Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Amputree



1958. I would have been wearing a dress, which wasn't ideal. Even if it wasn't scratchy, it limited what you could do, if you were brought up proper. Somersaults were out, and also dirt. Dresses enforced primness. So I would have been perched on the edge of a wingback chair. What Mommy and I were doing was "paying a visit." It probably wasn't longer than a half-hour, an eternity to an indulged little girl on a sunny day, but I was raised to be polite, which included practice in not having everything my way. Yes, I would have preferred being outside in my play clothes, but I understood my obligation to be on display. There would be a pot of weak coffee on and I would sit up straight and say yes ma'am and please and thank you, even for hard candies. This didn't take much effort, but it thrilled adults no end. Especially the really old ones, like this one.

The old lady would beam at me, her face pleating up every which way, and extract basic information from me about age and grade level, and then I would be released to explore the apartment. It was a one-room apartment and it smelled funny: a sour kitchen odor from some kind of food we never had at home, face powder, and underneath it all a suggestion of decay, veiled in rose water. Dark furniture prevailed, bone-fragile, watched over by antimacassars and tatted linens. Porcelain dolls in satin frills stared out from behind glass. I knew these were expected to delight. While I pretended to admire the dolls, Mommy absorbed compliments about me and assured the old lady that I could be quite a handful at times, and when their conversation finally drifted into other areas, I edged over to the tray of captive African violets yearning toward the window light and petted their furry leaves.

"I'm so happy you dropped in, Hazel. My niece and her family are coming by Christmas Eve. They keep asking me what I want, but this is all I want. I don't need a thing!"

"I know just what you mean. There comes a time you just don't want any more stuff," Mommy said. It was incomprehensible. I loved my mom, but her annual answer to "what do you want for Christmas" was useless.  "World peace?" she'd shrug after a moment, and where does that get you? It's not that Christmas was about the gifts, so much. If I got one good stuffed animal I was good to go. But the rest! Stringing the lights on the porch. Hanging paper snowflakes in the window and plugging in the electric candle. Frosting sugar cookies and shaking on the sprinkles. All of it filled me right up. Sometimes there was actual snow. Every year I'd lobby hard for more lights, but ours was not a house of excess. The tree would be paid for early on, but it had to wait propped-up against the outside of the house for a few days, learning how to be polite. Then just before Christmas we'd bring it in and Mommy would put on a record of carols and my sister and I worked on smoothing out the wrinkles from last year's tinsel and Daddy would mutter at the light strings with an abridged dad-gum vocabulary, trying to find the bad bulb.

The old lady had a tree up too. I measured out my tour of the room, lingering at the sights so that I wouldn't run out before the Visit we were paying was over, and I saved the tree for last. The base of it was at eye level, on a sideboard near the window. It was two feet tall. More of an amputree, really. And it was made out of tin foil or something, a sculpture of scarcity. Mommy was remarking about how nice it was, calling it a "table-top tree" as though that were a real thing, but it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. Poor old lady. She couldn't move fast enough to disrupt an antimacassar. She could wear a dress all day long and not mess it up. She might really have wanted presents, but there wasn't any room for them under her little tree. "I like old people," Mommy told me later, but it didn't make sense. To be old was to have accepted a life of deprivation. It was sad. And the proof of it was, I was considered some kind of highlight just by showing up.

2012. The season has really merried up since we decided not to exchange presents anymore. We have way too much stuff already, and more would be an anchor on the heart. Dave's making pounds and pounds of almond roca and will spray it all over the neighborhood, and the world. I'll crank up the Messiah soon and see if I can score an invitation to go caroling. I'm sure we'll get a present for the little boy in our life. We're really looking forward to seeing him. All he has to do is show up and be himself and it will fill us right up. We might get a little tree. We might not.

74 comments:

  1. I came here to attempt a comment for the sake of Tabor at One Day At A Time. I am so glad I came and found your blog. Love this post so much!

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    1. Oh goody, Granny Annie! I hope you're not appalled later on. This post is a little sweeter than some I'm known for.

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  2. Just beautiful, Sweetie. We haven't given presents for years and it is SO much nicer that way.

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    1. Besides, what do you give the girl who has everything?

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    2. Homemade cookies, a wish for world peace, and much love, my friend! Elaine

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    3. All that to you, and maybe a new picture to go with your Anonymous tag! This one doesn't do you justice, Elaine.

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  3. Presents so often are given because its expected, in place of a parent's time, or even to show off richness.

    I've finally become glad that I never had to deal with excess money. I may have missed the richness of life, otherwise.

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    1. We certainly have not had that terrible burden of excess money. Although by any sensible standards, we're most of us pretty dang rich.

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  4. I've been giving presents for weeks now, but most of them are for my favorite person, ME! I just bought myself three pairs of the cutest socks yesterday, and I just know I'll love them. Look at all the tinsel on that amputree! :-)

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    1. Ooo, you'll have stockings in your stocking! Is that like stuffing a goose with its own innards?

