Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Miracles at Christmas


A time for miracles.

They don’t have to be big, like the parting of the sea, or water changing into alcoholic beverages. They can be itty-bitty and still be miracles, right?

My mother found a pretty, airy red scarf, with white and green Santas, accenting her red coat, and the red and green hat she wore to church on Christmas eve. After church my parents and I drove over to my sister’s house, where they were serving savory dinner crepes, sweet dessert crepes, cold champagne and warm memories. At the table, my mother threw her scarf over her shoulder and it landed on the Christmas tea candles behind her on the buffet. Luckily, my daughter, whom I've always thought of as a heroine, leaped up, dashed around the table and smothered the flame before the rest of us even knew of the problem. No damage, except to the offending scarf. A miracle.

The next day, after dropping my parents off at their apartment, I waited at the light to return to my sister’s house. There is ongoing construction at the freeway on-ramp/off-ramp, which is confusing enough for frequent visitors, so I cannot imagine being there, just for the day. Some poor soul turned up the freeway off-ramp and started to climb toward the freeway. Because of the construction, there is no shoulder, no room to maneuver to avoid collision. I gripped the steering wheel and scrunched my head into my shoulders, squeezing my eyes shut. I heard the horns, the screech of tires, and the wild racing of my heart. But not the gnash of metal on metal. No screams. I opened one eye and saw the cars exiting the freeway had come to a stop a few feet from the front end of the disoriented vehicle. Another miracle.

Then, on my way home, as I crossed the Columbia River separating Oregon from Washington, I sped by Government Island and on a tree right next to the bridge, a bald eagle shimmered in the sunlight. Sunlight. In winter. In Washington.


How about you? Did you experience any Christmas miracles?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carols and Apricot Brandy

Merry Christmas

This morning it was 22 degrees. It warmed up to 32, and I was called upon to shiver outside on crunchy, white grass, still covered in frozen fog.

It reminded me of Christmas caroling with my family, years ago. We used to snuggle into ski jackets, hats, scarves, and brave the winter cold in the Bay Area in California, caroling around whichever neighborhood had not yet called the police on us. Sometimes we’d enlist the help of friends, telling them people loved to hear us sing. This was not true. We were the only ones who loved to hear us sing. Everyone else threw the dead-bolt, pulled their curtains and turned up their televisions.

One particular year, the temperatures dipped below 50 and our breaths blew white puffs in the glow of streetlights and blinking green and gold bulbs. We had made up books with the words to carols we could sing in harmony, and we strolled along the quiet neighborhood, blasting out our Christmas cheer, ignored by all humanity. Our heads were covered with the usual assortment of Santa hats, reindeer hats, moose hats and polar bear hats and my mother’s hand-knit mittens covered our hands, but the cold seeped through our jackets and reddened our noses. We began to wonder if it was all worth it.

My mother slid a hand inside her parka and extracted a flask of apricot brandy. My mother, the woman who warned against the dangers of alcohol, and only broke out the wine at special occasions. A little brandy mixed with a cup of eggnog once a year was the extent of my brandy knowledge. “Well, look what I have here,” she said.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, my mouth dropping as wide as my frozen jaw allowed.

“It was a gift,” she smirked. “I think this is just the time to open it.” And she did, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, with red, green, yellow, and blue Christmas house lights reflecting on the brown glass. She tipped her head back and took a swallow, like a hoodlum from West Side Story. My mother! She plucked a white, embroidered hanky from her sleeve and wiped the rim, holding up the bottle. “Who’s next?”

I was probably twenty-one, and possibly still in college, and contrary to the stereotype college student, I rarely drank, and only if there was a designated driver.

But we were walking.

My hand extended toward the bottle. “Lemme have a swig,” I said, in my best gangster drawl. Surprisingly, apricot brandy was yummy out of the bottle. The hanky wiped away any deadly germs and I passed the bottle to the next person. It was like being part of the cast of “A Pocket Full of Miracles.” We sang, we sipped, we strolled, we snickered and we sang some more. What is more, we no longer cared when someone drew their drapes and doused the lights. We harmonized, giggled, crooned and guzzled, until we’d circled the block.

As I shivered outside today, listening to the lecture, and noticed the other people huddled in jackets and coats, teeth chattering and feet stamping to keep the blood circulating, I thought about that apricot brandy. It was not the place to sing Christmas carols, or tipple a toddy, but I smiled when I thought of that evening of Christmas caroling with my family and friends, and I felt the warm flush of memories.

May your Christmas be filled with warmth, and music, and family and friends. And perhaps a nice, hot, buttered rum.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It may seem as though I don't like Christmas

Really, I do like Christmas. Honest I do. I wanted to write a nice, Christmas story to warm the reader's heart, but Bruce Murdock, from Portland's K103 radio station made me veer off the road with a story from Richland, Washington, yesterday. During a living nativity scene in front of the Cathedral of Joy, one of the shepherds burst into flame. They think his robes got too near the campfire and set him alight. While he tumbled down a hill, the three Wiseman tackled him, beating out the flames with their frankincense and myrrh. He was rushed to the local medical center with first and second degree burns to his hands and face.

After a short delay, the show went on.

Bruce Murdock went on to tell about his own Christmas experience back in about 1977. Like me, his house backed up to the woods and he was used to seeing the usual Pacific Northwest wildlife in his yard; raccoons, possums, etc., but as he stood at the kitchen sink, he glanced out of the window and spotted a sheep.

