A Memory of Christmas ~Nineteen Ninety-Nine

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The holiday season of 1999 was a whirlwind for our family. I was still fairly crippled from surgeries that failed to help plantar fasciitis. With two sons in college and another in high school, there was plenty going on – foxhunting, firefighting, Christmas parading, Christmas pageanting, et al. And we added to the complications by going up to Leesburg for a difficult pony club prep, but we got to stay in Shelly’s mountaintop cottage with spectacular views even if we did have to get up at the crack of four am. A week later, we went to Wrightsville Beach, where we stayed in cousin Cattie’s fabulous oceanfront villa with its own incredible view. We were brokenhearted when we learned that George’s dad had cancer, and when a childhood teammate of Chip’s was killed on a fire engine rushing to put out a blaze. And another fire destroyed some local apartments – one of our 4H girls lived there. Each night, the moon was brighter than normal – I read that it hadn’t been that bright since during the Civil War, when soldiers were able to see clearly due to the bright moonlight on the fallen snow.
We had good times, bad times, sad news, bad news, and my emotions were all over the map. A few days after Christmas, as I sat at the kitchen table recovering from it all, the idea of a poem came from out of the blue. I ran upstairs to the computer, and within about an hour, it was done. Unusual, as I don’t generally write poetry, but I wish I’d done this every year. So many Christmases have come and gone, and the memories have melted into each other, but the Christmas of 1999 is clear as a bell in my mind’s eye because of the poem that takes me back in time every time I re-read it. A time machine. Take a ride with me, back to the turn of the century. (And I have no idea why WordPress will not copy this with the correct spacing and formatting!)

A MEMORY OF CHRISTMAS, NINETEEN NINETY-NINE

BY BETH HOLT

The month of December flew in with a flurry
Of places to go, songs to sing ~ life got blurry!
To decorate early, I had great intentions
And ideas for baking and crafty inventions
Soon school was out, boys were home, life was fine!
The Beginning Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

Each weekend was fraught with activities grand
David with shotgun sought deer from a stand
And astride a bay Thoroughbred prancing in loops
The parade route he traveled ~ 4h’ers scooped poop
From my golf cart the village main street looked sublime
As We Called “Merry Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine.”

As hounds heeded sounds from the huntsman’s brass horn,
Horsemen in scarlet rode hard through the morn,
And later spun tales of the fox and the fun
Of galloping after the hounds of Deep Run

Glimpsing the chase through green forests of pine
‘Twas A Picturesque Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine 


An old country church with the light of Christ beamed
As our llamas spiced up their nativity scene
Doubling as camels with Bryan disguised
As a king from afar beneath starlit skies
Retelling the birth of the child so divine
The Message Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

Enthralled by the grace of a grand arabesque
The great hall resounding with Tchaikovsky’s best
Spellbound we gazed while the pas de deux danced
We watched as the nutcracker Clara entranced

A feast for the eyes was the ballet’s design
The Magic Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

One night at one-thirty the fire alarm sounded
Chip answered the call ~ down the long stairs he bounded
And pumping the engine all night long he prayed
That the homes and belongings of some might be saved
The apartment fire raged through nine homes all in line

The Heartbreak Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

And sadness was with us ~ an illness revealed
We prayed that our Opa would quickly be healed
And grieved for a family whose firefighter son
Once played on the diamond with Chip having fun

With comfort from trusting in God’s sovereign mind

The Sorrow Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

From our small congregation we molded a choir
And planned a church pageant our Lord to admire
Rehearsals were frantic, attendance sporadic
But even with passages quite melismatic
We sang to his glory with voices refined
The Praises Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

As sixty young choristers mounted the stage,
I prayed that the wildest young boys would behave
“Children, Go Where I Send Thee” they sang with delight,
and recounted the story of one “Silent Night”
The church was uplifted ~ the joy was all mine
The Music Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

On a steep mountaintop as the winter sun rose
We gasped at the beauty of valleys below
And several days later we saw on the ocean
The sun rise again in its endless devotion
To lighting our world with bright hues intertwined
The Blessing Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

The days passed too quickly, the twenty-fourth came
No tree decorated nor presents to claim
I dashed out to get the last tree off the lot
The boys put it in the traditional spot
And dressed it in ornaments aged like fine wine
The Splendor Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

My plans to bake cookies, send cards, and write letters
Might have worked out had my tootsies felt better
But though I was late, Christmas came right on time
Bringing hope to a world needing reason and rhyme
And the nights were aglow with a bright moonlight shine
The Wonder Of Christmas, Nineteen Ninety-Nine

Copyright 1999 – Elizabeth F. Holt

 

Nail Polish – The Marguerite Chronicles, July 23, 2016

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So, for once, I get my 96-year-old mama up, dressed, fed, medicated, and looking cute as a button for a trip to a funeral in Raleigh; and we’re actually gonna leave early rather than lat.  I place her at the kitchen table with instructions to stay put while I get dressed.

