Kill the Holidays

old adobe scene in Taos

Live the dream, they said. We’ll take up Christmas at another time!

I don’t remember exactly when my mother announced she wasn’t “doing” Christmas or Thanksgiving any more. Probably around the time I went off to my first year of college up in Dallas after we’d all moved to Houston. I do recall her saying that nobody cared. That wasn’t true, because we loved to eat, and there was football on TV. I mean, we cared. It’s just that no one liked the fighting, being together, or cleaning up.

That first Thanksgiving six days after Kennedy was shot was doomed from the beginning.* A bunch of us were watching Cronkite in the student center. When he announced the president had died, my roommate cheered. (A general’s son and Birch Society guy, he used to sleepwalk standing up in bed and throw salutes.) The evening of the assassination, I found myself downtown. How I even got there from the SMU campus is a mystery. I had no car and had never ridden a city bus anywhere in my life. The sidewalks, theaters, and restaurants were packed but quiet. No one chatted, laughed, or cried much. A few days later I got a ride to Houston with two freshmen football players in a brand-new red Pontiac convertible that one of them had gotten as a present from wealthy alums. They drove 80 mph all the way, passing blindly on the hilltops, and dropped me off at home. I think my dad was jealous.

It’s not that we had no traditions. The main one was that family was far away, and when they weren’t, we always went with the old man’s folks in Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, ignoring my mother’s more numerous and gregarious relatives in Baltimore for reasons lost in time. In Chestertown, children were a novelty, like puppies, and you never let a dog run wild. Granny baked pies and cookies. Someone cooked a turkey and there were awful casseroles. My aunt brought something made of jello. My father and his brother smoked their pipes, and Granddad never said a word. It wasn’t all that bad I guess, but hell. All this before the age of nine, when the old man’s military career took us away to Germany and everyone disappeared.

Chestertown bears some of the blame. For all my early years as an Air Force brat, the place was always “home,” although we never lived there. They say that home is where you go and no one throws you out, but that’s not true: my uncle literally threw my cousin out into a raging blizzard on Christmas Eve, tossed her suitcase in the snow and cursed her out with mama crying on the stairs, when she told him she wasn’t going on to med school after graduation. And then she stayed away for decades! For my siblings and me, however, there was a mythic quality to the place. The roots we never had, perhaps. That may be why I ended up there in the summer of ’75 after moving from Austin to Maine and going bust as an itinerant metal sculptor because no one wanted giant insects made of welded steel. You probably think I’m making this up.

At any rate, the next twenty-five years were something of a miracle. The Eastern Shore was still unspoiled, hardly a condo or marina to be seen. There were ruins of old colonial mansions standing in the cornfields. You could rent waterfront farms for almost nothing. It was there I met the love of my life, and we had more adventures, friends, and glory days than most people ever see. An astonishing time of richness and opportunity. What never changed, however, was the dreaded holiday.

Aside from a few memorable and outrageous local celebrations with other folks’ extended families, it was often cold and lonely in November. My wife’s family lived in Iowa, mine in Arizona. Thanksgiving in Des Moines would probably have been sentimental and endearing, but there was never time to make the trip. Most of our friends had family nearby to visit. What we usually did was get away: a cabin on the Skyline Drive, a motel at Assateague, a Chinese restaurant in D.C., our first ever Grateful Dead concert, whatever we could find. It’s been the same in Taos. We’ve had our share of get-togethers, but usually we buy ourselves some fancy food to eat at home or go to restaurants. We’ve travelled when we can, but even that can set you up for danger to your psychic health unless you’re vigilant.

The culture, see, it shouts. You’d have to go to Mars.

* That may have been the the first and last time I came home for Thanksgiving after going off to school! SMU in Dallas first, then UT-Austin next year and forever more…

Before the Snow

Llano Quemado

This place rocks if you can take it

Just letting the world know I’m alive. Utterly exhausted. Instant Winter hit two days ago: five inches of snow, overnight lows 35 degrees below normal. It was five degrees last night. Lord have mercy. By the way, I’m on Twitter a lot if you miss me here. The link is just below and in the menu bar above.

Normal Day

Normal Day post image

Words can slash and kill. The older I get, the higher my skill. Worse than that, I am forgiven. It’s late and I don’t want to write this. I’m hungry and thirsty and the stove’s gone out. The cold is seeping through my jeans.

Today was actually a good day, a special day. There were the usual terrors after 5:00 a.m. and that was all I slept. My wife was wakeful, too, and spoke. I listened. All day long I felt okay. How many years since this occurred. The mountains were so beautiful. We had a simple crazy dinner and sat close together on the sofa watching Maddow and O’Donnell on my laptop. She went to bed before me like she always does. I told her I felt “normal” and she opened like a blossom.

Walking in the Light 2.0

Llano Quemado

Don’t get comfy

Original post deleted. Go about your business, mind the darkness, etc. etc. All is well enough for now.

Morning Tornado Dream

old Taos scene

Morning view from our front door

A large, two-story farmhouse close to the road like our old home in Maryland. Flat terrain, hedgerows and cornfields. I’m in my bathrobe looking out the window: across the highway, a tornado funnel just reaching the ground and coming my way! Very large, swirling, leaves and dirt already flying as it comes. There are other people in the house and outside, I don’t know who. “Tornado! Tornado!” I yell as loud as I can, running down the stairs, through the front door, and out into the yard. There are cars stopped in the road, waiting for the twister to pass. I don’t think it’s going to hit the house directly, but this is frightening. I’m barefoot and can’t escape any farther into the vacant field next door because of the briars and brambles, but I might not be far enough away. As I consider my options, the thing gets really close—and then I wake up. How’s it end, though? Aargh.

The symbolism here relates to fear. To understand, you need to read the dream chapter in Buffalo Lights. Written shortly after we moved here back in ’99, it also features tornados moving across the fields by our old house, though not so close. There’s another dream of actual demons, physical creatures I engage with and disperse. One of the Amazon reviewers smelled the terror in me I had hidden from myself. For all its authenticity, the book is also full of fear on several levels, something I grasped only recently.

A while ago I looked up a house I’d had my eye on, an old restored adobe that was nice except “down in a hole,” as I observed, in a little valley with no views outside the yard. We’d driven by and I’d rejected it but never let it go. Why? Because it was affordable and most things aren’t. Checking back, I saw the sale was pending and felt a stab of guilt. In that light, the listing photos made it look as if I’d been too quick. The interior was clean and shiny, with a requisite large window by the kitchen sink and everything you’d want except no central heat. These old adobes all have propane heaters in the wall and wood stoves in wrong places. It’s always cold unless you hang around the fire, but you get that frontier edge and feel superior to rich retirees. Probably I’d like to be one, though, and there’s the rub.

I don’t know why I dreamed about a huge tornado. We went hiking later in the afternoon and it was glorious, but I wondered if someone had died or just been saved and I would never know.


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