Saturday, April 25, 2009


Theremin, leather fedora, and carpenter's belt
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

24 and 25 December 2019

Gillam, Mimi and David ran the completed cookie tins to be shipped, while Myra and the other children wrapped presents. Jane made pies and cakes for the following day's family feast, and Ginny grated potatoes and onions for latke batter. Sima began frying doughnuts. Eventually Myra was on her own with the gift-wrapping, once the smell of hot sugar began wafting through the house. At 4:00, Carly and Eric arrived and helped her finish. When Margie and Frances, Allie and Edwina showed up soon afterward, the entire house was full of activity, children eddying from one stimulation to the next.

They ate dinner before lighting the menorah, saving doughnuts and gelt for after the candles were burning. During a wild game of sugar-fueled dreidel, Frances made polenta to fry for breakfast the next day, supplementing lox, bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad as a buffet meal. The main Christmas Day meal was going to be scallops a la Frances, a massive standing rib roast, turkey with dressing, and tofu/nut meatballs in buttermilk sauce.

By 7:00, each of the children had asked at least three times when presents were going to be opened for Chanukah. Since Lucia's birth, Gillam and Jane had instituted a policy attempting to cut back on the torrent of toys which overran their house. Throwing out toys was difficult because there was always a younger child coming along who wanted those which an older child had outgrown. With an exemption for strictly educational and artistic supplies, gifts were now limited to one each per night of Chanukah, rationed out among the aunts and uncles plus Gramma and Bubbe. Christmas morning would allow stocking stuffers, gifts mailed from relatives elsewhere plus the “big present” from Santa.

This year, however, the largest presents for the children would be those specially selected by Chris before she left for Colville and stored in her closet the past month. The adults had agreed to give these to the children this first night of Chanukah, because they would be played with the remainder of the holidays.

During the delay between dinner and present-time, Gillam had hauled from storage the artificial tree Ginny and Myra used each year. They had had no time to set it up, so he and Jane assembled it and hung the multitude of individual, hand-made ornaments. Myra heard Gillam's steady murmur as he told Jane stories about this or that decoration from the family archive. Periodically, one of the children would abandon the ferocious competition of dreidel to zip over and join their parents briefly. Ginny muttered to Sima “Blended spirituality turns out to mean propaganda war”, but she was grinning.

When it came time to turn on lights, dreidel was forgotten for colored flashes. The top of the tree was allocated to the Santa Lucia crown. Lucia was held up by Gillam to set it in place. After she turned it on, clasping her hands in admiration, she turned to Ginny and said with accusation “You wasn't here for my day.”

“No, we were with Aunt Chris. We called you that night, though, remember? We got to see you in your crown.”

Myra added “Who won the marzipan pig?”

“I did” said Lucia smugly. The faces of her siblings registered revived disappointment.

Myra got assistance from others to haul the cartons from Chris's closet to the living room. Some of the boxes were massive and heavy. Three of them were for Lucia, while every other child had only one, and Myra wondered when the outrage would hit over this discrepancy.

Jane, the accomplished parental diplomat, separated the gifts around the room and positioned each child next to their own, telling them they could begin opening when she gave the signal. Anticipation was like a perfume in the air. Jane counted down and the ripping began, assisted by a nearby adult when recalcitrant cardboard was reached.

Mimi's gift was the smallest and she held it up first: A microscope complete with biology learning kit, slides, test tubes, and experiments. Margie offered to help her set it up on the dining table, and in short order they were headed out the back door to get a sample of pond water for viewing under the microscope.

Charlie uncovered his item next and stood with bewilderment in front of a curved walnut cabinet on legs, fronted with an array of knobs, a chrome-plated antenna extending vertically from one side and a closed irregular horizontal loop on the opposing side. Most of the adults looked just as uncertain as Charlie, except Jane, who said “Oh my fucking god, it's a theremin!”

Charlie was too anxious to point out “Language”. Jane zeroed in on the instrument, marveling “This is too perfect for you, Charlie Gillam” as she plugged it in and began showing him how it worked. Within a minute, eerie wails stopped all the other children momentarily. Charlie's face slid into pure joy as he moved his hands over the oscillating coil, creating the sort of free-form tones he preferred in his ballads.

David resumed his carton assault, and was also temporarily baffled by what emerged. This time it was Carly who cried out “Dance Dance Revolution, I haven't seen one of those in years!” Carly and Eric carried the large arcade unit into the hall, and soon competing sounds emerged from that direction, accompanied by shrieks of delight from David.

Lucia had two of her three boxes breached by the time Leah revealed a small-scale printing press, complete with trays of lead type in several sizes, ink rollers, and stacks of wonderful parchment. “Oh, wow!” said Gillam. He helped Myra convey it to the second table in her study, moving the computer and scanner to create a print shop area for Leah. Myra remembered just in time to borrow a drop cloth from Ginny's study, to protect the parquet floor and her hand-woven rug. The jangle of Japanese electronic music blended with theremin, wafting up the stairwell from downstairs.

The four older children were so enthralled, they didn't care about Lucia's extra boxes. It was Ginny who explained the small table with a recessed grid in its top was for rolling out clay to make tiles. She showed the buckets of clay and incising tools to Lucia, who grasped the concept instantly: She could carve her own patterns. The heavy box was a kiln, which would be installed under the barbecue portico in a space Ginny had cleared for it a month before. Edwina joined Ginny in carrying the layout table and clay upstairs to Ginny's studio.

Allie turned to Sima and said “Chris knocked it out of the ballpark.”

“I wish she could see their faces” said Sima, fighting back tears.

