Friday, December 31, 2010

Tweaks and Valleys

Christmas was on me like a speeding bullet.  I almost didn't know what hit me.  And then, suddenly, it was done, and the real countdown begins.  Within the next month, with about a million details still to be ironed out, I will be, for better or for worse, a resident of a different state for the first time in over three decades.  Unbelievable, right?  Unbelievable that I lasted three months here with my Yankee ways, let alone three decades.  But, now that I have, it's nearly unbelievable that I'm finally pulling loose.  (And I bet almost anything that my neighbors will think of me as a Southerner.)

But life decided it wasn't done tossing obstacles in my way - just to make sure, perhaps, that I really had the steely resolve (pun intended) to move away from what, for better or worse, is my comfort zone.  Most potentially tragic is our dog Tawny, who we thought for the past year merely had a bad case of early onset arthritis.  Probably not so, as her condition worsened with the first real change in the weather over Thanksgiving and then took a sharp dive off a steep cliff over Christmas.  Admittedly, the young vet who looks as though he is only 12, was nervous about her mix of symptoms from the beginning.  He made a diagnostic call originally that he was shaky about and told me as much - all her issues not fitting together into a tight little package.  It's not his fault that I was raised by a nurse and therefore taught not to be hasty about reacting to symptoms.  Mother's philosophy seemingly was "If you're head's not about to fall off your body, don't panic, we can wait it out and get better on your own or deal with it at home if you don't."  (For a woman who made a living working in hospitals, she was horribly suspicious of them.  Makes one wonder what she saw go on there.)  I've treated my own health that way and, in general, the dogs as well - all resources and energy went to other pursuits, and look where that got us.  Doctors, I concluded, mean well, but in the end are as clueless as the rest of us, just with better vocabulary and worse handwriting.  Well, for Tawny that judgment may prove deadly, as it's relatively clear now that she has a bulging disc that is so far advanced only surgery can fix it.  And the dollars we're looking at make it out of our reach.  That is, based on the fact that I've got enough money allocated to move us and keep a roof over our head long enough to find work - or so I hope - and not much more.  So, as I ply my poor dog with steroids and pain killers, searching for reasonably priced options, none of which have popped up, I'm racked with the guilt of knowing I could swing it if I weren't committed to the move.  How do I look her in the eye and justify letting her continue to suffer or, in the extreme, putting her down, because I wanted to live close enough to drive to a stupid hockey game a few times a year?

But, then on the other hand, as I was about to leave work this evening, literally right as I was about to shut down and walk out the door, a strangely timed email popped up from someone within the company spewing a badly timed, badly researched demand of my group, pronouncing us guilty of an error and demanding we fix it right away.  Turns out a co-worker followed information he provided to us.  Still stewing over it (obviously) hours later, I am sure that my reply, which pointed out his bad timing, his bad research and my co-worker's lack of clairvoyance to know when he feeds us bad information in not-so-polite terms, will land me in hot water.  But, I realize that Fate sent that to me so that I will have absolutely no regrets over handing in my resignation Monday morning.  I should really thank him - because before that, I was very worried about it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was leaving the company that had taken a chance on me coming back and being stable and productive only weeks after Kelsey died.  Now my biggest regret is not thinking of somehow throwing in my reply how the person must have mistaken the company for a stable since he is clearly such a large horse's ass. (Moral to this story: Don't try and throw me or my peeps under a bus unless you're rock solid in your information.  I will take the opening you leave for me and slap you hard with it.  I can't abide people who like to explain errors by blaming the underlings.  Crissakes, we're on the same team or supposed to be; if a situation arises, let's analyze it, decide what to do and work together to fix it.)

