The summer blasts through the burgeoning spring to warm the earth. We start planting and planning. People and family arrive for vacations and visits. We cook and laugh and sit on the patio with cool drinks and the misters finely spraying and chronically leaking. We remember the good old days and reminisce about our childhood and the friends we loved; we talk about where they are now and what they have become.
When the world goes
Too suddenly quiet, surprising me,
Those are the times
When I, caught unaware,
Fall prey to sullen loneliness
And find you in my mind
Led through some back door
By a trail of windy leaves
And the unsuspicioned autumn
In my brain.
~Charles Bevan Corry, Sr.
We walk amidst the flowers; the blue sky favors us and we worship the sun. The lazy days of summer catch us and hold us. We are busy with weeding, watering and cutting the grass. We take golden days to hike and see the world from heights of glory. We entertain the company with visits to the children’s museum and the water park. We go with family to the ballet and the opera and we appreciate the beauty and the passion. We listen to the symphony playing against the mountain at Snowbird ski resort; the music stirs our senses and feeds our spirit. The summer promises the future, entreats us to love and be happy.
But before we know it, the sun sinks in the south and the golden evenings chase us in from the porch and the steps. The flowers fold over and the leaves turn red and yellow. The autumn has surprised us, engulfing us with windrows of leaves across the lawn. The sky hardens and gray is its color now. Snow dusts the mountain and will soon impinge upon the valley. The visitors are gone and the patio furniture covered. We light the fireplace and finally sit down.
The presence of the weather
Shrouds my soul.
The dusty skies of autumn
Weigh my heart.
The flakes of snow
The wind will bring tonight
Will make the frozen season start.
~Charles Bevan Corry, Sr.
We are thankful for the turning of the earth, and our thoughts quietly go inward. Memories of those we have lost waft to the forefront and we pause. November is our month of sorrow; my first husband and the father of my children, Bevan Sr., died in November 1979. My second husband, Hal, died last November just before Thanksgiving. In November, death seems to surround us and remind us of the fragility of life. But, there is comfort, too. November is also a time for family and I gather my children and others around me.
The main event is Thanksgiving. A favorite holiday sacrificed last year amidst a funeral and because we couldn’t bear the empty chair at the head of the table. So, we are particularly looking forward to it this year. I have so much to be thankful for and although past sadness will not go unnoticed, I am ready to celebrate and embrace present and future joy. Our Thanksgiving is both traditional and non-traditional. Preparations begin on about Tuesday, with the practically ceremonial baking of the crescent rolls we have shared since our family began. My middle daughter, Shalimar, makes the quiches early so we can eat them as we cook and everyone makes their favorite pies (which is a lot of pies). I make pumpkin pie from a recipe handed down long ago from my Aunt Lila. My son, Bevan, makes vegetarian gravy and hotter-than-hell dressing with chili peppers. My eldest daughter, Micquelle, keeps order in the kitchen and the cooking on schedule. Even with only a few people at the table now, Shalimar insists on a turkey, “real” gravy and mashed potatoes. The menu also includes Aunt Connie’s dried corn in cream, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, yam casserole with a bit of rum, salads — Mother’s green Jell-O with pineapple cream topping is essential — are all readied (too much, really). So we have a traditional dinner on one end of the table and a vegetarian dinner on the other. It’s complete chaos, but I love having everyone in the kitchen and at the table together, not to mention having pies to eat all week.
This year we will miss Hal’s Thanksgiving toast of philosophy, wisdom and truth that held the family together and gave all of us a guide from year to year. We eat until we can eat no more. Bevan lies on the floor to stretch his stomach for the pie as the rest of us clear the table and do the dishes. After dinner, we play a few games with Bevan debating every score and Shalimar surprising us with creative answers. Micquelle looks up the facts on her iphone and I’m often called on to referee. Also in attendance are my son’s girlfriend, Shamim and Jordan who has been an integral part of our family from age five; she is now twenty-two. Shamim brings serenity and Jordan brings the energy of youth and the sweetest smile. My sister Tonya, who recently moved here from California, will add an extra dimension this year. The more the merrier.
This goodness will last as we discuss whether or not to host an all-out Christmas, but we will. We always do. The house will smell of baking cookies and the decorations will be lifted down from the attic. I’ll remember the years of cutting our own Christmas trees out on the Kaibab Plateau or down in Valentine Gulch, but I now find it too sad to see live trees slowly die and lose their needles. So we opt for less personal acquaintances of trees or we find living trees that we can move into the garden or, heaven forbid, plastic trees with LED lights. In my childhood days we always had bubble lights on the fresh-cut tree. Thank goodness these lights are being made again and we can enjoy their colorful bubbling delight once more! I love thinking of each person on my list and shopping for each optimal gift. It was always easy buying the Johnny Walker scotch for “Papa” Hal. It eased him through the chaos of Christmas morning. He took the ending of the year very seriously; he put the Stock Market (his daily friend who treated him kindly) to bed and finished up at the office. He wrote of St. Nicholas, the saint of children and sailors, of which Papa had been both; he always put a small gift in my shoe as the first St. Nick was wont to do. Hal lit the candles of the Menorah during Hanukkah and carefully placed it in the window, preparing me a supper of potato latkes. Kwanza was noted with seven candles signifying unity, self-determination, work, responsibility, purpose, creativity and faith.
Papa’s favorite, however, this time of year, was watching the denouement of the sun leading to the Winter Solstice. To him, our feasting and celebration honored the sun and was instrumental in coaxing it to return from its journey to the lowest arc in the sky with the shortest of days. The word solstice means, “standing-still-sun.”
And then it’s Christmas, Solstice and Christmas-celebrating historic rites and rituals by pagans, tribes, Romans, farmers, peoples of the world — all forever recognizing the end of the harvest, the returning light of “The Sun,” the beginning of a new cycle, joy, fertility and domestication. For some it means celebrating the birth of the Prince of Light, The Son. The season brings a meditation on meaning, gratitude, love and service. Christmas and the New Year bring a gathering at the hearth with a toast to the coming year and to the future with hope and greater expectations. May we all find peace and contentment and may our holidays be merry and serene.