My sluggish body moves around the house wondering why I feel like a truck ran over me. I cast my eyes downward, to the DearFoam slippers into which I have eased my sore feet. My son found perfect presents for me: these slippers; FarberWare kitchen shears to replace the ones which somehow vanished from a drawer; an excellent five-inch kitchen knife with a sheath and comfortable handle; a stuffed giraffe to remind me to use non-violent communication; and the promise of Neko Case loaded onto my phone and a cable to play her through the Prius's auxiliary function. This last came when I confessed that my Neko Case CD which he gave me two years ago seems to have gone the way of the kitchen scissors. My ghost perhaps? But who knows. Both are gone; and he's seen to their replacement. I wiggle my toes in the soft fuzzy warmth of my new slippers and remind myself how lucky I am.
We dined at McCormick & Schmidt last night; and tonight we will eat at the Carnie table, north of here, in warmth, and light, with the Carnie children laughing around us. Our friend Ellen Carnie has invited us to dine with her and her son's family. Tomorrow, we will serve our family-by-choice at our home. We've had a wonderful Christmas so far. I can only see it continuing.
Patrick asked me last night, are you sure you can afford this restaurant? I had planned it, of course. I'm not wealthy. We have done several lunches-out this week and he's protested each time. Mom, you shouldn't be spending money on me. In days when he worked, he would pay for lunch and shake his head, waving his hand if I tried to contribute. But grad school has gotten serious, this second year, and he has no time for a job. So he has put himself on a budget and taught himself to cook. He often calls with questions but also found a website with video and humor: Foodwishes.com. Now he shares those recipes with me. We spent time in the kitchen this holiday.
Over dinner last evening, I asked all the questions about screenwriting that had been hammering in my head as I watched him progress in his graduate program for the last year. Technical questions; questions about the industry; questions about writing. We talked as two adults, back and forth, listening to each other, following the flow where it led. By dessert, I understood the rightness of the course he has chosen.
Last night before sleeping, a memory broke loose from the rubble at the bottom of my mind and struggled to the surface. My mother stands at the front door of our home in Jennings. I'm behind her, small, my hand on her leg. I peer around to see what she sees: a cardboard box.
She pulls it into the house. It's filled with food. My mother says, They must have gotten the wrong house. I don't know who would think we needed food. I stare at the bounty. One of my older siblings walks into the room and starts rummaging in the box. Ann, maybe; or Adrienne. Mom, we can use all this, look, there's a ham. Mother starts to cry. Her body crumples. She sinks into a chair. She shakes her head; she wrings her hands. It probably was meant for someone else. But there is no one else. They look for a note or some indication of the source of this gift while I watch them. Finally my mother lifts the box from the floor and takes it into the kitchen. Any talk of returning it has been stifled.
I never use the expression "don't cry over spilt milk", because I once saw my mother kneeling on our kitchen floor doing just that. Shards of glass cut her hands as she tried to stench the flow from the shattered bottle and salvage some of the precious liquid.
My son and I started yesterday at Hope Faith Ministries, standing at the entrance to the bustling room where hundreds of homeless persons received a sit-down dinner on Styrofoam plates served by red-shirted volunteers with glowing faces. The clientele coming through the doors passed through security, frisked by a laughing young man who made the undignified process as pleasant as possible, despite the gun on his belt, despite the filth of their layers of clothing, despite the bags they dragged into the place containing God knows what, their treasures, their lives.
I clasped their hands and wished them Merry Christmas. They gazed at me, at the many strange faces in the row of greeters and servers. Used to wandering into the place unobtrusively, they accepted our help but sometimes with suspicion. One man studied my eyes before shaking his head but most took my hand and held it. They read my name and thanked me. I guided each person to one of the younger volunteers -- my son, or someone else -- who seated them and placed a small printed menu in front of them. We did this for two hours. I have never found a better way to spend Christmas morning.
As I sat at the restaurant table, I compared the look of our meal with the food that I'd seen at Hope Faith. I know that I'm blessed. I can afford the fanciness of restaurant service. I can pay for the groceries that I will put on the table for my friends tomorrow. I am not wealthy; I never learned to manage money. I don't even really value it, not for itself, not in the way that I've seen in this world where the measure of a man is often his net worth.
But I understand that money makes my life comfortable. It sends me to California for my treatment at Stanford; it pays for the health insurance which covers that care; it keeps the furnace roaring and the Prius's motor churning. I get that. I love my work as an attorney, but I do it mostly to pay the bills and I accept this fact of capitalist society. We earn our keep. We make our own destiny. Hopefully we get help when we need it and I've had plenty of that, too; and I have not forgotten my own guardian angels. They stand with me when I stand for others; their love flowed from me to every person whom I greeted yesterday, through each cold hand, into each pair of lonely eyes.