The Christmas cards have given way to thank you notes. The transition is easy when one uses blank cards. Now I am on to the subject of gifts which I described to my friend Nancy who can tell every time I have deconstructed a thought, as fraught. Gifts can be a mine-field and I’m sure it has something to do with the trafficking of women in ancient tribal societies, but I don’t want to research this in Wikipedia or even examine this cavalier statement. The truth is: I love gifts. I love choosing them, wrapping them, giving them, getting them, unwrapping them, and standing them all around in a glorious glut. I hate to ruin the moment by thinking about why that is. I’ve read Unplug the Christmas Machine, thank you.
As a teacher, I get lots of fun things to unwrap. A student comes in the week before Christmas, face beaming, and proprietorially hands me a wrapped gift.
“Ooh, can I open it now?”
“Sure, I want to see what it is.”
Certain traditions develop. Genevieve of the unearthly beautiful voice, bakes something every year. Last year it was an orange layer cake, thick with frosting; this year the most piquant gingerbread I’ve ever tasted. For the ten years the Banobi kids were my students, I got a delivery of homemade sticky buns every Christmas Eve. This is my second year of blackberry jam from berries handpicked on the Olympic Peninsula and cooked by Travis of the creamy baritone voice. Max’s mother, Carla makes cards and I look forward to seeing what her imagination brings forth every year. Michiko’s dad makes springerli, all puffy and smooth along the edges, unlike mine.
The gifts from across the pond and continent come with those little custom declarations which I find so exotic. This year it said “confectionary.” There’s always candy of some kind–this year it was chocolate Tiddly Penguins– in the gifts from England so that’s not exactly a surprise. It’s the word itself. Confectionary. To someone who lives in the wild west, it just sounds so Dickens. (I am not going to continue in this vein because I think the reason readers of my blog who live in Germany outnumber those in England three to one is because the British don’t really care to be slobbered all over the way anglophiles will do. Americans just say “do,” not “will do.” Did you ever notice that? OK, I’ll stop now.)
There’s a bitter sweetness in the confectionary this year because Mervyn, one of my British family, died last summer. It was a completely unexpected death and a great shock to everyone. For years Mervyn had written me long, long letters, full of news, English idioms, and stuff to savor. In person he was just as loquacious. He once asked me the old, old riddle, “What’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?”
I smiled patiently, “Half a worm?”
It was as if I hadn’t spoken. “Half a worm,” he said. “You see, it’s because if you see half a worm, it’s because the other half is in the piece of apple in your mouth!”
“Yeah, I get it.”
He liked to extend his enjoyment verbally. Much like I do.
I wish he were still here to repeat a story I’ve heard at least twice: During The War (that would be WW II) Mervyn was a boy in Cornwall, not sure how old, but old enough to play in the road with the other children. When the Americans went over in 1942, the word got round that when their vehicles came through the village the men threw candy.
“Candy,” Mervyn relished the word fifty years later. “We wondered what this candy was. We were so excited to see the candy. But when the Americans came and threw us candy, we were so disappointed. ‘It’s just sweets,’ we said.”
So gifts can be fraught. In this dark time of year, we get frantic with the activities, the gifts, and the food because the dark is such a reminder that life can be fraught. Our lives are finite and will one day go dark. Traditions end. This year I’ve missed getting my long chatty Christmas letter from Mervyn. He was a sweet man.