redux: a cup of kindness

From New Year’s Eve, 2015, when it seems we didn’t celebrate with the friends we usually spend the evening with. Tonight we will!

___________________________

It’s just after three and the sun is already sliding down beyond the trees. It’s lovely, though — like old faded gold. And the hard frost has rimed every surface with silver. Our house is quiet after 12 days of festivity, beginning with John’s birthday on the 19th, Cristen’s on the 21st, and Sahand’s on the 24th, followed by Christmas itself. I have to confess that not all of us were celebrating together for the whole time as we were gifted with a Norovirus (I’m looking at you, Kelly!) and it made its merry way through the household, some of us suffering more than others but no one was immune. I wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to make meals for my loved ones, though, even knowing what I know now about sleeplessness, nausea, and aches in every joint and muscle. And yes, wine was consumed (many bottles of it); so was shortbread, white chocolate fruit cake, gingerbread, nuts, trifle, Turkish delight, any number of kinds of chocolates, and little glasses of Carolan’s Irish Cream. A turkey. A duck. Lamb made into Khoresh Gheymeh and served with Zeytoon Parvardeh (a wonderful green olive, walnut, and pomegranate salad). Flourless chocolate torte as a group birthday cake. No one went hungry.

We are spending New Years Eve alone. The two of us. We don’t feel strong enough to go out into the world and make merry. The others left, one car after another loaded down with presents, luggage, a baby clutching her dolly, and two cats in their carriers. We’re promised a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis tonight, if we stay awake long enough, and there’s still enough food for the Russian army (though maybe we don’t want to feed them at this point in human history), and one last bottle of Prosecco if we feel like toasting the turn of the year.

New Years Eve always makes me wistful. How did a year pass without me noticing, without me keeping up with the things I’d hoped to accomplish. How did the years accumulate so that we are now anticipating 2016 — oh, and I’ve only just become accustomed to beginning writing a date with 20– instead of 19–. I thought I’d have the whole house clean in readiness for the new year. My mother was raised in a Scots Presbyterian house and believed that it was bad luck to take the old year’s clutter and dust into the new. I began the day with good intentions, after waving goodbye to those driving away this morning. I disinfected the bathrooms and the two rooms where most of the sickness took place, washing three loads of bed-linens, hanging much of it out on the clothes line to freeze any residual bugs, and took out several bags of trash. But the rest of the house? Hmmm. My study is what my Yorkshire mother-in-law would have called a “tip”. Baskets of wrapping papers and bags of ribbons (all to save for next year, of course!), stacks of research materials, piles of books, some packages of seeds I meant to do something with (I can’t remember what), oh, and family photographs I’ve been meaning to scan, though looking at them is like a trick of light, whoosh, everything happening at once, time and the years burning as brightly as the fir in our woodstove, the heat lasting almost a whole night. The heat, the images so sweetly warm, the faces as beautiful as the sun is this very minute, soft and golden, filtering through the branches of the trees like memory.

So I wish you all a very happy New Year, filled with good health and sweetness, and I hope you get to hear someone sing that most beautiful of Robert Burns’s poems, set to music:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

As for me, I’ll be listening while I look at old photographs, remembering not two but three young children running in the grass at Nicola Lake summer after summer, never imagining them grown. And now gone.

at Nicola Lakebrendan at Nicola Lake

 

fast away the old year passes

faux murano

I’m at that point in the year (and my life) when I can’t believe that another year has (almost) passed so quickly. Three more full days and what’s left of this one and we’ll be greeting 2018. And yes, we’ll be doing that here, with friends, maybe even leaving a glass of Laphroaig by the front door for the first footer to bring in, along with a piece of fir from the woodshed, as the rest of us sing “Auld Lang Syne”.

Yesterday morning we woke to snow, enough of it to mean that Angelica’s flight back to Victoria was cancelled and she went by ferry instead, a much longer process. On clear days we can see Vancouver Island from Davis Bay and I remember that Vera Grafton once told me that her father, who lived in Sechelt, courted her mother, who lived in Nanaimo, by canoe. This would have been in the very early days of the 20th century. Not quite spitting distance but a paddling distance for an ardent young man.

And now the snow is melting. The house is so quiet you can hear the drips off the eaves and the big branches of the trees. The decorations — ivy around the windows, tiny lights, the tree itself — look less expectant than patient. They will remain until my birthday, the feast of Epiphany, the ivy dry by then and the fir boughs beginning to lose their needles.

Just now I saw the wine glasses on the table, clean and polished, and waiting to be put back on their shelf on the oak dresser. We’ve been eating our meals since Christmas by the fire so the table still has its festive cloth, the candles on their silver tray (though some of them have burned down to nothing), and a few bits and pieces left over from the feast—a silver serving fork, a bowl. We call these glasses our “faux Murano”. When we went to the island of Murano during a visit to Venice, we thought about buying beautiful wine glasses but didn’t. I still regret this. Several groups of friends have Murano glasses and I don’t know if I’m imaging this but wine tastes even better sipped from a fluted pink glass or a red one with a thin gold-flecked stem. Our faux Muranos came from Capital Iron in Victoria and I suspect they were made in China. Are the decorative elements even real millifiore? Probably not. But they’re generous and beautiful in their own way and will come out again on New Year’s Eve when we’ll take a cup of kindness, as Burns advises in his old wise song. I’ll think of those far away, not within paddling distance, but across mountains and the prairies. For the sake of old times, old years.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

