Twenty Stockings

Twenty Stockings (c) SMG

Today’s Daily Prompt asked us to reflect on our favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, and whether we were indeed spending the morning that way.

All I could think was that I am among vast numbers of people who would like to spend this morning thinking of just about anything but parents waiting near an elementary school  classroom where their children’s bodies lay as a crime scene was being processed.

Horrors I would have thought beyond my imagination–even given my line of work–kept me up last night and now fill countless minds.

Here in the Northeast, as elsewhere, the early elementary school years in December are marked by holiday concerts, story time, and a boatload of crafts.  December brings excitement like no other for those just starting their school years: five and six-year-old children bouncing with the hope for enough snow to build a snowman, or make snow angels by plunking backwards into soft snow and waving down-cocooned arms and legs at recess.   Or perhaps their names will be picked that day for a preferred task like picking the book for the teacher to read aloud at circle time, or sharpening the colored pencils, or delegating classroom chores, or presenting something for “show-and-tell.”

My oldest son, as a first-grader, brought in his two-week old baby sister for show and tell during one robust New England winter.   “Does she do any tricks?” asked his classmate Kyle.  My son considered the question and replied after some thought, “Not yet.”

By first grade this son was the beloved oldest brother to three younger siblings.  I cannot imagine their lives or ours had he not come home from school one day in December.

It could be a beloved music day where the children get to file upstairs to the room lined  with instruments; there’s always something to look forward to in these first days among what should be thousands of days among schoolmates and friends.

Even when going to school is less than a blissful experience, I like to think each day offers the hope of a better day, or at very least friendship and teachers’ guidance to help soothe small souls.

K-2 Holiday Concert (c) SMG

At the grocery store in December, young children may suddenly develop more of an interest in vegetables than in garish cereal boxes, because tiny carrots must be stockpiled to fuel flying reindeer.


They will count down the days until school’s December break, when they will gather together outside with sleds, skate on icy ponds and trudge back inside together in snow-caked mittened hands–sometimes not until dark–for hot chocolate.

And the prospect of magically-delivered gifts and stockings filled does not seem to dampen their spirits.

All of my children have had in common just one elementary school teacher: their kindergarten teacher–a woman so enduringly dedicated to each and every one of her pint-sized charges that she continues to reappear in their lives after retiring, as she did at the ceremony where one five-year-old had somehow aged into an Eagle Scout, and as she did when she wrote to them after their dad died.

Andrew Sullivan yesterday posted a poem, Childhood, by Rainer Marie Rilke:

It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely –and why?

We’re still reminded–: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on

as back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.

And became as lonely as a sheperd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
and summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us.

Childhood anticipation is made up of hopeful possibility.

The teacher might pick me to choose a book for us all to read.

My painting could be chosen to go up on the bulletin board.

It could be a white Christmas.

There may be enough snow to build that snowman or fort, to fly down the hill on an inflated tube.

The pond might freeze solidly enough that we can learn to skate.

The reindeer pack might hit our house just as it feels hunger pangs for more carrots.

Those stockings with our names on them might be filled.

Song of the Sky

(c) Carri Coltrane, December 1, 2012

Not only was it Putnam Day, but the first of December was covered with snow.

I don’t know about the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston, but I suspect that yesterday it bore the same beautiful, dangerous dusting of icy white.

Today, on a different turnpike to the north, I drove alone and listened to a recording of my husband’s gorgeous memorial service–the one with love even in the not-so-empty spaces.

The first solo song sung for Jim, at a service both his healthy parents attended, was Sweet Baby James.  There was a deep hum during the last verse, as hundreds of people joined in the chorus, murmuring “deep greens and blues” and reaching the lingering end of a tender, sibilant last “sweet baby James,” followed by four final guitar notes.  Continue reading “Song of the Sky”

Skirting the Infinite Void

An oil painting of her father (and our beagle, Brady)(c) 2011 Emma E. Glennon

A man my friend loved died very suddenly and, like my husband, far too young.

“I wish I had spent every second with him,” she said.

“But you can’t live your life like one of you is about to die,” I told her.

I reflected only afterwards that that is exactly how Jim and I and our children lived our lives for the better part of a year.

It is the knowing—not just the earlier, arguably premonitory flashes–that made those months so surreal.

I identify with the professor who wrote, “If something distasteful or painful lies ahead, it poisons all the time in between.” He quoted Julius Caesar, in which Brutus mused that “between the acting of a dreadful thing/And the first motion, all the interim is/Like a phantasm or a hideous dream.”

The “upcomingness” of that professor’s own dreaded occasions “festers in [his] mind, envenoming” the preceding days.

As Tim O’Brien’s semi-reliable narrator put it in The Things They Carried, “In some respects, though not many, the waiting was worse than the tunnel itself.  Imagination was a killer.”[ii]

That professor’s dreaded occasions?  Faculty meetings.  I am a professor’s daughter; I understand each of us has his own dreaded events.

I always have been irritated by use of the term “being present for” something, which I take as a bastardization of the popular conception of being “in the moment.”  (I’m not particularly enamored of that phrase, either.)

Unlike my husband, I am easily irritated.

Years ago, at a concert in a Portsmouth church, the young woman sitting on the bench a few rows in front of Jim and me loudly and repeatedly announced to a friend she evidently had not seen for some time that that she was trying “to be present for” significant events in her life.

“Where else did she plan to be?” I whispered in Jim’s ear, to which I always had to crane my head upward. “Is she prone to random bouts of teleportation?”

Continue reading “Skirting the Infinite Void”

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