I don't mean the shiny ribboned gifts from family and friends, with Happy Holidays! and Love from us all! which make us smile as they accumulate, nudging us further into an already over-bright season, but the intangibles...like today, a suddenly warm, breezy day, cloud-covered and promising rain, good for holing up inside after a busy holiday; or the quiet of the streets on a morning walk, everyone else still asleep or still away. Leaves rattle across my path, uncovering richly ored stones among the gray driveway gravel right beneath my feet. The holiday crush passed, I look forward to spending a whole afternoon absorbing a good book sent by a friend, just the right one.
|books for a quiet day|
|wishes from friends|
The same is true of friends from places I'd once lived within their reach. When we talk or write, we trade information about daily life, children, books we've read (or written), travels, market trips, old times, new times, struggles and triumphs as if they still lived next door. As if it hadn't been a year since the last time we heard from one another. When such connections break, they leave an absence felt as strongly as the continued presence.
Still, friends appear in the guise of strangers. On my trip to visit my aunts and uncle last week, I'd been sitting a few minutes in front of the hearth at the lodge where we were staying, when the woman across the side table and I began a chat--the sort that strangers do all the time: "Isn't this a wonderful fire; nice to have a few minutes of quiet; what brings you here; where are you from..." In no time, though, I seemed to know a lot about her; she seemed in fact, a younger version of (this sounds bordering on the solipsistic, I'm afraid, but forgive me) myself. I remembered life at that age, the worries and gleanings and pride that it brings. We had, it turned out, a lot in common in that generation-shifting way. We left each having learned something only our chance meeting would have allowed. "Oh, can we stay in touch?" she asked, as I wrote down the link to this blog.
Nearby, at home, abiding friendship lies at the door. Coming back from my long, tiring trip, I find a text from a neighbor. "We see you're back! Come for dinner." Chanukah begins the very next day, but I know just who to call to help celebrate, and there they are bearing candles, salads and wine.
Another neighbor sends me home with a basket of treats, intuiting, I'm sure, that I haven't had time to make my own (indeed, the ones I made in haste weren't, I'm afraid, worth a holiday). An email reaches me: "I know it's last minute, but we would love for you to come out to the farm for Christmas brunch if you can." In the kitchen, our own or others', we assemble the secrets of holidays past and present, and at tables rich with food, conversation, and sentiment we too often take for granted, such gifts ripen and smooth as we imbibe.
|pairs of pears|