“Some seeds we plant on pure faith” said Allie, settling down beside Sima.

“I missed her voice during the prayers, the way she always pronounced 'Adonai' just a little bit off” said Sima. She was wringing her hands together.

Allie said, very softly, “You wishing you could talk to Susan tonight?”

Sima looked at her in shock, then nodded, her eyes beginning to spill over. “I feel bad for missing her, too, when I miss Chris in such a much more visceral way. I'm – what a mess I made” she said.

Charlie sang in minor contralto “What a mess I made” as he wove an undulating melody to the line. Sima laughed once before giving in to her need to cry. Allie held her hand and cried with her quietly.

The children were only persuaded away at bedtime by the reminder that if they didn't get to sleep, Santa would never come. Margie's lab was moved to the workspace by the aquarium, and Ginny taught Lucia how to rinse off clay-smeared hands in a bucket of standing water before going to the sink because clay sediment was hell on plumbing. Leah's first effort, a thank-you card for Aunt Chris, sat on the mantle. David was worn out, and Carly and Eric were both drenched in dance sweat. Gillam carried Charlie, still warbling, and Jane carried Lucia into the night, the other children already scanning the sky for reindeer.

Myra and Ginny filled stockings after everyone else left, and set out the rest of their gifts hidden away in cupboards. Upstairs, Ginny called Myra to come look out the glass wall at Gillam spreading hay and carrots on the roof next door, under his children's excited direction from the upstairs deck. “They'll never get to sleep” commented Myra.

“No, but they'll be up at the crack of dawn all the same” reminded Ginny. They went to bed together.

Myra woke up early, the room still in pre-dawn darkness. She scooted backward to find Ginny, but there was no warm body in the bed with her. She listened for a minute, waiting to hear Ginny in the bathroom, and almost went back to sleep, but eventually her consciousness dragged the rest of her reluctantly to the surface. She rolled over, sighing with irritation, and saw a shadow in the large striped chair near the bed. Ginny was sitting there, watching her.

"What's wrong?" said Myra.

"Couldn't sleep. But it's too early to get up."

"Why are you over there?"

"I was afraid I'd fidget and wake you up. Because I kinda did want to wake you up."

Myra decided to not be irritated any more, and hoped that would chase it away. "Come here" she said, opening the covers. Ginny lay her head on Myra's shoulder, kissing her neck softly, and said "We're mortal."

Myra heard Chris laugh in her head. "Well, yeah."

"I mean...I woke up hearing a clock ticking away."

"Is this about Chris dying?"

"It must be, but more -- I was thinking about Gillam and his children. And our friends. And -- I had this fantasy, ever since we got together, Myra -- no, not a fantasy, really it was a plan, that when we reached this age, we'd travel and explore the world and come into our prime as artists. I was counting on it."

Myra could hear the sadness in her voice, and it was infectious. But then, waking up early always left her depressed. She tried to think of something hopeful to say.

"I think we are in our prime as artists, Ginny, more and more so. Don't you?"

"Yeah. Only --I'm not doing everything I want to do. Some of it is simply not having enough hours in the day. But...Myra, don't think I'm being ungrateful, okay? I absolutely wanted our children to stay close, I was ecstatic when Margie moved back and even more out of my mind when Gillam made us grandparents. I would not change a single thing there. Only, they've moved so fast, those two. Margie is just now the age I was when I had her, and she's been married for years, they have a house and six businesses, seven if you count Margie's contracting -- she's way ahead of where I was at her age. And Gillam, my god...I guess I had this idea that we'd have some down time from parenting, and instead it's gone up several levels. And I want the life we have, I honestly do. Only -- I want the other, too. Not more, but I do want it."

"Well..." Myra was trying to think of a way they could rearrange things.

"Oh, it's not a problem to solve, Myra. I've been thinking about your shopping trip with Leah, how good she looked when you got home, and -- she needs you, Myra, as if you are a primary parent. The way Gillam needed you, could never quite get enough of you. I know Gillam and Jane give every last bit of extra they have to those children, and all the aunts and uncles do, too, it's a rich set-up, but I think maybe each child could actually use more one-on-one attention than they are receiving. And it will probably need to be us to fill in that gap. Which is its own reward, don't get me wrong. Except, by the time they leave home and head for whatever they mean to do in this world -- we'll be too old to go to Paris for half a year."

"Or Amsterdam" said Myra softly.

"Plus we're all getting closer to each other, us friends and spouses and extended family. I honestly can't imagine going now to Brazil for a month without Allie and Edwina, for example, I'd miss them too much. And now Sima is going to be living with us..."

They lay in close silence for a minute. Myra whispered "No wonder you couldn't go back to sleep."

"Happy Christmas" said Ginny.

Myra kissed her. "Well, let's take it to Nancy. We may need to make a list."

"I've already got one in my head" said Ginny. "You realize the last time we made love was well before we left for Colville?"

Myra didn't want to answer that. "What else?"

"Allie's having a hard time and I don't think you're noticing it, or being as close to her as you were a few months ago. Maybe it's because you don't want to face her dying, eventually, now that you've lost Chris. But we need to at least talk about it" said Ginny.

Myra felt cold shock. She didn't want Ginny to be right about this. She felt too wiped out to argue, though.

“Can you go back to sleep, you think?”

Ginny sighed. “Yes. We don't have long, anyhow.”

An hour later, the phone rang and Ginny answered in a trance “What?” Myra could hear Mimi's shouting “Santa came, he was just here, we heard the reindeer bells!”

