I think of myself as a thoughtful gift-giver. There were a few awkward years with my nephews at Christmas that I ended up giving them gift cards, but they were always gift cards that would get well used. It may not have been as personal a gift as I would have liked, but teenagers have very specific likes and dislikes. Gift cards are perfect for those conundrums.
The old saying “it is better to give than receive” is something I believe deeply in. I get an immense thrill watching someone open a gift that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. I love the element of surprise and the fact I try to come up with gifts that were never a blip on the receiver’s radar. I pulled off a few of those gifts this year, the most recent being a hat for my boss that is embellished with a quote from Ozark, one I will not repeat in this blog because of its profane nature but, sufficed to say, he was surprised and he loved it.
That gift-giving shoe no longer resides on my foot, for the time-being. Right now, the shoe is on another foot. I received a text message from a friend yesterday excitedly telling me they know what they are buying me for Christmas this year. That statement was followed by the line, “I’m so excited, it’s going to be the longest five weeks of my life”.
Now, I have received some lovely gifts during my lifetime, but I’ve never had anyone dangle a rabbit in front of my greyhound five weeks before I can chase it around the track! I’m dying. There are thirty-six days until Christmas and I know am going to spend countless hours during each one of those days trying to figure out what this gift could be. This is my nature – I need to solve puzzles, I need to answer riddles.
The next thirty-six days are going to go by at a snail’s pace and I’m sure I will receive many more text messages about this gift before the holiday is close enough to be almost tangible. There will be no hints, I know that. There will only be the endless ticking of a clock until Christmas finally arrives.
I have blogged several times about my Winnie The Pooh and the fact that we celebrate our birthday together every year. My mother made him from a 1960’s McCall’s pattern and gave him to me on my first birthday. He has seen me through every happy and every sad time in my life. It may sound strange that an almost fifty-year-old woman still has a stuffed teddy bear, but I can’t imagine my life without him.
Though Pooh has undoubtedly been scarred by some of the trials he has witnessed me going through, nothing could have been as devastating as his physical altercation with a Woozle, known to humans as a Black Labrador Retriever. I was not there to witness the carnage but I came home from work to the aftermath. The trail of foam that led upstairs to the discovery of Pooh’s ravaged face made me burst into tears. I was twenty-one years old and called my mother in hysterics because Pooh had been assaulted and he lay in pieces in front of me.
(circa 1992 – post surgery)
After some amateur plastic surgery, thanks to my Nana, Pooh had a new face and a new outlook on life. He had survived what was arguably his worst day and had come out on the other side. He now resides on a shelf above my bed. It’s not quite the one-hundred-acre wood he was accustomed to but he seems to have acclimated.
Last night, I watched the movie Christopher Robin starring Ewan McGregor. When Pooh asks how old he will be when Christopher Robin is one-hundred and Christopher Robin answers ninety-nine, the tears started. That is me and my Pooh. He came into my life on my first birthday and my mother knew my fondness for a silly old bear of very little brain would lead to a lasting relationship.
Pooh is my constant. Regardless of what life throws at me, he represents my past, he remains an ongoing part of my present and he will stand beside me going into my future. For being a bear of very little brain, his intelligence speaks volumes. He will forever have the wisdom to just sit back and listen.
Death is selfish. It lurks in the shadows. It hides in a realm of certainty somewhere between acceptance and denial and it feeds on our inability to process its inevitability. It waits for nobody. It heeds its own agenda and it gives no signs of compassion. It simply reaps.
This past weekend began on a good note. I left work on Friday with plans for a full day on Saturday with a friend and things quickly changed. My weekend went from good to bad as Mother Nature unleashed her winter fury in the wee hours of Saturday morning and obliterated any plans for travel on Saturday. Since my car is still in possession of its summer tires, our plans were thwarted and I was home-bound for the day. While I made the most of the day by making soup and catching up on some reading, my disappointment still tainted my afternoon.
After a good night’s sleep, I awoke Sunday morning with a renewed faith the day would be great. With my shopping list in hand, I loaded up a grocery cart with items to make Freezer Crockpot meals for our local food bank, surrounded myself with a group of volunteers and we created twenty-eight meals that will each feed a family of four. The good that afternoon far outweighed the bad from the previous day.
When I got home a few hours later, I was greeted by the news an old friend has passed away on November 2nd after a brief battle with cancer. I was unaware of his passing until today and missed the opportunity to attend his funeral service. Even though my car is equipped with only summer tires, I would have driven through those early snow storms to pay my respects to Doug and his family.