And while I’m dressing, she grabs a hot bottle of forbidden nail polish and sneaks out to the car with it.

I come down the stairs and out the door to find her painting her nails IN MY CAR, and she has spilled half the bottle down her very favorite dressy top.

I cuss, (which I rarely do) and yell “Dammit, Mama” while pulling the top off over her head, leaving her half nekkid in the car with Micah hiding his eyes in the back seat.

I rush inside for acetone, & pour it all over the shirt, but it’s like tinkling in the ocean. Not enough acetone in Virginia to break down that stuff. The top is permanently damaged. And our extra half hour plus 10 more minutes disappears.

I’m completely undone that I lost my patience with her, because I’ve promised myself that I won’t do that.

And then I think about the switching I’d have gotten for pulling such a trick in her lavender ’65 Bonneville Broagham with the purple satin seats and I’m glad I have not yet spilled a bottle of nail polish down my favorite shirt.

And when I do, I hope my sons will yell “Dammit, Mama” at me and not feel bad about it.

Pearl Harbor Day at Fort Sam Houston

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THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, DECEMBER 7. 2016:

It happened seventy-five years ago, and the day still lives in infamy.  Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese.  Last year on the anniversary of that heinous act,  Mama had an appointment with an eye doctor, and he asked his elderly patient what she was doing that day in 1941. A young woman answered, with vivid detail.  I’m so glad he asked,  because I had never thought to.

On December 7, 1941, Marguerite was the wife of Captain George H. Van Hoorebeke, US Army. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and they thought they had the world by the tail. He was handsome; she was beautiful; they were both intelligent, accomplished people with great work ethics, personalities, and a bright future ahead.  They lived in a duplex close to post, with their first-born daughter, Virginia, who was just shy of 9 months old. (Yes, ‘post’ is correct. The army has posts; the other services have bases. Those of us who speak army cringe when someone says ‘army base.’  There’s no such animal. Thank you.)  Anyway, Ginny  woke up feverish that morning, and was covered with red spots.  Measles.  And of course, this was years before any vaccine had been developed. Although it was a Sunday, George was out on manuevers at Camp Bullis, and Marguerite started calling the post dispensary to see about taking Ginny to see a doctor.  She tried and tried, but for some reason, got one busy signal after another. She couldn’t get through.

So, with a fussy infant on her shoulder, Marguerite sat down to read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, and  turned on the radio.  She spent the morning trying to soothe tiny, red-spotted Ginny.  Sometime after lunch,  regular programming was interrupted, and she heard the terrible news — news that  would affect every day of her life as long as she lived.  Japanese warplanes had attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, and our country was at war.  The Sunday paper was left, half-read; lunch went uneaten.  An elderly couple lived in the other half of the duplex; they didn’t own a radio. So, with Ginny in her arms, Marguerite ran around to their back door to tell them what had happened in Hawaii. Everyone was shocked.  No wonder she couldn’t get through to the dispensary – the entire post was caught up in preparing for war, and nobody had time to see an infant with measles.

On that unforgettable morning,  war had come to change the world, and her personal circumstances were suddenly precarious. The idyllic lifestyle she’d enjoyed as a peacetime officer’s wife and young mother was going to change, and change it did.  George anticipated orders for Hawaii, but soon, those plans changed. As  the young infantry captain readied for combat, Marguerite got a civilian job handling payroll at Camp McCain, Mississippi, not far from her family home. Her mother and young sister, Polly, came to live with them.  In June of 1943, a second daughter was born.  Carole was about six weeks old when her father went overseas. She missed him the rest of her life.

George landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 5, with Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, and was awarded the Bronze Star for what he did in battle. We don’t know exactly what happened that day. Place names and units were redacted from the text, as this was wartime, but  the citation reads:

For exceptionally meritorious  achievement in performance of outstanding service against the enemy in __________ on June 11, 1944.