However, that goes on in all 50 states, I realize.  And I got a mild taste of unpleasantness from my future co-residents yesterday as well.  My Amazing Realtor emailed me about some things she's helping me with and mentioned that the furniture store where I had picked my new couches was going out of business.  What?!  I hopped online.  Sure enough, their online catalog was down, so I called the store near my house.  The salesman, whose name I did not initially catch, helped me well enough, but there was a bit of edge to it - understandably.  The business had been open and family run since 1958, it employs 350 souls who will shortly be joining me in the job market (oh joy), I would kind of expect less-than-stellar attitude to creep in.  However, what I didn't expect was this:  he asked me if I wrote down the information on the pieces I wanted.  I said, no, I didn't think to because I had no idea this was going to happen.  So, we talked it through and he was helpful, as much as possible under the circumstances, but when I asked him if they worked on commission and to give me his name, he said, "Jim.  You can write that down."  The sarcasm nearly dripped.  I decided not to react negatively, I figure he's under a lot of stress, so I said instead, "Gee, I was sorry to hear you were closing, I had heard a lot of good things about the company."  His reply?  "Yeah, well, it was mismanagement, but..." he seemed to catch himself a bit and hesitated then hastily finished with, "but thank you, I mean, thank you."  Dude.  Saying that to a customer over the phone?  Really?

Then I came home, already agitated by Mr. Horse Ass, to find a letter from Shaler Township (I finally realized that Townships are like MUD's are here in Texas - for some reason, working that out in my head made me feel better about the layering of government up there because it seemed a bit much and more than a bit confusing).  Anyway, the letter states that it has come to the writer's attention that I now reside in Shaler Township, but have "failed" to register for the mandatory 1% income tax.  It demanded that I do so by January 17.  Luckily for the individual who wrote the letter, I received it well after hours so I could not call and tell her that I'm not sure what her sources are - crystal balls, TMZ maybe, but she should get her facts straight before she starts accusing me of something.  (It had been pretty clearly explained to me by Shaler staff that I didn't pay the tax until I was a resident there.)  Again, I wonder, does anyone know what the hell they're doing?  And can anyone do it politely?  Am I leaving one state stacked full of jerks just to find another?  At least it's a smaller state.

And, of course, all of this is scraping against my currently very thin skin because I'm trying to pull off the largest move of my entire life.  I read somewhere years ago that even a positive move will engender negative emotional reactions because the stress is just so intense.  It's physically draining, financially rough, and emotionally a roller coaster ride.  For us, it's all of that and more - handling all of Kelsey's things and trying to decide what to do with them, feeling the emotions rise up with the memories, then trying to weigh that against the reality of keeping whatever it is, well, that's just tough. I could have postponed it had I not determined to move now, but eventually it had to happen.  So, at least, at the end of the process, I'll be only six miles from Consol Energy Center and about seven from Heinz Field.  Go Pens.  Go Steelers.  I'll be there soon.
Now, tell me truly, who wouldn't leave home to be six miles from this?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Long Goodbyes

When the idea to run away to Pittsburgh initially took seed and began to grow, it was an idea born in the ether of football and hockey euphoria, along with a strong desire to get back to my Yankee roots and shock us as a family out of the despair we had been living in for so long - even before June 2009 really.  There was a vague knowledge lurking somewhere in the recesses of my mind that it would involve saying goodbye to people who are precious to me, even if I rarely get to see them, but no real sense of it.  Not really.  I was too caught up in what I was working toward to contemplate what I was leaving behind.  But now, with title to a little house on the other side of the country secure, reality begins to set in.

But, here I am, packing boxes, gladly giving away things that even a year ago I would have told you I never would have parted with and finding myself saying goodbye to people I once assumed were just part of my world forever.  I mean, really, they still are.  We live in the Internet age.  Our friends are only a Facebook post away, but is it the same really as sitting across from them, looking them in the eye, and sharing whatever news/gossip/experiences we can?  No, probably not.  I gathered my friends in reality, not cyberspace.  I was fortunate enough to have met them in person at some point, and we found our bond in something concrete that we experienced together.  Even though the truth of a busy modern life is that it's hard to find time to see one another often, I have a core handful of friends whom I absolutely know would drop anything and come running if I called and vice-versa, no matter the time of day.  I'm leaving a few behind who may have needed to do that at some point in the not-so-distant future as their parents age or life hands them particular challenges, and I worry over my decision to pull myself away and not be there for them.  But, my little house in the North Hills calls my name and tells me its ready for someone to once more inhabit its walls with laughter, love, sometimes joy, sometimes sorrow.  And I realized last night as I watched the customary views of the city from above when the NFL Network came back from commercial breaks that I am beginning to think of Pittsburgh as home.  Maybe to convince myself that I've chosen the correct path for my family, I'm diligently setting my mind to the mantra that this is the most beautiful, awesome city in the country, and I'm going to throw myself into it completely.  I almost ache for it.  So, that means saying goodbye to so many good friends.

