The days are growing shorter. Darkness descends by 7:00 p.m. A decided chill punctuates the morning air. After 5:00 p.m. I am caught off guard by the coolness in the air. Dusk begins to permeate the skies earlier than I would have it. The maple and oak trees that proliferate my town brighten the landscape with hues of crimson, yellow, and orange. Autumn casts her spell over all, giving us splashes of color evident only at this time of year.
Mugs of warmed cider and plain donuts beckon for a snack. From childhood throughout adulthood, cider and donuts take the edge off autumn’s cool temperatures. Even now the scent of apples doffs the crispness in the air. A sense of melancholy pervades my feelings these days. Autumn has that effect on me. Another year begins to descend into history soon; Thanksgiving is a month away, followed by my birthday at the end of November. Christmas follows close on the heels of my birthday month. I still question why we celebrate Thanksgiving near the end of November. It seems to me October would be a better Thanksgiving month, further removed from the Christmas festivities of December.
Perhaps it is these endings, the close of the current year, the dawn of a New Year in January, with the whole cycle revving up again, the hope of a better year, a more fulfilling one. I yearn for endings this December; I crave the anticipation of a new beginning in January in a fresh land with friendly faces around me. This is what propels me through the closing months of this year. This is what keeps the sense of autumn melancholy at bay these days. Am I only dreaming of a better New Year? If so, may the dream never end.
Another Thanksgiving has passed, and so has another November 30th birthday. From Thanksgiving on, it seems like I am riding a psychotic horse [which I actually have unknowingly done], through New Year’s.
In mid-November, I pull out the Spode Christmas china. This includes the following set of eight each: dinner, salad, bread and butter, followed by soup bowl, smaller bowls, mugs, cups, saucers, and assorted serving pieces. Looking at the Spode Christmas tree puts me in a festive mood. In addition, various other seasonal mugs join the china fray. Naturally, this means all the other dinner plates, et. al., must be stored where the Spode resides ten-months out of the year…Alright, I admit that sometimes, nay often, the Christmas china remains in use until February.
Ever since I took a stand and invested in a non-live Christmas tree, the tree is now assembled and trimmed by Thanksgiving. Pine-scented Glade plug-in provides the illusion of our Frasier fir trees of yore. Neither sweeping up pine needles twelve months out of the year, nor having Fellini and Coco Chanel lap up tree water, and later purging it, are events I miss. Decking our story-and-a-half 1926 bungalow halls merits much work with a comfort food dinner with hot chocolate and handcrafted marshmallows, not by my hand, but by Whole Foods’. The next day usually entails tackling the outdoor lighting for the front porch. We lean toward white lights and big bows on the railings. Snowflake lights dance from above the railing offering cheer to those passing by.
After a rollicking Thanksgiving with friends whose children also came home from college, like mine did, we continued the food fest with my out of town brother’s family. Spirits were buoyant as we dined and then feasted on a delicious and beautifully decorated birthday cake. I blew out candles, opened gifts, and we just had a fun-filled time of it on my birthday weekend. Anjelica had to turn her attention to studying for law finals. With this in mind, on Sunday morning I made us a frittata, served up sliced mango, tea, and yes, we had a bite of birthday cake.
This Christmas time, we are celebrating with dear friends for a Saturday night gathering at our house. It takes me several weeks to finalize the menu, which I did today, thereby breathing easier. Now, the grocery shopping commences! I love preparing appetizers, food, desserts, and drinks for friends. My darling daughter is a fine baker and cook in her own right. After her law finals this week, she will be home to spin her Yuletide baking, musical mixing, and final decorating talents for our celebration. In between, I am finishing final reading and grading for my students, and shopping for family gifts. All I can say is, thank goodness for online shopping!
When I am feeling better, I’ll return to yoga. Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net
By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi
Finally, I am getting back in the saddle. Those readers who have suffered from ignoble back disc maladies know of what I write. On the maternal side of my family, the disc troubles are genetic. My mother was from a family of nine and I have 42 first cousins alone on that side of the family. Wretched disc ailments abound among us. Fortunately, one of those 42 cousins is an orthopedic physician of prodigious talents. I think if Mike wanted, he could center his entire orthopedic practice on our family alone.
