The Christmas tree is down and now lays on the back deck under the bird tray feeder, another bird perch for now, as the greedy, feathered friends await my every other day, smorgasbord buffet. I could put oiled seed and my cornmeal, suet mix out every day, and I am constantly amazed at how quickly the finches, junco's, woodpeckers and titmice will find it. Blue jays regularly show up to scare off the more timid birds but the finches and even sparrows find safety in numbers.
The tree is gone and the decorations from the living room are boxed up for another year. Light strings checked and those no longer functioning were pitched into the garbage. I still have a few Santas and snowmen up in a kitchen cupboard and the wreath hanging on the front door, but for most intents and purposes, Christmas is in the books as they say.
Now begins the doldrums of the long winter, which despite my best intentions, seems longer and less cozy, year by year. I once really liked winter and thought the Christmas season was not complete without snow of some sort, and I always felt let down when my birthday, a week before Christmas was snow less. Even in the winter months I expected snow and cold temperatures. With snow I could sled down hills, at least what hills we had down at our creek flats. I could ice skate on the creek or more likely on the skating pond my dad so patiently flooded every year. Those who knew my dad, knew patience was seldom his forte. There was lots of time to just read, my favorite past time. I could lose myself in books and go everywhere and be every thing. I was a kid. I had parents who loved me, who made sure I had clothing, food, and lots of love. I took all this for granted but that very reassurance meant winter was just a time to hunker down. Growing up on a farm, it seemed to me it was the time, my dad was always around and had time to do things with us and for us. He put together 1,000 piece puzzles on a cardboard table set up in the living room for the winter months. We could help but I could never muster the enthusiasm or the patience, (and again, this word that never seemed to apply to Dad was more fitting than I realized), to spend an hour finding the right spot for two puzzle pieces. I was blissfully unaware of the problems facing my parents, and that perhaps winter wasn't the ideal season, it was for me. I didn't know of the worries over stretching money over the long winter after a bad crop year, or unexpected bills, or illness beset them. Worries over aging parents, though my mom's parents to me were the youngest grandparents I knew. Still, I am sure there were worries that were adult worries and something that were never a part of my world. My biggest problems seemed to be my best friend in fourth grade suddenly liking someone else and the two of them wearing matching skirts and sweaters to school, spending sleep over time together, (I was too often homesick to like to do this), but it didn't stop me from being jealous and too often brought to tears.
I was a child who could amuse myself, as my elders pointed out, but I was often the lonely child, because I didn't know how to reach out and draw people to me. Grown up and now contemplating life beyond raising children and being just a homemaker, I realize I have always been drawn to those women who were outgoing and would pull me along in their wakes. My best friends growing up were two sisters who lived just down the road from me. They were the only other girls in my country neighborhood who were my age, so we were cast together whether it would have been that way or not if circumstances were different. But I believe that circumstances do not dictate our lives and that every person put in our path has the ability to affect us deeply, or lightly, for good or for bad.
I sat in age right between the two sisters. Six months younger than one, and eight months older than the other. I shared grade school class numbers with the younger, though both sisters went to a Catholic parochial school until junior high and by then I was in a Lutheran parochial school. It wasn't until high school that we were actually sharing the same buildings and friends. And at that time is probably when the shift away from each other began. We remained friends but we were experiencing different groups of friends within our circles and we had found out about boys, and what boyfriends meant. One sister was dark and vivacious. The other blonde and more quiet and very art influenced. Neither of those traits went far in our small high school but years after high school and long after she had left the area, never to really return, people still asked me about Marlene and what she was doing. Childhood friends and with the modern ease of email and such to keep instantly in touch, you would think that we would have, but once a year Christmas cards, that even now are sporadic, and the common denominator of an aging and sick mother, have at least made the once a year, a bit more numerous. It was hard for me to face the fact, that the sisters had moved on and left the small town where they grew up, and made lives far removed from mine. They moved on while I remained stuck in memories of a good childhood, one where I felt secure, and in the light of my adulthood, trouble free.
And so I grew up, went to college, where I tended to have the same kind of girlfriends I had, had during my childhood. I was attracted to the lively, "fun" friends, but quite often found myself with the quiet introspective ones. I married a man , who had different pursuits than any I had known. His friends were the ones he found pursuing his past times. It was hard the first year's of our marriage to find friends we both enjoyed. Too often he liked the man for a hunting buddy and I found women who shared my interests in homemaking and crafts. Kurt worked in the family business and I was a homemaker. Making friends with in the work force was not something either of us could or did do. My best friend for years remained my brother's first wife. I was the maid of honor in their wedding. She and I had just liked each other from the beginning when my brother first introduced us. She was the friend I always gravitated to. Outgoing and fun and loving to have a good time. She seemed to just want to scoop up life and squeeze everything out of it. Our sons were born in alternating patterns so we shared baby blankets, toys and sleepers for 6 years. We shared maternity clothes and took vacations together. Kurt and my brother both shared a love of hunting and fishing, so we made for a very good foursome. Things weren't always perfect, but we shared some very good years.
When my kids started really becoming active in sporting events and school sports, our friendships moved over to parents of our kid's friends. We met at sporting events, and afterward shared endless "Mickey D" stops and trips chaperoning kids here and there. We met at science fairs, and music fests. We took short trips together but most were met at tournaments and sports weekends. Endless summer days spent watching baseball and softball games and winter weekends of AAU and hotel rooms after sweaty gyms. Those were the years that our lives centered around our kids. I won't say we did it all for our kids because we got as much enjoyment, if not more, out of all of this. Old friends and groups were supplanted by new ones. For some older connections it all remained but for others they were as superfluous as meeting at games and sitting together.
I found strength and friendships in a Bible study group two other friends dragged me into, kicking and screaming, literally. It has been my lifeline many times. Kurt still had his hunting and some fishing, but he threw himself into work and when he wasn't there spent much time enjoying all that satellite tv could afford. We have friends who are couples, but no one who we would do long vacations with or who would just make a standing invitation to see as often as possible.
I have become restless of recent years. I realize that the women I love to be with are those who seem to grab for life. Who don't sit home and contemplate the gray winter days. They go, they enjoy and they are generous of spirit. I feel so often niggardly of that same spirit and wonder why they take the time to embrace me. I too often worry about everything, and know that worry drains me of joy. I have much but so often go down the road that leads to the dark tunnel and the vision that sees only myself. I vow to go out and volunteer, and get out in life, but I find excuses. If someone invites me to help, I am overjoyed because someone thinks enough of me to include me. I have received many blessings this past year from the women in my life I call friends. Now I need to return that kindness in fuller measure and seek that joy for others that was given to me.
I will write because that is what I do. I am not an "out there" person, I like my quiet and my introspection, but I know longer want to be fooled into believing I can do no more maturing. I can grow to be more outgoing and I believe God can move me to give more of myself. I am always a work in progress and I just hope those wonderful people who have befriended me through the years can hang with me until I get it right....