Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For the winter solstice here in Hudson the sun made an appearance on this cold drear day only as it set. Now it's nightfall and up in the aerie somewhere near me though not in sight, Rafe is lightly, audibly, snoring.

I always hated it, many many years ago when I was growing up in Connecticut, when my father, sitting formally and dourly at the head of the dining table - say, at Christmas - would launch on intoned, incantatory words to the effect of "Thirty-five years ago tonight..." and there, on a joyous holiday, would ensue a terrible, bleak, lonesome, true tale of a brother and his younger sister (my father & aunt) somehow trying to make their way together across a Kazakhstanian steppe on Christmas Eve in the midst of World War II, in a carriage or sleigh, as I recall. I wanted to know the story, I did. But not at that moment, not at Christmas, not in the company of my family, my mother, my two brothers, my sister, not at the table, with an array of delicious food to be savored and devoured, decorated choinka in the next room lit, presents to be unwrapped.

(I wanted to know about his pain, I did, but not at that moment, no. But that's when he seemed to want to share it, as an announcement. It's funny, my aunt would tell her version - well, she's way more lighthearted - lights out when I'd be over at my cousins' summers for a sleepover, and she'd recount the epic tale, the family saga & lore, and I'd quiz her about it in the dark, her disembodied voice answering, or perhaps the opaque shape of her, sitting on her little daughter's bed, was visible as my eyes adjusted to the shadows. I was wrapped in a duvet whose cover my grandmother had created from soft cotton sheets. I'd ask for more details, struggle to understand, and if I shed a tear, chewed my lip, or had to struggle with emotion thinking of my father, it was under the safe, private cover of darkness, lying prone, my cousin M in the twin bed on the other side of the room so familiar with the account that she could just about tell it all herself though it was her mother, my aunt, who'd been the little girl on that carriage ride in subfreezing temperatures on the steppe - and where had been their parents, Babcia and Dziadzius? I never did wholly absorb the story. My aunt would patiently, soberly, kindly answer, no question was too basic or too stupid - but somehow the story was so enormous, so huge, so out of my context, growing up in Connecticut, that I could never ever, even the next day, remember the details, which wouldn't get talked about, not much anyway, at home with my family in Connecticut, except that it would rear its head on Wigilja, with that horrible tradition - since my family were largely awkward & allergic to one another - of breaking off a wafer and formally kissing everyone. Oh, ugh.)

(Darlings - aren't you glad I'm getting such a tale out of my system before Christmas?)

Anyway - in frank contrast to the sorts of dinners I grew up with, which usually ended in acrimony & tears (and when I became college age - with me put on an Amtrak train late on Christmas Eves, back to Back Bay) - tonight I have a "thirty-five years ago tonight" story - but it's a fond, lovely memory.

I vividly remember a very long time ago having dinner with the family of my first boyfriend, when I was 16. It was a cold winter evening, long dining table lit by candlelight, and my boyfriend's father, a gracious and charming older gentleman originally from an evidently civilized small city below the Mason-Dixon Line (he spoke many years later with the lilting cadences of his Southern upbringing), exclaimed that he was so happy that tonight was the solstice, saying that it was the happiest day of the year for him because it meant Spring was coming. He said it with such sudden, unexpected exuberance that we all laughed, and I remember looking across the table at him with pleasure and wonder that this man could take such joy out of such a simple thing, and express it, and I took very great pleasure from his joy, and from that moment.

So - happy winter solstice, darlings - especially you, "former paramour." I remember that evening well. Do you? Your mother presiding, with her wonderful cooking - I wonder if it was beef bourguignon, and perhaps salad with avocado, to which at your house I'd become acquainted...

Spring is coming!

Love you. XOXO

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