I've never spotted a sheep in my yard. I've had possum, raccoons, rabbits, deer, coyotes, snakes, bobcats and bears, but never have I had a sheep. Apparently he hadn't either.

He noticed it had a collar around its fluffy neck and scooped up his dog's leash, carefully approaching the animal, and slipping the hook onto the ring. He led the walking fleece into the front yard and tied it to the porch railing. Then he dialed 9-1-1.

"Oh, are you near the church?" the police asked.

They had been doing a living nativity at their neighborhood church when something frightened the sheep, causing a stampede out of the manger.

It was probably the flame from the shepherd’s robe.

A coworker told me nativity scenes are really dangerous, even the non-living ones. As a child, in Denmark, his father set up a small scene on his mother's sewing table. His dad had paper colored like stone, with a rough texture, that he'd drape across the table. He then placed Mary and Joseph and the baby, Jesus, into a little manager area made up of moss and rocks, surrounded by sheep and cattle, finally adding the shepherds and Wisemen on the outskirts.

After several years of this, they came home from the midnight service on Christmas Eve and lit the tiny candles to reflect on the coming of the Lord before going to bed. A little spark from the wick drifted down and set the three-year-old-moss on fire and the entire scene when up with a whoosh.

Might be how the shepherd's robes caught fire up in Richland.

Editor's note: Melanie Sherman does not know if it was the three Wiseman who beat out the flames of the shepherd.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Be careful what you say

In the last post I mentioned I sometimes have conversations I don't remember later, even when I was young. It is what people who are running for president should remember. Anything you've ever said or done can be used against you later.

It is amazing how something you say can have a lasting effect on someone else. Something that was so unimportant that you don't even remember it, can color a person's entire perception of you for years to come. What brought this to mind was a co-worker's story not long ago, when I was training a new person. Someone I'd worked with for years said to the new employee, "Oh, Melanie is a good person to have train you. She knows how to make you feel at home."

I stared at her, puzzled. I couldn't remember ever making an effort to make someone "feel at home."

"Don't you remember?" she asked. "You trained me."

I shrugged, vaguely remembering the training ten years before. "I guess."

She turned to the new worker. "It was my first day, and Melanie was showing me how to do the invoicing. I was very nervous, and at some point I opened my mouth and my gum fell out."

You'd think I'd remember that.

"What did I do?" I asked, sure I would have laughed, pointed and maybe handed her a bottle of glue to stick the gum back in her mouth. Or maybe I whipped out a pad of paper and pen and jotted it down, saying she would be in my next book.

"You looked down at the gum," she said, "then back at me, nodded and said, 'Oh, yeah, you are really going to fit in with the rest of us. We made the right choice.'"

I don't remember that at all, but it apparently made her like me from that moment forward. I didn't have the heart to tell her I probably wasn't being kind, but suspect I was merely stating a fact. She did fit in. It was just good fortune she took it as kindness.

But ever since then I wonder how many times it went the other way. How many times did I say something that made someone uncomfortable, or unhappy. I apologize to anyone I've insulted, demeaned, ignored or belittled, including that boy I called a pig-headed freak that time on the bus, riding home from middle school. And no, I'm not running for president, but Santa is certainly checking on his naughty and nice list.

Oh, and I'm really thinking of putting the gum incident into my next book.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I didn't forget, I deleted it

When I was younger, I used to have entire conversations I didn't remember later. There was a time a co-worker and I were discussing reporters, paparazzi, and journalists. We had been talking about how awful it must have been for Jackie Onassis, having tabloid reporters snapping pictures from near and far, with no regard for her at all. I mentioned that sometimes people who work for the tabloid media can be pretty obnoxious. My co-worker said, "Yeah, like that time that reporter was interviewing Abe Lincoln's widow?"

I turned, narrowing my gaze, wondering if this was something she had learned in school. "What reporter interviewed her?"

My co-worker smiled. "You know. When he said, 'Well, besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?'"

I laughed. "Yeah, that is the type of thing I'm talking about. How did you come up with that?"

She stared at me while the clock ticked, and steam rose from her coffee. "You told me that joke a month ago," she said, scratching her nose and tilting her head to check me for obvious signs of blunt trauma.

I chuckled. "Oh, yeah," I said.

But I didn't remember it at all.

It isn't that I forgot. It is just that I had to delete that joke from my memory because my RAM was full and I needed to remember something else. We only have so much ram, you know. Our minds are like computers. It is my theory that people with kids use up their RAM faster than childless people, because you have to remember your own things, plus the things your children are supposed to remember, but don't. So, when your RAM gets full, and you need to learn something new--like a new computer program at work, or your doctor's appointment--then you must delete something you don't feel you need any longer. In this case, it was the Mrs. Lincoln joke.

This makes life so much easier. Using my theory, you don't ever have to forget anything again. If you come home and your husband says, "Did you remember to pick up my shirts at the cleaners?" and you hadn't, it is because you had to delete it in order to learn something else. Certainly there are times we end up deleting something we probably should have maintained. These are unfortunate computer glitches. Occasionally they can be retrieved, but not without a lot of effort.

My motto is, "It isn't that I forgot, it is just that I had to delete that."

I'm running toward the sunset years, and I worry about it. I'll be deleting more and more as time goes on, and I don't know how to run my brain's defragmentation program.