“Uh...Okay, we're coming over” mumbled Ginny. She and Myra dressed in the clothes they'd laid out last night. Ginny joined Myra in the elevator, saying “You got the photo?”

“It's in my coat pocket by the door” said Myra in a voice hoarse with fatigue. They woke up Sima and waited for her to dress. The outside air woke them up thoroughly, wet fog soaking their hair by the time they reached the brilliantly lit house swarming with frenzied children.

Ginny went into her script. She assumed a serious expression and said, not quite in a whisper, “Son, I need to tell you something.”

David quelled his chatter to eavesdrop. Leah followed suit.

“We happened to look out the back window and, well, we saw someone on your roof just now. Actually, it looked like more than one figure. We were about to call you or the police when – well, it's foggy out there, and neither of us had on our glasses, but – it's like they vanished into the air. We're not sure what to do.”

Now all the children were listening, a dawning possibility on all their faces.

“Should I call the security service, you think?” asked Gillam solemnly, playing his part.

“I happened to have my camera with me” said Myra, “And I did manage to get one shot.” She pulled from her pocket the 8x10 color glossy Ginny had photoshopped meticulously onto a real night-time snap of Jane and Gillam's roof. In between swirls of fog were tantalizing glimpses of brass bells, harness, antlers, and a patch of red suit trimmed in white fur. She held it up for everyone to see, and Charlie screamed “It's Santa and the reindeer! You took their picture!”

Combined with the crumbs on the cookie plate by the fireplace, the discarded carrot ends and trampled hay visible from the upstairs deck, this was blood-chilling proof. Leah suggested Myra post the photo on her blog and Myra agreed that was an excellent idea. They moved on into the living room, where more gifts were opened while the adults drank coffee and tea against the long day's demands.

Eventually, the children were persuaded to get dressed so they could go back to the grammas' house where Chris's presents called to them. Margie and Frances were already there and breakfast was arrayed on the table. Myra slathered cream cheese on a hot slice of crispy polenta and took a bite before remembering how much Chris adored this combination of flavors.

After a while, Carly and Eric arrived at the same time Thad came. Annie Gagliardi showed up with a basket of roasted chestnuts and a bag of espresso that the coffee drinkers immediately began using. Allie and Edwina were the last to join them, smelling strongly of Kona and sex. They, too, partook of Annie's offering before finding seats in the living room near a new fire.

Myra used the little red wagon to haul in the last wave of Chris's gifts. Everybody got one of her wooden boxes, wrapped in one of her scarves and tagged with a card in her handwriting. Two minutes in, they were all crying to some extent. Inside each box was a piece of Chris's jewelry, a ring or bracelet or necklace. Lucia received the bear-claw necklace, which she immediately donned. Although it dwarfed her small chest, her serious face allowed her to carry it off with dignity.

Some of the boxes contained an additional gift, if it would fit. Carly and Eric each had a key, which turned out to be to Chris's nearly-new baby-blue truck which Eric had once commented was exactly the color of Carly's eyes. Gillam was given a handwritten index card containing Chris's recipe for making camas root. Margie was given the horse bridle trimmed in silver.

For others, a separate container was necessary to hold Chris's bestowal. Edwina got all the original audio tapes and videos Chris had compiled to write her dictionary. Ginny sobbed when she looked down on Chris's worn carpenter belt, its loops and pockets filled with her favorite tools. Margie cried just as hard over the infamous leather fedora which Chris passed on to Frances.

Allie's hands trembled as she pulled open the lid to her carton, which held Chris's drums and flutes, including the elderberry flute handed down from her ancestors. She put her hands over her face to bawl. The children were watching attentively, crying in spurts, fingering everything as it was revealed.

Finally, the only unwrapped box left was in Sima's lap. She visibly steeled herself to face what lay inside. Myra felt a quick gladness it was not her being confronted with Chris's long white braid, cut from her by Ginny before Chris went in for her first chemotherapy, now wrapped in delicate leather sinews decorated with glass beads and turkey pinfeathers. Sima put it to her nose, took a long sniff, and wailed.

“I want to smell” demanded Lucia. Sima blindly held out the braid and all the children took a turn. Myra was relieved when Lucia cried gustily.

One wooden box sat on the mantle, set aside for Nika. After a few minutes, Myra stood and said “I suppose we can move on to stockings now.”

“No” said Sima, wiping her face. “There's one more. From Chris to you.”

“I already have her gift, the buffalo robe” said Myra. Which still lay on Sima's bed, she couldn't help thinking.

“Besides that” said Sima, walking down the hall. She returned with a book-carton sized box and set it on the floor in front of Myra. Myra wondered if this was really from Chris, or Sima's idea, until she saw the handwriting on the tag:

“Now you'll have answers to every question. Love you always, Myra My Own – Kash Kash”

The carton was filled with notebooks, most of them with battered covers hanging limp from their ring binders. Myra opened one at random and realized, with an electric shock, that it was a journal. In Chris's handwriting.

“She kept a diary?” she asked Sima in disbelief.

“Yes. Every night when she went to sit on the pot, she'd write for ten or fifteen minutes.”

Myra still couldn't believe it. “She never mentioned it, not once. How – far back?”

“Before me” said Sima. “Ever since she got out of the hospital.”

Myra counted and came up with 18. Plus a small plastic zippered bag in silk, to the side. She picked this up and heard Margie say “I wondered what that was, in her bedside drawer.”

It held a smaller version of the same kind of inexpensive notebook, only a third filled. Myra couldn't focus well enough to read a word in it, even with her glasses on. She took them off, polished the lenses, wiped her eyes, and tried again. She turned to the final page, which was headed “December 14, 2019” -- the night before Sima came. One week before she died.

