Tag Archives: holiday

Getting Away and Settling In

Standard

Image

The older I get, the more nervous I get about driving.

The longer I live here on Beaver Island, the more I am intimidated by traffic and speed.

It’s not road conditions.

We, here in northern Michigan, are well aware of ice and snow.

I have driven to work before the plow truck came through, making the first tracks through deep snow.

I have made it home on roads slick with ice.

I’ve had my share of scary sliding, fish-tailing and spinning events that make my heart pound and my hands shake.

The differences are this:

  1. On Beaver Island, I rarely contend with other vehicles. My car, for most of my trip, is the only one on the road.
  2. I can pick my speed, based on the conditions. If worn out tires and slippery roads dictate a speed of 15 miles per hour, I can pretty much guarantee there won’t be an angry four-wheel-drive pick-up driver tearing up from behind and zipping around me.
  3. If an accident happens, it is usually car-to-snowbank, car-to-ditch or car-to-tree…not car-to-madly-careening-down-the-icy-freeway-sideways-semi-truck.

I drove down-state this last weekend, for a Christmas party and a pre-Christmas visit with family and friends.

I watched the weather predictions closely, and with trepidation. It was a fickle forecast, changing almost daily from “not bad” to the terror inducing “winter storm watch.” By the time my departure day on Friday came around, it looked like the most I’d have to contend with was a little “lake-effect” snow around the Kalkaska area.

That held true, and my drive down was an easy trip.

In Ionia, I met my daughter, Jen, and my grandson, Patrick, for dinner and presents, conversation and games.

The next day, Jen took the wheel. We brought Patrick to his Dad’s house, then headed for Saugatuck.

More talk and laughter, more family and friends and the thirty-fourth annual Pine & Pasta Party.

The party had its start when my friend Bob, newly divorced, decided that decorating for Christmas would be more fun with a few friends. It has evolved over the years into a much anticipated holiday tradition. Bob makes a big pot of his famously good spaghetti sauce and cooks up pasta to go with it. Guests bring breads and salads and munchies. Bob and his brother Gary – AKA “The Bare-Chested Christmas Tree Wrestlers” – bring in the tree, set it up and string the lights. Some visitors add the ornaments while others advise and dictate placement from the comfort of the sofa. Many of the decorations were contributed by guests over the years and reflect the times past. One of my favorites is a garland of hand-sewn silver alewives, presented in the year our beaches were smelly with that fish. Drawings are held, and gifts distributed. My sister, Brenda, was the proud winner of a box of miniature hotel soaps from all over the country…collected by Bob in his travels with the Red Cross. Others were lucky enough to receive prizes retrieved from cereal boxes or earned with box tops or coupons. Every guest was given a commemorative ornament, inscribed by Bob with the event and year. I don’t make it to his party every year, but have a nice collection of ornaments reminding me of when I attended. It was a great group this year, and I’m glad I was there.

Sunday morning, up early and on the road.

First east, to pick up Patrick and bring him and Jen home. After that, I was on my own.

North, to Charlevoix, where I’d get on the small plane that would take me back to the island.

The roads were clear and the trip was without complications. I had allowed enough time so that when I came into wet, snowy conditions less than a hundred miles from my destination, I was able to slow down without worrying about missing my flight.

I arrived early at the airport, and – with inclement weather threatening – my flight left shortly after.

A smooth flight and a perfect landing on the island, then retrieve the car and load my bags, a quick visit with my aunt, to the boarders to pick up my dogs…then home!

It has hardly stopped snowing since I got here, day before yesterday!

I was ready for a trip, and happy to get away. It was a great chance to reconnect and visit and play.

I was happy to get back home, too, to my cozy house in the snow.

I’m ready, now, to settle in for a while.

and a Merry, Merry Christmas…

Standard

Image

I’m up early, early this Christmas morning.

I’ve baked  egg and spinach pie and have dough rising for dinner rolls, and it’s not yet 6AM.

As a child, Christmas Eve seemed unbearable to wait through, sleep was almost impossible, listening for sleigh bells and magic, and Christmas morning started early.

When my own children were small, it was the same. The anticipation of what Santa left under the tree always woke my daughters early. Never wanting to miss a moment of their excitement was what roused me, no matter how late the wrapping and arranging and last minute preparations had gone.

I grew up in a large family and – due to simply the number of children receiving gifts – the tree on Christmas morning was awesome to behold.

Later, celebrating Christmas morning with my small family, I’d have to talk myself down from near panic at the idea of “not enough”. It was impressed in my subconscious that a Christmas morning tree should be almost buried in packages…that presents should spill out from under the tree and take up significant space in the room. Many times Christmas Eve night was spent with me madly sewing or crocheting last minute gifts, just to make a more impressive show.

This year, with no reason in the world to be up before the sun, it was pleasant thoughts and memories that woke me.

It’s easy, over the holidays, to get in a funk over what has changed.

Being big on melancholy, I usually indulge.

There are the sweet childhood memories, and all of that innocent time long behind me.

There are precious memories with my own daughters, now grown and far away.

Grandchildren that I won’t see, this year on Christmas.

Friends and acquaintances that I’ve lost contact with over the years.

There are people, so close to my heart, no longer here.

It’s sometimes too easy to dwell on loss. Not today.

But the memories are precious; I don’t push them away.

They are a part of my own history, and good company this Christmas morning.

#24 Emma Jean

Standard

Image

I don’t decorate much for Christmas in recent years, but I always haul out all the old memories.

My friend, Emma Jean, has an important role in my memories of Christmases past.

I first met Emma Jean in 1978. I had just moved to Beaver Island with my family. Emma and I worked together as waitresses for the breakfast shift at the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant.