And, ironically, I'll be saying goodbye to some new ones.  Just to complicate the swirl of emotions, I've met some new people in the last few months whose company I enjoy, and whom I wish I could have spent more time with.  The lovely, generous woman I sit across from at work, the bubbly, funny and very loud woman who sits next to her, and the fiery red head from across the office, who lost her husband a month before we lost Kelsey.  All interesting enjoyable people to add to my contingent of friends, but who came to my world view as I was already preparing to move, so I'll never get to know them as I have others in the office, whom I will miss deeply.  Among these newer folk is my hairdresser.  Not only did I finally someone who can take good care of my aging hair, but I found a friend in the process, and I actually can't quite believe I'm leaving her.  I told her I was going last month and found it surprisingly hard.  She is a widow of six years, a strong minded attractive Alaskan (not unlike the other Alaskan we all know and some love) whose husband died six years ago of brain cancer.  She is a nurse who works part time at Dell's Children's Hospital, can fix anything, is a master colorist who does shows in New York a few times a year who came here to be close to her adult daughter and grandchild.  But what she is the most is a survivor, and she's offered a emphatic view into the world of grieving and surviving grief that all the counseling in the world could not have brought me.  I can't quite believe I'm leaving her insights, her humor, her fantastic way with my hair behind.  But, she had me come in for one last cut last week, and we said what are likely our goodbyes, and I got through it with no tears.

This process has repeated itself several times over, as I grab a quick lunch with a couple of friends here, or dinner and a drink with a friend there.  Some, sadly, I won't get to see before I pull out, there's too much chaos in trying to wrap up work, pack up a cluttered home, figure out doggy moving logistics, all during the holidays and soon the playoffs.  I've considered having a packing party, actually my friend Jenn's idea, but the house is so chaotic, with stuff strewn here, there and everywhere as we take it all out to examine it and determine its worth to be hauled across country.  Of course, that's the idea of a packing party.  To pack that stuff.  It's not exactly like I'd have to worry about making sure the china is washed and set out.  Pizza, beer and lots of newspaper and boxes is about all the planning required.  The idea has some merit, but I hesitate to ask my friends to come labor to move me away, so I don't know yet what to do. What I do know is that I've been oddly blessed in life.  Meaning, as hard as the last few years have been and as devastating as the losses have been, I've managed to get through it with the support of an amazing group of people, some young, some old, some liberal, some conservative, some sports fans, some not, some silly, some sad, but all of them share one thing in common:  I love them deeply and am indebted to them for seeing me through and not giving up on me.

To my friends:  I would list you all, but there are too many.  I hope you know, as you read this, you are among them.  I hope your love and support is something I can pack and take with me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jingle Hell, but...

... how Marissa saved Christmas.

Every year, the Steelers Defensive Coordinator, the great Dick LeBeau, recites The Night Before Christmas from memory for the players.  It's said to be such a revered tradition that former players will come just to hear it.  I am so enthralled with the mental image of fierce characters like James Harrison from the present roster and former Steeler bad-asses like Kevin Greene sitting demurely listening to a children's poem, that I've decided to pen my own tale of Christmas cheer.

It begins with: Christmas sucks.  Surprising beginning for a heartwarming holiday story?  Not for those readers who have known me over the years.  I have long sang the dirge of how I hate the holidays.  Too much to do added on top of all the regular stuff - which doesn't slow down one iota, I might add - too expensive, people expecting certain things (myself included - if I haven't been obvious enough about wanting a Sidney Crosby jersey, it's really not for lack of trying) and being really pissy if they don't get them when that's not really the point of the holiday, now, is it?

