Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Gift

Absent Family, Friends, and Loved Ones

There was a tradition in my family, on Christmas Eve, to greet one another when we first got up to say, "Christmas Eve Gift!" and to say it first. I think this was a "tradition" in my immediate family, alone. I think maybe Mom made it up. But this tradition among the surviving members of my family that once numbered eight of us still survives. If I call one of my sisters today, and she sees that it's me calling, it will be a race to see who can say "Christmas Eve Gift" first.

Christmas in the desert (hehehe)
Over the years this little game, this little saying, turned into Christmas Eve Blessing for me, as I took stock of my immediate family members. We all made it another year, or those of us who have survived since the three years in a row (1998, 1999, and 2000) when three of my immediate family died: my eldest sister, my mother, and my father—in that order. We were greatly diminished when my eldest sister passed away in August of 1998. It felt like far more in our family was gone than just one person. And when my mother passed away in February of 1999, it felt like the heart had been ripped out of the family, and when Thanksgiving arrived that year, those of us who could make it gathered at Dad's house. Mom wasn't there to cook her delicious turkey. Mom wasn't there to fix the dressing. Mom wasn't there. Dad was there, but he was still grieving, after fifty-four years of marriage, and maybe he didn't feel we had much to be thankful for that year. We bought a turkey breast and Stovetop Stuffing, and the few of us gathered that Thanksgiving day.

When my dad passed away on his birthday, on September 17, 2000, that which held the family on a steady course, mainly through his hard work, sacrifice, and undying sense of duty to provide for his family diminished us even more. The five of us who have survived since those three years ending with the old century have now continued for sixteen years. And here it is 2016 and I wish them all "Christmas Eve Gift!" If you're reading this Betty, Libby, Carlton, or you first! May we all be blessed for another year.

The center hall in my house
To me, Christmas has always meant family, a time to gather, a time unlike Thanksgiving to really reflect on our blessings. This year, I will be spending Christmas alone (with my two little cats Ellie and Mae), but in my heart I will not be alone. Cliff will be here in my heart, my parents will be here, my eldest sister will be here, and those of my siblings who have made it through another year will be here.

My Christmas dinner this year will consist of Southern red beans (a gift from a neighbor), rice, homemade bread (a gift from my accountant in Las Cruces, NM), and  in remembrance of that melancholy Thanksgiving in 1999, the year our Mother passed away, a turkey breast, instead of her home-cooked turkey. My leftovers will consist of sliced turkey sandwiches. Just that. Nothing more. But this year, as every Christmas I find blessings that get me through this season, also knowing that the New Year is just a week away. Although I fully embrace the "Winter Season" celebrations that somehow involve other religions, I am glad to see that Columbus has decorated its streets with Christmas trees and snow flakes (tree-symbols and snow flake symbols, that hang from the light poles down Main Street and Fifth Street). I remember driving through small Texas towns on the way from Deming, New Mexico to Waco, Texas, when our entire family was young and consisted only of Mom, Dad, my two older sisters, me, and one younger sister, and all the small towns were decorated for Christmas, which we would pass through at night on the way to Waco to spend Christmas with Mom's mother and her family. Some of the small towns might also have snow, which added to the beauty.

It's just that time of year for me to consider that Christmas Eve Gift, more special than anything under the tree on Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Southern Writers

More Specifically, Mississippi Writers...

One thing that is undeniable about Mississippi (and the South) is that this state in particular and the South in general has produced some of America's greatest writers and literature. It says something about the contradictions that I hinted at in the header paragraph in Postcards from Mississippi. It is a complex, brooding, And the fact that Mississippi ranks low on the quality of education belies this.

Available at Amazon
But this literary heritage and Mississippi's love of great writing, especially here in Columbus, Mississippi, is one of the reasons I chose Columbus as a place to live in my golden years (read that as becoming elderly, but I hope not mentally incapacitated).

I have time to read now that I'm retired, even though the last fifteen years of my working life at New Mexico State University and working for Amazon as an editor in my spare time kept me reading newbie writers, to the tune of well over five hundred books. But now I can choose which books I read.

I was at the Coffee House on 5th this afternoon, where I like to take my newspapers as I have coffee, and I ran across a small tidbit on the front page of the Commercial Dispatch. A Columbus writer, Michael Farris Smith, who has been compared to Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx will be reading from his works at the Columbus Arts Center this coming January 5th. I definitely plan to attend.

Michael Farris Smith: website
He will also talk about launching a Mississippi Writers series. In fact, I have a lot of local writers to find out more about, and I hope add such activities as readings to my other activities with the local writers' group, which will take place January 10 in the same location.

Some writers like to stop in small Mississippi towns as a way of paying homage to Mississippi's rich history. Earlier in the year I attended a reading at MUW and met the students in the MFA writing program. And I hope that when possible I learn about other visiting writers. Especially now that the weather is colder and turning my thoughts to reading and writing seems the natural thing to do during these dark, gray days and cold nights.

Even though it's not quite winter, yet, the temps have dropped, and a cozy, warm house makes me want to settle back in a comfortable chair and read, while sipping hot chocolate. But I go to the coffee house for such delights—because Ellie-Mae. My two girls would be gnawing the pages and smelling of the hot chocolate and more than likely start a wrestling game in my lap. They're only nine months old, and so I have to wait to enjoy such a liesurely activity as reading in a comfortable chair until they're sedate enough for me to do so. Right now, my lap is one of their favorite places to wrestle.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Deep South and My Misconceptions

The Deep South Has Four Seasons...

