Thanksgiving is early this year. Which means that commercial Christmas is, too. Besieged earlier by endless election ads, we apparently now require ads to boost our need to buy and give more stuff.
Richard’s folks lived in Florida and when they both passed, family members requested various favorite pieces of artwork and furniture which were sent all over the country. The larger items Richard and I chose arrived via a moving company owned by Russians. When they trundled up our steep driveway, I gladly received them, relieved they found their way up our winding mountain road in New York state. The team of efficient young men spoke no English but the boss/driver did, a little. I directed them up and down the stairs by vigorously pointing, “Here! Careful with that! No, outside on the deck!” and other helpful gestured advice. When it was all done, the driver came up to me with the receipt. I wrote him a check and he said very seriously with a heavy accent, “ Enchoy your stooff.”
It was delivered in such a sober tone that afterwards it struck me hard. I didn’t ever consider us as ‘wealthy’ but compared to many we were. He didn’t actually say,” Oh you rich Americans with all your crap, you hardly have room for what you already own.” Maybe it wasn’t even implied. He might have simply used that simple English phrase with all of his clients. The truth is that there were many things we inherited that we didn’t need, but rather accumulated out of nostalgia. Some of those things I still have, some of those things my daughters have, and most has been auctioned off for an unknown somebody else to ‘enchoy’.
‘Downsizing’ is a familiar phrase at Kendal. Everybody here left behind their former lives, professions, and many possessions. We brought only what could fit into a cottage, or an apartment, or in my case, a single room. It is a familiar phrase to all of my aging friends as they are contemplating the approach of the inevitable move from their current homes. We all have more than enough stuff to see us through our elder years. Sometimes I still think, “Whatever happened to the St. Francis tile Richard bought in Italy? I thought I kept that.” Perhaps it is still in an unopened box in Emilia and Zoran’s attic. Or perhaps, in the chaos of leaving my life in Bearsville behind, it is on someone else’s shelf.
If it doesn’t appear, I will say goodbye to it again in my mind. I still have my grandmother’s small wooden statue of him here on my windowsill. I love to watch the birds on the bush outside my window over his shoulder with the little birds carved there. I know this was bought by my grandmother in Assisi. It is enough of a reminder for me to love who this saint is storied to have been. I don’t actually need the tile. Richard’s life with me is everywhere in tangible form; from the leather chairs he had in his Manhattan office, to the small earring tree he and Emilia at age four built for my birthday. And in a moment of grief inspired clutching, I kept the last pair of pajamas that he bought before his final trip to the hospital. He wore them maybe once. They are a masculine gray, have a button fly, and are a little too large. At the time it was clear I needed them as the packing ensued. And I do wear them. (You don’t have to picture that.)
More importantly, he is a presence whispering in my deep inner ears. I don’t worry any more if it is “him”, that human Richard I loved so well. I just let the whispers touch me, help me, love me whenever his voice appears. This is from an open letter to a fan that Nick Cave wrote about the death of his son. He speaks to this listening so beautifully.
“I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.”*
*I thank my cousin, Bob Barnett, for sending me this letter. He is another reconnected cousin from my father’s side of the family who sends me inspirational writings just when I need them.