That's all on a normal holiday, which this one certainly is not.  I knew when I flew to Pittsburgh to close on our little house that I was flying into the eye of the storm.  I just didn't know how big of a storm was brewing.  Everything seems to be extraordinarily complicated this year.  I've had issues with gifts I've ordered - I've got one sitting here right now that was meant to ship to a young couple at Eglin AFB in Florida. I KNOW I ordered it shipped there because I always have to stop to think if it's Elgin or Eglin.  Yeah, they shipped it here.  And they wanted a pretty penny to fix their mistake, so I told them they were disconcerting and to forget it; I'll have to find the time to mail it myself, and they are off my vendor list forever.  I ordered another gift for a friend in Michigan.  It went to the right address, but I'm pretty sure it was addressed to me - I'm not sure if she got what I ordered yet or not.  But, if she did, it probably had the packing slip with the cost right on it.  Sigh.  Then there's the largest fiasco at all, which is a special gift I'm trying to have made for one of the family.  I've got one week left to get it accomplished with a shop in south - far south - Austin when I have no time off at my job in far north Austin.  The poor guy who got the job of handling me is as frustrated with me as I am with the situation.  He's not exactly rude, but he's holding it together with the slimmest of threads, I can tell (I worked retail too, I know the tone), and it's a saga that began right after Thanksgiving.  I do a lot of online ordering to make my life easier.  I've never had so many issues for as long as I've discovered the power of the Internet, and I've kind of wondered more than once what I did to anger the Karmic powers around me so much to rain this much crap down on me when I'm supposed to be packing and working on getting me and a lot of animals back east.

Then there's work, don't even get me started.  Suffice it to say, rolling out new processes never goes without a hitch, and they've unveiled two major ones lately, and I work at collections in a down economy dealing with people who owe a lot of money at the holidays.  Enough said.  I should be there now actually, trying to use the weekend to actually do some of my own tasks.  But, as Wayne Campbell would say, monkeys might also fly out of my butt.  It's just not happening.

The fact that I'm supposed to be moving in a very short period of time is almost an after thought, except that I'm trying to continue to cull out things I never thought I'd be able to pry myself loose from.  I'm seriously taking requests.  I pulled out a mis-matched series of wine glasses for a young woman at work last night.  I'll be gathering Lord of the Rings toys for someone later on today.  I've taken to trying to leave every morning with a bag/box of random stuff to take to work and just let people rifle through.  It's been pretty effective, but as I look around - dang, I still have a lot of stuff.  And I'm no closer to knowing how I'm going to get it there than I was a month ago.  I know what I'm not doing, but not what I am.  Same with the fence.  First fence bid came in at $7,000.  What'd you do, I wonder, call the moving company and compare notes?!  Do people think because we live in Texas we're related to the Ewings?  Needless to say, that's not going to happen.  And I'm finding it too hard to navigate the bid process from here - my poor Realtor, who is a saint with a license to sell homes, has been keeping an eye on the house like it's her own and even solicited help from the local firehouse around the corner (don't ever tell me Yankees are rude!).  But, it's Christmas time for her too - she's got enough on her plate.  I simply refuse to ask her to do more.

So, struggling with a sense of panic and despair that's almost a physical thing, I keep myself afloat with something Marissa said to me the other day, and then followed up with a message to me on Facebook.  She said the last two Christmases were really good ones.  What?!  How could last Christmas be good?  Our first Christmas without Kelsey?  But she reminded me of how my mom enjoyed herself that day - spending way longer here than I anticipated she could (and was stocked with sanitary supplies for) because she was having so much fun just watching all the activity.   The family stayed together at our house for the greater part of the day, snacking on finger foods and playing board games, and we'd wheel Mother into whatever room the largest activity was going on, and she'd just sort of sit and absorb it.  I felt so bad at the time when we took her back to the nursing home finally, having stewed in her own juices, if you will, for so long, but when she died, I remember thinking, "Thank God I gave her that last Christmas Day."  Marissa reminded me of that.

