Monday, January 20, 2014
In these days of raw winter, I find myself on the losing side of battles with hedonism and lethargy. I blame my shortcomings on the mostly-absent, anemic light. I haven’t read much of anything since before Thanksgiving. I go out of my way to avoid small talk; by and large I ignore email. The only thing redeeming about my January is the annual, maniacal clearing out and organizing of our living space I’m driven to do, refreshing everything.
Over the weekend, in an overstuffed plastic container on a chokingly dust-covered, precariously high closet shelf, still swaddled in the movers’ duct tape, I found a treasure trove from my high school days. Photos; birthday, Christmas and general occasion greeting cards with humorous and scenic covers; now-deceased grandmothers’ wobbly cursive on stationary; correspondence from friends. At the sight of the handwriting on one envelope after another the shock of recognition made my throat constrict. The first thing I opened was written on a ragged-edged piece of spiral notebook paper. As I read the first paragraph – a description of an event that occurred on the Valdez fuel dock – and examined the accompanying sketch, I could hear Fred’s voice. I was suddenly seventeen, hanging out with him in the engine room of a tour boat as he finished his work for the day, chatting and cracking jokes, listening to Bruce Springsteen on repeat.
In the days those cards and letters were received I used to check the mailbox with anticipation. There was almost always something good. I corresponded into adulthood with several friends I made at summer camp as a kid. Within a week of sending my grandmothers a letter, I could count on hearing back from them. Sporadically, at the end of high school and through college, I received word from friends I made the previous summer working on a tour boat.
A handful of years after the postmarks on those envelopes, we all got computers and internet connections and email accounts. The mail dried up. I’ve recently re-connected with a number of friends from my younger days via social media; a bird's eye view, without any direct intimacy, voyeuristically. I don’t see the handwriting.
My friend Aran is visiting her home in the Basque country right now. This morning on Instagram she posted an image of Fernando, her family’s butcher her whole life for as long as she can remember. I wish my life had that kind of constancy, but it doesn’t. My family doesn’t live in Alaska anymore, and I haven’t returned in about a decade. The scraps of the past in dusty plastic containers remain; people and experiences that are still part of me, however removed by time and distance.
Today the boys had the day off from school in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr's life. All day, as it always does on this day, my mind wandered to my parents’ stories of life in the Jim Crow south. When they were high school students, a few years before I was born, their school became integrated. They grew up in the presence of segregated drinking fountains and restrooms. I wonder if Abbott and Cal and their peers will take for granted the civil rights advances of our time or if they’ll remember hearing about the struggles, will pass on their memories of the fight for marriage equality. In their children’s day, I know there will be aspects of life as it is now they won’t be able to imagine except as a distant nightmare. Light prevails.
The days are subtly but perceptibly becoming longer. Alexi and I scaffold each other as best we can. He hurriedly texts me throughout the day; we exchange shorthand, emoticon conversations in between his interpreting radiological images and performing biopsies. I light the candles, welcome friends, keep the embers going as best I can.
Jen’s Party Mix
My friend Jen is a terrific host and guest, and an even better friend. Yesterday she and her family came over to watch a football game, and she brought her famous party mix. We ate it, still warm from the oven, as we watched our home team work their way to a victory that will send them to the Super Bowl. I haven’t felt this excited about football since I was a little girl and the Dallas Cowboys – the family favorites – were in it.
5 cups Crispix cereal
1½ cups mixed nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans
2 cups pretzels
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Large pinch cayenne
Turn on the oven to 250 degrees. Combine the cereal, nuts and pretzels in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Drizzle the butter-spice mixture evenly over the cereal mixture and then mix with your hands, distributing everything evenly.
Transfer the mixture to a 9x13 baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly toasted. Spread out on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool. Serve while warm, or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Yield: about 8 servings