There were only four lines on the page, in writing that was almost illegible from physical distress:

“It's like a white-hot auger burrowing into my hip. The morphine doesn't stop the pain, it only makes me not care. Nothing stops it except, for long clear seconds at a time, the creek. And Myra's soft brown eyes.”

This time, Myra's release was better and worse. Better because she knew she would emerge from its scald, and worse for the same reason. When she was able to wipe her eyes and blow her nose, she handed the book to Sima and said “You can read it out loud.”

Later, after stockings and remaining gifts had been appreciated, the last of the blueberries fished from the fruit salad bowl, and they were putting on coats to go feed wild birds and other animals, as they did every Christmas morning, Allie put her arm over Myra's shoulder and said “You be knowing what to do with those journals, huh.”

“I do” said Myra. “I will.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, April 23, 2009


Inigo Montoya I do not think it means what you think it means. ~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

During the late 1980s, some millionaire in Texas (whose name I cannot remember) began floating the idea that the state should build a wall around its entire borders, not just against Mexico, and start steps to secede from the United States. It was a news item for a short while, causing much hilarity. Every single Texan I spoke with, even the reactionary members of my family, thought he was ridiculous. There were a few comments made about how he must have thought Viva Max was a documentary, and then it all went away.

Those of us who went through seventh grade in Texas, where Texas history is a mandatory part of the curriculum, were taught that part of our agreement to joining America instead of remaining a Republic included provisions allowing us (a) to secede at will, and (b) divide into as many as five states at some point in the future. I think the later U.S. reaction to Southern secession pretty much put paid to the first of those provisions. Texans will joke about these archaic cultural flotsam, but let me assure you, the overwhelming majority of us are not hankering for severance from America. Reformation, you bet. But divorce, nah.

So when I heard that Rick Perry had trotted out secession as a serious strategy at the Fox News Teabagger Jamboree™, I had a hard time believing it at first. It seemed like political suicide, and made me wonder if all that hair product has soaked into his cerebellum. For one thing, I thought, he can kiss goodbye the vote of any self-respecting Hispanic or African American: Secession and The Alamo share a white supremacist cultural etymology.

Of course, impossible contradictions do exist out there. Log Cabin Republicans -- say no more.

I began trying to do electoral math in my head. Texas damned near went blue for Obama, and I think I'll live long enough to see that happen. One main reason why it went red in the last two decades is because during the Bust of the 1980s, we had a massive influx of folks from California and the Rust Belt who had jobs they could relocate, keeping good salaries but finding the dirt-cheap real estate here worth a move. These immigrants, who swelled suburbs of our major cities, were mostly Republicans or Independents who were easily swayed right. They like to think of themselves as Texans now, in the same way Dubya does, but they are John Travolta-esque urban cowboys, not the real article who is much more populist and resistant to propaganda. They were bundled together with fundies and racists (not that any of them are mutually exclusive) by Republican gerrymandering, and the takeover of our state government was accomplished.

But their numbers have declined, and by any count, it's not nearly enough to win Perry a future political office by using one of their dogwhistles. In fact, it's patently obvious that he put the whistle to his pretty lips and gave a public blow, even to those who take pride in "knowing nuthin" about politics. And while we love our characters and eccentrics, we tend to not actually give them a government salary if they are more of a Kinky Friedman than a Will Rogers. I mean, Dubya was packaged as a regular guy, not the dangerous buffoon he patently is. And Perry was second-in-command under Dubya, he watched and learned.

So what, I wondered, did he stand to gain from it? I have a couple of guesses. One, of course, is money: White supremacy is coming out from under tissue-thin wraps among the corporate elite who run things and intend to go on running things. This is on a national level, not just Texas. And it's always been half of the money card for the Christian Right (the other half being woman-hating, which is decoupaged as the efforts to fight abortion and stop lesbian/gay marriage). Put those two fundraising bodies together under a common tent, and Perry will be rolling in it.

Further, it's becoming increasingly clear, the Republican Party has abandoned all pretense at winning major elections based on the actual vote. They will use money to disenfranchise beforehand or tie up elections in court challenges afterward in order to keep control as citizens turn away from them. If Perry wants to continue on in the Party of No, he needs to be in the money stream.

Even more, I hope it is obvious to everyone that the entire point of the Fox News Teabagger Jamboree™ was to further the goals of white supremacy. They needed to:
(1) Get white people in contact with each other while
(2) Whipping up lizard-brain emotions associated with generic patriotic fervor whose real message was
(3) Hate Obama. (The real reason for hating him didn't have to be said. But that dogwhistle "secession" is a great clue.)

The network they've begun with all this, small as it is at the moment, will be exploited to greater extent in the future. Thus, it doesn't matter if Perry just alienated himself from a majority of the voting public, just as the Villagers don't give a rat's ass what the actual majority of Americans are clamoring for. Nationalist-based fascism and separatism is not a Texas or Southern issue, it's the train that the Far Right is now riding in every region of America. It's embedded in our national fabric, and the time has come to deal with it. The Civil War not only did not resolve it, but Northern capitulation to the money boys actually exacerbated the problem.

So, gosh, thanks, all of you remote urban analysts who seized the opportunity for some Texas-bashing and regionalist superiority, you really helped us along, as usual. However, for those of us who long ago abandoned the Kyool Skool practice of making fun about other sections of the country as political strategy, there was a lot to learn from this episode. Especially living in a state that's the size of New England, the Mid Atlantic states, and several more combined, with profound geographic and cultural diversity, and a solid tradition of leaders like Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Sarah Weddington, LBJ and Lady Bird, Leon Jaworski, Henry Cisneros... Yeah, we elected Dubya, but so did you. Start looking at the bigger picture, will ya?

