Monday, December 24, 2012

Here is where I leave you.

It's Christmas Eve, and I think we are ready, as far as such a thing is possible.

I had a nice post planned for today, but I decided to write about something else that's on my mind. After this, I think it's time for me to retire from the internet for the remainder of the year.

Yesterday I went to see some neighbours of mine, from when I was a little kid. They lived next door and were sort of in between my parents' ages and my grandparents' ages. We have very fond memories of Mrs. Mullen, in particular, who used to invite my little sister, a preschooler alone at home, to come in and have a tea party with her while she sewed in her basement. She also gave us a key to her house while she was away on vacation so that we could come in and "feed the cat" -- translation: "watch cartoons" -- while she was away. She knew we didn't have a television and longed to see what all the fuss was about.

I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Mullen in the grocery store in November, right after my Dad's 75th birthday party. I hadn't seen them in decades and it was such a meaningful coincidence...I promised that I would come and visit them before Christmas.

The weeks went by and I was very busy getting ready for Christmas. I had half an eye on the calendar, thinking "I really must phone the Mullens. I really should. I'll do that this coming week." On December 21, I thought to myself, "I must phone them. I'll do it today when I get back from the grocery store." And again, in the same grocery store, wandering the same produce department, there they were.

If that's not writing on the wall, what is? I asked myself.

"I was just going to call you today!" I said as I hugged them. "How's Sunday for you? I'll bring cookies."

It was a lovely visit. It was happy and sad and a little bewildering to reflect on the time that has gone by. I was six weeks old when our family bought the house next door to them, and I was 14 when they moved away from the road. In April 1981, the day I fell and broke my knee cap, it was Mrs. Mullen who, hanging her laundry on the line, ran over with a flannel sheet to wrap the terrible cut that went halfway through my leg at the knee. I lay in the back seat of the car with my head on her lap while my mother drove to the hospital. Mr. Mullen arrived in time to carry me into Emergency.

I am now 39, and Mrs. Mullen is turning 88 this year. They remember that day, laughing about it all, and I laughed too and told them "That knee is better than the other one, now!" but inside I was marvelling at the way people wander into your life and out of it and, whether you ever see them again or not, they share some of your most formative memories.

Go out and see those people. Track them down and send them a Christmas card. Or a New Year's letter. They remember you, and they want to know that you remember them, too. They want to know that you remember the name of their cat, who died when Trudeau was finishing up his first term in office.

His name was Henry. He really liked barbecued salmon.

Someday I will be 88 years old. And I will probably wonder where it all went. I will probably think about the little girl who, right now in 2012, lives next door to me and can be a bit of a pleasant nuisance with her noisy singing. I will wonder whatever happened to her, and whether she had a good life, and is she married now and how old would she be?

I hope someday she looks me up in the phone book, and comes to see me. Maybe she'll tell me that she used to listen to me talking to my sister on the phone, out in the yard. Maybe she'll say "I remember that you used to come outside and hand us pizza, out of the blue." Or "I remember how nice it was in your living room at Christmas that time you invited me in to ice gingerbread cookies."

And I'll be so surprised and touched and I'll say "Fancy you remembering that!"

One day, we'll all look up from our screens and we'll realise that, while we were checking Facebook, the really important things about life have wandered away.

It's Christmas. I'll be spending it with my family and my friends. I wish you the very best, the very sweetest, the very most loving Christmas you've ever had. May it be a rest for you in these darkest days of the year - a time of peace and restoration.

Good Yule to you!

Mr and Mrs Mullen, December 2012
-Names changed.


clumsy ox said...

Oh wow!

I remember Mr. Mullen used to work at the Flying Club when I first got my pilot's license. We would chat when I went up there to get an hour or two log time in.

I remember throwing a rock through their window: it wasn't deliberate. Of course I went over with Dad to replace it. I was so mortified, and they were very gracious.

They used to make the most incredible smoked salmon.

Dave Hingsburger said...

You have this nasty way of making my mascara run.

Shan said...

Ox, I had forgotten the smoked salmon!

Dave, that's a great compliment...thank you.

Anonymous said...

This post is a lovely gift, Shannon.

Have a very merry Christmas.


Gwen said...

My favourite place in their house was the sewing room -- an entire family-room sized basement room -- which had a vinyl-padded bar in it. And the downstairs entrance (which we rarely used) that was papered in 1970's maroon and gold paper. It always reminded me of Seuss's "In A People House."

Gwen said...

Actually, I think that wallpaper was probably 50s or 60s era.

Dave Hingsburger said...

As a follow up comment, if that is allowed ... as a man now in my 60's I have to say that several times over the last 5 or 6 years some much younger people who I've taught in college or who have attended lectures or who have worked with me, have written to tell me both of the effect my work has had on their lives and how they are getting on in theirs. The gift of their time and their thoughtfulness is wonderfully welcome. I attest to what you say here wholeheartedly.

kristieinbc said...

What a wonderful Christmas Eve gift it was to read this post. Merry Christmas to you and your family!