In the quiet of a Central West End three-story, I sit as the sun begins to bring herself over the horizon's edge. The window before me faces south so I see the barest of tinge, a kiss in the sky promising warmth and glory. My hostess sleeps one story above me, as do, presumably, her canine companions.
I've continued holiday celebrations for last two days, after a couple of necessary mid-week work-sessions. The prodigal son headed back to Evanston yesterday, and I followed on his heels as far as Boonville, St. Peters, and St. Louis, my Prius acting like a local ferry as it took me to my sister Adrienne, then my sister Joyce, then la Puma, Joyce Kramer.
As I nibbled black-eyed peas yesterday, I smiled over Joyce's struggle to explain "this wonderful bean dish" that would be served at her block's New Year's Day Open House. I should have known what it would be. What is a holiday without tradition? But Joyce, though long in Missouri, has never stopped being a New Yorker. How would she know?
The memories of other New Year's Day luncheons crowd me as I sit at Joyce's table waiting for the sun to rise so I can walk to Starbucks. But none jostles to the foreground. Instead I am remembering the Christmas week which my son and I spent alone in Kansas City, in a two-bedroom shotgun apartment with mounds of snow piled on the balcony. He toddled from one end of the house to the other, dragging a stuffed Barney, while I huddled on the folded futon which I used for a couch. The wind howled outside. Misery rose to claim me but I quelled its laughter. One cannot show longing to a child.
We watched videos and sipped instant hot chocolate, his cooled in a cup and made with fake milk. On the television, Belle galloped through snow heavier than the storm outside our apartment, saving her Papa hour after hour, time after time. Patrick pranced around the small living room pretending to be the rescuer. I burrowed deeper in the quilt which my great-grandmother made from tailor's scraps and closed my eyes, listening to the wind.
I almost missed the gentle rap on my door.
Patrick peeked from behind my legs as I peered into the hallway. A tiny form stood in the glow of the overhead light. Mrs. Gray, I said. Patrick came out and raised his arms towards the little lady who lived across from us. She patted his head as she handed me a plate covered in foil.
Cookies for New Year's Day, she said. Happy New Year!
Fragrance rose from beneath the covering, almond, vanilla, warm flour. I cried in dismay: Oh Mrs. Gray, I have, nothing for you, but she dismissed my protests. My mother made cookies for the neighbors every year, she replied, as though this excused my empty hands. Now get this little one back inside, it's too cold for you, she told me, and she took her own thin body back across the hall, closing her door with a whisper.
I set the plate on the trunk which I had staged in the center of the living room, the same trunk which carried my clothes to college, to Boston, to Kansas City, to every town where I had fled on the heels of whatever I yearned to escape. Patrick edged his body against my legs and turned a corner of the aluminum foil to see the cookies. I lifted him onto the futon and settled him beside me.
Let's watch Belle again, I said. We fell asleep under my great-grandmother's quilt, with the sounds of Beauty and the Beast filling our home, and a spray of powdered sugar covering us. Outside, more snow began to fall but we did not notice.
In a little while, I will head north, to Ferguson next to the Jennings of my childhood. There I will (hopefully) sip coffee at my cousin Theresa's table, before continuing down I-70 to Hermann, and finishing my holiday festivities over a late lunch with my niece Amy and her husband Harlan. Then I will travel to Missouri's western edge, to my little airplane bungalow and my epileptic dog, in Brookside, in Kansas City, which I call home.