Thursday, December 26, 2013


christmas is like a long, hard ride: the more you put into it, the better it is.

my favorite christmas in childhood memory was one of the first in the house that my parents had built, up on a snowy white hill surrounded by leafless maples and swaying spruce. we had all gone to the local small town. we had all searched and searched for gifts that would be 'perfect' for that particular person in the family. i had never spent so much time considering what pair of wool socks would best suit my little brother. i had never considered the soap my sister might like. i was sure those patterned socks would be perfect for my mom.

i had worked for the past few weeks in the wood shop of the local school, making novelty items out of scrap lumber, routering people's names into knotty pine, painting wooden christmas tree ornaments cut crookedly with a scroll saw then painted green, putting the mirror in another 'key rack' that no one had a use for. it was glorious.

everyone got socks that christmas.

then my parents went back to bed, my brothers and i went out to play hockey in the snow with my new net and puck, my sister started reading her book, and we were to reconvene for brunch. i remember quite vividly how fluffy the snow was, like stick handling the puck over snow after a goose down pillow fight. the sun was beaming. light glinted off of everything shiny or snow-covered, which was everything out there. my new sweatpants were bright red, like the paint on the hockey net. my brothers were flashes of blue and wool grey. we were giddy with the pleasure of the moment. mom was home. dad was home. we were proud of the gifts we had given. we were covered in light.

christmas has since devolved and then evolved into a time of midnight drives and sleepy presents, pressure cooker accommodations and the constant failure of myself to meet anyone's expectations. sometimes there was bedrest. sometimes there was christmas on the road. sometimes it was on the 25th and everyone was angry. sometimes it was before and didn't feel like christmas. sometimes we showed up a day later and every conversation ached like a hangover. yesterday, yesterday was evolution. we woke up in our own beds. the girls opened their stockings and presents. there was not enough, but this is a budget year, and they get twisted expectations from their friends at school. then we ate and all was well. there was coffee and gluten free cinnamon buns. there was bacon. it was christmas, evolved back into what it should be. and then it started snowing, big, fluffy flakes, covering everything in cold, white down. i was not angry.

now it's the time for resolutions, for promising to make next year just a little bit better, to plan a little tighter, to give a little more. now it's the time to ramp everything up as we hit the road and try not to screw up christmas under other people's expectations (not that i know what any of them are, let alone how to reconcile them with the realities of weather, driving, or my own little family). not really a problem; we all know that i'll fail to meet most people's expectations so there's no need to stress about the inevitable. next year though, next year i will cover all of us in light.

merry christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2013


he was tall, lean, and hungry-looking, blonde with perfect teeth, and lips that stretched over his mouth when he smiled, and he usually smiled, especially when he was telling a story. this was lying through your teeth, only better, and beautiful.

he wore sweatpants with no logo, burgundy probably, at some point, and white socks, white at some point, that vanished into dirty red converse. his t-shirt was perfectly worn: yuppies a decade later would have paid premium dollar for such 'stonewash'. his hair curled a bit, and matted a bit more. he was local.

being shorter and newer and not from around there, i rushed home and transformed myself instantly. i dug out my most faded sweatpants to replace my new creased jeans. i put on the broken converse i had already grown out of. i left my t-shirt on. i was local.

where i grew up, when i grew up, we were all just as poor as each other. we all made our own fun in the trees behind our houses. we swam in the river and dove between the little oil slicks on the surface of the waves at the public dock. we rode stripped down mountain bikes without helmets or even shorts. we perfected the staycation, traveling everywhere by bike, our stories and egos getting bigger on every mile of the three between our parents' houses. no one went to vermont to ski. no one went to mexico on march break. i wore hand-me-down skates from the doctor's son. we all had patches on our knees and hemmed-out pants that were a little too short. when i grew up, we were all too poor to know any other way of it.

later on, we found out that there were differences.

i would never be local. i wasn't born there. my parents weren't from around there. and even though my dad built local houses and drove local trucks and my mom patched up local drunks and idiot snowmobilers at the local hospital, we would never be local. maybe that's why it was so easy to leave. we got good grades and worked far away. sometimes we stayed and fell in love with local girls. we just weren't from around there. and now, when i ride local roads with people who aren't from around there, i'm proud to say that i grew up on those roads, that riding those hills was the only way to see the girl i loved.

later on, that perfect blond boy with the smile and the uncle who played in prairie oyster would grow up. we wouldn't be friends anymore, wouldn't really even say hi. maybe we would nod in the hallway at high school. he would smoke and snowboard at the hill. i would snowboard in my backyard and avoid asthma attacks. his brother got into hard drugs and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. we were different.

my kid asks me sometimes why we don't go to mexico for march break, or why she doesn't go skiing on winter weekends, or why we don't own our house or send her to different camp in the summer, or have a cottage… she knows that there are differences. i tell her that it's because of the choices of her mama and me, that we picked certain things to do for jobs, and certain things to spend money on, and that with these jobs and those money things, there's only so much money to go around. and then i remind her that i get to see her every day and every weekend, while i'm not out making a million dollars a year. we don't own our house, but we get to send her to school that's only a short walk away, and is another short walk from the grocery store, and the park, and 'amenities'. we made choices. we spent money on school and bikes and being healthy instead of rich. and then, to sum up, to make sure that she need not worry about her rank in the neighborhood family status thing for everything, i remind her that her mama rides faster than every lady in the neighborhood, that the little girl has the nicest bike of any kid in her school, that we may drive a small car but our bikes are nicer than most people's cars, and that she's more important than a million dollars a year, and i'd rather chase her in the park than dollars on bay street.