end, I think of my friends and family and have great hope for the time that will soon unfold. A time full of memories in the making, a time to enjoy growth and change, a time to run around the yard seeing what’s new.
In contrast to David Sedaris who was aware of the less than perfect contents of his wastebasket, I think of the new book by Jamie Lee Curtis, My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives. It’s full of great stories that are already the stuff of wonderful memories…the stuff of dreams. Those trees that came down to now cradle her scribblings came down for a good reason.
May we all have many more good memories and dreams in the making.