On the back of my daughter’s car is a sticker that proclaims:
I dream of a world where chickens
Can cross the road
Without having their motives questioned.
She has other amusing stickers on her car, including an image of an early hominoid that reads, “Proud of my ancestors.” Had she come of age when I did, she would have fit in well with the counter culture of the Sixties.
She and our seven-year old granddaughter visited this weekend to catch us up and to grace us with the gift of their presence. Giving life to the thought that “it takes a village,” neither of these precious ladies are tied formally to either my wife Jody or me in any limited biological sense. Be that as it may, however, both are our “family,” in the full sense of the word. I came into Gryphon’s (she recently legally changed her name from Geraldine) when she was four and her mother Lilian thirty-four, nearly three years younger than what Gryphon is now. Her mother has been gone now over twenty years but we saw her presence in the radiant smile of the little one who was named after her. For reasons inexplicable to me, she now wants to go by her middle name Sappho. She is lyrical and sings beautifully so I guess the name is appropriate. But I will always know her in my heart as Lia.
Jody, who has two grown sons of her own and now a fifteen-month old grandson Liam, decided early on to assume the auspicious role of grandmother to Lia, long before she wanted to be known as Sappho. I had read once where a lot of beautiful actresses who had grown too old to play ingenue roles had trouble accepting the fact that out of the blue their own children had had the nerve to present them with grandchildren. Goldie Hawn had the best solution…she thought of herself as “Glam-ma.” So when the little one calls “Grandma” when she needs something, I smile to myself and interpret the sounds as “Glam-ma.”
I also smile when I think of the ancient hominoid in all of us.
This time of year is often the only time we exchange some form of note to tell our story and to wish others well. Many cards come with newsletters that are often difficult to read from start to finish. A few are worth the effort, though, because of some special take on the events of the year. Sadly, some come with just a name written down. These “petroglyphs” contain enough mystery to make me wonder about them. What are the cursive lines and loops saying all by themselves? We’re simply still alive and wish you to know it? We’re so inarticulate that all we can manage is to say our name? Is our name simply a gambit inviting a response as though we’re on the cusp of a conversation?
While pondering the mystery of a signature, I try to imagine the precarious lives those distant sloping-browed ancestors of ours lived. The cold of their caves provided sanctuary against the perils of the night, but they were dark and needed fire to make them worthy of a “human” presence. These were creatures who knew what their fellow animals failed to grasp. They knew that eventually they would die and in the meantime they had to make their peace with the notion that goodness and evil coexist. They were compelled to tell their story by drawing their petroglyphs on the walls of those caves, illuminated by fire and clouded with smoke. They told histories on those walls of hunts, of battles, of those who had magical powers. They told tales of people trying to figure out their place in the short time they were allotted.
Long before any stories of the manger became part of our folklore and far beyond the scope of all the commercialism of modern-day celebrations of Christmas, we need to remember that our early hominoid ancestors sat in vigil of their safety, huddling with others of their clan, frightened over why the sun was seemingly disappearing from their lives. Our ancient predecessors learned to celebrate their long cold nights culminating in the winter solstice by lighting bonfires as a way to scare away the dark and beckon the sun back. The many yard decorations that now decorate and blink at us from before Thanksgiving on can perhaps be traced back to much earlier times as a way to usher in the light.
My long gone maternal aunt Bertha especially disliked the darkness of winter and spent this time of year by her warm stove where she found the time to write out notes on her Christmas cards. I prize these cards, some of which are still tucked away safely in my box of memories. She could always be depended upon to include a sweet note about what was important in her life. She ran down the list, from cats to Nixon, adding her spin onto how all this swirling universe had meaning for her. What she was doing was not all that much different from what the cave men did when they painted on their walls. And like the cave men, the winter nights also had potential peril for her, dangers that those hominoids who wandered the earth millions of years ago would have been familiar with. One especially cold night, she locked herself out of the house trying to herd her pride of cats to safety. All she had on was a nightie. Even her housecoat was left behind, as though she had been snatched mysteriously from the warmth and comfort of her home like some ancient Anasazi basket weaver into a hostile world. Afterward, we all started referring to her as Lady Godiva. The next Christmas, she even signed her card “LG.”
I open today’s incoming cards now hoping to find some “answer” to those who have thought enough of us to send some note about how we share a common past that cannot be lost so long as we can talk to one another. I don’t expect to hear how they have locked themselves out in the cold, but some notes tell of joy, while others share times of sickness and death and how the bearers of such news are coping. Others show off pictures of smiling cherubic babes who have come recently into our common world and will provide another link to our future. These are modern hominoids who have taken the time to purchase, sign, and mail gestures that say, “Take my hand, pilgrim, we are all travelers in time and space, we are all herders of cats, we are all family. Let us forget previous slights and inattention to detail that have robbed us of better days and nights together, even those moments we shared in the cave or when we have looked for rescue after being locked out in the cold. Come share our good times and bad, come celebrate with us.”
When long lost brothers and sisters tell us they are glad we have reconciled and are whole again, I am satisfied that I need no more gift. This gesture, even if it’s little more than a mere solitary signature, is an unmistakable point of brightness that has the power to move me and to reflect on the light which will now commence to grow with each day.