New Year’s Eve 2014




“All That Jive”


Although I have never been a fan of winter, January has long been my favorite month because of what will happen later tonight, the end of the year, the celebration, along with the usual goals, resolutions, and general excitement. It’s more than a new month, it’s a new year, so the whole thing gets wrapped up in a fond—or dismissive—adieu to the year just past and eager anticipation for the year to come. I’m told that January is actually named for the Roman god Juno, not Janus as I’ve long believed. But that to me is the sort of thing pedants go after, the pricking of others’ balloons.


Janus is the ancient Roman god of beginnings and endings, the god of gates and doors and doorways and transitions, that most of all the god of transitions. So if Janus is not the impetus for January, than he certainly should have been. So I’m sticking to the myth I grew up with: tonight marks another ending and another beginning, just as it was in whatever ancient rites were celebrated in the temple of Janus.


I don’t know how it is in other countries, but there are those who say that Americans are too hard on themselves when it comes to setting goals and making resolutions, and they may well be right. Personally, I AM the kind of person who likes to look back on a year of accomplishments, but I am not the kind of person who seeks success to the exclusion of all else. I first encountered Henry David Thoreau as a high school sophomore. One of my English teachers had a bulletin board filled with various quotes, one of which ran, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


Reading that quote for the first time was an epiphany. I knew at once that he was talking to me. I’ve been a couplet out of rhyme my entire life, never really in tune with my companions and especially not with other students, other people, the general population. I march to my own drummer, always have, but Thoreau gave me permission to do so.


But even so, tonight I will reflect on the year just passed and think about what I would like to accomplish in the year to come. Maybe lose some weight. I won’t, but that’s OK because I said, “maybe.” No, what I will do is make some definite goals for the year and work like hell to achieve them, not because the world thinks I should do such-and-such but because I wish to do these things. I will finish the Home Theater that has been in progress for so many years it’s become an embarrassment to me. But this year I managed to complete the second section and made it a bit more than half way through the third. God willing, in a few months the finished project will be ready for beeswax. Then it’s on to an oft-deferred kitchen. Beyond that… I don’t know. Read some books, improve my mind, but overarching all is that quote from Thoreau and this from Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”


Just now, though, I do have to rush off, as Christine will be home soon. We’ll have our dinner, ice down some champagne, talk a little about the year passing and the year aborning. At midnight it’s our toast and our plans, and for me usually, an hour or two spent quietly after she goes to bed. I’ll sit there with the remnants of the champagne and my own plans for the life I’m still working to build for us. Come morning I’ll surely welcome the Java Jive! Happy New Year, All!


Thanksgiving Memories


Thanksgiving Memories 1


“Simple Gifts”


Thanksgiving Memories 2There are two Thanksgivings that I especially remember, and I think the first was father to the second because both of them revolved around the same concept, that family was important enough to spend time with. Old as I am, I really cannot remember a Thanksgiving that did not have football games of some sort. Failing that, there surely would have been the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and if I take this back to the Fifties—which I will—that sort of thing would have been wonderful fare, simply for the fact that we could live in Montana and see live events from New York City.  In those days that was a miracle, not the Same Old Same Old it is now. Bear in mind, now, that I’m old enough to remember lying in front of the Philco and listening to radio shows. TV was a later invention, not something “we’ve always had.” But in any case, TV is not at all what I remember about that earlier Thanksgiving.


It was, as I said, in the 1950s when we still lived in Helena, Montana. It feels bizarre to remember it this way, having lived in Southern California for so many years, but the truth of the matter is that we almost always had snow by Thanksgiving, as we did that year. One of my mother’s sisters lived at the other end of town, and this particular year the two families got together at our house. There was a huge turkey and as large a chicken as we could find. I don’t remember who provided which, but I still remember that at the end of the meal exactly one half of the entire turkey was gone. It was almost surgically sliced from top to bottom. The chicken was gone completely, apart from a few denuded bones still lying on its platter.


But what I most remember about that Thanksgiving Day was that we had made a day of it. Our in-laws did not arrive twenty minutes before serving time. They got there early, so my aunt could help my mother in the kitchen and the two families could spend time together. One of the big attractions in those simple days before video games, cell phones, and that infantile, incessant, insipid texting was a bowl of mixed nuts with the shells still on them. We talked and laughed and carried on, as families were wont to do in those days, as the nut cracker and nut picker made their way around the coffee table where we were all gathered.


It was a simple enjoyment, all we could really afford in those days. My aunt and uncle were blessed with more income than my parents, but neither family could have been considered rich, at least not in material things.


The second Thanksgiving I especially remember occurred some thirty years later, during the 1980s. By then we lived in Southern California, but my aunt and uncle were still in Montana. I was married then, and the other children who went to the folks that year were also adults and married. In those early years—and in often snowbound Montana—people really did not travel a lot on Thanksgiving, which surely gave rise to the concept of making a day of it. Later, of course, so much of that, along with civility, manners, and common decency went by the wayside, but in the eighties we were still without cell phones, although the NFL had now come to Thanksgiving. Stores were still closed, though, and families still got together, as did ours.


It was a bit of culture shock for Christine when we first got together, because her family has always served the Thanksgiving meal at 6:00 or so, whereas our family has always served at 2:00, but there was a method to that madness, as she learned this particular Thanksgiving. The football games were available, as always, but the TV remained dark, people opting instead, if memory serves, for pretty much the same carved wooden bowl we’d used so many years earlier, filled with unshelled nuts. And again the nut cracking implements made their circuit around the family circle.