Because we are all in this together.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Sustainable Seafood Guide available for download for your region and time of year from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Click to enlarge.

Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

23 December 2019

Coming home had never felt so conflicted for Myra. She was acutely aware of Sima in the seat ahead of her, what she might be feeling after having decided to move away for good, the circumstances of her return. She was also trying to outrun the haunting ache of a city that no longer held Chris, would never hold Chris again. She kept staring out the window, feeling like a stranger noticing unfamiliar details.

Until they arrived at their house, where the carport space nearest the door had thoughtfully been left for them. Ginny backed in, but before they could even get out of the car, the front door had opened and people were streaming out to welcome them, unload the burdened Jeep, and pour light from the entry into the cold night. Moon danced around Myra's legs, Leah blocked her way with a hug, and David flung himself onto Sima, saying “You live here again now? For real?”

They were shooed inside with the children and dogs while other arms did the work of hauling. Myra hurried through the front area, refusing to look at Chris's sitting area or the door to her bedroom, heading for the back where all lights were on and a blaze started in the fireplace. Frances and Imani were in the kitchen, a pile of multicolored produce on the chopping counter, the pasta machine out and Imani daubed with flour. Lucia pulled away from the child-pack to go watch Imani roll out dough. Myra thought Lucia's fascination with pasta-making was less the lure of forbidden, gluten-rich food and more curiosity about the shapes formed by deft hands.

Myra sat on a stool, looking into the kitchen and accepting a cup of tea from Ginny. “Thank god you're cooking” she said to Frances. “I want nothing more than whatever you make.”

Frances grinned and said “Even if I put fennel in some of it?”

Leah was climbing into Myra's lap and she paused to help her. Sima was standing in the hall, looking uncertain. Ginny handed her a mug of tea as well and said “Come sit, take your time.” Ginny turned to Margie, carrying in her wet carriers, and said “The big one goes in the living room, the rest up in my studio” before joining Myra and Sima on a stool. David claimed Sima's lap, talking a blue streak, and she focused on him, letting him ground her.

Frances said to Myra “Listen, we hired a good crew to cook Christmas dinner in our stead at the soup kitchen, and I ordered pies two weeks ago from a bakery, so that's all covered. I hope it's okay with you, I gave some of my staff extra work by letting them cater the nursing home gig, but we don't have all the pastries we need for that spread yet.”

Since Ms. Schevitz had died, Myra and Ginny had taken Christmas dinner and a glorious array of desserts, suitable for any dietary restriction, to the assisted living center where she had once lived. They also bought gifts for all the residents and staff, and after their own meal the last two years, the family had gone over there to sing carols and let the little ones spread their joy to elders without family on that lonely day.

Myra's first thought was Chris didn't make it to Christmas. I thought for sure we'd at least put this terrible year behind us together on New Year's Eve.

Ginny cut into her preoccupation by saying “Myra, have you bought presents for either group, the homeless folks or the nursing home folks?”

“No. I – I guess that just slipped my mind” said Myra, feeling a mixture of guilt and resentment.

“Well, we'll have to do it tomorrow. It'll be a madhouse, but it's the last chance before Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night starts Chanukah, as well.”

Myra felt another wave of disbelieving pain. No more lighting the menorah with Chris.

Ginny said to Frances “We'll get the desserts for the old folks, I'll call in the morning to get numbers and what the medical limits are. Bless you for doing all the rest. Don't you dare absorb this cost, we're paying for it.”

Carly had joined them by this time, with all unloading done in quick order. He stood next to Myra and said “Me and Eric got all the cookies and brownies made for the packages you send out.”

“And cake!” said Charlie.

“And cake. The tins are painted, so all that's left is packing them and wrapping them for mailing. If we get them to UPS by tomorrow early afternoon, they'll still arrive before Christmas Eve most places via overnight express” he said, letting Charlie stand on the tops of his shoes and hang onto his belt as they did a slow waltz.

“Should we do that tonight? I know the kids want to be the ones to lay out all the bonanza and decide what goes in each tin” said Ginny.

“Not tonight” said Myra. “How about in the morning, after breakfast? Or, rather, one of us can oversee that while the other goes shopping, I guess.” She felt exhausted just thinking about it.

Jane collected Lucia from the kitchen and said “Come on, time for you to put out placemats. Charlie, you too, it's time to set the table.”

Leah slid from Myra's lap as well. Myra stood and headed for the living room, where Allie and Edwina were sitting, talking with Gillam while Mimi eavesdropped. Ginny tugged Sima after her, and they claimed the second sofa. Mimi and David were called to do their share of tablesetting, and Frances called out “It'll be half an hour, the chicken was frozen and it won't be done before then.”

“Do we get to have dessert tonight, is it a dessert night?” they heard Charlie ask.

Jane turned to look at Gillam, then said “Only if the cooks have something to offer.”

“There's lots of ice cream in the freezer” Myra called to the kitchen. “We can put some of Ginny's preserved strawberries or apricots on it.”

Imani called back “Sounds good” as Myra plunged into memory of the day Ginny had put up flats of apricots. Chris had been sick to her stomach all day, but refused to stay away from the canning, insisting on sitting at the table and slicing beautiful bright globes into halves, her not-yet-gaunt hands adept with a small sharp knife.

