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The Young, the Old and the Restless

Hi Sarah,

I'm breathing normally again, I think. All that planning, all those decisions to make: dog, no dog, meatless breakfast or bring on the prosciutto, no seeds of any kind so … maybe herbs? We’ll see you afterwards then, on the day, but later in the evening, real cards or e-cards, gifts for the hostess and gifts for the kids? Endless, endless. My holiday destination should have been the Riviera (even the Mayan one). But I took it all in stride and following the wisdom of Buddha, went with the flow (the less opposition the better).

So far we've had a smattering of unique celebrations this season. Two weeks before Christmas Carlo and I drove to Philomena's through wine country, past barren fields and brown vineyards enhanced by Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Nigel Kennedy). Hamilton Beach (my teenage stomping grounds) presented as a series of white caps on little restless waves lapping against that low lying cloud filled sky I so love. Ribbons of navy unfurled in the background ... a perfect wintry effect.

Philomena was hard to hold down. We'd agreed to bring the entire festive meal so she could relax, save some strain on her hip while we worked magic in her kitchen: mashing, whipping, stuffing the turkey, stirring the gravy (no lumps ... I did it!) preparing the squash, the carrots and green beans (with almond slivers in butter sauce) and the always “from scratch” cranberries. She was limping much less and preferred to leave her cane in a corner. It was impossible for her not to stir this and that, wipe a dish or lift a pot lid. She was unable to sit still while we tried to make history. I noticed her little suitcase (a light beige sweater for cool evenings draped over it) packed and ready on the floor of her almost empty spare room. Once filled with her husband’s antique car collection, she’d made quick work of distributing the ancient models. The family now boasts a good many proud new owners of these once prized, four-wheeled gems. A new Dell laptop sat on the old blonde desk:  I’ll need that to play free cell on the way to Florida. After dinner Philomena exercised her jaws, three hours of story telling and we loved every minute: yes, she really did. Hazel saw him at the foot of her bed, kneeling there, and she said, come to bed Rich, come on, and get under the blankets. But then he disappeared … just like that. Later, back at home, Carlo overheard me talking once more about Hazel’s apparition. "So Hazel’s seeing Rich now ... I wonder if she’ll be next!" he said. Men!

A week later, my nephew, the DJ, invited us to his ultra minimalist dwelling on Queen, a place he proudly shares with three buddies. All the usual attention bestowed on older people was now bestowed on us, as we were it for sure! A cool fire glowed in the recessed fireplace. Straight-backed chairs of a dark lacquered wood were fitted with thin white cushions, placed just so. An oval marble counter served as both room divider and tabletop. The talented housemen boasted exotic delicacies: eggs, lots of eggs, coddled, poached, scrambled, with spinach, in ricotta, in garlic sauce. Cornucopias spilled Devonshire cream, Portuguese tarts oozed custard. The hypnotic beat of House drew us in and like the young people, we lived in the moment that blustery afternoon in Trinity Bellwoods.

And then one lazy morning there were surprise visitors from the boonies (Wasaga, actually). I had slept in and was still in bed. Fifteen minutes later my friend and I were at the piano, bellowing How Great Thou Art while Carlo patiently conversed with the husband in the living room. Wendy’s red-rimmed eyes were brimming and watery as the hymn came to a close. Would you sing this at my funeral? I am not that much younger and she is perfectly fine, I thought (her husband is the one who has Alzheimer's) but their parish priest would like things to be conveniently ready: the readings, their song choices, the proper psalms. 

And then it was Christmas Eve! Pope Benedict was attacked just before I sat down in the Abbey pews for my Christmas meditation with the nuns (Carlo does not go) and the priest offered up his prayers. The chapel was filled with happy children, obedient teenagers, and solemn parents who showed off their shiny new outfits: miniature rubies sparkled on oversized collars, black velour skirts were floor length, white blouses pressed and bright. Boys wore suits and men their long woollen coats. Sister Camilla (the only member of her order still addicted to the black habit) who taught me in grade eight sat off to the side in her own prayer stall. And there was Sister de Monfort who, one midnight Mass in another lifetime, had comforted Moira in her arms as a little baby. Sister Flora had sung at our wedding and was leading the congregation with great fervour. Although now slightly bent, I recognized Sister Ivanne, my mistress of boarders so very, very long ago. So much for my meditation!

The 25th it rained. The day began in silence with a little Messiah to bring on the spirit, as well as cognacked coffee for Carlo and me. In the afternoon I had a wet sauna at the JCC (it being Jewish and therefore open). That evening, Moira cooked us a perfect festive meal featuring Jerk chicken, her signature recipe: a nice Jamaican touch to a Christian ritual. Later on, Catherine and her new husband arrived in a state of fatigue from their multiple family visits to various parts of Eastern Ontario. We exchanged gifts, laughed, ate fresh fruit and Camembert and reminisced about the month of December so far. The coloured lights glowed on Carlo’s handiwork of cedar boughs that decked our great mantel.  

Someone just offered me an eggnog! To be continued …

Happy Holidays,


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