I was usually annoyed every time I’d open my mailbox to find one of those “let us tell you about our year letters,” which generally arrived sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I know the ostensible intent behind them was to simply stay in touch with far-flung friends and to make sure the recipients were up to date on the sender’s big family moments of the previous twelve months. But what about all the rotten stuff? Surely life could never be as perfect as those letters implied. I suppose I should be grateful that in a rare spirit of cooperation, around New Year’s, most of the world’s population comes together to accept the same calendar, pausing to reflect on the passage of time. If only everyone could make the same united effort to avert climate disaster or to disarm. But I digress…I’ve always had trouble believing that the flip of one date to another isn’t anything but arbitrary. I suspect I’m in a minority. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to do what so many others do – have a look back on the previous year. In doing so I can’t help but note the expansions and contractions of my life, if not year by year, then by some chunks of circumstances not wholly in my control. Metaphorically speaking, I guess life is somewhat like a concertina, or an accordion. As the bellows move in and out, creating different sounds in their spaces, such is life. Mine has expanded and contracted over the decades, squeezing people and events in and out. My mom always said we leave the world the way we came in – alone. I agree. My world is definitely less populated than it once was and frequently less busy. But during this year a lot happened. I guess my bellows are in an expanded state right now. I figure it’ll be interesting to remember what happened in chronological order. So here goes.
January and February were seasonably cold months. I got outside regularly which is critical for my mental health. I shoveled snow, played with the dog in the yard and drove out to the country to take photos. I took my oldest grandson with me on some of my journeys. I stayed up late, watching the Australian Open, despite Roger Federer’s absence. I was all in with the Winter Olympics. I remain the sports fan I became as my dad’s partner in watching almost all of them back when I was a kid. My daughter’s dog finally aged out of good health and needed to be euthanized. Her first pet, always a tough loss. I drew a portrait of little Stumpy from a precious photo taken on my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding day. Not perfect but I think it caught her personality.
At home, I knitted and fooled around with making jewelry, a hobby I’d left behind for years. I photographed birds at my feeders which I situated close to the back door.
February was a tough month. I found out that my older sister, from whom I was estranged, had developed the lethal brain cancer, glioblastoma. This scourge was her third round of cancer in her lifetime. I pondered why she had been so much more afflicted than anyone else in our family. Despite our differences, I felt terrible. For those of us born into a crowd, siblings are the anchors of life. My older brother was already dead. What a hard beginning to a year. I tried to be as present for her children as I could, the least I could do given the miserable circumstances.
(Music and humor in 2022: Pete Yorn, The Claudettes, Lewis Black, Lucinda Williams
Classes I took this year: Indigenous Civilizations, Brain Development, The Etruscans, Medici family, Spanish Inquisition, Cephalopods, Pandemics, Gender, Greek Civilization, The Phoenicians, Animal Behavior, Hitchcock and Hopper, Eliot Ness, Understanding Alzheimer’s , Russian Revolution, Wildwood – The Story of Trees, The Iliad and The Oddysey, Shakespeare and Co. Book Store, Hitchcock, Stories Behind English Spelling, The Revolutionary Sam Adams, Maria Sybilla Meriam)
But along with the bad news comes the good. March showed up bringing the promise of spring. Plants began to nudge their way up from the soil. My son and his partner came over to my house one night and announced their desire to marry, preferably in the parlor of my house. Although they weren’t ready to make a public statement, they were expecting a baby in November. For me, that meant quick action to prepare for hosting festivities as well as preparing to welcome a new grandchild.
The wedding took place on March 22nd. My daughter was the officiant. Mindful of omnipresent Covid, we had only fourteen people in attendance with the rest of the family and friends attending via Zoom. We all missed Michael whose strong cosmic presence was the best we could muster. The event was beautiful.