Yeah, I know. I was wrong. I had often thought until coming here that the "deep South" meant that it was always hot and humid. For most people, of course, that sounds naive, but until I actually started visiting Louisiana, Mississippi, etc. I was too lazy to give that concept much thought. But here it is six days before winter, and I can tell you that it's colder here in Columbus, Mississippi, than it is in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and it's going to get colder. I also never thought about just how far north Columbus, Mississippi, was in relation to Las Cruces, which is in southern New Mexico. Columbus, Mississippi, is actually on a line just below Albuquerque, New Mexico, almost two hundred miles north of Las Cruces. If your mind's eye is failing you in visualizing this, here's a map I've fixed up for the visualization:

As you can see, Columbus, Mississippi is actually above Dallas, Texas. Yes, it doesn't look like it on this map, but I-20 runs through Dal/Worth, TX, Shreveport, LA, and Jackson, MS, and then you have to drive northeast up to Columbus, Mississippi almost 150 miles from Jackson.

Winter Storm in Mississippi
I just did not realize that all of Mississippi was above much of Texas. The saving aspect of my winter realization that it's cold in my area of Mississippi is that it doesn't snow much. But ice storms are not out of the question since Mississippi gets a lot of rain in the winter!

I've had eye-opening realizations about other things about Mississippi, but especially Columbus, where I now live, concerning the weather, the sky at night and during the day. I thought that because Mississippi had a lot of humidity (compared to the desert) that the night sky would be obscured by a kind of hazy aspect. But I can see the same constellations here that I was able to see in Las Cruces, and most times the humidity isn't a factor. We get clear, crystal-blue skies in Mississippi, too, which delights me, since that's one thing I miss about living in the desert.

Until moving to Mississippi, I really had no
idea that there would be beautiful skies like this.
While this next picture is from the Mississippi delta on the western side of Mississippi from Columbus, I've been delighted to see this kind of sky with puffy clouds and clear blue sky. But with the advent of winter here, my first time living through this season, I'm afraid I will miss the desert of New Mexico off and on. I won't be spending Christmas with Cliff, nor his parents, nor friends and family in Las Cruces. 2016 is turning out to be a year of firsts. The first time in 25 years that Cliff and I have lived apart, purchasing my first house—ever—and a whole lot of other things. I also think that maybe Christmas will be melancholy for me this year, although I've never celebrated Christmas with any sort of real enthusiasm. At Thanksgiving this year, I ate dinner by myself at Ryan's all-you-can-eat buffet. I won't be going there for Christmas dinner, though. I think I'll join others at either Waffle House or Huddle House, and get into the spirit of being among others who have to work or who have no real place to go on Christmas. I'm bound to be able to wring something of meaning and substance from that experience. I'm not one to feel sorry for myself. But this year, Christmas will just be "another day".

Maybe my state of mind this winter will sound something like this: Johnny Winter playing Leland Mississippi blues.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Sirens

And these aren't the ones from Greek mythology...

That would have lured Odysseus and his crew if he had not filled his sailers' ears with wax and had them tie him to the ship's mast.

These were tornado sirens. The first one lasted about two minutes and sent Mae scurrying under the bed and Ellie running from room to room trying to get away from the sound. This was not a drill, either, and it occurred shortly before sunset on a dreary, rainy afternoon. But it passed. This was my first tornado warning, and I always wondered how I would handle it, knowing that tornadoes are common in Mississippi. When the second siren sounded, the girls went through the same routine, and I started wondering just where we could take cover, should that become necessary. None of the rooms in my house are interior rooms. All of the rooms, including the center hallway, have at least one wall exposed to the outside of the house and windows and doors. I was actually amazed that the electricity didn't even flicker. So by the time the third tornado siren went off (yeah, I know), I rounded up the girls and we went into the bedroom. I shut the bedroom door, and without me trying to get them to, they not only crawled under the bed but climbed into the box springs. All I could do was lie down on the floor on the side of the bed opposite the windows and keep talking to them, touching the heft of their little bodies inside the box springs. I took a pillow off the bed, kept my phone handy to check for a possible tornado sighting; but there was none.

At least there wasn't a sighting until the fourth Siren went off, this one well into the night, when the sky was black and it wouldn't have been possible from my vantage to even see a tornado. This time the weather alert on my phone said: A tornado has touched down in the Columbus area—TAKE COVER NOW!

I knew about tornadoes in Columbus, Mississippi, before I moved here. As a friend of mine in nearby Aberdeen said, if you're afraid of tornadoes, you shouldn't move here. Theoretical tornadoes didn't frighten me in the least (ah-hahaha...). But the sirens were enough to probably drain my face of all color, especially the last siren and the definite warning. Mississippi was hit that night with six tornadoes. That was just last week, and this week storms are again moving across Mississippi from the southwest to the northeast, and Columbus is once again getting rain. But there is no expectation that these will generate tornadoes. Now, while I felt partially responsible for bringing the drought of this past summer and fall, I am not responsible for bringing the tornadoes. Where I lived most of my life, the most destructive weather was hail storms, and they could be doozies. The second worst condition is the massive sand storms that occasionally block out the sky and hide the mountains. And in Arizona, they have haboobs that cover the cities.

The effect is that there is really no place free of bad weather from time to time, and unless I get hit by a tornado, I'm staying right here.

I just discovered this marvelous keyboardist named Doña Oxford. She has just the kind of high energy entertainment I needed to forget about the recent sirens. Here's her web site. She plays a variety of music, and her bio is impressive.