By then Christine and I had long since begun our tradition of baking two pumpkin pies from scratch for each mother, a tradition we continued for over 30 years, never missing until the inevitable. My mother left this Vale of Tears in 2001, hers just three years ago, and we’ve not had the heart to bake a pie since. But to continue with this, we showed up with more than the two pies that year. I was once the company baker while I was in the Army, and I still remembered the drill, so I’d made two loaves of homemade bread.


The meal itself was a leisurely affair, as no one was in any particular hurry. Eventually, the table was cleared and the dishes washed, but no one left. My parents had a little house in Lakewood, California, which had, as its largest room, an attached family room the Old Man had built himself. It was an absolutely delightful room that they were able to make up into pretty much any configuration that pleased them. By then the last kid was gone, so they really did not need so much space on a daily basis. Most of the year there were several round tables and chairs, which they used as they were needed. For big doings, though, the Old Man had made some table tops which he used to link the tables together. For a gathering as big as the one that year, he could make a long L-Shaped table that made its way through the Family Room.


Thanksgiving Memories 4After the main meal there were after dinner liqueurs and coffee and conversation. In groups that large, it was not at all uncommon for there to be several conversations going at once, but there were also times when there was but a single conversation because someone was recounting a funny story or zinging one of the family members, and no one wanted to miss that!


Along about seven o’clock Christine learned why we liked doing it early and making a day of it because by then the meal that everyone declared had stuffed them beyond repair had been digested, leaving, believe it or not, the munchies. Some just wanted a slice of that pie they’d passed on at the end of the main meal, but older hands at this made a beeline for that homemade bread. Two slices of that bread, some cold turkey and mayonnaise in between, a bit of cranberry sauce, a slice of pie, and a cold beer. It really does not get any better than that.


But the main thing, and what made both Thanksgivings so special—in fact all of the Thanksgivings I’ve experienced over the years—was just the simple gift of spending time with those we love. I’m not sure we always treasure those moments as much as we should. Looking back on those long ago Thanksgivings now it’s sad indeed to realize that so many of those people are gone now: my aunt, my uncle, my parents, her mother, and two of my siblings. Personally, I have enjoyed entirely too many blessings in life to ever become blasé about it, but I will say that on Thanksgiving I tend to reflect on that just a little bit more than usual.



Celebrate the Moments in Your Life




“Moments in Time”


“Goodbye, Joe.” She didn’t actually say it, and later that evening she told me why. It would have made her too sad. She works some thirty minutes away, whereas I am retired. I’d been at her office because she was able to get me an appointment with a doctor on staff to take care of a small matter for me, which saved the half day I would have surely spent at my own clinic. Before I left I’d dropped by her office to make my goodbyes. It was weird.


The moment I got into her office and sat in the chair before her desk I wanted nothing more than to put my feet up on her desk and spend the rest of the afternoon just chatting with her. She’s high enough in the company that we might have gotten away with such a thing. And it’s so nice in her office because the walls are filled with framed items I’ve made for her over the years. I’m a cabinetmaker, and all the frames are ones I designed and made. But the main attraction, as always, was her, just being with her.


We have been married now some thirty-eight years, but to this day we love nothing more than just spending time with each other. We don’t have to be watching a movie or a football game or doing anything, really, not even having a drink together. We’ve done that on occasion, of course, and enjoyed the heck out of it, but most of the time we drink nothing more than water or a cup of coffee. I’ve said many times that I could quite happily spend the rest of my life with my feet on our coffee table, coffee cup in hand, talking to her about anything and everything, and sometimes nothing at all. Just being together is all we’ve ever needed.


The absolute worst for us was the Orange County job. It’s been some twelve years since she left that particular job, but I still cringe at the memory of it. For four years and three months she left every Monday morning to commute to a job some 100 miles away, much too far for a daily commute, and did not return until Friday evening. We’re childless, so this house echoed quite a bit while she was gone. When she’d return for the weekend, I pretty much followed her from room to room like a puppy. When we retired those nights, I said good night as always and then, “I’m glad you’re home.” Those days are long since behind us, but I still end every evening with the same statement, “I’m glad you’re home.” Because I am. And because I never take her for granted.


Earlier this week, as I said, I stopped by her office to attend to that doctor visit (minor, minor stuff, thank goodness), but when I stopped by her office before leaving, I just had this overwhelming feeling of wanting to stay and spend the afternoon with her. But she has a job to attend to, and I had, as always, a great deal of work waiting for me at home.


Hers is a ground floor office with a sliding door that opens onto an enclosed patio overlooking the parking lot. As she watched me leave, she said, she wanted so badly to get in the pickup with me and go home for the afternoon to do… truthfully, not much. I told you. We’re happy just being with each other. But she knew she couldn’t. For a moment she considered calling after me, “Goodbye, Joe,” but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. It made her too sad.


It’s just a moment in our lives, and I’m not really sure why I decided to share it. Some time ago a maker of specialty coffees had as their slogan, “Celebrate the moments of your life.” My immediate response on hearing that slogan was that we already do celebrate the moments of our lives. And we’re lucky enough to know that every moment we spend together is one to celebrate… and treasure.