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  5. Merry Christmas, Murr. I just want you to know I'm not sending you a present this year, and I feel bad about it, because your blog is a gift I open with anticipation twice a week all year long. But I would love to know how to get on Dave's delivery list!

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    1. Who wouldn't? I think he's up to about fifty pounds of the stuff and he hasn't stopped cranking it out.

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  6. Sending readers your way in an attempt to figure out why I have not been able to post! Changed browser to IE and will have to work from that.

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    1. Doesn't that make you nuts? Something works, and then it doesn't work, and you didn't do anything different. I had one blog that I could never comment on. Not ever. Couldn't even get the form to light up. Something changed and now I can. It's just more of the computer world's attempt to make us feel dumb.

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  7. As the world turns......the great Mandala of life goes on. Once upon a time my mom (my Camp Fire Group leader) had our group making Christmas cakes for little old ladies in the community and then we were expected to DELIVER them and VISIT with them. Mom took us so she knew that we actually did the delivering and visiting part. No putting said cakes on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running, nosireebob.

    And now as an old (but immature, I am told) widow lady, I am on the receiving end of visits and it suits me just fine. And I am not going to tell any of the durn kids to get off my lawn.

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    1. Oh, I can just imagine the dismay. We need to VISIT? Auuugggh. Hey, I was almost a Camp Fire Girl. I was a Bluebird, but I never flew up. It didn't sound good.

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    2. The Bluebird motto was "I will learn to finish what I begin" and included selling all the Camp Fire Mints that the other girls returned that they were too GD lazy to sell so I had to sell them. I think once you (the leader) took possession of the mints they never let you return them. Eat 'em or sell 'em but by God, turn in the money.

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    3. Holy cow. Really? That was the motto? I should have stuck with it. BTW we sold cans of salted nuts. For a buck. A fortune!

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  8. I have already gotten a great gift---your book arrived!
    Love the recommendations on the back cover!!!
    Merry Christmas Murr and Dave.

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    1. Hey, that's a good sign! Supposedly the cover (front AND back) is very important when people are cruising book stores for a book. If I ever get that far.

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  9. I can't imagine giving up presents but we are pretty darn practical about them. My husband and I, I mean, we get each other things we want and need. I'm getting a new coffeemaker and my husband is getting . . . well, he never narrowed it down for me so he's getting several smaller things he needs and we'll worry about the rest later. I LOVE giving gifts -- choosing just the right item so I can't imagine agreeing to no gifts . . .

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    1. Giving gifts used to be the best part of my year. I made them all. I'd start in September. Since I retired and started writing, I found myself unable even to come up with inspirations for them. Apparently ALL my creative juices for the year were concentrated in gift-making, and now that my brain is popping all year long, I don't have enough left for Christmas. It was weird to stop doing it, but it feels really good now. I can still make someone something if I feel like it.

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  10. Funny how things change. We've pared down the gifts to boxes of baking between friends and a small exchange between Hubby and me. It's going to be a lovely, quiet Christmas. Aahhh. :-)

    Merry Christmas!

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    1. I think it's the obligation and frenzy that bothers us, right? Now, comfort and joy.

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    2. So glad to hear that there are others who've eschewed the obligation and frenzy parts. It feels a bit Scrooge-y at first - then the comfort and joy get to take over... et voi-la: [a mostly secular]Christmas becomes almost as good as Thanksgiving!

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  11. I really didn't like getting dressed up and being polite either, but I did it to make the parents happy. Now I have to do it to make my wife happy. Sigh...

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    1. Really, Jono, the important thing here is that your wife is happy.

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  12. I finally put up a "tabletop" tree, because id o love the ambiance created by those little white lights. Not good for reading, but I'm crazy for the cozy. Love your B&W photo - memories of a wrapping paper strewn living room... What captured my attention, though is the violin(?) case on the bark cloth covered chair - a story in itself.

    Get the tree for the boy, whose eyes are filed with joy.

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    1. Now, see, I didn't even notice that. I see there are skates there too. Must have been my sister's, because I look too young for skates. The violin would have been my brother's. He became a professional violinist.

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  13. The times, they do change, and yet remain the same.

    Merry Christmas, Murr and Dave and sweet little boy! And thank you, Murr, for sharing your wit all year round.

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    1. And sharing my Dave! Back at ya darlin'.

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  14. I haven't ever really wanted much for Christmas or my birthday...but this year I have a list miles long. Milking buckets, milking funnels, good halters, bander for goats and cows, about twenty bales of straw (and another half ton of hay would be good, too), some cattle panels, a heated water hose...

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    1. ....and a par-tridge in a pear treeeeee!

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    2. Well, it's an Indian Runner Duck rescue coming sometime today, but close enough!

