The writing of this week’s column has had many starts and stops. Just now I was typing away about holiday meals, and when I looked up at my screen I saw that I had just written – “the way cinnamon loves warm bread” – and I deleted everything. Again.
One of my favorite books on writing is Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” I have a quote from the book taped on the wall next to my desk. The first line is: “But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief.” I have kept staring at those words.
So, the truth is writing about holidays right now is making me a little bit sad, but even that has been a detour. At first, I wasn’t writing about the holidays at all. I was banging out a piece about my outrage at the thief who broke into the Tea Room and then it suddenly seemed so trite so I deleted it. What I needed to write about was why I didn’t feel like writing about holidays, food, or even China Alley.
And so even more truthful is the plain fact that this year was a tough one. Starting with Dad’s death, then Auntie Harriet’s following so quickly – and as the months flew by, we lost several more friends. Looking at the calendar, I see that this column is set to be published the day I will be attending the funeral of another family member, Susan, my first cousin’s wife. So sadness and grief are real parts of life that sometimes compound and weigh us down. But they are, thankfully, not the only parts.
Many moons ago I had a husband who eventually lost his battle after a long fight with inoperable pancreatic cancer. The day after Jordan died, a dear friend stopped by to pay his respects and offer much-needed words of comfort. He said, “ I know you’re in a world of pain and grief right now, but someday it won’t hurt as much and you’ll just remember the happy memories.”
I have never forgotten that conversation, in part because for a long time I was pretty sure he lied to me. But true to his words, eventually the abyss of sorrow and heartache eased and life went on…with memories. Lots of them. And they offer sweet relief, delightful contrast, grins and giggles even.
Finally, what I’d like to write about here is a particularly funny memory from my early teenage years that ties into a sweet one created at the beginning of this year. I’ll never forget either one.
I was probably about 13 years old, not quite yet old enough to work at the Chinese Pagoda or the Imperial Dynasty. Child labor laws were kind of abstract back in the day and some of us started working before we were sixteen. Mom and my sister, Madeleine, were performing their duties at the restaurants. Dad was home, making dinner for me and my brother Damon. Summoned to the table and as we sat down, we could tell Dad’s mood had darkened. He seemed irritated, even disgusted.
“I overcooked the pork chops,” he said as we served ourselves. “I was reading and got distracted. They’re too tough. You don’t have to eat them.” He slumped over his plate and poked at his food.
I didn’t want him to feel bad so I said, “It’s okay. They’ll be good, Dad.” The moment that sentence was out of my mouth, the pork chop I was attempting to saw through flew off my plate and smacked Dad across his forehead.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, the three of us were doubled over with hysterical laughter that lasted many long minutes. Each time we tried to return our attention to our plates, the giggles started all over. This is, without a doubt, one of the happiest and memorable meals of my life. Even as I typed out the recollection, I found myself grinning over the remembrance.
Dad had several hospitalizations during the last two months before he died. One day during one of those adventures, Dad and I idly chit-chatted and watched a re-run of Gunsmoke. Suddenly he turned to me and said, “Do you remember that pork chop – ”
I finished his sentence with, “The one that hit you?”
Immediately we were snickering and giggling. When the laughter finally subsided, Dad rested his head on his pillow. With a big smile and merriment still lighting his eyes, he turned to me and said, “We sure had some good times.”
Yes, we did.