Teri Orr: Dance by the light of the moon
First — you should know I kinda missed Christmas this year. Not Christmas Eve — that was damn near perfect. My whole family came to my home — liking each other — exchanging gifts and giggles around the warmth of a real — politically incorrect — crackling wood fire. I cooked — which is something I used to do. The Grands are all teens and they helped me trim the tree on Christmas Eve in my most delayed decorating ever. It proved to be a night of simple blessings.
It hadn’t gone so well days before that. And since then — it has all been in the blender. Just know this much — I lost the holidays. Dolly’s Bookstore can confirm I picked up an obscene amount of books for friends in plenty of time for gift giving. They are all in my spare bedroom with little sticky notes of who gets which book. Ditto the red and green tissue and gift bags. And some chocolates and funny ornaments, and well — all that.
I make these silly bird feeders each holiday for the neighbors. Shiny cookie cutters filled with birdseed stuck together with peanut butter and corn syrup. I hang them on the trees with ribbons. I finished those days after Christmas and they are sitting on trays in the garage to be distributed. I picked red ribbon this year which is good. I think I can still make Valentine’s Day.
Which might sound crazy but — when I was growing up, my parents’ best friends had a daughter my age with my same birthday — Valentine’s Day. Her parents always hung their Christmas tree from the ceiling — fat bottom to the top and pointy side to the floor. The two couples would have a great time taking down that tree each Feb 14th. It was the late ‘50’s — think Mad Men and martinis. I don’t know how else to explain it. “The Holidays” ended after our birthday. So it could be deeply ingrained in me to extend The Season.
The other night I drove to Salt Lake City to have dinner with my son and his son. His teenage daughter was otherwise engaged. His wife was out of town on business. We drove to a favorite sushi place and the teenage boy was asking about his father’s pets after a discussion about my late dog, Ratzo Rizzo (see “Midnight Cowboy”). I told him about Huey — a land tortoise from Thailand my son’s eighth-grade science teacher thought would be a perfect gift. I had to pick him up from a specialty turtle guy a few nights before Christmas — the night my mother would be flying in for the holiday. This is the same era my son got a Commodore 64 computer for Christmas. Yep. So it was also the era of zero airport security.
The turtle whisperer had told me DO NOT leave the turtle in the car — it was freezing — actually below. Yes, children, we once had sub-zero temperatures for the holidays. So I took the turtle and put him inside my jacket to keep him warm. And zipped up my coat. And then my mother’s plane was delayed. So I went to the bar and ordered a drink. But it was warm in the bar so I unzipped my jacket and when the bartender put the drink in front of me — he screamed like a little girl. In a very high-pitched voice he said, “What is on your chest?!” I had honestly forgotten about the turtle who hadn’t moved in over an hour. “Oh,” I replied casually. “It’s a tortoise from Thailand.” And then with some pride and enthusiasm, “It is my son’s Christmas present.” I spent the remaining hour of wait time with various folks wanting to look at … let’s just say my flat chest has never before or since had so much attention.
My grandson, who is exactly the same age as my son was when all this happened, was laughing and looked at his father with an air of curiosity and something like wonder. … “Why have you never told me about the tortoise?” And my son shrugged/smirked and then we talked about how Huey got lost a lot in the first few weeks in the house. He would find his way behind the couch or under a bed or behind a bookshelf and emerge after lost days to eat lettuce leaves we put around to draw him out. Finally my son had the ingenious idea to tape a long piece of red yarn on Huey’s back and he never got lost again.
When my nerdy son Randy went to college he wanted to take Huey with him. I explained that while that could be a rather unique conversation starter it probably wasn’t fair to Huey. The tortoise was bequeathed to our friends’ eighth-grade daughter and lived a few more years with her. My grandson just kept looking at his father, who is a physicist and very precise and occasionally stuffy, in a whole new light. “You had a tortoise?”
I got in my car to drive home, good with the visit. Lots of laughs. Kinda like Christmas. And then suddenly in my pathway on Interstate 80 there was no avoiding it — the super blue blood red moon. As promised — it was giant-sized. And colorful. As I drove — tree branches appeared across it — maybe whole trees. I found myself singing to absolutely no one. “Buffalo girls won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight — Buffalo girls won’t you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon.” I didn’t know at first where that came from, then I did. George Bailey — “It’s a Wonderful Life” — that magical holiday film I had somehow also missed this season. Except I had kinda lived a version of it … not every day certainly but more than one Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Teri Orr will miss her neighbor, a man whose “influence on this city — from the ’80s until this fall — is nearly impossible to measure.”