A bitter cold snap has warmed and now the trees and the end of my block are shrouded in fog. I walk through air that still has a crisp bite. I walk quickly past frost-blackened foliage. Somewhere a rooster crows and crows again. The Christmas lights have disappeared from my neighbors’ roofline but red velvet bows still dangle, askew, on their fence. I stop at my own fence. An icy coat has melted and left my rose bush aglitter with droplets of water. A frozen rosehip glows like a jewel.
New Year’s Eve morning. Four days of freezing weather ahead. Today the weather is brisk but properly bundled up the air is bracing.
I pass a Christmas tree thrown into the ditch along my street. Stripped of almost all its finery, a plain tin ornament is still attached by a loop of rough twine. I snap it off and slip it into my pocket.
Early on this Sunday morning I am almost alone with the gray skies and Christmas decorations. At the place where my path begins to turn back home, I see in a distance too far for hailing a man walking his dog. Three quarters of the way home, I stop to watch as a leaf floats to the pavement at my feet. I look up at a tree made colorful by autumn foliage. Two women out walking together greet me.
Nearly home, I stop at the house with the abandoned Christmas tree. I carefully place the tin ornament on the porch, next to the wheels of the baby stroller.
As I pass my neighbor’s house, the red, green, and yellow of her Christmas lights, the same colors as my tree of falling leaves, bring warmth to a cold winter’s morning.
Yesterday was one of those days I wish I could rewind. At what point did I lose control? Ah yes, Friday night when I made a last-minute addition to an already over-full weekend schedule.
I wish I could go back and reconsider that addition, eat the lunch I skipped, not eat the junk food I ate later, only watch one tv show, sit down to the piano, and then finish off the evening with writing in my diary before going to bed at a decent hour.
Still, as I came home yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the yellow mums I had placed on the steps of my front porch had red centers. The same roasted red pepper red of my front door. The red of new brick. Of Cubanelle chilis.
The 4 p.m. sun set my door ablaze. It is to that moment, before the caramel corn and the two episodes of “The Closer” I’d already seen, it is to that moment I would return. When autumn air stirred the leaves as they changed color, dried, and fell.
When I rejoiced in my choices to paint the door that color and choose that color chrysanthemum.
When I recognized the moment as the one that defined the day, the tiny poem amidst my everyday life.
I have not been here in over a year, although I have thought about this place from time to time.
Can I make a fresh start? I would like to make a commitment to show up once a day, but I am hesitant. Life is so full of “must be done” tasks.
But isn’t that all the more reason to show up here? To take the time to appreciate the poetry of everyday life?
Yesterday I made breakfast for my husband. I’ve been doing that since January. I’d been on retreat and somehow I always think of my grandmother when I’m on retreat. It must be the stewed prunes. (You laugh, but it’s true.)
One of the things I remember about her was that she always cooked three meals a day. In particular, I remember the breakfasts. We would listen to the news on the radio and she would make coffee for my grandfather and tea for herself. She would make bacon and eggs or hot cereal. She would section a grapefruit and slice a banana into it. She would make raisin bread toast. She would pour orange juice into a small glass with blue hand-painted flowers.
The windows would steam, creating a warm cocoon. There was something reassuring in this, reassuring and something more.
Yesterday, I made hot cereal and toast. Tea for both myself and my husband. And as I buttered the toast and set out the honey, poured the tea, I thought about poet Adrienne Rich, sweeping her kitchen floor and thinking of the generations of women before her who, they too, had swept their kitchen floors.
And there was something reassuring in this, in the pouring of tea and the buttering of toast and in thinking of women who had gone before me, making tea and sweeping the kitchen floor.
Something reassuring and something more.
Up at four today. At 6:30, I kiss my still-abed husband and go out onto the back deck.
The sun is not yet up but it is light enough for me to see that the shoots I transplanted yesterday have survived.
The cool air carries the sound of waking birds. A pigeon walks, silhouetted, along the telephone line.
When it half-jumps, half-flies to the telephone pole, the wire dances.
