Everywhere we look, this season, we encounter scenes of a traditional family holiday. A Hallmark card holiday.
All those attempts to sell you things by tugging on heartstrings tuned to a memory, or a dream—I wonder how much of the distress some experience at this time of year could be erased if we could avoid those reminders. (No doubt we have enough personal reminders, anyway.)
Christmas in our house has been a shrinking festival for some years. This may be a hazard of time’s passage when the grandchildren are far away. It is also a hazard of families fragmented by divorce, no matter how long ago that may have occurred. Of families that may blend on paper, but don’t gel.
Over the past thirty or so years, LH and I faced down this emotional barrage by fleeing. We didn’t go far—just to Galveston Island, out on the west end.
Most years the weather there was chilly, with few people enjoying it. Our visit, with its elements of escape, became part of our holiday tradition, a necessary part.
This year I have come alone, except for Rosie, my dog. I don’t really feel so alone, however, because the Gulf is still here, rolling waves toward me. The beach is still here. It’s not deserted this year, but sparsely populated by people and dogs. The weather is warm, lovely, so far. Asks for a light sweater in the morning. It will become colder, soon.
The peace that comes from proximity to large bodies of salt water has not changed.
Hale isn’t here in a form I can see and touch, but he is here, nonetheless. While I type, he is sitting just out of sight on the deck watching a convocation of seagulls at water’s edge with his binoculars. It’s funny, how clearly I feel his presence.
Before sunrise this morning, Rosie and I walked along the sand waiting for the sun to emerge from behind dawn’s cloud bank. And I brought with me Hale’s words about Galveston sunrises, how special they are. I did see one or two with him, but I was usually still asleep while he waited for the happening in the company of our current Labrador.
Because of Rosie, today I was wide awake, toasting this morning’s performance with a cup of coffee while she kept close watch on two Great Pyrenees a hundred yards away. They were stately, controlled, no doubt a great disappointment to her, the perennially hopeful pup.
Being alone in a much loved place when the spouse is no longer alive brings an elasticity to time.
I, suspended in the present moment, can see him walking along the sand sometime in the 1990’s, looking for the intact sand dollar he never found. His binoculars are swinging from one hand.
I can see him, younger still, teaching my son to fly a kite on the constant Gulf breeze.
Walking on the damp sand, I feel his hand in mine, always, across the decades, as our stride falls into synchrony. Such synchrony.
I recently came across a section of his food memoir, Supper Time, that recounted our improbable courtship. He told it, also, in his recently published retirement journal--two tellings of the event.
And it is a gift for me, now, to read these stories, written years apart, where sequence and chronology vary, but the inner truth glows and burns, unaffected. This is one of the lessons a writer learns from reading, from experience, and Hale knew it down to the bone. There is truth, and it lies next to the heart. Everything else is ribbons and shiny paper.
Published December 31, 2021 in the Fayette County Record