They went in a pile beside the bed: the socks, the shirt, the pants and underwear. And in the morning, they came on in the opposite direction. The days were like that too, they got taken off at night and put back on in the morning. All the days were good. Of course they weren’t but you could make believe they were. Life was like that too, a summary of days. Alone it was marvelous and, in most ways, enough.
I cleaned the raclette, the Swiss table-top grill we pull out at New Year’s. The funky cheese goes on a paddle beneath the grill and warms while cooking the meat and vegetables up top. The speck doesn’t produce enough fat, so we fry the bell pepper in bacon grease, and when the cheese is bubbling and brown we scrape it onto the potatoes and serve it with cornichons and pickled onions.
We have snow outside like cake frosting and at night it’s so quiet there’s only the far-off thrum of the valley and freeway below. Everything is caked in white like marshmallow, a gingerbread house. We have mulled cider and wassail punch in ornate mugs from the German Christmas markets in Saarbrücken and Ludwigsburg. From the outside our house looks like the miniature light-up Victorian village we have inside—we could be the same as those happy figurines waving with our fingerless gloves, warming our hands by an electric fire.
I get out my cranberry-colored balaclava for a walk to the lake, and my Gore-Tex snow suit from the 1970s that’s bright yellow and heavy as hell. And then I stand for longer than normal watching the snow fall on the water, debate taking selfies and texting to friends or just being with it alone. The white on the rooftops of the houses on the far shore, the slant of the tall trees fading into the clouds and snow, the slate color of the water. Frozen snot in my mustache that’s fun to rub off, like picking dried glue.
I make a pot of Jamaican stew peas with the leftover ham, a bundle of fresh thyme, bay leaf, allspice berries and habanero wrapped in cheese cloth. After cooking the beans I add a can of coconut milk, remove the ham bones and dice the meat, then add it back in with chopped scallions and more thyme. Serve it with white rice and then stow the pot in the garage with the sleds and Himalayan mittens.
You can get sentimental about things, especially at this time of year. Thinking about packing up the Victorian village, everything going back in their boxes, into the garage, the same process in reverse. On Sunday morning it’s turned to rain and I put on the Blues music radio show, kick the tree to the curb, pack up the kids for a ride to the city, the old bookstore and brunch. We only get so many days like this when we’re all together and it’s good to remember that.
Dawn and I are getting to the end of the Beatles documentary, January of 1969. It’s gone on so long we feel like we’ve spent the whole month with the band. And we’re now at the end where they’re about to do the rooftop concert. Throughout the film they cross off each day when they’re done rehearsing so you can see how close they are to the deadline at the end of the month. It’s now just dawned on them that they only have six songs for the performance and wanted 14. George says if only we had six more weeks…
And Charlotte needs to return a gift to the department store so we take my car, and the song Get Back comes on. And I mention the lyrics, I didn’t know it was about nationalism and point out the part about the trans person. And tell Charlotte can you believe this came out in 1969?
There is almost no one at the department store. They have a place in the back where you can return stuff to Amazon and give you a coupon hoping you’ll spend money in the store. I tell Charlotte I knew the CEO of this place (Kohl’s); she worked at Starbucks and I arranged for her training when she started there in 1996. We didn’t have Outlook yet so everyone wrote their appointments in paper planners they carried from meeting to meeting. And some people (like me) saved those old planners for sentimental reasons because we believed there was a part of us in it and didn’t want to let that go.
I imagine John and George if they were still alive and what they’d say about our times. They are a comfort when the days feel bleak and represent the very best of what we can be, both elevated and down to earth. Paul gestures to the piano, all the songs that were ever written came out of these keys.
They come for the tree on Saturday and I put out last year’s calendar with the recycling. All the days were good and in most ways enough. You didn’t realize it as much at the time as you do when it’s nearly done.