Teri Orr: Finding/making/embracing the time…
December 26, 2014
There were tough, sparse years when I was a single mom and the holidays came, while I worked an hourly wage job. And yet, the stockings were always hung and filled and there was a real tree with lights and ornaments. The house had candles and ribbons and music boxes and funny reindeer statues or other stuff that had made it here in a U-Haul truck, all those years ago, from our former life in Lake Tahoe.
Which is why there is something oddly okay about this year. Some of those very same talismans are still with us — the music boxes and stockings and teddy bears with the same clothes I made for them in the ’70s. And the tree is ablaze with lights (new LED ones — so much smarter). But somehow, when half the family came for Christmas Eve, there were still two big boxes filled with ornaments which had not made it to the tree.
The hippie fabric angel from our Tahoe Days was on the top. But no one else. No Santas or toy soldiers or glass-blown, vibrant-colored cars that look like something straight out of Cuba. I shopped for gifts — mostly Dolly’s and a bit online. I bought and cooked food and poured wine. I lit candles and built a fire. But I just hadn’t made the time to trim the tree.
I had the best intentions. But I also made a conscious decision this year — I said yes to every offer to meet for a drink, attend a party, have a lunch, go for a walk. And it felt really, really good, and grounded and where I was meant to be.
When the annual neighborhoods carolers — made up of young couples and their young children — rang my doorbell and sang me a spirited rendition of Rudolf, I grabbed the candy canes off the couch that were intended to hang on the tree and I passed them around.
And when Christmas Eve came and the ornament boxes were on the side of the tree, no one seemed to care. We took our time building a giant fire and ate and watched each other open presents that were thoughtfully, very thoughtfully, chosen.
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The next morning, Christmas Day dawned with fresh snow, making it, as I had overheard a woman at a store say just days before, "all Currier and Ives-like." And while I guess it is okay to think of our town as a backdrop for other people’s picture-perfect visits, it is just my home, and it looks beautiful with fresh snow. All winter.
When I had been Christmas shopping I picked up a book of poems for a friend — I had heard the wicked-talented poet speak at a conference a few years back. And I confess, I picked up an extra copy for myself. I started it after my little family left on Christmas Eve and I have finished it, as of this writing. Sarah Kay, "No Matter The Wreckage." It made me remember I started writing poems, first, at maybe nine or ten or eleven. And they rhymed miserably and predictably and my family praised them and I drank that praise and wrote more bad poems. Many, many more.
In college, I studied Sylvia Plath and Virginia Wolfe with equal parts morbid fascination and confused admiration. I put rocks in my pockets in those years and walked to the water’s edge. Opened the oven door and imagined turning the gas on. The darkness was seductive. And then, instead of poems, I started to write non-fiction pieces about books and films and issues of the day. I took one journalism class and loved every single minute of it, before I dropped out of college to major in motherhood. I wrote to understand after that. Mostly myself.
Sarah’s book of poems takes you on journeys from New York City life to the slums of India to the tip of South Africa. It exposes what happens to people and pigeons when you gentrify neighborhoods. It takes you out to sea and strands you there. For a while.
It makes you remember the lover who "played your spine like piano keys." It plays with past lives and future lives and spends plenty of time in the present as it quickly becomes the past. And it is a present from the future.
Taking this season on its own time with friends who have included me in festivities has been a gift. Amid the crackling fires and the intoxicating smells of evergreen and chocolate, there have been moments of conversation and reflection that have brought such clarity, I feel renewed.
As for the tree, it has ornaments now. Not as many as most years but enough for when the second crew comes up to celebrate this week. There is firewood from my sweet neighbors, who each fall, cut dead trees and share them with me. There are new jars of bubble bath and oils and big fat socks to pad around in. And there is peace that arrived unbidden. It is the very best way to look into a new year. With all those days yet to be written upon… all those Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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