Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas in New Canaan
Tom Smith

This is a family life update, so those of you who find this sort of thing boring can skip it.  I am just back yesterday with my family unit from New Canaan, Connecticut, which I am happy to report in the war against Christmas, is still well behind friendly lines.  No, it is not the same as it was in 1981, when I first visited there, and met my lovely wife Jeanne, whom after a whirlwind romance, I married five years later.  Then it really was John Cheever's Bullet Park, or a nicer version thereof.  Now the old line WASPs have given way to hedge fund heros and people in "media."  Nothing stays the same, but at least some things change more slowly than others.  We attended the annual Christmas caroling on God's Acre.  The crowd was large enough, but seemed a little subdued.  Maybe it was the lack of snow, or thoughts of war.  By request, the band interrupted the almost sacrosanct order of carols to sing "God Bless America," which I had never seen before in 25 years off and on of attending this event.  I told Jeanne it had been a long time since I had attended a gathering in which I was so confident of not seeing a pierced navel.

As usual, the food was to die for.  My lovely wife and sister-in-law are both terribly accomplished cooks, aided and abetted by my father in law, who approaches the grill with a fanatical zeal and skill.  The Christmas goose, acquired from some famous poultry purveyor in Norwalk whose name I forget, was succulent, served along with an entire filet mignon larger itself than some people.  This was served along with a multitude of stuffings, sauces, and then deserts it is somewhat overwhelming to contemplate, even in retrospect.  Of course, I made a complete pig of myself, but not as much as my skinny eldest boy.  There is something genuinely alarming about how much a 15 year old boy can eat.  I approached the scale with genuine dread upon my return, only to find I had lost 1 pound.  I am aware, however, of an uncomfortable redistribution of mass I am resolved to do something about.  This will take some doing, as with my involvement with the Polytechnic of Milan and various persons Italian, the new rage in my household is Italian cooking, which gives my lovely wife plenty to work with.  In fact, there is no such thing as Italian cooking, but rather kitchen stylings from Sicily, Lombardy, Tuscany, and on and on, until it takes two strong men to shift you from your chair. 

I suppose many people find Christmas a bittersweet sort of holiday, as I did this year.  It is my first without my dad, who was always a benign if in the last few years silent presence.  My older brother spent Christmas in Boise, so was able to clean up his grave and put a poinsettia on it.  We reminisced over the phone about the Christmas eve my dad spent putting together a hellishly complex pedal powered roadster for my little brother, who was then a toddler and is now a fully grown federal judge.  We had more fun with that thing, including attempting to customize it with a hammer.  This Christmas eve, I took 3 year old Mark on a little walk outside.  Bossy and curious as ever, he led me around the acreage, kicking leaves and searching for ice fringed mud puddles.  "What's that called?!" he demanded, regarding every rock, stick and tree.  Everything has to have a name, and he needs to know it, right now.  So what is the name for that feeling, that nothing could  be more beautiful, and yet more sad, than these times we have with our kids and our parents?  You want to slow it down, but you can't.  You realize 10 years is nothing, and 50 not much more.  Your little brother is not so little, you're not so little yourself, the kid who pounded on the pedal car with you died years ago, your baby is a teenager, your three year old is in a hurry, and New Canaan is busy becoming a New England version of Brentwood.  Most of it is good, of course; that's what life is.  If it were frozen, it would be dead.  The snow falls gently down on all of us, as Joyce said in his Christmas story

There's no snow in San Diego, just sunshine today, and that's fine with me.  I'm on my way to Sears to buy a new dishwasher, which is something I can understand.  Very best holiday of your choice to you all out there.  Love 'em while you can.

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Tom Smith


I think it's called The Human Condition.

Posted by: dearieme | Dec 30, 2006 1:08:09 PM

That is beautiful!

Posted by: clarice | Dec 31, 2006 6:37:56 PM

I once learned a Japanese phrase, "mono no aware", which is precisely that feeling of impermanence...

(an example here: )

Posted by: Chap | Dec 31, 2006 7:43:40 PM

I've been thinking along the same lines. My thoughts are at

I was forced to retire at the end of 2005. My son and his wife moved from Provo, Utah to Champaign, Illinois, and four months later our first grandchild was born. Drat! But my older son came home for Christmas from working on his PhD at Harvard.

You ask, "So what is the name for that feeling, that nothing could be more beautiful, and yet more sad, than these times we have with our kids and our parents?" I think it's called life, but there are probably other terms: memory, love, sorrow, joy. But I think the best and most inclusive is simply Life.

Posted by: AST | Dec 31, 2006 11:28:03 PM

Excellent. Oh, and go Bosch on the dishwasher, you wont be disappointed.

Posted by: frank martin | Jan 1, 2007 12:58:18 AM

Thank you for the beautiful essay. My wife spent Christmas in Salt Lake City, where our oldest daughter now lives with her husband and our grandchild; she moved there from Chicago two years ago. My oldest son went from a toddler playing with fire trucks to a soldier. This Christmas, he's home from Iraq, discharged from the Army, safe and sound: I don't have words to describe that feeling.

There's a Latin phrase: "Tempus fugit" - "Time flies". Does it ever! Seize it, savor it, because in the blink of an eye, it and everything you know, and you yourself will be gone. Life is beautiful, like Tom said; but the truth is, too, that the evanescence of life make it inexpressibly sad.

Posted by: Brown Line | Jan 1, 2007 4:23:34 AM

Well written. It is in realizing our blessings that we begin to see God's greatness and generosity. Have a blessed year!

Posted by: R. Perez | Jan 1, 2007 5:27:37 AM

There's a rather lovely John Mayer song that addresses it from a young-thirties perspective, called "Stop This Train." The lyrics are here:

Posted by: Klug | Jan 1, 2007 9:59:43 AM

This Christmas was the first without my sister, who had married and moved to Chicago this past year. It is startling to realize how much of what is "Christmas" is missing when just one person is not there. Everyone has their part in the traditions and it just isn't the same without them. It is always nice, but just not the same.

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