Monday, December 15, 2008

Day three hundred and forty eight ... A hundred years.

There are many things I like about winter.

I enjoy wearing my sport coats--always have.

I like wearing hats--always will.

And I enjoy the shorter days.

There's something exciting about knowing that after a certain date you will be faced with less and less sunlight on a daily basis for months on end. It lends a certain urgency. 

And the family I come from knows full well about this. 

I realize that I am an amalgamation of all who came before me and I shouldn't put too much merit in the idea that simply because my mom, aunt, uncle, and grandmother all died in their sixties, that I will too. But it sure does make me wonder.

I don't dwell on it.

I don't let it distract me from my daily life.

And it doesn't make me paranoid that I'm thirty eight years old and that that's only twenty-two years away from sixty--not a paltry number, by any means, but certainly not half a lifetime more, either.

But I know that one of the things that keeps me writing--that keeps me thinking, and churning out ideas, and making the best music I can, and taking pictures, and spending time with people in more emotionally engaging ways, and staying sober, and getting rid of clutter, painting my walls pleasing colors, cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, and the basement, and filling my life with art, poetry, music, and film ...

... the reason I am on a seemingly unstoppable rampage to get things done ... is because I realize the days are always getting shorter, no matter what the weatherman says. And little by little the cartilage that connect my bones is getting older, my skin is a getting a little looser, my hair is getting a bit grayer, my lungs take in a shorter breath each attempt, my veins allow the blood to flow with a touch more restriction with each beat of my ever aging heart, and my liver perseveres with the scars of a destructive lifestyle I created, and it will always have a complex no matter how much care I now treat it with. 

A beaten dog always shies from a raised hand. It matters little how pure the intent was. 

The fabric my clothes are made from springs back a bit less each time they make it through another wash cycle. My socks give me a bit less protection with each stride I take in the shoes that erode a a microscopic layer with each step I complete.

But I have little choice in the matter of positive forward progress. It is my ward, however late it came to be.

These words I write today may be seen as depressing, nihilistic, self-defeating, or even destructive. They are, however, all part of the process that allows me to enjoy the benefits and the rewarding aspects of my time on earth. Without the admission that I die a little each day I might just sleep fourteen hours at a stretch without a care. I might just pour a liter or more of alcohol past the mouth I use to promote my identity with on a daily basis.

I might just help the hands of time--turning the clock around and twisting the knob that sets the hour ... minute ... second.

But instead, I'll just make sure that the battery is fresh; that the mechanism is oiled, and the spring is tightened to its full capacity.

And then I'll let the gears do what they do.


Today would be my Aunt Lynda's, sixty-first birthday.

She was one of those close-to-Christmas people who--regardless of how often she would claim indifference--would probably have preferred to have been born a few weeks in any direction away from the twenty-fifth of December. 

But December fifteenth was the day she was born on, and we always did it up right for her each year.

Last year, I was in France with the Chorus from right after Thanksgiving until December sixteenth. I remember buying her chocolates, a tacky cat figurine (which she loved, of course), making a card, and then spending a panicked and nerve-wracking hour at a Strasbourg post office trying to convey the idea to the teller (via a well-intentioned patron who knew three words more English than the postal worker) that I needed to purchase a box, I needed to affix postage to it, and I needed to send it to the U.S.A. Ultimately I managed to do all of these things and left the post office with both a satisfied and uneasy feeling about the transaction. It wasn't until I returned in a state of distress and waited in line (again) and waited for my number to be called in French (again) and made the best attempt at informing the postal worker (the same one, thankfully) that I had affixed the wrong zip code (I had written my own) and had to change it, or there would be a very disappointed aunt in America who wouldn't get her chocolate on time for her birthday.

In this age of increased security and a seemingly universal disregard for the human error I was shocked and thrilled to witness the postal worker fish out the box I had just spent an hour to assemble and give it back to me along with a pen, a smile, and a wave goodbye as I left, finally, thankfully, and properly sending Lynda Jean Johnson her birthday present. 

She got it on time.

She loved the card, the figurine, and the chocolates.

She loved the postage stamps, the packaging, and the scribbling out of the wrong zip code.

She loved all of these things because I made the effort.

I took the time.

I didn't forget. I didn't procrastinate. And I didn't allow my hectic schedule to interfere with the traditions set forth by the hands of time.

December fifteenth was when she was born, and December fifteenth is the day I have always, and forever will celebrate the birth of my mother's and uncle's sister.

Today I will travel to Mattapoisett to eat at her favorite restaurant (Bailiey's in Wareham) with her best friends, Kelly and Sarah. I will use either a coupon, a gift card, or--if permitted--a combination of the two to pay for lunch. I will ask for the broccoli with cheese sauce that isn't on the menu but will say "The chef always makes it for me," as she used to insist (much to my food service training's horror). I will get a water for me, and a water for her--"no lemon." As was her wont. 

And I will toast to her memory and sing the song, "Sto-lat!" which, in Polish, translates to "A hundred years, a hundred years, may you live a hundred years," and I will more than likely cry my eyes out at least once (I am presently--at 11:39 a.m.--keeping it together quite nicely), and I will drive back to my home, sober.

She never lived long enough to see me approach my twelfth month of alcohol abstinence, but she always said she knew I was going to do it this time. I always used to tell her, "don't jinx me, Aunty," and she would always brush it off and tell me, "you are in control of your life, not a silly thing like luck or superstition."

I suppose when they sing "Sto-lat" some may look at that as a jinx as well.

I'm just going to do what will get me closest to that hundred years.

The clock is wound up.

The batteries are fresh.

The hands are moving as they should.

The rest is up to me.

Happy birthday Aunty.

Sto-lat!

I love you.



Lynda Jean Johnson 12/15/47-09/07/08

Thanks for reading.


F.A.J.



PS: A special note to Betsy C. who bought a case of Fancy Feast, in my aunt's honor, to share with the stray cats near Branch St., in Fall River. My aunt didn't let many people into her life. It's easy to see why you made the cut. Thank you.




2 comments:

KELTICGRASSHOPPER said...

That made me cry...

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine that your aunt and mother smile boldly when they see you so effectively living your life and sharing such tender, heart swelling,thought provoking, messages with your reader.

How ever long you are on this planet Freddy, the universe is thrilled that you have found your light and are sharing it with the rest of us.

Shine on ...