Category Archives: nostalgia
Remembering the Things that Matter
Delivering a eulogy for someone you’ve known for decades isn’t easy. There’s a bottomless treasure trove of memories, so it’s hard to select the right ones. The ones that will matter to most of the funeral attendees — or that might matter the most to one person? Or maybe that matter most to you, as a speaker? Without the eulogy going on for like two hours. I bet someone, somewhere has set a record for the longest eulogy. Maybe in other countries or galaxies they are very long indeed.
Recently we held a service for sacred Aunt Natalie. Natalie was not technically our aunt, she was our cousin once removed, the cousin of our father. She grew up in Vermont, became a teacher, married a state trooper, and had my two cousins—I mean second cousins. They were the reason my family visited Vermont, and came to love Vermont for more than just her natural beauty.
O, her seasons, all distinct! The fifth season called Mud Season. Stick Season, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, revealing magnificent textural backdrops – and awful housepaint jobs. Grit Season (when winter’s road-sand blows around after the snow’s gone) and Manure Season (when the entire state is fertilized, to our vegetably anticipation and olfactory dismay). Surely there are sub-seasons involving flora or fauna that Dear Reader relishes. Not Black Fly Season.
Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of one season and flash forward into another season entirely. Do you do this? It’s mind-blowing because Vermont is like a different planet in each. I time-travel to the alternate season and think, “Wow, winter: white!” Or: “Summer…wow.”
As with the seasons, I flash back to years gone by. Younger versions of us, the now-gone people still alive — all laughing — us kids up to some mischief. Feels like yesterday. It blindsides me when I’m driving. I cry. As friend Lee says, “It always seems to happen in the car.”
Back to the cousins. We visited Vermont because our Scottish great-great-great grandparents, blacksmiths, had settled there. The introduction of the automobile caused my dad’s father to pursue other work, in Ohio, where he met his bride. Their summer trips back to Vermont got my dad hooked on ‘mont. Once a parent himself, he got us kids hooked. Back then, kids didn’t get to choose family vacations (as if!). Thank God our parents chose Vermont.
You visit a place not just for her physical characteristics, but for her people. Think of places you’ve been (Maine, the south, islands, Italy) and the locals there with qualities different from people at home, lending that place its particular flava.
When even one person leaves the planet, the flava of Earth changes, no? Most of you have lost someone close to you. In my (second) cousins’ vernacular, it’s wicked hard.
My Aunt Natalie was born with a spark. Neighbors, hairdressers, toll booth operators … she left an impression on each. You know how some relatives were old your entire life? Natalie always looked to be 50 years old, even at 80. She always wore shorts. But mostly I recall her sparkle and humor and a kind of innocence that seemed like it was from another era. Because it was.
Swimming with Natalie by moonlight in Silver Lake! As my sister said, she had a way of making the everyday magical. She was a true lover of children. Whether you were you pounding out Grand Old Flag on the piano or had sketched an inscrutable picture of nothingness, she’d exclaim, “BeaUtiful!” She made children feel valuable, which I think many children did not feel in decades past.
Ah, cousins: the gift of noisy fun. Those classic Thanksgivings, Memorial and Labor Days, and of course The Fourth. Something called “bull beans.” Treks via inner tubes to the Barnard General Store for penny candy. Making a game of anything at all. The parents sending us to Richardson’s with returnable bottles to get them “supplies.” We got candy.
Countless holidays over countless years, always with music, always with laughter. Ever effusive, Natalie would tell my mother, “You make the BEST salads!” My dad would howl, because what’s really involved in a salad? When it was time for my family to leave Vermont, I would cry and my brother would hide, so that leaving became – briefly – impossible.
Natalie passed bit by bit from our lives. But these memories remain forever indelible, of an energetic and vivacious woman so greatly loved. As Dear Reader knows, we never forget those we adored. Our pain at our loss is a beautiful pain. An honoring. As sad as it makes us.
Thank you, Aunt Natalie, for years and years of fun and art and music and jubilance and adventures and hilarity … and most of all, most of all, for your smile and voice and laugh.
If Dear Reader knows what I’m talking about, maybe today at some point: look up! Say Hello to your people gone by. Tell them you remember, you remember all of it. That you just know you’ll see them again. Good remembering, and good day.
Have Yourself a Sorry Little Breakdown
The doldrums is a nautical term for the belt around Earth’s equator where sailing ships can get stuck on windless waters for days—an apt metaphor even in landlocked Vermont.
