How lovely are thy branches?

The Christmas morning clatter—save the boxes, keep the ribbon, recycle the tissue, read the directions, where’s the receipt, the vac is clogged—is a week in the past. As I write, the new year is just hours away.  I can’t say I’m sorry to see the old one out.

This dwindling year has been an annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth II defined her 1992. She referred to her children’s marital follies and questionable clandestine issues, as well as the costly fire in Windsor Castle, one of her favorites.

Even though this has been an awful year for the Clarke family, we’ve found bright spots to keep us laughing. The house didn’t burn down either.

One of Peter’s new helpers, fascinated by his natural affinity with children, observed him interacting with a little boy. They stood on the fringe of a crowd waiting to see the Nutcracker ballet. I wasn’t there but I’m sure my husband’s eyes twinkled while he made silly faces and crouched to the two-year-old’s eye level. More than once, the boy announced loudly to anyone else in range that this, pointing to Peter, was his New Best Friend.

When I heard the story I smiled in spite of myself and my fretting.

For months I’d wondered how, or if, I would cope, how Peter would do, how would we all manage during the holidays. But, miraculously, my husband had settled into his new “digs” and no longer asked, “Is this my room?” every time I led him inside.

With a lot of propping up from family and friends, I spun through Christmas with more good cheer than I’d thought I could muster. I dashed and twirled and muddled, but in many ways, the week was actually one of the best we’ve ever had. The eight of us kept him busy with meals and snacks, card games, walks, movies, billiards, and chatter. Not that Peter talked much, but he smiled, chuckling, as he listened. If he had been able to channel my dad, my husband might have said, “Well, someone has to listen.”

Header: In 2017, Peter lifted a dug-up pine to bring home with help from Leslie who wore red and white striped camouflage.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 


A down day turned up.

Early morning and already there were signs that it was going to be a down day. The salt and pepper shakers were in the butter compartment of the fridge, mustard, in the silverware drawer, and we were nearly out of bread. Nothing gets my day off to a worse start than having to do without toast. Lately, Peter has been eating almost a loaf a day — two pieces of toast, three sandwiches for lunch, and at least three slices with jam at various times during the evening.


But I eked out two slices from the end of the loaf.


When Peter came downstairs, he turned the television on first thing, as usual, but the growling that followed was not on “Today.” I ignored him for a few minutes hoping he’d figure out that if he stopped pushing all the buttons the remote would “catch up” to his impatient demands.


But I gave in. He looked up with a silly smile and continued jabbing buttons. “Um, were you actually going to call somebody? That’s the phone!”

He shook his head and laughed and so did I. Might as well.


Later I asked if he wanted to go shopping. He was waiting by the door before I changed into my best jeans. My husband is always ready to “go to the shops.” No sooner did I back out the drive than he started asking, “Any news from upstate?” Even though I’d said no, he continued, “Do they have snow?” The same questions six times in seven  miles. I counted.


I parked midway between TJMaxx and Barnes & Noble. A way to get in my morning walk and finish Christmas shopping in one. I found what I wanted quickly and checked out. We headed in the general direction of the car to stow my purchases. Ah, but where had I parked? Peter really enjoyed that laugh — up — as we sloshed and searched — down.

Version 2At the bookstore, I found what I wanted so fast that Peter was disappointed. He loves to wander at Barnes & Noble. “How about a coffee?” I asked to make up for my quick trip. I ordered a java chip frappacino — up — and asked if he wanted his usual cappuccino? “Yes, whatever that is,” he said. For the twenty minutes we sat over coffee he asked, four more times, “Any news from upstate?”


When we got home, Peter looked at the clock and yelped, “It’s gone one! Have I had lunch?”


“No, just coffee, nothing to eat. Make a sandwich.” He liked that idea. I went to the basement to wrap Christmas presents. When I came up, he had his Santa hat on and was working on a 500-piece puzzle. He’d marked out its one-by-three foot dimensions carefully, correctly.


img_4517Header: Peter puzzles.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Bare necessities.

We were salmon swimming upstream into a pack of grizzly bears. Two Fridays before Christmas, and we were at the largest mall around. What was I thinking?

Screen shot 2014-12-18 at 10.43.17 PM

Grizzlies doing lunch.

I don’t like to shop anyway, especially not for something specific.

“Specific” was shoes for Peter. He complains he has no shoes every time we get ready to go out. The man has shoes, lots of shoes. He just doesn’t want to wear them.

Right away I found the perfect pair. Nevertheless, he had to try on every likely shoe in the store before he realized — or would admit — I was right. He liked them so much he put his old ones in the bag and walked off, though not before the salesclerk chased him down to scan the code off the sole.

The real reason for braving the holiday hubbub was to see the Leonard Bearstein Animatronic Orchestra that performs at Christmastime. Peter takes childish delight in them, plus it’s fun to watch him watch the children who are alternately thrilled and terrified by bears not much bigger than themselves.

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Leonard Bearstein musicians.

We elbowed our way around both levels of the mall, dodged moms pushing strollers the size of SUVs, teenagers meandering with cell phones in hand (why weren’t they in school?), and old guys tottering towards benches to rest.

It wasn’t long before I’d had enough. “One more stop,” I said, as we headed back to Macy’s and our exit to the parking lot. “I need underwear,” I told Peter.


“Yes, underwear…panties…knickers!” I pointed towards the lingerie department. The displays were an avalanche waiting to happen. Brassieres as far as my eyes could see. Peter said he’d wait by the door.

I edged through the racks. There were robes and slippers and nightgowns aplenty, but I didn’t need nightwear either, damnit, I needed underwear and there was none in sight. I had no energy for an extensive search.

Totally disgruntled — and, dare I say, hungry as a bear? — I headed towards Peter and the out-of-doors. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There weren’t any! No knickers! Only bras!”

“How can that be?” he asked. “Don’t they sell them in sets?” He gestured, his hands drawing two voluptuous shapes in the air, with buttocky shapes beneath. “Why don’t they sell them together?”

Only an engineer would come up with a practical solution to vital, yet flimsy, womanly merchandise. The thought of women buying bra/panty sets, as if a “set” size would fit the whole woman, made me envision marketing nightmares: 34A up top meets size 18 XXL at bottom, or 44DDDD meets size 6.

“And you don’t even have a fur coat,” he said. His eyes crinkled merrily.

I looked at him with question mark eyebrows.

“Fur coat and no knickers…” he said, using one of his favorite English expressions. Such a comedian.

“You’re unbearable,” I growled. He laughed.