Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas and the New Year!

I keep writing about how overwhelmed I have been, going through boxes of documents and photographs at my Mom's house. (I hear you mutter, "She's such a crybaby!") Maybe these photos will give you some idea what I'm talking about. I had the brainstorm of taking pictures only after I'd been working on them for about two weeks, so there were MANY more than this to begin with, and stacks and stacks more boxes in the studio and in Mom's office. The top box in the middle picture was mysteriously labeled BOB FLECK'S PANTS.

January 14, 2008

I have had a hard time writing lately. I still haven't started my annual letter yet--this past year has exhausted me to the extent I get tired thinking about even THINKING about writing about it. I also just finished sending out a Christmas letter for my Mom (She dictated, I took notes, Robert transcribed, I copied, addressed, stuffed, stamped and mailed) to all of her friends, and maybe that's why I feel like I've already done the Christmas letter job.

Robert and I drove to Michigan for the holiday. We didn't stay at Hoggwilde, but rather in a hotel whose parking lot abuts the lot of TenderCare. I was able to trot over there every morning and every evening, and that was good. I spent the rest of the time at the family home, sorting through more boxes. (I'm posting pictures of SOME of these boxes, lest you think I'm exaggerating.) Before I left Michigan on the last trip I had set up Mom's Christmas tree and got her house decorated. On the Sunday before Christmas the whole family gathered there. Chris and Tim brought Mom from the facility, hauled her up the stairs in her wheelchair and plunked her down in front of her tree. The night before she had tearfully told me she didn't know if she should go back to the house, because it might make her feel too sad. In the end she surprised herself and had a wonderful, happy day.

Robert and I had a good time at the McNeilly family Christmas Eve food-and-drink-fest, and then went to the service at Saint Katherine's in the evening. We also met up a bunch of Williamston High school chums at a local restaurant, and I had lunch with my pal, Marisue. I also had a short visit with Jenny (Smith) Walker, who was visiting from Atlanta. It was good to see so many old friends and great to have my whole family together.

For the last few years Robert and I have celebrated Christmas with his mother and sister in early January, so we saved our gifts for one another to open then. This time Cindy asked if we could put off the celebration until February. We said, "Sure." Cindy lost her husband recently and is having an understandably tough time. So we weren't too surprised when she called again to ask if we could put off Christmas until next year. The truth is that Muffy often doesn't know what day it is (though she has lots of lucid moments) and she probably won't miss it. So Robert and I finally opened our presents to one another on Friday. I gave Robert thrilling and exciting gifts! New hangers and moth blocks for his closet! A Belgian waffle iron, and a promise to actually make him waffles! He gave me jewelry (I must grow additional fingers and earlobes, immediately!) and a magical mystery tour.

We try to take turns surprising one another with little mystery vacations. Robert does a much better job than I do of keeping them secret all the way to the end. On Saturday morning (after Belgian waffles!) he bustled me on the train to the city, where we checked in to a nice mid-town hotel. He told me we were going to see a play. I can't tell you how many times over the past seven years Robert has asked me which plays I've seen on Broadway, and I've told him I've never seen one. Then he says, "WHAT? YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A BROADWAY PLAY?" and I say, "Nope. I've never seen one." Then he says, "We'll have to do something about that." Then we have this same exact conversation a few months later, and he swears I never told him that before.

So I was surprised to find myself actually standing in front of the Lyceum Theater. It is an ornate, Victorian building, built in 1900. It was an especially fitting place to see "Is He Dead?", a farce written by Mark Twain about an artist in bankruptcy who fakes his own death to make his paintings worth more money. It was written right after Twain himself emerged from bankruptcy, but the production deal fell through. The play was never produced until somebody found it in a dusty archive in 2002 and staged this performance. The show was full of awful puns and lots of silliness, and it was fun to watch it in a theater where the author/playwright himself had attended plays.

We went to the matinee performance because Robert had other plans for us in the evening. After the show we had dinner at a fancy fish restaurant. It was so fancy, in fact, they had a special attendant whose only job was to open the bathroom door for patrons. We ate grilled sea bass and a seafood appetizer that was just delicious, and for dessert, lavender and honey ice cream. We went back to our hotel to rest our already blistered feet before walking through Times Square (or perhaps I should say, before being jostled through Times Square). There were shoulder-to-shoulder people there, admiring all the lights and giant television screens. Robert hates the crowds, but I thought it was fun and exciting.

We ended up at our destination--another new experience for me-- an actual night club. We did the thing where one stands in line and a beefy-looking character decides whether or not one is cool enough to be admitted. The guy demanded IDs and I told him I didn't have one. He just smiled as I tried to convince him I’m over 21.

Apparently he felt sorry for us, because he let us in. We had gotten there half an hour early in order to get a good seat and relax before the show, but ended up having to stand around for an hour and fifteen minutes in a bar so jam-packed with people, and so hot and so noisy, it was practically painful. But when we finally got into the venue and found some (pretty terrible) seats, we chilled out. We saw an old-fashioned burlesque show, complete with a raunchy band, torch singers, belly-dancers, jugglers, magicians, a stripper and a sword swallower. Then we stumbled to our hotel for a sleep and a leisurely morning in our nice hotel before taking the train back to Beacon on Sunday.

But this was not even the greatest of my Christmas booty! I sit here typing this at my new, fancy desk! Prior to this past weekend, my work space consisted of an unfinished interior door propped up by phone books on top of a metal filing cabinet at one end and a folding table on the other, with a drawer-less desk shoved under the middle to hold all the computer guts. Now I ask you, is that any place for a famous writer to work? Huh? Didn’t think so! Six years ago it was my temporary solution to an emergency situation, and it has never been satisfactory. For one thing, the typing surface was about four inches higher than it should be, and I didn’t get to look out my window when seated at my computer. So last weekend Robert directed me to clear everything out of there, and we spent a pleasant two days working on it together.

Mom had some golden oak filing cabinets at her house that I brought here. Robert built me a huge L-shaped desk top that I stained a dark mahogany color. I stained the wooden filing cabinets the same color, and used them for the base of the desk. It looks elegant and expensive, but the whole thing, including stain and varnish, only cost about fifty bucks. I was also able to finish some little tasks I had started but never completed, like hemming the curtains and putting up my fancy antique drapery hardware. It is so much easier to work and type now–I have no more excuses!

I must finish this letter now, and go out in the world to purchase four pounds of goat meat. Robert and I are throwing a dinner party for eight on Saturday–a continuation of our effort to meet more of our neighbors. I’m making a Jamaican meal, and I think I’ve finally located a grocery that sells the stuff I need. I have to get a move-on!

We hope your New Year is off to a good start!
F and R