For those who get in serious doldrums after the holidays, you’re not alone. In the 70s, as the tree splintered and shed, we’d beg our mother, “One more day!” Understanding, she’d consent to leave it up. I still suffer while boxing up decorations accumulated over 50 years, many hand made by beloved people now grown—or gone. It physically hurts and I go down.
My theory on the plummet’s severity is this: a combination of most humans’ inability to make transitions easily, plus the nostalgia of where one was 5, 20 or 30 years ago—or even just pre-COVID.The holidays are an annual plunge into sentimentality that wrecks some people for a while. After all the togetherness, even if at times fighty, many have to part with beloved people we wished we still lived with, or near, now miles or oceans away. Add to the emotional soup that sometimes we can tell when these people have had enough of us, or vice versa.
There’s something about that pre-holiday hustle and year-end philanthropy. I love the craft sales and transformation of everything from garlanded gas stations to tricked-out buildings. Carols evoke a simpler time. In truth, there were untold disasters and wars and far more domestic abuse back then, fueled by widely accepted over-drinking (think: the “hilarity” of Red Skelton’s drunk character; Dean Martin crooning basted). But hear the first couple of bars of O Holy Night and smell that balsam fir and you are swept back into your own (hopefully abuse-free) childhood or a dreamy image of happier times before you were born. When the decorations left up too long start getting dusty and something—anything—to look forward to seems a long way off, it’s easy to to go into a death spiral.
So last week after a Covid exposure, for the very first time I decided to wallow. None of this Yankee toughie bootstraps crap. No health-giving exercise or efforts to cheer self or others. Just a marathon of self-isolation, sorrow, and mourning.
It was not at first intentional. After leaving family to return to Vermont, I drove and cried until distracted by old radio interviews with Desmond Tutu (an evolved human, yet strikingly down to earth). But then Christmas music came on and sunk me anew, thinking of this very drive I had taken countless times with my now-gone mommy. Once home, I carried inside only my freezable belongings, got in bed, and let it rip. I cried over everything. Loves, parents, pets, houses and friends lost forever. Strangers who got stuck home alone for the holidays by cancelled flights. Refugees. Great people who died in 2021. Awful situations endured both by people I adore and by complete strangers. Sad pieces of fiction I read that never even actually occurred. I ate nothing but old foods around the house. Slept, woke, ate garbage, cried, slept. And you know what happened?
I’d love to say something profound here. But basically….nothing. Nothing happened. I didn’t come up with a grand epiphany. I didn’t resolve to start a new career or humanity-saving nonprofit, invent a climate change solution or clever movie plot. Nothing came of it. As Yukon Cornelius says, “Nuthin’.”
If you bottle it up and never let it out, you’re in trouble. That’s called being repressed. Although I did ask a male friend how he deals with the deaths of his legendarily party-throwing, smarty parents within weeks of each other. His answer: “I keep that locked up deep, deep down inside.” Hell, maybe that’s the right approach.
The virus and supply chain madness factored in. Due to Covid exposure, I couldn’t leave my apartment for a week upon returning home — Xtreme solitude rarely boosts mental wellness. As for the supply chain, disappointing in December was the lack in stores of favored holiday items, e.g. the annual “limited edition” cookie by Pepperidge Farms’ called Snowballs®. They were only on Amazon—for $19 a bag. A year without Snowballs® is like a year without…Snowballs®. And this year I didn’t get into preparations or meticulous wrapping the way I once did. Threw things into bags with tissue paper. No hand-drawn gift notes. No Christmas cards. I skipped movies I watch yearly. And all of that, while freeing, ultimately felt crummy. Next year I’m going back to overdoing it. Obviously, that’s the answer. So there’s the epiphany.
At this time of year I usually suggest one of three things.
- Make a list of what you got done in 2021. You’ll be surprised.
- Make a list of intentions for 2022, before it gets frittered away.
- Books: Greenlights; A Girl’s Guide to Missiles; Life (Keith Richards); Boys in the Trees (Carly Simon); Good Habits, Bad Habits; Olive Kitteridge, Olive Again, and Oh William; Mobituaries (Mo Rocca); Dodging Energy Vampires; A Girl Named Zippy; All The Light We Cannot See; The Power of Now; How To Be Alone; Joyful; Elevation (S. King); and my personal favorite, A Man Called Ove. Email me for a personal recommendation for you. That’s my gift.
Good repression, good wallow, or good New Year with light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Because A Lot of People Have Off Today
You might have time to watch this musical mindblower. Truly astonishing. It prompts more questions than it answers. What are your questions?