December 2002

enchanted Philadelphia

Sunday, December 1, 2002, 1:09 a.m.

The city is half magical and half bad dream, and it fades from one to another like rain beginning and then lifting again. In the end, I bring home vegtables and pastry and nostalgia... days like these are the ones I want to remember when I'm thirty, fifty, a hundred.

We woke early, Hollis and I, and by nine-thirty we were rocking slowly with the rhythm of the train. Everything slipped past (as it always does) as I stared through the plexiglass, and I wondered (as I always do) about the thousands of lives that I knew nothing about. Trains make my life feel like such a small fragment of the world, and I realize that I don't even know how little I've experienced.

By ten o'clock we were on a grey street corner near Suburban Station, the wind in our hair, and some time after that we returned to one of our new haunts: the Italian Market on 9th Street. While Hollis found the best price on ginger, I browsed produce like books in a library, looking not merely for the freshest, but for the most aesthetic. I spent a long time comparing this pepper to that, or deliberating about which onion had rounder curves, all the while imagining everything I saw drawn lovingly in ebony pencil. May my scribblings approximate the loveliness of these forms...

Simple pleasures truly are my favorite, no matter how cliche it may sound. White hot chocolate at what's now perhaps "our" cafe, a new rolling pin, incredibly cheap mangoes, yarn stores. But the best was yet to come.

After the cafe, we set out on a mission for lunch... and Philadelphia reminded my boyfriend and I that neither of us are true city dwellers. True, my hometown is far more urbane than the little hamlet where my country mouse love lives, but still I'm always acting a little when I look like I fit in on a busy street. In Chinatown, each restaurant we tried seemed full to bursting with post-Thanksgiving patrons, and our spirits dipped lower and lower. We nearly gave up then, and were halfway down the stairs back into dank Suburban when we changed our minds. I'm twenty tomorrow, I thought, I want a nice lunch.

Just making the decision seemed to lighten everything so quickly. It seemed almost no time later that we ducked out of the rain (oh, why never snow?) and into Pietro's off Rittenhouse Square. It was exactly what I'd wanted - quiet, a little classy, and with excellent coal oven-fired pizza. But the best was yet to come...

It was after ogling at Barnes and Noble, when we stepped out onto the Square again, that I knew the day was compelete. In the bare limbs of the trees that lined the tranquil paths hung countless colored globes, glowing like fairy-orbs and seeming to hang unsupported mid-air. Orange and pink and blue and green and red... I turned around and around, grinning like a little girl on Christmas morning. We saw these lights last Thanksgiving weekend - Hollis and I - so soon after the birth of our relationship. I'd prayed that they'd be back this year. And oh, they were, and they were even more magical than I'd remembered. They called back to the daydreams I had in my childhood when there was no one to play with but my fairy books and the enchanted worlds in my imagination, the worlds I wanted to slip into when other children laughed at me or left me all alone at recess. I held Hollis' hand and knew that I wasn't alone anymore... but that I could keep my dreams, too.

"Goodbye, fairies," I called softly as we walked out of that world and back into the greyness of the city, together.

And when I wake up, I'll be twenty...


Monday, December 2, 2002, 2:22 a.m.

In response to the oft-asked question, "How does it feel?" I answer this:

Really, pretty much like being nineteen. Except with a spice rack, a new CD, a box of candy, and some vanilla-orange cake in my belly. But yeah, life is good.

* * * * * * * * * *

...I feel that I should take a moment to thank my parents with all my heart. Without them, I wouldn't have a birthday, today or any other day. Twenty years and a day ago, my mother sat in some hospital bed, probably screaming with pain - and at about eight-thirty in the morning, a man and a woman became parents. My parents. I could list the things that have happened since, from the midnight feedings to the camping trips to the driving lessons - not to mention countless morning wake-ups and hot dinners and yes, the tuition that gives me the chance to be here at Swarthmore. The complete list would take all night, though, and you probably know it roughly anyway. I mean, you have parents, too.

So thank you, Mom, and thank you, Dad. Happy birth day.