It was my first job as a server, and I took it seriously. I was a perfect example of the completely over the top and very annoying “Hi, my name is Cindy and I’ll be your waitress…” type. Combined with my clumsiness and ineptitude, I was quite a sight to behold.

Emma Jean, on the other hand, was very skilled at the job and a little bit famous for her “What the HELL do you want from me NOW?” greeting.

I’d see her rolling her eyes at me, or grumbling under her breath, or laughing out loud at my foibles.

As the year wore on, though (no-one was more surprised than I was!), I caught on to the job. Through busy mornings and kitchen disasters and after-shift cocktails, Emma Jean and I became friends.

She is #24 on the list of 60 Most Influential Women in My Life that I compiled for my sixtieth birthday. In my life, though, Emma Jean is invaluable.

And, in my family, she saved Christmas. Twice.

The first time was in perhaps 1981 or ’82. The island ferry had quit running early that year, and we were dependent on the planes for supplies. The weather conditions were such that the planes couldn’t fly…for days on end. At Christmas! The airport in Charlevoix was packed with groceries, gifts and people waiting to come to the island. Several of Emma Jean’s children were among them, as was my husband…with our Christmas turkey and all of Santa’s gifts. In the little apartment we were spending our winter in, we were facing a tree with few presents and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

On Christmas Eve, we gave up hope that the planes would fly. Emma Jean pulled out the food she’d planned for her family meals and started cooking. She called all the “strays”. Anyone that had been trying to go home for the holidays and couldn’t, anyone who’d been expecting family that didn’t get here, anyone that hadn’t ordered groceries early enough…all were on Emma Jean’s list of invited guests.

Emma Jean’s table had been extended to the limits of her small kitchen. Lace cloths covered the surface. Christmas lights twinkled and candles glowed. Bottles of wine and other spirits waited on the sideboard. Real crystal glassware. Her best china. Hors-d’oeuvres, salads, turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, several lovely side dishes and elegant desserts. Offered, as if we were the most important guests in the world, to a motley crew that included a group of course linemen from Mississippi, a young bartender, a group of rabbit hunters and…thankfully…myself and my two young daughters.

It was a wonderful meal filled with laughter and camaraderie.

We walked home, my girls and I, around the harbor, with the water at our side, a sky full of stars overhead and the church bells sounding for the midnight mass. I still think of it as one of the loveliest nights of my life.

The second time was just a couple years later. My husband and I had separated in late October, and started divorce proceedings. As the temperatures turned cold, staying in our house proved impossible. Faced with less than a cord of soft wood for heat and water that froze whenever the temperature dropped, my daughters and I moved into a motel room in town for the winter. I packed up the car with the bare necessities while Jen and Kate were at school. In a moment of hope and with a bit of extra space, I added the tote of holiday decorations.

I was angry and sad and broke. Add confused to that list to get of picture of my girls’ state of mind.

And yet, here was Christmas.

Emma Jean stopped one Saturday in early December, with the Shamrock truck, a large pruning saw and a brown bag of refreshments.

“Get your boots on, girls, and we’ll go get trees!”, she grinned. “We need two for the Shamrock: one for the dining room and one for the dance floor; two for my house: one inside, one outside…one will probably be enough for you here”, she said with a glance around our crowded room.

That was the start of our wonderful day.

We drove down the east side as far as it was plowed, and around McCauley Road to the King’s Highway, Paid Een Ogg Road to the West Side Drive, and on and on. Whenever a trail looked passable, we took it. Whenever a tree looked interesting, we stopped to check it from all angles. When we found a “keeper”, I was the one to shimmy under it and cut it down. Though I’d heard a lot of, “Don’t worry about who’s property it’s on, it’s one small tree…” from Emma Jean, when a car came down the road while I was, belly down, under an evergreen with the saw halfway through the trunk, Emma shouted, “Quick, into the bushes, girls, HIDE!” and they ducked for cover. If the driver of the vehicle had looked into the field, he would have seen a small tree swaying with my uncontrolled laughter.

By evening, we had dropped four trees off at their proper locations and were back in my little motel room setting up a fair-sized tree. I made hot chocolate; Emma Jean cracked a beer. I strung the lights. Then the ornaments came out.

“Show me”, Emma Jean said, and my daughters did, shyly at first, and ready to discount their offerings as worthless at the slightest indication.

“I made this one in Brownies when I was little” Jen shrugged, “It’s a tuna fish can with cloth glued to it.”

“I made this in Sister Marie’s class” Kate offered, “It’s a ring from a jar with yarn wrapped around it.”

Before they could finish their description, the sparkle of interest in Emma Jean’s eyes told them the items they held were of tremendous value.

“Bring that over here so I can get a better look…”

“Now tell me again, what? A canning jar lid? Amazing!”

One after the other the ornaments came out, and were described and discussed and marveled over. One memory at a time, we were integrating Christmas back into our lives.

“This one…”, a big sigh, “…I made it in kindergarten…it’s a lid from a margarine tub, and we cut out pictures from old Christmas cards and glued them on…”, another self deprecating shrug, “…then we put glitter all over it…”, another sigh. “I hate this one, really. I always want to hang it on the back of the tree where no one can see it. My Dad always says, “NO! I love that one! That has to hang in the front!”…”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Emma Jean asked, “So, where are you going to hang it this year, Honey?”

My daughter’s eyes went to the side, and there was a slight pause before her face brightened and she laughed out loud. We all joined her.

There, in that tiny motel room, with hot cocoa and beer and evergreen, and with tremendous thanks to Emma Jean, we started to learn how to move forward.

And that is how Emma Jean saved Christmas…twice.