Joe College returns for Thanksgiving break with Roommate and Girlfriend. I am able to indulge my daughter envy when Girlfriend ecstatically accompanies me to the downtown flower market at 6 a.m. Additionally, she masters the piping bag after a brief lesson and produces a tray of charming girly hors d'oeuvres. Spuds returns from Bard on the first night of Chanukah. There is bad weather on the East Coast and I am frantic that his flight will be canceled. I envision him spending Thanksgiving curled up on the floor, using his backpack as a pillow, at JFK. I log onto the Jet Blue website a zillion times. His flight is delayed. Finally after an hour the website indicates that his flight has flown. I've had a week long cooking orgy. Roasted tomato soup, potato latkes, homemade applesauce and Nutella donuts are served and the menorah is lit at 10 p.m. when Spuds arrives home. The next day, it's Thanksgiving for 20 guests. Last year my stove was broken and I cooked the meal in a tiny convection oven. About an hour before the turkey was done, a fuse blew and we had to farm out the components of the meal to be warmed at the homes of friends and neighbors. This year the old stove has been replaced with a yellow enameled Italian job the size of a Fiat. In addition to the Chanukah grease fest, a Thanksgiving feed is pulled off hitch-free the following day.
Spuds' visit home is a brief one and at eighteen his first trip home since August entails places to go and people to see. Our time together is limited. Joe College and his crew head back to Redlands and I repack (unbidden) Spuds' backpack. Himself and I are leaving for London ourselves the next day. After a couple of frenetic days Spuds and I loll on the couch and channel surf to kill time before we drop him at the airport. . We happen upon Denzel Washington's FLIGHT. The crash sequence is harrowing and beautifully edited. Spuds notes, “We probably shouldn't be watching this,” but we are both too inert to change the channel. It has been one of the best Thanksgivings I remember. I love having a house full of jocular enthusiastic eaters. However, being sprawled on the couch with Spuds by the glow of the TV is the moment that the whole Thanksgiving raison d'etre really sinks in.
I have chronicled here previously a wondrous week spent in London during the summer. Himself and I learn that some WW1 paintings by Stanley Spencer from the Sandham Chapel are being displayed in London. Himself is not a spontaneous person and motherhood has pretty much beaten that quality out of me as well. The decision however is made in about fifteen minutes and a flight is booked for the following week. Stanley Spencer served in Macedonia and then later at a mental hospital that had been partially re-purposed to treat wounded veterans. The themes of the series are nearly mundane. Orderlies mop the floor of the hospital. Soldiers rest and water their horses at a fountain. The central alter-piece mural has not been removed from Sandham but it is projected at the London show. The war is over. Soldiers, resurrected, rise from their graves. There is no trace of horror in any of Spencer's work but the banal tableaux evoke what has gone before. The exhibit is aptly titled Heaven in a Hell of War and is a testament to survival predicated by steadfast belief in a comforting God.
We visit Heaven in a Hell of War twice and also my old favorites (The Tate and the Victoria and Albert) and the new to me (Courtauld, Museum of London and The Museum of Transport). We see a mediocre play (Mojo) with a great cast and also The Curious Case of the Dog at Midnight which blew me away during the summer. I note in August and also during our recent visit that The Apollo is particularly funky, even by London Victorian era standards and am shaken to learn of the ceiling collapsing in the middle of a performance so soon after our own visit. We take a brief train trip to the village of Cookham where Stanley Spencer lived and worked. We spend several hours in a tiny gallery and chat with the enthusiastic curator. Many of these paintings are landscapes and small glimpses at domestic life. My favorite is of a couple searching through a chest of drawers. Their bodies in awkward unison navigating a tiny space. Tea and scones are taken at a twee tea shop and we take a walking tour of the church, bridges and gates depicted in Spencer's paintings. I gorge on Kendall Mint Cakes, Wine Gums and Marmite flavoured Twiglets. Indeed, this is the upside of the empty nest. The icing is the spontaneity of a pilgrimage to indulge our mutual love for a wonderful painter and Anglophobe Himself's admission that London is, despite his hostility toward the Brits, pretty damn swell.
Rover, to everyone's surprise, has outlasted his car. Mechanic Jimmy pronounces that after 200,000 miles, the wagon is DOA and not even worth selling. It is donated to charity. I clean out the detritus of twelve years. The kids' old school assignments, chargers for ancient cell phones, and CDs that are thrashed from frequent play and a decade in a hot car. Both of my kids learned to drive in the old Volvo. It made countless trips to the cabin we retreat to in Felton. A pop-up trailer was hauled up Highway One to Big Sur. Spuds puked copiously through its open window on an immoderate New Year's Eve. I purchase a new tiny Volvo named Blueie over the summer but hold on to the the old wagon exclusively to transport, the sheddingest of all dogs, Rover to the office. The wagon's upholstery is ripped to shreds and the passenger door won't open from the inside. Even the headliner is thick with Rover's white shed. The door handle is gone, the radio erratic and the air conditioning hinky. Still, filling a carton with all the old junk it's amassed makes me wistful. I've solved the Rover dilemma by proffering my beloved, pristine Blueie to Himself to use on the two days a week her reports to teach and his Volvo, less-old-than-the-wagon-but-less-new-and-way-less-cool-than-Blueie, has been commandeered for Rover transport. I drove that wagon longer than any car I've ever owned and take enormous pleasure in driving its replacement. The carton of its contents remains in the trunk of Himself's car. Himself will get on my case about it undoubtedly but as happy as I am to have the new car, there is something that saddens me about sorting through the contents of the old one.
The day we return from London I head off to Loma Linda for the second of three necessary oral surgeries the precise nature of which I tune out because I am squeamish. I am forbidden any solid food for three weeks and my face swells up like a pumpkin. I have a black eye and a huge black bruise at my jawline. I am so stoned after the procedure that I'm not sure whether my dentist actually told me that she's gotten engaged to be married or if I've hallucinated this. I am afraid to ask her the truth for fear that she'll withhold drugs for the third surgery. I look at my scary self in the mirror and suddenly feel less guilty for having traveled and upgraded vehicle and kitchen appliances.
Joe College is back home for vacation. He watches movies in his underwear and drinks a lot of beer. Girlfriend is in Florida. I return home and find him shaven and dressed. I ask why he's all dressed up and am informed that he has been Skyping with Girlfriend. Tonight Spuds returns although his vacation is truncated due to a January freshman seminar. I fill the cupboards with food the kids like even though I'm still on the soup and mashed potato diet. Fortunately, my return to solids coincides with Jewish Christmas. Himself is balking about seeing Wolf of Wall Street and Joe College is complaining about my choice of Chinese restaurants. The swelling has gone down. I can cover the shiner and other bruising with concealer. I've lost back most of the weight I gained by gorging on British crap food. The kids will be here for a while. Rover snores in his bed. I'll get around to going through that carton of crap from the old Volvo. Compromises will be made regarding Jewish Christmas. I will never experience atrocities in Macedonia but I know my doggy's days are numbered. I am still honing the appreciating quality over quantity thing with the kids and it is painful still when they leave. Table debates about film and food and music grow less frequent. I know though that the sprats, like me, will drop anything for a concert, meal or movie. Sometimes I can persuade their father to do the same. Losses and joys and infinite tiny resurrections.