Jenny near the summit, 1/1/09. Of particular note is the nine layers of coats, fleece, long underwear &etc that gives the author that perfect whole-honey-baked-ham shape.
I woke up on this the first day of the year, went downstairs and made pancakes for me, Deedie/Grace, my boys, their friends (who’d stayed the night). Then I put on eighty-five layers of clothes and, per our annual tradition, we climbed up a mountain here in Maine in the snow with a crew of other friends who do this each year. Outside temperature was ten degrees, with the wind chill, negative 16.
Sometimes New Years is hard for me; I think it’s a time I feel emotionally raw. Some years I climb that mountain, lagging behind everyone else, singing a song of woe-is-a-me-bop.
This year I felt okay though. Strangely warm, for how cold it was. Still, got to the top last of the group, then looked around at the cold, frozen world. A friend gave me a tangerine and I ate it and tasted the fresh, bright citrusy taste which smoked open my head in the cold white wind.
Ten years now we’ve climbed this mountain on new years day. Since our children were toddlers, since one of them at least had to be carried.
Following tradition, I gathered some loose snow in my hand and stood at the edge of the precipice and made a wish. Then I threw the snow into the air and watched it twinkle in the sunlight as it sparkled and fell.
I thought of a few other stories from the last couple weeks, as I stood there.
Like: my boy Zach and I went down to New York City by train before Xmas, and saw the doomed “Young Frankenstein” on Broadway. Which is pretty much the best show in the world if you’re fourteen. Went back to the hotel and watched the Wizard of Oz on TV. IN the morning: room service breakfast! Then we walked out into midtown, and nipped into Sam Ash music on 48th street, where the kid tried out electric violins. Then we got on the train and rode down to Philly and on to mom’s good old haunted house.
the kid on broadway
That night, as grandmama and Zach and I ate dinner, zap, the lights went out. So we lit a buncha candles and built a fire in her “library” and the room flickered and glowed. And Zach got out some old carolling books from the piano bench and we sang carols in the dark, for an hour and a half. My old mom has a lovely voice, doesn’t she. When we finsihed the books, we ad libbed– and as Zach sang, “May your days be merry and bright,” the lights came back on. We stood in a circle, the three of us, by the fire, and hugged. And finished the song.
Deedie and Sean joined us a couple days later, in time for us to have our traditional Xmas eve feast of Maine lobsters. Xmas morning I made a big heart attack breakfast: bacon and eggs and scrapple and sausage bread and salmon.
Zach and my mom (H.S. Boylan), who has a chicken tea cosy on her head.
We saw A Chorus Line in Philly one day, which made me think for days. I’d never seen it before, believe it or not, and I was curious about this alleged greatest of all musicals. I was deeply moved by it. But I also felt like it was a period piece, a very interesting piece of 1970s life. IN particular, the lives and stories of the gay characters felt like a whole other generation ago.
And took in Marley and Me one day, with Mom– interesting that we got her out of the house– that was the cool thing. I didn’t have high hopes for this, but was very pleasantly surprised– it felt like the real life of a family not unlike our own, and the dog is simply present. It was NOT the kind of mid-60s Disney film about the Funny Antix of the Bad Dawg. When the couple is fighting and in the turmoil of having very young children, that really hit home, felt real. And yes, when Marley kicks the bucket, we all wept and wept and wept. It was like Hamlet in there. A splendid time was guarantted for all.
Being in that old haunted house is weird for me,, after all these years. The two nights before D. joined me, I tossed and turned in my high school bedroom, had scary dreams all night long, listened to the steam raditators hiss. After D. arrived, I slept like a baby.
We drove the ten hours north back to Maine on Tuesday, D. at the wheel as always. And as we drove I signed up for Facebook via my iPhone and I was pleasantly surprised how much fun it is– and how I immediately found about 25 dear friends, some of whom I thought I’d lost forever. MOre on that elsewhere.
New Years Eve D. cooked indian food all day, filling the house with the smells of cardamom and curry and turmeric and black eyed peas (for luck!) Dinner with friends at our house and the kids stayed up. But D. and I hit they hay early, and the last thing that happened was, I hit the TV on and there was “Annie Get Your Gun” and everybody singing:
There’s no people like show people! They smile when they are low!
Even when you’re in a turkey that you know will close,
And leave you standing out in the cold,
Still you wouldn’t trade it for a heart of gold!
Let’s go on with the show!
Let’s go on with the show!
And it was to this that my thoughts returned at last, today, as I stood by that wintery precipice. And I turned back and hugged my family and friends and we began to descend the mountain, and I raised my voice in song:
There’s no business like show business! Like no business I know!
On the way back down, again I was last in line, and watched the people I love move on ahead and away from me. I paused for a moment, and looked back over my shoulder, at the bright sun, and the frozen, glittering world, and the places I have been.
What is this world? What is this life?
Jenny and Deedie (Grace), New Years Day 2009, French’s Mountain, Belgrade Lakes, Maine
PS: A big shout out to Richard Russo, Chloe Prince and Donna Rose, who reached out to me this holiday season and checked to make sure I wasn’t falling into my traditional Yuletide flump. Their love and friendship lifted me up, up, up, way high in the air.