April arrived presenting herself as a mixed bag of beauty, sadness and the stimulus for introspection. A memorial service for my dear old friend Julie, long deferred by Covid, was finally held. Despite the fact that she’d been gone a couple of years, the event was so evocative I wept through it. Her husband read a quote from a note I’d written to her about the quality of our five decades long relationship. Knowing that irreplaceable people have disappeared is a huge challenge. Then my sister, after her short-lived tangle with brain cancer, died quickly. We had a brief communication but undoing the years of silence was not possible. What was left for me was to be the best possible aunt and great aunt to her children and grandchildren. Sometimes the tapestries of our lives have abrupt sprawling gaps in them. The only way to go is forward.
I hung out with my grandsons, went to soccer games and yanked a dead rat out from under the hood of my car. A particularly memorable moment occurred when I was driving my mostly vegetarian daughter-in-law through one of her “gotta have a hotdog,” afternoons. My car died in the restaurant’s drive-through line, blocking traffic until a tow truck hauled us out of there. We did get our food while waiting. We had a visit from my cousin and her family. Covid had seriously interfered with family time. I should mention that my daughter, son and eldest grandson all contracted the omnipresent virus. The never-disappearing scourge. As April ended, I turned over a piece of my garden to my son and daughter-in-law for their planting pleasure.
And then along came May, an emotional mine field for me. May 1st is my wedding anniversary, the hat tip Michael and I made to labor in this country, way back in the ‘70’s. I’m greedy. I wanted more of them. But oh well. Then there is Fern’s birthday, my long-dead childhood friend for whom the grieving has never stopped. Then Mother’s Day, my birthday and finally, the anniversary of Michael’s death. Feels like a lot, ultimately ending with his birthday on June 5th. I’ve gotten better at coping with all of this although I do feel trepidation as it looms up ahead of me. Thankfully all the bursting gorgeousness of my garden happens at the same time. That’s no accident. I’m willing to work for the antidote to sadness and anxiety. On Memorial Day weekend, the one which includes Michael’s death date, my whole family retreated to Lakeside where we’d spent so many happy times, both with our kids and on our own. I’m glad I can be there, enjoying myself, while a bit reflective and wistful. Meanwhile, a few lovely events brightened my month. I was able to present a scholarship named for Michael to a deserving student at the school where he taught. That scholarship was important to him. I’m glad to keep the promise I made him, to keep it going after his death. Next, I’d run across a couple of old photos of me that an artist friend had copied over forty years ago. I’d wondered on social media what had become of those drawings and voila! The artist, Joel P., saw my post and wrote to tell me he had them in his home. A short time later, they were in mine. A thoughtful and wonderful gift. In a serendipitous moment, the intermediary in that exchange then popped into town for a short visit with her husband. These two are in my multiple decades club and for awhile, even worked with Michael. I love being with them. I feel completely relaxed in their company. In addition to all these sweet moments, my eldest grandson graduated from fifth grade right here where we all live. Lucky me.
June was memorable for its astonishing dry heat. Only a handful of days in the month were below 80 degrees and many hovered in the 90’s with very little rain. I worried about my garden, watering almost daily to ensure that the plants would survive the blistering temperatures. In my attempt to be environmentally responsible, I’d bought an old school push mower with me providing all the power. That made mowing a lot harder than I’d anticipated. My response was to keep removing parts of my lawn, replacing them with pollinator-friendly plants and wood chips. I don’t know if I’ll be around long enough to get rid of it all but I’m trying. After long hot hours outside. I was even more grateful than usual for the outdoor swimming pool that’s one of my favorite spots in my community. My family traveled to Ohio for a cousin’s wedding, seeing those relatives for the first time since 2019. We all evaded Covid although my poor cousins were felled by it the following week. Next, my daughter and her family went on a long-planned vacation, leaving me in charge of my son-in-law’s garden and their chickens. I worried constantly about keeping all of their stuff alive. Between my space and theirs, I was incredibly busy. But I had the pleasure of watching baby house wrens hatch in their birdhouses and I harvested luscious black raspberries from the tangled vines Michael planted a few decades ago. The worst part of that month was discovering that my small but maturing little dog, who I’d hoped would be an easily managed companion for my golden years, was actually a remarkably speedy huntress who killed her first rabbit that month. In all my years as a dog owner I’d never had one who would ultimately fill my yard with bodies. One of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for experiences.
Stay tuned for the second half of the year…