This is actually from 2006, but I like it a  lot
But then she also reminded me of the year before.  What ended up being Kelsey's last Christmas.  Marissa sent me this that my oldest daughter wrote on LiveJournal right after, "we all know that the weeks preceding the celebration of baby jesus through capitalistic gluttony had not been kind to my super-spazzy, over-worrying head, but this christmas was the most pleasant holiday i have had since i was a child: no drama, lots of love. i smiled, dad gave me looks of love & relief that warmed my heart to the core, and kyle was with me."  It had been a pretty mellow, uneventful affair - unlike the wild drama of the year before that culminated in Mother breaking her arm almost immediately after we dropped her home, and us spending the evening in the emergency room, Mother madder than a wet hen that we dared take her to the hospital.  I had learned from that year, and toned down the expectations and the agenda and things had gone much more smoothly.

So, I guess I managed to pull off giving these important people in my life the best gift I could have, which is a pleasant day on a holiday supposed to be about celebration, hope and family.  And Marissa gave me the best gift of all:  she made sure I knew it.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a good Christmas story.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adventures in Packing Part Three: Moving Mountains

I knew I was in trouble when the nice (yet somehow a little too nice so as to border on annoying) salesman for the moving company walked through my house with me and said on at least three occasions, "You have a lot of stuff."  Therefore, it should have come as no shock to me when I opened his estimate last Monday morning.  But, it was.  Nearly $8,000!  I nearly fell out of my chair and let out a yelp, like a dog who had been stepped on by a giant.  Holy cow - I could practically start over with all new stuff for that.  Problem is, as I explained to the gentleman, Greg as the oldest son and only one with sufficient space, and me as the only child became the keepers of much of our family heirlooms.  Our dining room set was built by Greg's great-great grandfather.  The china you see through its glass doors was my grandmother's.  The silver set was Mother's - Dad had it custom made for her when on leave in Japan during the Korean Conflict.  At this point, I've got enough china, crystal, silver and linen to host the entire Pittsburgh Steelers and their families, and maybe the Penguins too.  Some of it is probably worth something, but truth be told, most of it's probably only worth its weight in memories, but that makes it priceless.  All of that has to come with us.

Then there are my books.  The salesman warned me right off the bat, looking just at the books on the built-in shelves downstairs that I needed to think about getting rid of everything but the most valuable ones because they are concentrated weight.  Greg and I looked at one another and both said at nearly the same time, "Oh, just wait."  The man had yet to see the fourth bedroom that I have always used as a study, three walls lined with books on 6' high shelves.  Have I read them all?  Hell no, but I'm working on it.  I've read a lot of them, so maybe you could argue I should dump those and only take the ones I haven't made it to yet.  But, what if I want to re-read them?  Like I will The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so I can brush up before I go see the movie.  Like I probably will at least glance through The Stand again in places - it's my favorite book of all time.  Or, how I may pluck one of Anne Rice's books off the shelf to scour for a quote when I'm in a dark mood - her early works are perfect for a brooding parent enveloped in grief.  Or maybe how I'll pull down one of my books about Barack Obama and flip through it to remind myself that he's larger than the problems he's currently mired in.  No, I need them all.  Or so I think anyway.  I did pull out a miserly selection before the fall garage sale, and after the horrendous bid, I tried to make myself take another look.  I pulled out two coffee table books, one of which I've had since high school, and put them in the giveaway pile.  The one I've had for so long however keeps haunting me, and it's taking a strong sense of control to not pluck it back out of the pile.  But, luckily for me, Greg supports me keeping my books.  He's willing to pay the heavy price to cart them from here to there.  As much grief as I give him, I love him for that.  What he'd really like me to do, however, is get rid of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings collectibles (by the way, for me and my limited discretionary spending, "collectible" means toys, I have very few actually valuable collectibles - important to keep in mind as you read how I agonize over crap I bought in the toy aisle at Target).