 

 

We twa hae run about the braes

looking out onto Bidwell Street.jpg

Last night we accompanied Forrest, Manon, and Arthur part-way home to Ottawa, going as far as Vancouver where we took them to dinner at a favourite restaurant. Three years ago we went to the same restaurant, with Angelica too, and sat at the same corner table, looking out into the warm room. We ate well, drank some delicious Desert Hills viognier, and came back to our little hotel in a snow-storm. A bottle of Prosecco waited in the fridge for a toast to the season and an early morning departure. A little earlier in the evening, while Forrest and Manon were getting Arthur ready for the bus ride across town to the restaurant, I looked out the window at what seemed like the last of old Vancouver remaining in the West End (though I know there are other small pockets of the past still standing among the high rises…). Snow, light from the storefronts, the prospect of one more dinner with people I love on the last night of the year — all of it transpired to make me cry in front of the window. In my mind, I heard Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis sing the beautiful “Auld Lang Syne” as they sang it once, in summer, here on the Coast during the Celtic Summer Music camp.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

John and I returned home this afternoon to a house emptied of voices. Just the fire crackling. And me, humming “Auld Lang Syne”. Robert Burns wrote the poem in 1788 but said that he’d collected some of it from other singers and shaped what we now know as his version to fit a traditional folk melody. It’s beautiful — as a sung ballad, as a poem, even as a page of manuscript, in the hand of Robert Burns, in the Scots Musical Museum, a publication devoted to archiving the traditional music of Scotland.

auld-lang-syne

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

A watery strait between us and one beloved child, and mountains and prairies to cross to reach the others. A New Year full of promise and hope, for auld lang syne.

a cup of kindness

It’s just after three and the sun is already sliding down beyond the trees. It’s lovely, though — like old faded gold. And the hard frost has rimed every surface with silver. Our house is quiet after 12 days of festivity, beginning with John’s birthday on the 19th, Cristen’s on the 21st, and Sahand’s on the 24th, followed by Christmas itself. I have to confess that not all of us were celebrating together for the whole time as we were gifted with a Norovirus (I’m looking at you, Kelly!) and it made its merry way through the household, some of us suffering more than others but no one was immune. I wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to make meals for my loved ones, though, even knowing what I know now about sleeplessness, nausea, and aches in every joint and muscle. And yes, wine was consumed (many bottles of it); so was shortbread, white chocolate fruit cake, gingerbread, nuts, trifle, Turkish delight, any number of kinds of chocolates, and little glasses of Carolan’s Irish Cream. A turkey. A duck. Lamb made into Khoresh Gheymeh and served with Zeytoon Parvardeh (a wonderful green olive, walnut, and pomegranate salad). Flourless chocolate torte as a group birthday cake. No one went hungry.

We are spending New Years Eve alone. The two of us. We don’t feel strong enough to go out into the world and make merry. The others left, one car after another loaded down with presents, luggage, a baby clutching her dolly, and two cats in their carriers. We’re promised a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis tonight, if we stay awake long enough, and there’s still enough food for the Russian army (though maybe we don’t want to feed them at this point in human history), and one last bottle of Prosecco if we feel like toasting the turn of the year.

New Years Eve always makes me wistful. How did a year pass without me noticing, without me keeping up with the things I’d hoped to accomplish. How did the years accumulate so that we are now anticipating 2016 — oh, and I’ve only just become accustomed to beginning writing a date with 20– instead of 19–. I thought I’d have the whole house clean in readiness for the new year. My mother was raised in a Scots Presbyterian house and believed that it was bad luck to take the old year’s clutter and dust into the new. I began the day with good intentions, after waving goodbye to those driving away this morning. I disinfected the bathrooms and the two rooms where most of the sickness took place, washing three loads of bed-linens, hanging much of it out on the clothes line to freeze any residual bugs, and took out several bags of trash. But the rest of the house? Hmmm. My study is what my Yorkshire mother-in-law would have called a “tip”. Baskets of wrapping papers and bags of ribbons (all to save for next year, of course!), stacks of research materials, piles of books, some packages of seeds I meant to do something with (I can’t remember what), oh, and family photographs I’ve been meaning to scan, though looking at them is like a trick of light, whoosh, everything happening at once, time and the years burning as brightly as the fir in our woodstove, the heat lasting almost a whole night. The heat, the images so sweetly warm, the faces as beautiful as the sun is this very minute, soft and golden, filtering through the branches of the trees like memory.

So I wish you all a very happy New Year, filled with good health and sweetness, and I hope you get to hear someone sing that most beautiful of Robert Burns’s poems, set to music:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

As for me, I’ll be listening while I look at old photographs, remembering not two but three young children running in the grass at Nicola Lake summer after summer, never imagining them grown. And now gone.

at Nicola Lakebrendan at Nicola Lake

 

Ae fond kiss

Twice I cried today, though once was prolonged, on the citadel above Halifax where everything I saw and remembered reminded me of the lapses in my own emotional accounting of what I owed, and to whom. And once, this evening, as we listened to the beautiful Scottish singer, Rachel Sermanni, sing a song I tried to sing when I took voice lessons, “Ae Fond Kiss” by the complicated and extraordinary Robert Burns:

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!

Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!

Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,

Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

All day I have felt those heart-wrung tears, in the Public Gardens, on Citadel Hill, over pizza at the wonderful Piatto Pizzeria, remembering early life with my parents, my brothers, while my patient and lovely husband held my hand.