All five children were herded to the bathroom by Gillam for handwashing. As they emerged one by one, Ginny stood and went to the large case beside the fireplace, unclasping the brass latches with loud clicks. She pulled out the dandelion painting, the portrait of the six friends, and stood on the brick ledge in front of the firescreen to lean the painting against the back of the mantle. It had not been framed yet, so she could not hang it.

As she came back to sit next to Sima, all eyes in the room were on the painting. Lucia stared hard, then turned to Ginny and said “Where is Chris?”

Again she said it Kree-yuss, without an “Aunt” in front.

Jane gave an apologetic look at Ginny and leaned toward Lucia, saying “I explained it to you, baby, remember? Aunt Chris has died, which means her spirit is free to go wherever she wants now.”

Lucia had the wide shoulders both Gillam and Margie displayed as little ones. A stubborn set came into them now, and she said “Is she here, then?”

“I don't know” said Ginny. “I hope so.”

Lucia almost looked at Ginny's face. The quiet in the room was palpable. Even David wasn't speaking. With the unerring ability children have of knowing adult weak spots, Lucia turned toward Myra, coming to stand before her knees and saying in an accusing voice “Maybe she can't come, because you put dirt on her.”

Myra had been the first to drop a handful of soil onto Chris's casket, getting it over with so she could go stand at the back of the canopy and not watch any more. She felt impaled by Lucia's anger now, the injustice of it.

“Luch, I did – I would have done anything on earth to keep Chris here with us, you have no idea -- “

“I need her, go find her!” Lucia yelled, the last two words coming out as a shriek. She pounded her small fists on Myra's knees. Myra recoiled, and Ginny picked up Lucia as she began to scream, holding her facing outward and avoiding her kicks. Lucia quickly subsided into sobs between cries of “Chris, I need Chris!”

Myra stared at her own knees, feeling her firmament rupture. Somebody should be looking after Sima, but she couldn't raise her eyes. She leaned forward, feeling like she might throw up. She put her hands over her mouth, and a gasp broke from her mouth. “I need her too!” she said, and at last, the tears came.

It was a torrent, a gibbering, wretched torrent of grief. After a minute, Ginny passed Lucia to Gillam and came to kneel in front of Myra so Myra could put her head on Ginny's shoulder. Myra had no ability to moderate what was coming out of her. She was blind with agony, fighting for breath and sometimes even consciousness.

Some time later, she was able to lean back and look into Ginny's face. Ginny was crying, too. She could hear sobbing beside her, and turned to see Sima in Margie's arms. Lucia had finished her outburst and was watching Myra with interest. All of the other children were in laps as well, and it seemed like every adult in the room had wet faces.

“You back now?” asked Allie. “You was looking pretty Dawn of the Dead-y there for a while.” She sucked in her breath at her own words, then burst into mortified laughter.

Myra heard Chris's guffaws in her head as they all joined in, laughing with as much release as they had wept. Even Lucia giggled, although Myra was sure she had no idea what Allie was referring to.

Ginny sat on the couch arm beside Myra and said “You went too far down the road with her. I knew you would, dammit, but there's no stopping you if you won't stop yourself.”

“Well...Yes, Allie, I'm back now” said Myra, without any regret. She suddenly noticed delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Frances was on the other end of the couch, squeezed in beside Margie. Myra scanned the room, seeing relief on all the beautiful faces around her.

“Shall we go eat?” she asked. Ginny said “I'm going to wash my face first, but put Lucia's high chair next to me, okay?”

It was one of the best meals Myra thought she'd ever had. She picked fennel from her salad and put it on Leah's plate beside her without complaint. Afterward, they cleared and washed dishes together. The children were allowed to pull games from the cupboard. Lucia set up a checkerboard on the ottoman next to Sima, who looked moved by Lucia's invitation. Gillam briefly explained how Lucia played checkers: All of the moves of chess pieces were available to any checker at any given time, but no identity stuck. Whenever a piece reached the other side, a second piece was stacked on top to “king it”, but no new powers resulted from this change, it was strictly cosmetic. As a piece of Lucia's reached this glorious goal, she would cry out “Me Queen!” It never stopped being funny.

Sima handled the chaos of Lucia Checkers with appreciative humor. She lost two games in a row despite doing her best, and before Lucia could reset the rows for a third, Ginny came to sit next to Sima and say quietly “Do you want to think about where you sleep tonight?”

Margie looked up from doing threesies in a game of jacks with Mimi. Ginny continued “You can have the second bedroom upstairs, which has the bath that's shared with Myra's study, or you can be in Chris's old space, whatever you need.”

Sima said “Can we go see how it feels?” She stood, and Myra and Ginny accompanied her. Gillam ordered his children back from following them. Sima went down the hall toward the front, where Chris's bedroom door stood open, though the light was off. She clicked on the light and stood in the doorway a minute.

Beyond her, Myra could see that Chris's chair had been returned to its corner, and the buffalo robe had been folded neatly on its seat. Curled up in the center of it was Anthea, looking at them with an expression that Myra would have identified as resigned.

Sima crossed to the bed and sat on the chest at its foot, gazing into every corner of the room. Myra found she could face it as well. She said softly “I'm so sorry, Anthea. We did everything we could.”

Anthea blinked but didn't move. Sima said “I think I'd rather be in here. But – could you give me a few minutes alone? Me and Anthea, I mean.”

“Of course” said Ginny. “Door shut or open?”

“Shut” said Sima. Anthea remained still as Ginny closed the door. Two steps down the hall, Ginny pulled Myra into the storage room and closed that door as well.

“Are you going be sleeping with her now? Because – I really need you, Myra, in our bed.”