From up north, my sister sends a photo of her husband. Not a short man, he stands waist-deep in snow. Living in the country, they were snow-bound for four days. In the city, my brother was shut in for three.
Here down south, the cold front brings rain. On the sofa, shared body warmth and hand-crocheted afghans keep us warm as we huddle around the television, the new hearth.
On my morning round, I meet two dog-walkers. One straggles behind me, the other walks toward me. Both have knitted caps pulled low over their brows. Both caps are the dull red of cranberries.
This year I changed my Christmas tree. For several years now I have had a very elegant tree, all burgundy and gold. This year I went traditional.
I glue iridescence to the tips of pine cones, stringing them to the tree on red ribbon. I make cinnamon gingerbread men, with silver buttons and silver smiles. I pull red and green calico bows off the wreath my sister made for me one year and nestle them among the artificial needles of pine. I stitch a new tree skirt, one of unbleached muslin printed with holly leaves and berries.
I sit for two days, stringing popcorn and cranberries.
When I was a child, we always made popcorn strings for our tree. The light bulbs then on trees were large and, unlike my current set of twinkling white lights with the twelve settings of fade and run, colorful. The lights on my childhood trees were red, blue, yellow, and green. My mother lusted for some years after a metallic tree with a projector that rotated colors. Thankfully, we never had the money for one.
We would sit in the living room, my mother, sister, brother and I, and we would string popcorn. Carols played on the stereo and at some point my mother would make cocoa while I would argue with my brother over whether tinsel should be hung or thrown.
The popcorn breaks more easily than I remember. I separate the firm cranberries from those that have started to go soft. I double my thread, rolling the ends between my fingers to make a knot.
After I loop the popcorn strings branch to branch, I add the white ceramic sleigh bells with the red ceramic ribbons which I found in my mother’s house after she died. Next, I hang the porcelain angels, one for each family member no longer with us. A name tag hangs down the angel’s back, between her wings.
At the top of the tree, I place a red feathered cardinal. Wings spread wide as if caught in the moment before alighting, its crest glitters.
Christmas at my grandmother’s house was a tiny pink Christmas tree, bowls of ribbon candy, and a wreath on the kitchen door. It was always the same wreath, hung year after year. Small, made of yellowed translucent garland, and adorned with a small silver bell.
Up North, winters are cold. We children would pound up the steps and throw ourselves against the kitchen door. The door would put a mock resistance, then yield gracefully. We would spill into the warmth of that room, its windows steamy from cooking, accompanied by the soft tinkle of the bell.
Now, every Christmas, I hang a wreath of fresh pine and cedar on my front door. This year a friend makes a wreath from the boxwood and bayleaf in her garden. She adds cinnamon and red ribbon.
I add the bell.
At every opening and closing of my door, somewhere, an angel gets its wings.
This week I took son the younger to Dallas to meet Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. We listened, fascinated, as he told his story, showed his slides. (The powerpoint, he said, was done by my nine year old son. If something goes wrong, I can’t fix it.)
It’s been cold. Last week it even snowed. Son the younger says his classmates ran outside and took pictures with their cell phones. I took pictures too. The snow melted so quickly the flakes became drops of water.
On the way home from Dallas, we stopped at Starbucks for hot chocolate. Son the younger curled up in his seat. I double check his seatbelt, then turn my attention to the road.
The sky lightens slowly. For the first hour, I drive in darkness.
The windshield mists. Next to me, son the younger sleeps. From time to time, I sip my cup.
It warms me like tea.
Son the older and I are watching Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete. A perfect activity for a rainy morning.
On screen, disembodied arms hold lighted candelabras down a long, dark corridor. Soot covered faces, embedded on either side of the roaring fireplace, turn to follow movements in the room.
The Bete’s waist is encircled with ribbons whose tips sparkle with rhinestones. Smoke rises from his shoulders and fingertips.
Belle’s tears are diamonds. The white stallion glitters.
Son the elder and I take our French lesson from the dialogue. “Souvenez vous de votre promesse!”
Remember your promise.