Fling wide the door

It’s the last day of 2015, a simple, peaceful day here. As I write, our woods are white with snow; each tree wears an elegant poet’s sleeve or high frilled collar bedazzled with ice crystals. No wind stirs, and apart from the non-stop activity of furry and feathered visitors who frequent our feeders, the world seems hushed and still.

With two surgeries behind me now and one yet ahead to repair the ankle I shattered in my tumble down a dewy riverbank last October, all my days have been rather hushed and still, quiet and contemplative. Having no other choice than to sit quietly in a cast, ankle elevated, might seem a hardship – particularly this evening, when people will assemble at private soirees and other festive gatherings to pay tribute to the New Year. But not so for me. It’s my nature to be contemplative and my preference to ring in a quiet New Year at home.

A year ago, I posted A snow globe of memories, a loving look back to what Christmas was like for me as a little girl growing up in the early 1960’s. Since I’ve time on my hands and nowhere special to be, perhaps you’ll indulge my urge to reach for my snow globe and give it just one more gentle shake. . .

ANV 1963

A photo of me, circa 1963, fresh from a hot bath and ready to lounge by the fire.

It’s the last day of the old year… I am four or five, maybe six. (In this memory, I’m stitching together several years of a similar experience.) Fresh from a steamy hot bath, I lounge on my stomach by the fire in a flannel nightgown and a long, cozy robe, turning the pages of my new storybook or coloring with my latest box of Crayolas. Oak logs hiss and pop on the heavy, black wrought iron grate. I glance up often to feel the heat touch my face and to study the undulating greens and purples and white-hot blues that animate the heart of red-orange flame.

Daddy sits at the piano, playing selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Rodgers and Hart; Momma rustles about in the kitchen, putting away pots and pans from our evening meal; our calico kitty, Cleo, slides a friendly tail along my shoulder as she passes by on her way to curl up for a long winter’s nap beneath the Christmas tree. I watch her for a moment, then return to my book or my coloring, feeling happy, safe, and snug.

Quiet minutes tick by until Momma tells me it’s bedtime. Tonight, I know this means it’s time for our New Year’s Eve ritual. I jump up from my spot by the fire and walk with her through the kitchen to our back door with its bright crystal handle. Momma says, “Go ahead, open it! Let the old year out, and don’t forget to tell it goodbye!”

With a grin, I tug on the handle. “Goodbye, old year, goodbye!” I call, flinging wide the door. My small voice rings out over the frozen hills. The two of us, Momma and I, stand in the chill night air, gaze up into starlit skies, or perhaps an amethyst sky dotted with fast-whirling snowflakes. The night is so close, so perfect and still, I feel I might reach out and capture a star of my own to keep forever – a star of snow, or a star from heaven.

I’m too young to feel wistful about the onslaught of time. What I feel is a sense of peace, of reverence, a sense of kindly hospitality and courtliness, squiring the old year to the door as an honored, departing guest and bidding it a fond farewell.

In the morning as soon as I stir, Momma rustles me out of bed and down the winding stairs to our front door. She allows me the privilege of opening the white wooden door with its shiny brass handle to invite the New Year in. My New Year doesn’t officially begin until I pull open the big door to let the bright morning air sting my cheeks with pinpricks of cold and wild wondrous possibility. I feel elated, fresh and new, aflutter with all the good things that must surely be on their way. How I adore the prospect of a brand new year, what a thrill it is to swing the door wide to welcome it…

Momma sleeps now beneath the winter snows, but it’s only her body that sleeps. Her wise, blithe spirit lives with me still, and the lessons she taught me at New Year remain.

Fling wide the door

Maybe we all need to stand at our own back door to bid goodbye to what is passing, to stand a while and remember, to gaze out over the geography of our lives and allow peace to settle there, soft around our memories as flakes of sparkling snow. Maybe we should keep our old year company, then allow it the freedom to fade off into the distance, knowing we can keep what is precious and let go what is not.

Perhaps, after a good night’s rest, we can find it within ourselves to go with a child’s openness to the front door and tug it open to welcome a new day, a new year, a new now, fresh with the free air of what-might-be…

It’s there, now, in peace, in acceptance, in stillness – this moment, this life. Hold tight to sweet memories: they are yours to keep. And whatever you need to let go of, whatever you choose to let into your life, may today be the day to fling wide the door.

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Today marks the second anniversary of this small blog of mine. It scared me nearly out of my wits to begin, in part because I didn’t yet know you, my wonderful friends and readers, were out here in the ether, ready to welcome me. Having had two lovely years to form deep and lasting friendships with many of you, I cannot now imagine a time when you were not a part of my life. Thank you for being here with me in this quiet space, sharing thoughts and dreams, walking this star-strewn path. I so appreciate the gift of your presence.

