We had a small hill in our back yard, and I learned how to ski on wooden skis with my initials burned at the tips. My father had a workshop in the basement, and for a while he seemed to burn my initials on everything. The working class version of a monogram.Read More
There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by. I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye. I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.
We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland around the banister, place another over the mantle, and drape one over the front door. Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door. We'd bake Christmas cookies. One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father. If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun. It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.
Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things? Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right. My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound. That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.
In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments. My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree. When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that. On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.
Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round. We kept the old traditions but found new ones. We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire. We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.
On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.
Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.
At night we'd go outside. Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder. The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us. We'd laugh and go in.
So many gone, but strong love still here. My little sister and I have each other. Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us. We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too. We carry them with us.
Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way. The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness. That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.
There's beauty in every life, every single day. Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it. To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down. Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is. There's someone who loves you. There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap. There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky. Position the starfish at the top of the tree. All will be well.
[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]
My father joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was twenty-one, from a close family in Hartford, Connecticut. When the time came for him to report for training, Thomas F. Rice, Jr. went to the Hartford train station and joined a long line of other young men, ready to board. The line was single-file, until it got to my father.Read More
I am thinking of someone lost to me. The stories we told each other, the ghosts we summoned. We thought it would last forever. I don't even know what "it" is: our home, our closeness, our lives together. As she would say, "Nobody knows how I feel."
To love a place so much it hurts. When I go there I am haunted by someone ten miles down the road. Our mother used to say, "You'll have many friends, but only two sisters." Hey--Willoughby Moon. Going to keep this up forever? This seems an appropriate day to ask. M's summer birthday.
A favorite poem, and I know you get it. The beach is the valley our fathers called their home. Lost love...
Under Saturn by William Butler Yeats
Do not because this day I have grown saturnine Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought Because I have no other youth, can make me pine; For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought, The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks are spurred By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen, And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard, And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died Before my time, seem like a vivid memory. You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay - No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again, And surely after twenty years it was time to come.' I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.
The lives of one broken-hearted woman and her family are changed forever when one of her daughters brings back the man who left so many years ago to the family he’s always loved. Some things, like sandcastles, don’t survive the changing tides. But love, family, and friendship–just as fragile–have a way of standing against anything.Read More
Coolly sophisticated and steadfastly single, Caroline Renwick has always been the sister everyone could count on. As she and Clea and Skye gathered at Firefly Hill, their childhood home, Caroline thought that they had all put the past behind them. But as summer gets under way, a mysterious man arrives—a man who has the power to bring it all back...Read More
Luanne made her triumphant debut with this delicately drawn but emotionally powerful portrait of a woman's extraordinary journey of the heart and soul—a timeless story of love, sisterhood, and the hope that emerges even out of heartbreak.Read More
What would you do with a second chance at life? Sarah Talbot thought she’d never see another birthday. But against all odds, she beat the illness that could have killed her, reopened her bedding shop, Cloud Nine, and vowed to make the most of a fresh start that few are given. Luanne tells a story you will cherish, peopled with indelible characters whose challenges are your own.Read More