Friday, November 28, 2008

Is this it?

For years my two older sisters and I have stood at Susan's kitchen sink in Georgetown--cleaning up after a big family dinner--and said, "This could be it," meaning this holiday get-together with our aging parents might be our last.

For many years, Nancy accompanied our parents from Philadelphia to Washington for Thanksgiving and Christmas, first in her car, but recently--as getting into the backseat of a two-door VW Golf got harder for Mother--on Amtrak. My family and I drove up from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with our fresh-baked pies. Susan's brownstone easily accommodated all of us, including our dog Daphne--the last surviving canine in the extended family, after decades of dogs.

Our parents started staying in a hotel a few years back. Susan's elegant sweep of staircase became too much for them. Nancy and I would drive over to their hotel early in the morning and pick them up for the day. They were always ready in their big coats and hats--Dad in his trusty fedora--until last Christmas, when we helped them get up, showered, and dressed, and Dad wasn't entirely sure where he was. But he still insisted on wearing a coat and tie, and still refused to use his walker in the house.

Our old dog Daphne loved my dad. She lay down on his feet, rolled over, and squinted in bliss as he rubbed her belly. She too had trouble with the long Georgetown staircase but there was no keeping her on the first floor, not when her people were asleep upstairs.

Last Christmas we said it again, washing dishes and straightening up after a big festive dinner. "This could be it." And I think we all kind of knew--this was it. Everybody was there--grandparents, three daughters, four grandchildren from around the country with their significant others, minus one who was with his family in Michigan.

Yesterday, Nancy, for the first time, drove Thanksgiving dinner over to my parents' retirement community in Philadelphia. Susan is putting her Georgetown brownstone on the market this weekend (her employer enforces early retirement) and couldn't join the others in Philadelphia. In recent years my husband, children and I have been going up only at Christmas. This is our first holiday in twenty-five years, without a dog. Staring at the Thanksgiving giblet and liver simmering on my stove made me miss Daphne, who died over the summer, even more.

No way will my parents be able to travel to D.C. this Christmas. They only leave their community for doctors' appointments. With any luck Susan will have sold her brownstone to an incoming Obama appointee and moved to a one-bedroom in Manhattan. We'll never sit around that long table again as a family, raising our glasses in a toast to being together: Mother, Dad, the three daughters, as many grandchildren as could get there, the dog under foot, waiting for turkey droppings. My sisters and I won't wonder at Susan's kitchen sink, "Is this it?"

Hey, I say to everybody I know. Enjoy your time together. This may be it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

Somebody commented on my last post--about my love of the billboards in Qatar--did you survive the trip to the Doha airport? We haven't heard from you since.

Having lived and driven in Boston and New York City, I'm not upset by the Doha drivers, though I haven't actually driven in the country. And yes, I did make it to the airport but was appalled by the hideous traffic jams at each roundabout along the way.

I am an erratic blogger. I tend to want to blog when I can show pictures of faraway places. And I tend to write more when I'm away--every day when I'm traveling, always. But I am home now and not writing daily, on my blog obviously, or even on my two books in progress.

I heard an interesting talk last night, given by the keynote, author Ron Rash, at the North Carolina Writers' Network fall conference. He talked about perseverance being one of the most important qualities in a writer--that and writing daily and reading deeply. He wrote for 17 years before publishing his first novel. Somebody in a workshop the other night quoted the author Max Steele, who said that it takes as long to make a writer as it does a doctor.

Having been a writer for the last thirty years, I agree. I persevere and read deeply but writing is something I have always done in spurts. When I'm writing daily, I feel whole. So why don't I? Clearly, I need to travel more.