It has been more than three weeks since I wrote my last blog. You might wonder, where have I been. Let’s just say I’ve been “missing in action.” As my academic colleagues might concur, the long anticipated break between semesters can easily be winnowed away by the need to tie up loose ends–papers to be graded, theses to be presented, student recommendations to be crafted, and (as is the case for me this year) a new spring course to be designed. Somehow I squeeze in holiday concerts and get-togethers, sending out Christmas cards, a long postponed visit to the dentist, and–on no, not again so soon–jury duty. Thank goodness for on-line shopping and shipping; what did I ever do before?
Let’s just say I’ve been missing in action.
Hmm…. Looking back–many years now–I am reminded just how chaotic the pre-Christmas season has always been. As a graduate student at Columbia University, for example, I viewed the Christmas break as a time to complete those last, nagging term papers. Late Christmas Eve day, I would pack my books, and race from my apartment on 113th Street down to Fifth Avenue, where the stores were all decked out in their dazzling holiday fare. Inside Bergdof Goodman‘s, I was one of the few, remaining customers, scurrying from aisle to isle to take advantage of last minute sales.Loaded up with presents for all, I must have looked like a very disheveled Santa Claus, as I traipsed to Penn Station and the train for home, where my mother and father–along with our traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner–were awaiting me. Unloading my baggage with a sigh of relief, and settling in for an evening with my parents, dining on wine and pasta, I knew the holidays had really begun.
Going home for the holidays became, for me, a yearly event, that is, until 22 years ago, when my mother died–believe it or not, on Christmas Eve. (One might say, she knew how to make an exit!) But some holiday occasions and trips home were more memorable than others.
I vividly recall, for example, the ride home on Christmas Eve, when my son Stephen was about five years old. It was a cold night, with snow and sleet intermittently falling as we made our way to the 168th street bus terminal–a dingy, dirty place that reeked of a distinctly unpleasant odor. It was around 6 PM when we boarded the bus to Glen Rock, New Jersey the town where I had spent my teen age years. We were about half way there, when the bus suddenly broke down. The cold wind blew into the bus, as the driver paced in and out, trying to determine the nature of the problem. All the while the little heat that was left in the bus began to dissipate. Looking for a way to entertain my son during this unfortunate hiatus, I pulled out a book. It was Farley Mowat‘s The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, an uproarious and often touching account of the author’s valiant–but more often than not unsuccessful– efforts to refurbish a boat and sail it from the shores of Newfoundland to Montreal.
Ignoring the ironic parallels between the book’s plot and our own situation, I began to read. I had heard that Mowat’s stories appealed to both children and adults alike, an observation that certainly proved true in this instance. So compelling was the story, others began to gather round to hear the tale. As the riders became engaged not only in the story, but also with each other, time flew by. We quickly forgot about the chill, and long before I had finished reading, a new transit bus came to our rescue. Luckily we arrived home in time for dinner. Relaxing afterwards, I reflected on what a warm and heartfelt Christmas Eve it had been indeed.
This year was no different, except that instead of visiting my parents in Glen Rock, we spent time with my son Steve, his wife Haley, and my two grandkids, Ben and Sophie, at their home in Millburn New Jersey. Hoping to arrive in time for Christmas Eve dinner, provided this time by my sister Anne, we calculated for traffic and set out early that morning–my husband Brock, my dog Sparky, and me. However, we could never–in our furthest imagination–have anticipated the traffic situation on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was bumper to bumper all the way, with cars creeping along in tandem much as slime mold moves across the forest floor. With cars climbing up our tail, and our dog breathing down our necks, we tried to make the best of the situation.
With cars climbing up our tail, and our dogs breathing down our necks, we tried to make the best of the situation.
So, having chattered about every subject under the sun, we pulled out and played our tapes of the Christmas Revels. Reminiscing about each delightful production, we suddenly found ourselves in Millburn, where we enjoyed what my husband Brock describes as a Norman Rockwell Christmas.
Perhaps it is only normal that my memories of Christmas Past should focus in part on the journey home. After all, as it is written, the first Christmas entailed Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey to Joseph’s birthplace in Bethlehem, as well as the three wise men’s arduous travels, following the star, to find them there. So, looking back, and keeping the Christmas story in mind, I suspect that all that hustle and bustle entailed in preparing for and journeying home for the holidays, not only enhances the value of achieving the end goal–if only a spaghetti dinner; sometimes, it can have its own inadvertent rewards.
With that said, I wish you many delightful journeys in the New Year!