I know he's right, but I am finding it so hard to do.  As I glance over them, the rational part of me thinks, "You don't need a Yoda Pez dispenser, a stuffed Yoda and a talking Yoda.  Pick one, get rid of the rest."  So, I determine to keep Talking Yoda because it's just cool.  But, Francine gave me stuffed Yoda, and I like the Pez dispenser.  As of this moment, all of them are sealed in a box upstairs (along with a lot of other stuff, like Death Star Pez dispenser).  As I explained to a friend at work, I packed up that stuff first so it's out of sight and hopefully out of mind, marked innocuously for the 3rd bedroom where the bookshelves will go.  That way it's just not part of the conversation about what to toss out.  Genius.  However, I have recently found a worthy recipient of what Star Wars crap things I can manage to rend myself away from.  Therefore, knowing they will be loved, I will spend some time this weekend choosing some items to bequeath to a young friend to help her on way to extreme nerdiness like me.  Passing down the legacy, that's a good thing, right?

But, it's clear that sacrifices have to be made.  So, I have to look at everything else and ask myself, "Do you really want to pay to move this?"  I already set out a large stack of random stuff for the Texas Paralyzed Veterans, on top of what I pried loose for the garage sale.  All of that was gone before I heard, "You have a lot of stuff."  I clearly have a lot of work yet to do.

In the meantime, I'm getting other moving bids!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Remembering Pearl Harbor, Mom, Holidays Past and Larry Bird

December 7th is always a day of note in our household.  For one thing, as a World War II history buff, I am mindful of the day as one that will always live in infamy, particularly to those ever-dwindling individuals who experienced Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that drew the United States into the war.  One of the fond memories I have of the past decade is when my dear friend Francine and I took off from work and drove up to Fredericksburg, Texas, home of the National Museum of the Pacific War, to witness the official stateside commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor back in 2001.  What an honor to be there with her and be so close to veterans of that awful day.  The senior George Bush was the keynote speaker and, no matter what you think of him politically, it was pretty cool to be that close to a former President and war hero.  But, I digress, as usual.

December 7 is also my estranged sister-in-law's birthday, as it is Larry Bird's.  They are exactly the same age.  For my husband, while he loves his sister, it might be a toss up as to which is the bigger deal.  Larry Bird was always his favorite basketball player.  White men can jump apparently, and I think Greg always fantasized a little what it would be like to be a Larry Bird.

And on this particular December 7, it was Beck Funeral Home's holiday memorial for their clients in the past year.  So, for the second year in a row, I sat with a delicate gold colored ornament cupped in my hand with a loved one's name drawn on it in cursive and listened to a sermon meant to comfort survivors in their time of grief until it was time to hang the ornament on a large tree at the front of the room, where it will stay with a large number of others until I retrieve it just after the New Year's.  Then I will place it in the corner china cabinet to sit next to the other ornament I received the year before (actually it will get packed first, moved to Shaler and then that's where it will live).  In one of those odd, not-quite-rational thoughts I had immediately after I received the news that Mother had died,  I thought, "Well, I'll get another invitation to the holiday memorial."  When it came, I toyed with not going.  Been there, done that, I thought briefly.  But, Mother would have wanted me to go, and the truth is, I appreciate that they do this for their clients.  It's cleansing somehow.  But, even if I didn't believe that it had any healing benefit, I would have gone because I fear sometimes that Mother's memory gets trampled on by the larger tragedy of her granddaughter's passing.  Not only do I worry that she's been over-shadowed by the loss of Kelsey, I worry that I'm still numb from the trauma (for lack of a better word) that came to define her last couple of years.  She gave me a hard run those last few years, and while I rationally know she was not in control of that, my own fragile psyche is still licking some wounds from it.  I'm not proud of it, but I'm being honest.  But, she was my mother, if not by blood, then by responsibility, and I was determined as we slid into our seats to make this evening about Ruth, not Kelsey.  The sermon seemed particularly geared to helping with that task, the minister they brought in telling the story of a grown daughter witnessing the family's first Christmas after her mother dies.