Thursday, December 5, 2002, 10:06 a.m.

After over a week of promises and warnings from the weather people, Nature's finally delivered - several inches of snow overnight! And it's sticking - covering the ground completely and frosting the trees. It's supposed to continue all day. It's so beautiful... I could just sit by a window and watch it fall for hours.

Good morning!

ready to study

Friday, December 13, 2002, 12:53 p.m.

Favorite things today:

Maple-brown sugar instant oatmeal
Leonard Cohen's Ballad of the Absent Mare "...and she comes to his hand, but she's not really tame..."
the shapes of melting snow upon bare brown grass
hot chocolate in my Finland mug

Now God grant me a clear mind as I study...

old friends

Saturday, December 21, 2:46 a.m.

There's something really wonderful about old friends. Even if you've gone separate ways and turned into very different people, still they sit in coffee shops with you and laugh about silly things and keep you up late. Sometimes it takes a while to reach that point after you've grown apart a little - it takes some time to come to terms with the fact that the relationship isn't exactly the way it used to be. But after that phase, it's lovely to settle into that casual familiarity that only comes with those who have known you for years.

So, I'm home from school for a month, and done with schoolwork until next semester. It feels good. This house is like an old friend, too, and while it's not my only home any longer, it's always comforting to return.There is so much more to write about, like Candlelight and all-nighters and Hollis' tree, but tonight it's my dear old bed and me, getting to know each other again. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Christmas chaos

Monday, December 23, 2002, 11:07 p.m.

So, the tree is bought ("That one's too skinny." "Well, that one's too sparse. I can see through it." "How tall is our ceiling, anyway?"), set up ("Where's that piece of vinyl we put underneath last year?" "Hold it steady!" "Nope, that's definately too tall - it's hitting the ceiling."), and even lit ("Why aren't the green bulbs lighting?" "Oh no, I just stepped on that string!" "Help? I can't reach the top of the tree."). I've bought most of my presents ("What size do you think he wears?" "Doesn't she already have one of those?" "What do you mean, you're all out of stock?"), kept them hidden ("Don't come in here! Okay, now you can, but only look to your left... no, your other left!"), and wrapped them ("Will it fit in this box?" "Where's the tape?" "No, that paper's ugly! Save it for next year." "Shh, quick, she's coming!").

Yes, Christmas is chaos... but I'm a sentimental old fool, and wouldn't part with a moment of it for all the wide world. And when I've a cup of gingerbread spice tea and a book, and I'm curled up in the armchair... well, who wouldn't be content?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 25, 2002, 11:22 p.m.

And now, after the ribbons and wrapping paper, after the angels and twinkling lights, after the stockings and the sound of bells drifting out over the snow, another Christmas is about to pass into memory. I want to write about all of it, but I suppose it's been said before... the love, the peace, the messages you see on greeting cards and the tears in my eyes as a choir sings by candlelight.

Silent night, holy night... Wonderous star, lend thy light...

And it snowed today, maybe a whole foot of fluffy skydust blanketing the home where I've spent twenty Christmases. At first it was beautiful. Then my sister and I were sent out with shovels and it seemed less magical. My back ached, I began to sweat, and the driveway seemed impossibly long. Before clearing even half of it, it began to vanish again under the ceaselessly falling flakes (the blank, white, glittering sublime) - and then it began to seem beautiful again, and honest, too, to wield a shovel and put my bones to work.

And there were presents, and I can't say quite when it became more enjoyable to watch others smile at gifts I'd chosen than to open the ones with my name. Still Katie and I have stockings, though now they contained Italo Calvino and Seventeen magazine, instead of math coloring books and tea sets. (Though always socks, always York peppermint patties, and always, always, holiday-themed Lucky Charms.) I have new cookware, now, and right now I'm snuggled into a new flannel shirt.

Shadows on the ceiling from the colored lights through the pine needles... maybe that's all memories are, anyway.

But oh, so very lovely...

Days of Beauty
Copyright Elizabeth McDonald 2002

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