Myra was caught off guard. “I – I want to be with you, Gin, I surely do. But I can't – given what she's contending with, I can't say no to her right now, if she asks.”

Ginny sighed in exasperation. “No, I won't ask you to do that. Still...”

Myra hugged for a long minute before they returned to the living room. Sima rejoined them after fifteen minutes, looking more centered than she had all evening.

Allie and Edwina were the first to leave, eager to return to their own home. Ten minutes later, Jane and Gillam dragged away the children, after Myra assured the kids they really would be there the next day and in fact they were all expected right after breakfast for holiday activity. Margie offered for Sima to stay with her and Frances any time, before they left with Imani, who had been house-sitting for the dogs the past couple of days.

Carly and Eric lingered, and Myra sat next to Carly on the couch, holding his strong hand with golden down on its knuckles, listening to news about his mother, his brother's divorce, and current events in a wider world which had gone on without her for a month. She drank in his smell and deep, laughter-filled voice. He and Eric would be leaving on Boxing Day to go to Spokane, staying with Eric's family for two days, then to Olympia for two more days, before returning for New Year's Eve. Jane's parents would be arriving on Boxing Day as well.

After the two men left, Sima said “I'm going to unpack a little before I get ready for bed. I think I'll be fine in there.”

“Do you -- “ Myra felt some hesitation about asking in front of Ginny.

“I'll be fine on my own” said Sima. “Would be all right, though, if I kept the buffalo robe on the bed tonight?”

“Absolutely” said Myra.

“Come wake one or both of us for any reason” said Ginny. “I mean that.”

“Okay.” Sima hugged them and headed down the hall. Anthea appeared from outside through the cat door and trotted after her.

“Well, I can't wait to get into that huge tub of ours, in a toasty room, and soak my old bones” Ginny said to Myra.

“Could I join you?”

“I was hoping you'd ask.”

Myra felt indecent pleasure at lying down in a spacious bed with their own linens, the room smelling like them and Ginny's roses. She closed her eyes and waited for the grief to return. It did, but it was bearable – just barely.

Ginny whispered “We have to start planning the memorial service tomorrow.”

“I need to see Nancy as soon as she's back to work, too” said Myra. “Get me up when you wake up, no matter how tired I look. We have to make a grocery list that will see us and this ravenous family through the next several days.”

“I have to check on the garden first” said Ginny.

Myra thought Ginny had fallen asleep when, a few minutes later, Ginny said “I can't do this with you, you know.”

Myra felt a chill. “Do what?”

“Help you die. I can handle it with anyone else, as terrible as it feels. I know I'll find a way. But not you. I can't go on without you.”

Myra breathed all the way out. “I shouldn't be relieved, but I am, Ginny. I can't manage this world without you, either. I don't even want to try.”

“Are you sure you're not just saying that? Because – well, I don't know how to change how I feel, so -- “

“I'm sure. Ginny, we'll have to make a plan. Worst case scenario.”

Ginny kissed her tenderly. “Me and you, Myra Josong.”

In the morning, after cereal eating while writing on two legal pads, the Golden Horde burst in the back door, followed by Gillam pulling the red wagon stacked with containers of Christmas baked goods. “I have to go back for the tins” he said. Ginny went to retrieve their address book, mailing labels, and packaging supplies while Myra lay waxed paper over the entire table and began setting out cookies.

“Can we have one of each, just one?” asked David.

“Nope. Not until we're all done, and even then, only one single item if there's leftovers” said Myra. “Tonight is Chanukah and we'll be making latkes with applesauce, plus doughnuts. You'll have plenty of rich food today.”

“And gelt!” shouted Mimi.

When Ginny returned, Myra said "Listen, girlfriend, this may seem like a sort of role reversal, but how about if you be the one to help the kids put together the cookie tins for mailing out, while I go shopping? Not just for groceries, but also all the gifts."

Ginny looked at Myra doubtfully. "It's going to be nuts out there in the stores, crowded, loud, and extremely commercial. You up for that?"

"I think I am. I want to do something not in my usual sphere, even if it exhausts me." Myra picked up the list they had cobbled together over breakfast and said "I can call you if I run out of ideas, right?"

"Yes. Actually, I'd love a chance to just be with the children. So, it's a deal."

Leah had been eavesdropping and now she put her hand on Myra's hip. "Gramma, please, can I go shopping with you?"

"Oh, Leah, it's not going to be fun. We're not going to any toy departments, all of the presents we're buying are grown-up stuff. And I'll be in a hurry, no time to explore or make up adventures today." Myra's explanation headed off Mimi and Charlie's imminent requests to tag along as well, she could tell.

But not Leah. "I don't care, I want to go with you. I'll help, I'll be good, I promise." Leah was pleading. Myra didn't believe Leah's energy would last through the upcoming endurance test. However, she was done with saying no to anybody in her family for the time being.

"All right. Go get the canvas grocery bags from the pantry, all of them, and put them in the rolling cart. Put on your pack as well, I may need to ask you to carry things." Leah raced away, and Ginny said quietly "If she gets to be too much, bring her home. Don't overextend right now."

"I hear you."

Leah was giddy in the back seat, chattering nonstop as Myra tried to find parking anywhere near Pike. Once they'd finished at the cheese shop, Myra stopped and said "Damn. My sustainable seafood chart is over a month old."

"Call Bubbe?" suggested Leah.

