Capra’s Christmas-noir classic got it right. As we fall apart, we come together.
Neighborly Nick brings over a box of persimmons (Cut them in half, he says. Sprinkle with blue cheese). My neighbor Partha treats me to breakfast and stories of India.
Nice quality, being neighborly. It escalates in satisfying ways. With that in mind, I’m taking a tray of crooked cupcakes to the young family that just moved in down the block.
It’s the thought, right? Because if you saw these crooked cupcakes….
Young families make me smile the way you would if you saw angels doing cartwheels on your front lawn. I love the energy and the noise and the tangle of their lives. Forget all the accoutrements. The real American Dream is soccer shoes on the doorstep, a pumpkin on the porch, a football in the yard.
Why does “It’s a Wonderful Life” still resonate so much? Because Jimmy Stewart’s family is young, and chaotic, stressed and noisy – even the staircase is rotting. That movie is Frank Capra’s Christmas noir. Dark and cynical. Simple yet sophisticated. George Bailey is coming apart and coming together all at the same time.
Similarly, I hope these new neighbors can meld the simple and the sophisticated. I hope for them a rich balance, these young neighbors I hardly know.
At this time of year, young families are usually inventing their lives, taking some traditions from the mother’s side and blending them with traditions from the dad’s. They will do things to the tree, to the holiday table, that connect them to their childhoods.
As young parents, they will no doubt try to do too much, a holiday tradition all by itself.
My late wife’s birthday was Dec. 12 – same as Sinatra, same as my quadruplet nieces and nephew. Apparently, lots of wonderful stuff happens on Dec. 12.
It also happens to be the day the nation’s first motel opened in 1925, in San Luis Obispo, halfway between LA and San Francisco. I thought you’d like to know.
Anyway, when the kids were small, we would put up the tree on Posh’s birthday, and I would make chili, always chili, I’d been a self-taught chili chef since college.
I would race out to rent a video camera; they were $2,000 back then and we couldn’t afford that. For $35, you could rent one from the video store.
So there I was, making chili, setting up the Christmas tree, hauling in the decorations, buying a cake, figuring out the rental video camera, hoping it came with all the cords. I was 25 and it was still exhausting. Posh’s birthdays were wonderous and exhausting.
We wanted to keep them though, to preserve them on videotape, these exhausting milestones that broke our backs and filled our hearts.
I don’t think in a million years I could bring myself to watch those tapes. Posh was so happy back then, and got less happy over time, and I was the root cause, no doubt. I’m kind of a crooked cupcake.
Then the long illness turned her into another person, in some ways better, some ways worse. The time travel of those old videotapes would be just too much for me to bear right now.
I see that young family down the road and can’t help but think: How will life bruise them? In what ways will things go wrong? Can I bubble wrap them against bad luck and consequence, fate and misbehavior?
Where would you even buy that much bubble wrap?
True, our life went more wrong than most, a double-whammy of untimely loss that we’re still working through.
Also true: We’re not so different from everyone else. Loss and lousy luck are our common denominator.
Met a girl. Name is Reesa. She’s just a hiking pal, nothing more (it’s not that at all).
Reesa is a vision: super fit, kind of golden. When she turns her face toward the sun, the sun turns toward her. It’s as if they’re admiring each other…two California blonds sharing a moment.
Reesa is a neighbor too. She teaches high school dance. Runs trails, 30 miles at a time. Reesa loves to move more than anything in the world. She also has rheumatoid arthritis, which clamps the joints in ways that make it hard to move.
The irony is profound, in that the things we love the most are often stolen from us. Like Beethoven growing deaf, or Monet losing his eyesight.
Yet Reesa, with the help of meds, runs and runs, and dances and dances. If you saw her, you would say, “That’s the healthiest, most-vigorous woman I have ever seen.”
Reesa is an inspiration. And a reminder that we’re born unscathed, then life hammers and chisels at us a bit till we become someone more artful and interesting.
Bruised, but better. Damaged, yet still fleet.
Here’s to Reesa. Here’s to Posh.
Here’s to all of us.
This weekend’s Rose Bowl hike is on hold, till COVID concerns ease. As of today, Saturday’s book signing at Flintridge Bookstore is still on, from 2:30-4:15 pm., 858 Foothill Blvd., in La Canada. Hope to see you there.