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Traditions Offer Sense of Place
Eek! Panic struck while I was brewing that first wonderful cup of coffee. Too much to do, too much to do even though Christmas lover Bill does his share.
As Oprah says, we could do the Clarke Christmas on autopilot. However, I try to live consciously, rather than rushing thoughtlessly through whatever precious days remain. Especially during the Christmas season I try to discern the meaning of what I do.
Our friends, Jack and Maryjane, wrote in their Christmas letter that traditions give a sense of place and serve as anchors in our lives. They’re right. Traditions are life-anchors that keep us from drifting.
Those who have peopled my life are still accessible to me. When I cut out mince pies with a martini glass, Bill’s mother is there in memory, standing behind me and sipping a martini while a cigarette with a long ash dangles from her lips ... Vicki, who learned to use a rolling pin when she was just a little thing, stands on a chair, rolling out sugar cookie dough while we sing “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat ...” Mother is there when the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg wafts through our house ...
Decorating the tree is both joyous and poignant. Each ornament brings thoughts of those who gave them to us or of the forty-five Christmases that Bill and I have shared. The most recent addition is one of Anne of Green Gables that friend Jana gave to me after visiting Prince Edward Island this fall ...
My eyes smarted when I came across an ornament that was given to us by one of our dearest friends, Phyllis Otto who - as Anne of Green Gables would have called her - was a kindred spirit whom both of us treasured. Ten years ago we spent a week together in Paris at the end of November. We viewed the lovely tapestries featuring the Lady and the Unicorn at the Cluny Museum of Medieval Art. We spent an entire day at the Orsay, stopping only for lunch and wine, absorbing the wonderful paintings of Monet and other Impressionists.
We ate delicious meals and became merry from consuming many bottles of the Beaujolais Nouveau that had just arrived in Paris. When we left restaurants, waiters would appear on each side of Phyllis and me, tenderly grasp our elbows and accompany us down the steps while the managers thanked us for our patronage. After one such escort, Phyllis quipped, “I’ll bet they’re afraid that we old bags will fall down and sue them!” I still hear her voice in my mind’s ear.
Phyllis and I froze when we stubbornly refused to sit inside during a boat ride on the Seine because we didn’t want to miss a single glorious view. Our last night there we attended a Christmas concert of Benjamin Britain’s Lessons and Carols at Notre-Dame. As I always do when I am there, I lit a candle in memory of my devout little mother. I like to think that some of its essence remains in that wondrous place, mingling with the incense and candle smoke of the ages.
Phyllis came for dinner in front of the Christmas tree. She was ever so smug about her gift for us: “I found the perfect present for you in a catalogue.” It was a ball covered with scenes of the Cluny tapestry. When I put it on the tree vivid memories of all the good times and conversations that we shared came rushing up from my memory pool.
One of my favorite ornaments is a cookie-dough heart made by Vicki that says, “All hearts go home for Christmas, for love is always there.” Love: That’s the meaning of Christmas, the reason for the season, the root of our traditions. Love, deep affection, friendship and camaraderie never die. And now it’s time to weigh the anchor that connects me to my past and sail back to the present ... So much to do, so much to do - thank goodness!
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