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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Brief

On our way to the Hanukkah party yesterday, we passed a dead body by the side of the road.

Car accident. The car was upside down, crushed, in the middle of the road. The body was 20 feet away, under a sheet, surrounded by rescue workers standing around like they do when there's no longer any reason to hurry. Twenty minutes earlier, the body under that sheet was just another guy rushing down the road, trying to get something done before the holidays.

The party was fine. How could it not be fine, after something like that? My sister stayed mostly out of my way, and I stayed mostly out of hers. It wasn't hard. The party was small, but the house was big, and there were always the kids to provide a quick distraction.

It was a small party. Every year we seem to add another child to the table, but the kids don't take up as much space as the adults that we're losing every year. In previous years there would have been a lot more cousins at a Hanukkah party at this time of year -- they would have driven in for my grandma's birthday. She would have been 94 last Wednesday. She'd been gone, mentally anyway, for as long as my kids have been alive. But this is still the first year without a party for her somehow, even a grim party in a nursing home common room, and the cousins driving in. That generation of cousins gets a little smaller every year, too.

My grandma made it just past her ninety-third birthday. Ninety-three years worth of days. Sometimes they must have seemed like they were going on forever. But I bet at other times they seemed to fly by like so many shimmering lights in the distance as you rush down a darkened highway on a winter night. So many flickering holiday tables, with so many overlapping, ever-changing sets of family. The tables of her childhood, crowded with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents, became the tables of her adulthood and her dotage: siblings, a spouse, in-laws, sons, nieces and nephews, daughters-in-law, grandchildren. People disappear from the holiday table, never to return, and their places are taken by others. The moment that any gathering lasts, with any particular grouping of the beloved, is breathtakingly brief.

The party was fine. Our children, fluttering in and out of the rooms with their cousins, gorgeous in their introductory moments at the table -- they were so beautiful that Mr. Blue and I had a hard time catching our breaths. My mother's gifts this year were fairly restrained. There was an enormous shopping bag full of gifts for each child, but the contents were modest -- books, stickers, slinkys, a puzzle, small stuffed animals, a handful of TtFTE trains that delighted not one whit less for being already owned. This morning, back at home, in front of our own small table, LG surveyed his loot and crowed, "I'm so lucky, Mama! I'm the luckiest boy in the world!"

I know how you feel, sweet boy. I know how you feel.

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