"Maybe. Or -- I'll just call up the website on my cell, I bet -- yep, I've got it in memory." Myra strained to read the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide on her tiny screen. "All right, Leah, I'm going to give you the names of three fish and you memorize them, all right? I need you to keep them in your mind as we go to the fish market. Ready? Albacore tuna from Hawaii only, farmed bay scallops, and dungeness crab. Repeat those back to me now."

Leah did so without stumbling over any words. She was the product of two generations of avid sushi eaters.

"Okay, let's go face the madness."

By the time they left Pike. Myra had two bulging canvas bags draped over her shoulders, Leah's backpack was stuffed with pastries, and the rolling cart was so laden Myra feared for its axle. At the car, she let Leah crawl over the back into her own carseat while Myra sorted perishables into a cooler. She checked on Leah's belt and said "Excellent job. Now deeper into the maelstrom, otherwise known as Target."

At the megastore, she put Leah in the cart seat and handed her the list. "Do you remember any of these people from the soup kitchen or the retirement center? If you do, be thinking about a nice present for them and call out if you see something we should buy as I go along."

Leah was very serious about her responsibility, and some of her suggestions were actually good. She did look incredulous when Myra turned away from the toy aisle, but she didn't raise an argument. It took two hours of split-second decisions and putting post-it notes with names on items as they went into the cart before Myra reached the end of her list. Her feet were throbbing and if she heard Eartha Kitt one more time, she'd ram something. Once the bags were in the back of the Jeep and Leah was again belted in, Myra sat for a minute, breathing in and out to calm herself.

She looked at Leah in the rearview mirrow. "You were an absolute treasure, Leah. You and I need to make more expeditions like this, except not so hectic, of course."

Leah lit up. "Okay. Are we going home now?"

"Hang on." Myra got out and went to the back, rummaging until she found the bag with marzipan in it. She broke off a chunk, split it in two, and handed some to Leah as she got back in the car.

"We're a little ahead of schedule, and I'm hungry for real food, not just candy" said Myra. "How about if we go get hot dogs, just me and you?"

Leah shouted "Yes!" Myra's favorite place happened to be near Casita, and she found a parking spot right in front of the store. They walked to the hot dog cart, run from the back of a pick-up, but returned to the Jeep to eat, because Myra was leery about leaving her car unattended for too long with all those tempting bags in sight. She let Leah sit in the front with her, so they could share cole slaw and look directly at each during mealtime conversation.

With a mouth full of a chorizo and cream cheese dog, Leah asked “Gramma, who is your favorite?”

“My favorite what?” said Myra with a sinking heart.

“Of us. The grandchildren. Which one of us do you love best?” Leah's hazel eyes were almost green with intensity.

“Oh, honey, that's a question I find impossible to answer. I love all of you each as much as the other, I really do.” Myra could see this was not what Leah wanted to hear. She thought about trying to use the analogy of how Leah didn't love one parent or grandmother more than another, but she suspected that wasn't true for Leah – she was clear about her own favorites.

Myra didn't want to feel like she was copping out, after this three-year-old had pushed herself to exceed all expectations. She regathered her thoughts and said “But you're right, Leah, sometimes people do have favorites. Sometimes people find their hearts match perfectly with another heart. The thing is, we parents and grandparents have this code of honor which makes us never say out loud that we love one child more than another. I can't break that code of honor, no matter what I feel.” Leah had stopped chewing and was listening with heart-breaking hope.

“However, we can use a technique spies sometimes employ, which is an indirect confirmation. What we could do is, you guess who is my favorite, and if you're wrong, I won't say anything at all. But if you're right, I'll start singing the Christmas carol I like the best. That way, you'll have an answer but I won't have to break the honor code. Do you understand?”

Leah nodded with a Gillam-like grin consuming her face. Myra wondered which way she'd go with the question, and was relieved to see that Leah's confidence was intact enough for her begin with “Am I your favorite?”

Myra took a sip of her soda for dramatic effect and began:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Leah crowed, and a blob of mustard blew from her lips, landing on the beige leather seat beside her, instantly staining it. “Oh, dang!” she said in real distress.

“It's okay, it does not matter a whit. Swallow that bite and you can sing with me” said Myra, dabbing up the excess with a napkin.

When they were done with lunch, Myra said "Okay, one last spontaneous stop. Let's go into Casita and see if there's anything I absolutely have to buy Bubbe."

They found a metal lunchbox decorated with Frida Kahlo paintings for Ginny, plus a gold bracelet for Edwina, a silk blouse for Cathy, and a linen shirt in pink-and-white stripes that screamed out Eric's name. Myra bought tiny silver milagros to slip into everyone's stocking. Leah, however, discovered the major acquisition: "Look, Gramma, little shoes of lav-lav-lavender!"

At the end of the children's clothing aisle, there were lilac-colored slippers with button-up sides. The sizes were metric, but Myra was able to find a pair that she was certain would fit each child. "Now you have to keep this secret, Leah, until Christmas morning, even though one of these are for you. Can you do that?"

Leah's face glowed as she bobbed her head up and down. She was in high spirits the short drive home and ran into the house, yelling "We got it all done, and Gramma needs help hauling in the loot, she says."

Half an hour later, as Ginny was sorting through the fish and produce, she whispered to Myra "How did it go?"

"It was actually energizing to be with her. Perhaps she was desperate to please, but I'm definitely going to take her out alone on a regular basis."

"I bet they'd all like a chance at that, with one or the other of us" mused Ginny.

"If you'll put the rest of the groceries away, I'm going to get started with wrapping while I can still remember who gets what" said Myra.

"What's that Casita bag?" said Ginny.

"Uh, I'll show you later" said Myra, heading for the elevator to carry it upstairs.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.