The ironic thing is that my disc had not flared up for some years. Likely because of that, I compromised my vigilance. By this I mean that I hauled too many bags of heavy groceries, especially canned goods like garbanzo beans and bottled ones such as wine, instead of carrying these items in smaller bags of lighter weight. I also tote books and because I teach, I’m always carting books into most of my classes. Even paperback books feel weighty if one carries enough of them at one time. Luggage is a whole other realm in itself. While I abhor flying, I adore driving; thus, drive vacations are my preference. Packing light has never been my forte, except when I travel overseas. However, air travel is not nearly as nice as it was in years past, thus I tend to avoid it altogether these days. Driving brings out the worst in packing in me. Far too many clothes, books, shoes, and toiletries crowd my bags and weigh them down. Even with wheeled luggage, it still has to be hoisted into the boot of the car and removed from said trunk at the destination.
Now, as Christmas looms large, so do the decorations. I love to deck our halls, inside and out. Our 1926 abode lends itself to coziness and cheer this time of year, and it is fun to decorate. However, as my back heals, I still feel my wings have been clipped. I must acquiesce to the limitations of “not overdoing it” as my friends remind me. At the height of my back pain, I felt like spun glass; now, not so much. As I pour over recipes, both family favorites and new, I think in terms of how much to purchase at the store in one trip. Ever since Costco opened a few weeks ago in our town, I’ve had to rein myself in since those large quantities can be heavy. I shall pace myself accordingly so that I may celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas with those I cherish.
While my father’s side of the family is riddled with arthritis, and my mother’s with back ailments, I am not complaining too much. After all, if I do not start bench-pressing, and carry 30-pound objects, I believe I will be fine. Yet, I thank God for my Cousin, Dr. Mike, who has thus far helped me to avoid the S-word [surgery]!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. For the second day in a row I landed in a grocery store. One would think we were preparing the entire Thanksgiving feast, but no, we are bringing the crudités, cheese ball [rolled in nuts] and a homemade coconut cream pie. My daughter and I are cooking my November 30th birthday dinner, which is why we had a second day of grocery shopping.
Today’s grocery experience took place at Whole Foods, fortuitously because we were hungry, and the day before Thanksgiving, samples were out in full force. We noshed on organic dates, Clementine oranges, Gruyère cheese, roasted lamb, cranberry walnut bread, and vegan pumpkin pie. The only problem with selecting items one actually needs while shopping on an empty stomach is that one winds up with a cart full of extra items not on the original shopping list. We exited the store with four spanakopita and two pounds of spinach and Gruyère stuffed mushrooms, both of which were not on the list, and a fresh turkey breast, which was also not on the list, but it is snowing fast and furiously here and what if we cannot travel to my brother’s house two-and-three-quarter-hours away on Thanksgiving morning? I judged it safer to have the turkey breast on hand, although after we loaded up the SUV I realized that we had been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with some dear friends, and had received an invitation from lively local family members.
“The turkey breast could be frozen until the Christmas holidays,” I mused. Rationalization intact, I thought about all the frenzied shoppers I observed today. Maybe we now place too much pressure on ourselves for Thanksgiving. All the stress used to be reserved from frenetic Christmas shopping. Yet it seems to me that the quest to make Thanksgiving Dinner Perfect has overtaken some of us. We tend to be a culture of overachievers who sometimes border on anal perfectionists. Or maybe that is simply who I am and I am in denial.
At Thanksgiving we need not worry about bearing gifts, for which I am thankful. After all, Thanksgiving’s allure is sharing a delicious meal with one’s family, although this year the first night of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. Since I am not Jewish, I am off the hook for buying Hanukkah presents. If gifts were involved, it would mean making sure all gifts looked no less than perfect. That is what I look forward to early next month. All right, I confess: I started Christmas shopping over a month ago. However, tomorrow we will sit down with our family and relish a delectable Thanksgiving banquet.
My daughter came home for Thanksgiving and we honored the holiday with family and friends. Since my birthday follows Thanksgiving, we usually celebrate after we have recovered from the sumptuous Thanksgiving repast. That particular birthday, Anjelica gifted me with a tall, tantalizingly scented candle with three wicks. The next morning I arose early and made a spinach quiche. To cheer up the overcast November morning, Anjelica lit the new candle. As we sat down to dine, Sparkle suddenly leapt up on the dining room table. I shouted for her to get off the table, but not before sweeping her gold and white ringed tail over the three burning wicks. With a grand leap, Sparkle vanished into the other rooms.
“Mama! Sparkle’s on fire! Her tail is burning”, cried Anjelica.
“Quick! She ran into the sun room! Catch her! I’ll get a towel!”
I raced to pour cold water over a towel, quickly wrung it out, and dashed into the sun room.
“Her tail isn’t burning now,” Anjelica said as she tried to calm Sparkle and herself.