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  15. I used to be that little girl too although I loved old people (mine were all in another state). And that living room looks like mine before age 7, ha! Now that I'm not so young I wonder if those old women really were unhappy; they were finally free of so much societal baggage/expectations and their time was now all their own. My grandmother had an adventurous old age but was blessed with good health and a cheerful spirit to the end.

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    1. I loved MY old people, for sure. And looking back, I didn't know too many who weren't pretty happy. One's perspective changes. Hope you've got grandma's genes!

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  16. Our best present arrived at midnight -RAIN!
    Merry and Happy to you and those you love, Murr,with or without presents.

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    1. We sent you that rain. You're welcome. All rain is manufactured right here in Oregon.

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    2. Well, we surely do thank you.I note you've given your rain-makers a couple of days off. That's nice of you, but please keep production rolling. I mean falling, don't I?

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  17. What a lovely post. Merry Christmas, dear Murr!

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    1. It was a highlight of my year meeting you, Dale. All the best.

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  18. "I was considered a highlight just by showing up."

    You still are,Murr. You still are.

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    1. Roxie, darn it--looks like it's time for me to scurry on over to Chrysalis again.

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  19. I loved this post, Murr. Been trying to work on a piece about childhood Christmas myself, but have fallen completely flat. You captured it so well here, the magic.

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    1. Wouldn't it be the best if we could ever get back that joy and excitement? We get awful close, with Nature and music.

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  20. Thank you for stumbling across me, and thank you for the beautiful post

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    1. Sweetie, I'm so glad it was you on the other side of that door I knocked on in 1976. Nekkid in a towel.

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  21. "The old lady would beam at me, her face pleating up every which way". . . that line is a poem. Thank you for this poignant, perfect essay. I will keep, treasure, and re-read it.
    Have a lovely Christmas.
    Lindsie

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  22. I am familiar with pleating faces. I was brought up short by seeing mine do that in a photo taken last October. It's a heck of a nasty discovery that it happens to you!

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    1. I'm headed for the really spectacular waffly kind. You know, where the lines go vertical AND horizontal so you look like graph paper. No real signs of it yet, but I do know who I look like.

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    2. Oh, I'm there already - mid-cheek tic-tac-toe/ Add that to my "connect-the-dot" midriff, and you can play games on me.

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  23. Delightful. I have similar memories from childhood. So far, I'm grateful to discover that my perceptions of the elderly pleasures were somewhat limited. There definitely is a time for all ages!

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  24. Isn't it a wonderful state of being, not needing a darn thing so gifts are redundant? Himself and I are at that point--we're both starting to wrinkle and pucker too (the neck went last year). Oh we still like to get books but it's really about the food, getting together and yes, Murr, the memories. Merry Christmas to you and your almond roca king. May your blessings abound!

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    1. Well, technically and historically, he's the Spam King, but yes! May everyone's.

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  25. I love the quieter season - easy gifts for grandchildren only. And nothing for myself or my husband. We have everything we need. We light candles and put on the old, wonderful music. And a conversation between us or odds and ends of people who stop by. Much better than the Olden Days.

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    1. I was painting a room all by myself with carols on the radio yesterday, belting them out (more bleating and squawking: I really must try to sing more than once a year), and couldn't have asked for a better time.

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  26. Ordered your trouser weasel book and looking forward to it.
    Love the picture of you as a little girl surrounded by the discarded wrapping paper!

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    1. Didn't you hate it when Mommy started picking all the paper up? I wanted all the paper strewn all over.

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  27. We always bought the Charlie Brown tree from the lot. Someone needed to love it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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    1. We still do! Ever since we got the Scoliosis Tree 20 years ago, Dave's rejected any tree that looks too good.

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  28. Happy Holidays, new friend! I just know they will be filled with love and laughter!

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  29. I'm invariably asked what I want for Christmas from my family. My answer is simple: Something of you...a written word...a picture...a song.

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    1. I know. Yet your family would really rather get you a sweater.

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  30. I was out doing a little last-minute shopping today, and your post really stuck with me. We did assume that an old person living simply must be miserable, and to tell the truth some are. But the lucky ones among us figured out how to be happy most of the time without depending on a lot of "stuff." So glad I found your blog this year, Murr! Have a great Christmas.

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    1. I think you gave yourself away with your handle, BOG!

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  31. Your description of that apartment was rich with detail. The sights and smells sounds reminiscent of my late grandmother's rowhome from when I was a child. I too remember the awkwardness of being in dress clothes and behaving oh-so-politely when visiting relatives as a child. God, I'm glad to be an adult.

    By the way, I bought two copies of TROUSERING YOUR WEASEL, one for myself and one for a friend. I love it! The anatomically correct Mr. Potato Head has me sratching my head, though.

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    1. The anatomically bizarre Mr. Potato Head is what happens when children are brought up to believe that all our parts are interchangeable, according to the Great Homosexual Agenda Conspiracy. Hey! Pop on over to amazon and write me a review, will ya?

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