Monday, November 28, 2011

November Paradox

Because the leaves turned and fell so gradually this year, it seemed as if I could actually see that each day there was a little more light coming in my windows, sometimes reflected off the golden leaves under the trees.  The clarity that winter brings was so apparent this weekend, with light that studied the texture of bark, the rustle of grasses, the transparency of the dried leaves that hung on my clematis.  The light and the warmer weather encouraged me to stay outside and study the world instead of huddling inside, noting the pebbled surface of snow, how solid and stubborn it had become in the warmer weather.  I filled the bird feeders and stayed outside to watch the nuthatches and the single pine grosbeak peck at the seed.  Three or four flocks of pigeons flew in clustered scallops; as they turned, their wings were silvered with the light

But November changes when the blue hour arrives.  If I'm not cooking, I sit in the living room, probably with a cat or two, and watch that unusual, indescribable blue come over my back yard.  The birds are long gone, and the wind has probably died down.  So the back yard is still.  I can't decide whether the blue is serene and comforting--because I can only see it from indoors--or a kind of implicit threat.  Dennis Arbuthnott, a counsellor I talked to about Soul Weather and about the effect of weather on our moods, says that everything gets harder for us in November.  It's harder to see our lives and our actions clearly; it's harder to have the energy for the things that must be done; it's harder to exercise self-control. 

This November, I've found myself flooded with memories at the most unlikely moments.  When I'm waiting for Veronica to pick up special food for her cat.  When I'm sitting at a red light.  When I'm driving in the dark in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.

The other night when I was lost somewhere on the western edge of Lakeview, I remembered driving with my father to see his Aunt Nell on Christmas Eves, driving somewhere we never went otherwise, a sampler box of Whitman's chocolates with its cross-stitched cover on my lap.  Wherever it was we had to go, there were Christmas lights (something fairly rare in the fifties) that glittered and winked, lighting up my vague unease.  I was still young, so my impression of her living in a dormitory about the size of an elementary gym is probably quite inaccurate, but I know that the large room was full of beds and that there was no privacy. One had the vague sense that her living here was punishment for something, probably for being old and unwell.   My sister Karen has filled in some of the anxiety this memory brings:  my father visited her faithfully every year, and Christmas Eve really didn't start until we returned--something my mother resented.  But there's another mood in this memory that I can't quite name.  I have no sense that my father went to see her regularly; I only remember these Christmas Eve visits.  So this silent, capable man who is driving us:  what is he thinking?  Is he feeling guilty for not visiting at other times of the year?  Does he see this as a simple duty he must discharge?  What role does my mother's impatience play in this pilgrimage?  What is his tie to Aunt  Nell, given that he lost his mother when he was in his early teens?

This summer while I was at St. Peter's Anne Pennylegion said that we all grieve differently and that grief takes on quite different forms.  When my father died four years ago, I felt mainly relief.  He had been absent for several years and had been getting his nourishment by a feeding tube because he so often refused to eat.  Except one afternoon when I listened to the Faure Requiem, a piece of music he loved, or when I caught snatches of the Brahms Violin Concerto, another favourite, I didn't really grieve my father.  I told myself that this was because I mourned him each time I left Atlanta, and indeed I have a trail of poems to prove this.  But now I think that my mother's death has left me with the freedom and clarity (it's a long story) to see him more warmly.

November has its morning blue hours:  I sit with a cat and a cup of coffee, having finished the newspaper but not feeling quite ready to rush into the day.  And I can watch the morning blackness turn to blue.  And then in some moment when I'm not looking--perhaps I'm reading already, or perhaps Twig is sitting in my lap looking intently at my face and I'm returning the look, and the blueness lifts and clarity returns.

My father thought his daughters could do anything they set their minds to.  He believed we needed a university education:  to tell you how rare that was, I'd have to say that none of my cousins on either side of the family went to university.  He made me his buddy when he worked around the house, so I can now re-wire sockets or install new lights.  I'm not a bad carpenter:  I can cut molding at an angle and even have my very own mitre box.  He loved the Brahms Violin Concerto, and often put it on in the evening after I went bed.  But he also loved Quackity Sax.  I think I'll leave him with his contradictions intact, and simply turn the memories over in my hands and my mind when they come.

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