I am back in America, living a couple of weeks of holiday with my family. It is very intense. Here is my highlight reel:
Surprising Cora Lee: I found an incredible round-trip airfare back in October. I booked it, and told my sister Beth, who lives near my mother. Our family loves surprises, I figured I would sneak home for Christmas and surprise my mother, seeing as I have not been home in Pittsburgh at Christmas for a good seven years.
The scheming snowballed into a Great Christmas Conspiracy -- Operation Let's Surprise Mom! Beth, a born mastermind, eventually ensnared both my children into the plot, as well as my little sister Martea and her two boys. And so Christmas Eve saw my daughter Libby at my mom's house, and my son Philip driving down from New Hampshire to pick me up at the Boston airport, and Martea and family boarding a plane in Little Rock. Me and Philip picked up Mart and boys at the airport in Pittsburgh, and the lot of us converged at Beth's house, where Mom was setting the table for Christmas dinner. She looked tired. I hoped this wasn't going to be too much for her.
Me and Mart, the faraway daughters, stood in the dining room doorway.
"Hey, mama." Mart said, casual as you please.
Ma had just put the potatoes and gravy on the table. In her hands she held a flap of foil, and the lid to the antique china gravy-boat. I saw her mouth open, I saw her hands shake. She looked back at the table, and back at us. We were not ghosts!
Beth pulled to things from her hands. Mart and me and the boys swarmed around her, and mom/Grandma/Cora Lee cried like a little girl. (She was not the only one.)
Meeting Maximus: We visited Aunt Esther and Barbara, my cousin. These are two fine women, strong and wonderful, who live in a log house out in the woods. The Peaceable is a shadow of what they have going on -- Barbara's way with animals and machinery is a model I can only shoot for. Barbara always has a couple of dogs around the place, and this time she's got the biggest dog I ever met. His name is Maximus. He laid his chin on my knee (something Tim loves doing), it was akin to having a the head of a live ox set gently onto my lap. But an ox that drools and says "rrrumph."
It gave me a moment of whim-whams. I was very happy that dog was friendly!
Big Snow: The sky went dark, the weather went bad. Philly's car skidded and slid up the hill to the dentist's office in Vandergrift, where I learned my teeth are not so bad after all. I walked downtown along Hancock Avenue in the thick of the snowstorm, the ice pinging off my cheeks, past the house on Sherman Avenue where my great-granddad lived -- he founded that town, you know. Vandergrift is down on its luck, but everyone that day was cheerful and kind, offering me rides, holding off the snowplow so I could pass.
Wasabi Blast: Yesterday me and Philip said goodbye to all that and headed south over the Allegheny mountains to suburban Washington, D.C., where Libby lives. Her neighborhood is staggeringly diverse, and the ethnic food varieties boggle the mind of someone who lives in a world where the restaurant offerings are Castilian, Castilian, Tapas, Pizza, and Castilian. We went to a place called Osaka. I ordered Chirashi, a Korean take on Japanese sushi. The bed of rice beneath the fish was studded with honest-to-god real wasabi, freshly ground.
It was nothing short of spectacular.
A goodly lump went into my mouth, and sent a Great Wall of Fire to overrun the lymph nodes in my neck. My mouth watered furiously, and the heat swept up the back of my neck and the underside of my jaw and rolled through my sinuses. My eyes contracted, and tears squirted from the ducts alongside. It was as close to pain as pleasure can go without making me scream out loud. I was in a public place, with my children. It was almost embarrassing!
I had some more. I ate it all. I slept very well last night.
St. Alban's: The latest and maybe best of all was this morning. I went to church. I love church. I love Santo Tomas in Moratinos, but I am most at home in the Anglican Communion -- a liturgy I feel is the apex of liturgical beauty, a work of poetry and ritual performance. Probably because it's in English, and probably because I know it "chapter and verse." It is home. And at St. Alban's Parish in Annandale, it is done up with all the altar boys and girls, crucifers, deacons, readers and Eucharistic ministers of every shape, size, gender and ethnicity. The people in the pews stand up and really interact. The songs are sung in harmony, with a big German-style pipe organ. Today it was "Angels We Have Heard on High," with all those descants on the "glorias!" and at Communion my favorite "O How a Rose 'ere Blooming." Communion is done at the altar, kneeling, with both bread and wine. Good, spicy wine, strong with Holy Ghost.
It is good I only do these things rarely. They don't lose their freshness. They stay glorious for me.
I feel very far from The Peaceable, but very much at home.
It is all very intense, and exhausting in its way.
When the time comes to go home to my Real Life, I will be ready.