A happy, blessed New Year to you, my friends, and much love. x o x o

~Amy

 

the rhythms that are at the heart of life

0196_the rhythms that are at the heart of life

The autumnal equinox is still a few weeks away, but everywhere, nature’s little signposts indicate change is coming: a fall-like coolness nips the morning air; squirrels and chipmunks hoard the season’s first acorns; seed pods unfurl; my garden’s last blossoms –toad lilies, sweet autumn clematis– are poised for their brief debut; the sky’s a deeper, more poignant shade of blue; lengthening shadows lace the lawn; cicadas and katydids sound the growing season’s waning hour; I instinctively reach for a sweater.

Even at its earliest edges, the turning of the year toward autumn is palpable. I grow thoughtful, more introspective. More than at any other time of year, I’m aware of the passage of time. Crickets chirp in the long grasses. I think of those I love – of our children, grown and gone to lives of their own; I weave together fragments of smiles and hugs and the remembered laughter of dear ones I’ve lost, hang new wreaths to their memory in my heart.

As I grow through the seasons of my life, I learn again and again to acquiesce, to love with an open hand, to release my need to hold on to a moment. I learn to accept change, mindful of the beauty of all that is fleeting, thankful for the blessings that, I know, are yet to come.

A gust of wind sends a maple leaf twirling to the ground; as it comes to rest along my path, I’m reminded of these words:

Summer ends, and Autumn comes,
and he who would have it otherwise
would have high tide always
and a full moon every night;
and thus he would never know
the rhythms that are at the heart of life.

~Hal Borland, (1900 – 1978) 

Shall we dance?

My favorite task of the garden year is pruning back the faded blooms of my lavender plants. Each snip of the shears fills my nose with the delectable scent of lavender and spirits me back to a precise moment in time. When lavender’s in the air, the year is 1963, and I’m an impressionable five year old, worshipfully watching my mother dress up for a dinner-dance…

While I perch on the bed, she swishes around the room in her elegant gown, leans close to an oval mirror to apply lipstick and smooth waves of dark hair. She chooses a pair of pearl earrings from her jewelry box, clips a shimmering cluster to each lobe. Out comes the beveled stopper from her bottle Chanel No. 5; she sets the stopper on a mirrored tray, places a finger over the bottle’s small opening, up-ends it, then traces a droplet or two along her collarbone, a droplet to each wrist. She pulls open my favorite drawer, the one I love to peep into when she’s not around. It’s filled with dainty half-slips, full slips, and dress gloves for every occasion, around which are tucked a number of aromatic lavender sachets. From this fragrant treasure trove, she draws a pair of elbow-length, black gloves with jet black beading. She slides slender arms into each glove, tugs softly at the base of each finger to ensure a snug fit. She slips into a pair of heels, gives me a smile, gathers up her black satin clutch, and floats downstairs to wait for Daddy, who’s putting on his tux. In a state of total enchantment, I trundle down after her.

0183_Shall we dance? 2When my parents meet in the living room, they beam at one another – so happy, so in love. While Momma gives last-minute instructions to the babysitter, Daddy, ever the gentleman, cordially asks me, ala Oscar Hammerstein, “Shall we dance?” With a grin, I accept.

He offers a steadying hand as I place first my right, then my left foot on top of his size 13, black patent leather dance shoes. As we glide around the room together, my feet slip on his shoes’ shiny surface, and I can’t stop giggling. He takes small, measured steps to accommodate my much shorter legs and never once lets me slide off. For a few giddy moments, I’m the belle of the ball in my white robe and slippers.

0183_Shall we dance? 3

Momma’s all ready now, so Daddy twirls me in a circle, plants a kiss on my head, bids me goodnight, and goes out to the car. Momma blows a kiss into a gloved hand, presses a lavender-scented palm to my upturned cheek. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She drapes a stole over her shoulders and rustles out to the car. Daddy waits at her door, closes it after her, strides around to the driver’s seat, gives me a wave before sliding behind the wheel.

My small heart, filled with dreams of dancing and music and beauty and romance, feels the pang of an evening’s impending separation. I press wistful hands to glass, watch my lovely parents recede from view, red tail lights fading to pinpricks before vanishing altogether…

Time is a peculiar thing, something I don’t suppose I’ll ever get used to. It’s an astonishment to realize the evening I describe took place over a half-century ago; that I, the baby of the family, am now twenty years older than my parents were in this photo; that my precious father –my living, breathing, perpetual font of love and security– is 90. How is this possible? Moments ago, my parents were young, and I was their littlest girl…

0183_Shall we dance? 1

Nudged by a photograph, or an old song, or a certain aroma, memories of life’s loveliest moments flit through our days on diaphanous wings. One whiff of lavender is all it takes for me to dance again in my daddy’s strong arms and feel the lasting tenderness of my momma’s touch.

******

This post is the last in a series of five in a 5-day Photo/Story blog challenge, to which I was invited by my friend, Kristine, who blogs regularly at candidkay. (Thank you, Kristine; this was fun!)

The challenge: Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger to the challenge.

Rather than nominate a particular group of bloggers to this challenge, I prefer to open it up to any who would like to participate. If you’re interested, step right up, and give it a whirl!