So, my mind wandered back to the Christmases when I was a little girl, before I strained my parent's love with my teenage angst, and before Mother began working again, in retail nonetheless, and her time became stretched and stressed.  She had always been a bit of a hoarder, but it was under better control then, the house still fairly new and crisp, but her Montana social circle established. She had what she wanted, I think; a family, a home, a position in the community, enough money to be comfortable.  This was her zenith.  If there was ever a time when she was content, it was in these years.  And, it was a warm and harmonious time for us as a family.  She would elaborately decorate our house, finding trendy ideas in her Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens, loving to try new crafts every year.  She would bake holiday cookies, patiently allowing me to help, always giving me the beaters to lick (one of the benefits of being an only child, I freely admit, is not having to share the beaters).

One of special things that my parents did for me was allow me my own little tree in the dining room.  I had my own set of mini-ornaments, and I would decorate it all by myself, but Mother would oversee in the earliest years, carefully coaching me to make sure I remembered to put ornaments on all sides.  We would make popcorn and string it up to make garland, along with the cheesy paper chains, which would hang every where in the house.  As a family, we had chosen the trees by driving up the canyon and picking our own along the snowy roadside, a larger one for the family room, a smaller one for me, and Dad would cut them down for us.  Later, as they both aged, they bought the trees in town, but Mother always preferred the smell of a live tree.  (I honored that until just a couple of years ago, buying real trees after she moved here.)

I remember the conflict Mom and Dad always had over icicles - those environmentally horrible plastic silver strands so popular in the '50-'70's.  Dad loved them, but wouldn't help put them on.  They're horrible to put on.  Mother never wanted to bother.  She reasoned that if he wanted them, he should help.  Occasionally, he would make a token effort, but I think even he would admit that he never really worked too hard at it.  To make it worse, he preferred that they be hung individually as opposed to simply tossed on.  Over the years, I became versed at the art of hanging individual strands of those things, figuring I didn't particularly mind doing it, and it was worth keeping the peace between them.  It was their own version of the Leg Lamp (Christmas Story), an on-going battle of power, never taken too seriously by either of them.  Mainly because Dad knew she would give in and make it happen somehow.  After I no longer lived there, I think it became more of a genuine fight.  I remember hanging the icicles again when I would visit as a young adult, but in the years I didn't make it home, I'm not sure how it got resolved actually.  Maybe eventually stores just stopped selling them and that solved the problem.

I have dozens of holiday stories like those, and I've often wondered if part of my rancor over the holiday now is my inability to ever be able to re-create those magical years for both myself and my children.  But, the thing I will never forget is how Mom's dry, biting sense of humor came into play.  Gradually, she would lack the time and energy to keep stenciling holiday greetings on mirrors or stringing popcorn with me, but she never lost that slightly cruel sense of humor that caused her to tease me every year to try and guess what she had gotten me for Christmas.

Inevitably it would start as I helped her at the dining room table, where she had set up her wrapping station.  As she showed me how to fold the ends of the wrapping paper in to encompass a box, or watch as I curled the ribbon, she would casually mention something about what I was getting for Christmas.  Something like, "I already have your gift." or "You'll like what you're getting this year."  Without fail, I would take the bait, my heart palpitating a little more than usual, anxious to break her and get her to tell me what she had gotten.  I would ask her what it was.  She would decline to tell me, but offer to give me a hint.  The hint was invariably totally lame and not useful in the slightest, but I would take a guess, be wrong, then I would beg her for another hint.  She would string me along like that for days at a time.  Every time I would, in my childish way, get distracted and forget about it, she would give me another teasing prompt, and it would begin anew.  I don't remember ever guessing correctly, which is fairly amazing, because I generally got what I really wanted.  As I write this, I gaze over at my original set of The Chronicles of Narnia.  They are worn, the spines broken from repeated readings, the pages yellow with age, yet I can't bring myself to give them up, one of the many precious gifts "Santa" brought me over the years.  But maybe more than the various gifts I received, I remember "Santa" teasing me with pointless clues around our dining room table, her eyes lighting up with delight, that sort of devilish gleam dancing over her features all those many years ago.  That's the Mom that I miss.  That's the Mom that I got back this December 7th.

Mom, I really miss you.