Gingerly I wrapped the wet towel around Sparkle’s smoldering tail. Fellini, our other cat, wrinkled his nose as he sniffed the air. Sparkle’s tail emitted a odiferous scent of burning fur. She did not balk at the hand towel I held in place around her tail.
“She flew off the table so fast, the air managed to put out the flames,” I commented, checking over Sparkle to make sure she hadn’t been injured elsewhere. For her part, Sparkle purred contentedly in Anjelica’s lap the rest of the day.
“Now you have to call her “Sparkler”, observed our friend Sister Marie as she howled with laughter as we related the story of Sparkle’s flaming tail.
“Let’s send up some prayers to St. Francis of Assisi since that’s your order,” I said to Sister Marie.
Save for the black patches on her singed tail, Sparkle appeared none the worse for wear. Suffice to say that for Christmas we kept candles far away from Sparkle.
We did not know these were to be Sparkle’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In May, I noticed a hard lump on Sparkle’s backbone near her left shoulder. Given Sparkle’s age, fourteen in human years, I attributed the hard growth to a cyst or arthritic condition. When Anjelica arrived home from college, she blanched at the site of Sparkle. After examining Sparkle, our vet informed us Sparkle was suffering from a fast growing tumor, the ‘tentacles’ of which had invaded her muscles. Due to the rapid spread of this type of feline tumor, surgery would only delay the inevitable for a few more months.
“Take her home, keep her comfortable. You will know when to bring her back. She only has another two or three months.”
Anjelica was crushed. Sparkle had helped ease her transition from Montessori school to parochial school and from middle school to high school. Sparkle never left her side as Anjelica mourned the sudden and unexpected of her beloved grandmother. Sparkle was on deck for Anjelica during the remaining four years of her grandfather’s life as we cared for him. When Anjelica cried over the loss of those dear to her, it was Sparkle who snuggled close to her throughout the night, purring loudly to ward off sadness.
I convinced Anjelica that we would not let Sparkle suffer and cling to life because of our emotions.
“The kindest thing you can do for Sparkle is to let her go.”
“But how can I? How can I say goodbye?”
“By remembering all of the good things you shared with Sparkle. By doing just what you have been doing for fourteen years: by loving her.”
On the Fourth of July, Sparkle celebrated Anjelica’s birthday with us. Although remained loving, purring loudly, she gradually backed away when Anjelica tried to pick her up. Sparkle ate less, slept more, and refused to be near Fellini.
“It’s time to take Sparkle to her doctor,” I said, putting my arms around my darling daughter.
The veterinarian said Sparkle was masking her suffering for us to hide her pain. Sparkle had reached the end of her long and winding road. We decided to have her buried in a peaceful cat cemetery near a weeping willow tree overlooking a pond.
Alone in the examination room, we bade Sparkle goodbye for one last time. Anjelica could not let her go. This time Sparkle did not resist.
We cried all the way home.
It has been over a year now since we lost Sparkle. Throughout our lives we have had quite a few pets, but sometimes one touches the heart in a unique way. For Anjelica, that cat was Sparkle.
Transferring from a bona fide nurturing Montessori classroom into a traditional Catholic first grade proved a traumatic experience for Anjelica. I was going through a divorce and could no longer afford the suddenly doubling of the Montessori school’s tuition. Her cat Sparkle represented a safe haven from the trials and daily grind of traditional schooling. Each day when we opened the backdoor, Sparkle stood ready to greet Anjelica with a hearty “awaaaao”. Anjelica would scoop up Sparkle in her arms and off they went to Anjelica’s room, returning for an after-school snack and glass of milk. Sparkle slept with Anjelica nightly and shared her other pillow. “Bitty Kitty” as Anjelica nicknamed her, had an affinity for walking around the rim of the bathtub as Anjelica splashed in a bubble bath. At dinnertime, Sparkle graced the chair next to Anjelica. These two were inseparable.
Sparkle participated in family birthdays and holidays. One memorable Thanksgiving, I set the pumpkin pie on the table, but had to retrieve a utensil from the kitchen. I returned to the dining room just in time to witness Sparkle leaving one perfect paw print in the center of the pumpkin pie! Christmas wrapping never failed to piqué Sparkle’s interest. Diving into the bow box was practically an Olympic sport for her. That cats were present at the birth of the Baby Jesus, Sparkle doubted it not.
Sparkle followed movement closely on the television computer screens. For her viewing pleasure, a nip of salty potato chip satisfied Sparkle’s human food cravings, along with bits of seafood, chicken, cheese tortellini, and Italian meatballs. Anjelica’s sweet-natured cat was nothing if not eclectic in her gourmet food choices. Sparkle was quite the gourmand gatta.