He was a wonderful man. Charismatic only touches the surface of how animated his personality could be. He was quick with a smile, eager to share a laugh and truly one of the most genuine people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. To say he will be missed is an egregious understatement. I spent a great deal of Sunday night in tears, crying for the loss of Doug and the fact that so many people are taken before we are ready to say goodbye to them. Fuck cancer.
I have the great fortune of having a good memory. My bosses will reach me in the office through the intercom to give them a phone number rather than look it up because they know I will be able to produce that number from the depths of my mind faster than they can Google it. My memory for numbers also comes in handy when they are buying anything online and I can rattle off the company Visa number without hesitation.
My ability to be able to retain faces and names is one of the things for which I am most grateful. Having been in the hospitality business for the majority of my working life, this gift has served me well. If I have the benefit of meeting a guest face-to-face and hearing their name, that name is locked in the vault of my memory. I make a point of using their name each time I address that person so our interaction feels much more personal for both of us.
We had a group check into the lodge a few weeks ago and I missed the opportunity to meet the guests upon check in. At breakfast the next day, I made a point of introducing myself to each member of the group and was able to remember every one of them. The fact that I could refer to each of them by name did not go unnoticed. Several mentions were made about my being able to call them by name after such a short time and that level of service was compared to the service at the Ritz Carlton! Although we are a small, family run lodge that distinction made my heart swell with pride.
Hospitality has many synonyms that describe what it is about and the descriptions that ring true for me are welcome, warmth and friendliness. Those are the things I hold closest to me, not only in my job but in my life and I hope to be able to deliver those things for a long time.
The mere mention of the phrase ‘pen pal’ conjures memories of my public school classroom. Our entire class would be given time to compose letters to students in foreign countries and I can still see the younger version of myself with my tongue sticking out as I wrote because I was so focused on writing the perfect letter. There was an inherent joy about crafting a letter and sending it halfway around the world to a complete stranger. And there was a true feeling of elation receiving a letter in the mail in response to the words I had written.
I get to feel that sense of pleasure again. Our community has a wonderful program for local seniors and one of those programs is a pen pal group. Once I found out about this group, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and today I received a brief profile of my new pen pal. She loves reading, cooking, dogs and the same types of music I enjoy. She also enjoys writing. She and I are a match made in Heaven.
The time went by slowly as I waited for my work day to be over. I had already started writing three different versions of my first letter in my head, eager to introduce myself to my new pen pal. The walk with my dog was abbreviated and dinner was figuratively put on the back burner as I wielded my pen and put it to paper. It took a while for my thoughts to flow from pen to paper since I am so used to plugging away on my keyboard but, after a slight hesitation, the cascade of ideas began to gel into a thoughtful first letter.
For the first time in a long time, I will be stopping at the Post Office to buy stamps. I will put my first letter into an envelope and mail it to my pen pal and I will anxiously await the red flag on my mailbox to let me know that she has written back. To quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.
We have a scrapbooking group checking in to the lodge this weekend. I’m sure you are wondering why I am sharing this information. Thinking about this group made me pull out the scrapbook I made for my mom’s celebration of life over four years ago.
Part of my healing process was to capture the many parts of my mother that made her so wonderful – her childhood, her marriage to my father, her becoming a mother and her dedication to our family. As I turned each page I had created, adorned with pictures of her infectious smile, I became overwhelmed with emotion. Tears began to slide down my cheeks but I stopped myself from becoming a blubbering mess by remembering all the extraordinary things about my mom and that made my sadness turn into happiness. She was a woman with a big heart who everyone admired and loved.
As I was going through my scrapbook pages, my iPod continued to shuffle songs. Although I was lost in the images of my mother, the song that began to play in the background of my reverie was called “Remember David” by A Flock of Seagulls. David was my dad’s name.
My dad passed away eight years before we lost my mom. He is never far from my thoughts but the raw emotion of my loss is tied more tightly to my mom because it is more fresh in my mind. I got the message loud and clear. I don’t miss my dad any less than I miss my mom. There are days that I take myself back to the minutes before he took his last breath, the seconds I counted between those breaths and the exact moment I knew he was gone. It is a moment I will never forget.
But with the sad moments of his loss come the memories of the life he lived. He was gregarious. He lived life to the fullest. And although he left this world before he should have, he left a huge imprint. He shaped my world and he left his spiritual impression on my brother and my nephews. They all embody the pieces of him he would have wanted to leave behind. They are loving, they are adventurous and they put their family first.
I can only thank my iPod shuffle for reminding me to “Remember David”, not that I will ever forget him. Those subtle reminders make me realize he is never that far away from me and I should make a point of remembering David more often. I miss you, Dad.