By Mariah Mottley
Christmas is tricky to navigate, with all its propaganda and expectations. There is that mythical happy family somewhere else, mocking my paltry efforts. I wrap presents badly, forget to stuff stockings. Catholic by blood, I do sneak off to church on Christmas Eve, to be near the poinsettias and to sing in Latin. The children do not join me.
Then the presents. We try to shop small, not to go overboard. This year, we gave newspaper and magazine subscriptions, foreign language materials, fine writing instruments and blankets. Then there were the cookies. It wouldn’t be the holidays without cookies. I can never find the shortbread recipe from my great aunt Isabel, so I Google it, and pretend. There is a lot of pretending on Christmas, the key is not to mind.
Here’s what isn’t pretend. As I made the rounds through all the major stores in Ithaca, preparing for this massive pretend holiday, I had nothing but positive interactions, during the busiest time of the year. It stands at odds with the darkness in the news.
I have Aleppo on my mind, the people Duterte has been butchering, Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry and Betsy DeVos all decking the halls, right alongside the Electors. Disinformation, treason. Trump laughing at his followers for believing his shtick. No end in sight, on any of that.
But now Christmas is over. Time to stop pretending. Put away the ornaments, fill the recycling bin. Time to update the new calendar, to clean out my desk. The year of 2017 will begin with empty drawers, if nothing else. They are overflowing with wayward paperclips, 3-by-5 index cards, and filled spiral notebooks, spare keys to vehicles we no longer own, empty rolls of washi tape. This is a manageable problem, and therefore, one to be savored. First, I must bring wood to the porch, feed my elderly mare.
I put in my ear buds and stepped into boots, too impatient to get started on the drawers to bother with snow pants. I’ve been listening to “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” by Timothy Snyder. The Jewish Journal called him “our most distinguished historian of evil.” I heard Professor Snyder on the Diane Rehm’s show, analyzing what Trump’s loose connection to the facts means in terms of fascism. “Hashtag relevant,” my acupuncturist chuckled, as we traded book titles.
Tromping to the barn now, the sun was bright, the sky blue. The world clear and cold, and impossible to ignore. The more steam puffs out from behind my scarf, and the more I slip backwards against the weight of the wood cart, the happier I feel. I was built to make contact with the world. These swirling stories of doom and gloom on my phone and in the dashboard of my car make no sense to the animal part of my mind, only able to see the sun on the snow.
The mare waited for me at the gate, her zebra print blanket slightly askew. I needed to make sure she wasn’t shivering. It’s so much easier to maintain a core temperature than to raise it. I put my hand under the blanket, on her hipbone, where there is little fat, digging my fingers through her fur to her skin. It felt warm under there, even though the air was in the single digits, burning cold through my pant legs. My own gluteal muscles began to jump, but I waited, concentrating on her body. I could feel her breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Regular. Soft. Unstressed. She shifted her weight, gazing suggestively in the direction of the barn, where the grain was. Becoming elderly has made her patient, tolerant of my stupidity.
Two years ago, she would have been snorting and stomping, pointing with her whole body at the BARN, the BARN, you idiot. Satisfied that she was the right temperature, I mixed her a fresh bucket of grain, soaked it with warm water. Timothy Snyder’s paragraphs, informative and elegant, with their topic sentences and conclusions settled into my ears as I placed my feet carefully in the snow, the bucket heavy now.
Then, back to the woodstove and the desk drawers. What is not pretend about this holiday season is the sincere care and affection I have felt from friends and businesses this holiday season. That is real, real as this cold morning. Greenstar, Wegmans, Alphabet Soup, Viva, Maxie’s, Ithaca Beverage Center, Staples, Target, the Piggery, Zoomtan, Mockingbird, Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon, Upstate Services Associates, you are doing it right.
Let’s keep it up. Keep checking on one another, as I check on my old friend in the paddock. Keep in touch. Have dinner. Coffee. Stay connected. Don’t let any clutter get in the way. We must keep one another close this coming year, and pay close attention.
– – –
Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.