And on September 13, 1944, somewhere near Brest,  Captain Van Hoorebeke died a hero for the freedom of France and the world beyond.  For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star. Mama and my sisters received his awards in a ceremony at Camp Crowder, near Joplin, Missouri.  The citation accompanying that award reads:

On September 13, 1944, Company ___, ____Infantry, was attacking the city of _____.  Due to the large number of casualties sustained, the second platoon, led by a squad leader, had failed to advance after repeated attempts.  Captain Van Hoorebeke, going forward in an effort to remedy the situation, found that two enemy machine guns were holding a platoon back. Completely disregarding his own personal safety, he went to the front of the platoon and directed fire on the hostile positions until they were silenced. Just as the guns were knocked out and the situation seemed favorable for an advance, Captain Van Hoorebeke was killed by a sniper. The gallantry, disregard for personal safety and unswerving devotion to duty displayed by this officer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.

So, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the end of George Van Hoorebeke’s life. But it did not end his legacy.  His daughters never knew him, but they knew about him, and today, I  take care of his widow ~ the Marguerite who lost the man who loved her and the hopes they shared.

Mama’s never been a signs-and-wonders kind of person, but she told me that through the years, whenever she faced  the toughest trials of life,  George appeared in her dreams with words of love and comfort.

Their  daughters – my older sisters –  are both gone now. But shortly after Ginny died in 2012, Carole had a dream. She saw Ginny walking down a heavenly street, holding hands with George, her father.  Walking towards them from the other direction was my dad, who married the widowed Marguerite and her two daughters in 1946.  Ginny’s eyes lit up when she spotted him, and she said to her father, “Come over here — I want you to meet my daddy.”

Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy-five years since the world went to war. It might be possible to calculate the costs of planes and warships in dollars,  but the personal price paid by the Georges and Marguerites of the nineteen-forties can never be totaled.

And Marguerite lives on, at age 96 —  with love, with wit,  with humor, and grace; a character shaped by the wounds of war.  I’m  proud to be her daughter.

Hair Nets Needed

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The Memomma Chronicles, Saturday Edition, July 30, 2016:

Yesterday, Marguerite got a great hairdo from sweet Louvenia over at Hair Worx in Odee. Louvenia does a great job with an old-fashioned roller set, just perfect for an old lady who likes to sit under a dryer and flip through a magazine.

So, last night, before Mama went to bed, she asked for a plastic shower cap to put over her head so her hair wouldn’t mess up overnight. I told her that wouldn’t work,we’d fix the hair in the morning, and she went to bed.

But she’s like a rebellious teenager these days, and no matter how many times you explain principles that she knew long ago and has forgotten, she is bound and determined to prove you wrong. And that’s why she’s 96.

So, ’round midnight, I heard her get up and went to check on things. All was well, except that the new curls were plastered, flat as a pancake, to her head, like they’d been glued there, and I was ready to cuss again.

So she explained. She’d gotten a plastic grocery bag out of the trash can it lined, wrapped it around her head, and went to sleep, not remembering that plastic on the head makes ya sweat if it doesn’t smother you first. Sweat+hairspray is one mean combination. So now, we have unlocked the secret formula for superglue, and poured a thirty-dolla hairdo down the drain.

I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up!

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The Marguerite Chronicles, August 22, 2016, 7:29 AM:

Mama’s voice came from the dining room.

“Somebody come help me!”

I ran towards the voice and nearly tripped over her. She was on the floor with her head pointing north – her walker was cattywampus, on the floor, heading east, a dining room chair was turned over, pointing west.

Once we determined that she was fine, I had two questions: how’d she do it, and why’d she do it??

Marguerite’s Moonshine

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The Marguerite Chronicles, circa 1990:

Mama checked into a sleep diagnostic center for an overnight test. They hooked her up and left the room. She needed to get up, but no matter what she did, nobody answered her call bell.

“I knew they were watching me through a camera,” she said, “but I couldn’t get anybody’s attention. So, finally, I just pulled the covers back, turned over, and I MOONED ‘EM.”

Bet they never forgot those cheeks!

 

ROOSTERS?

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THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, AUGUST 31, 2016. 3:19 AM:
A loud, high-pitched, prolongued screech, amplified by the baby monitor next to my bed, propelled me straight up, wide awake and into heart palpitations.

If you’ve ever had chickens, you know that sound. Roosters aren’t born knowing how to crow, and when they start practicing, it sounds plumb awful – other-worldly – nothing else anywhere sounds like that.

I ran back toward Mom’s bedroom, wondering if I’d find a stray rooster in full-out attack mode, or some kind of crazed intruder, but the crazed intruder thought didn’t kick in until I’d passed by all the kitchen knives.. Unarmed, I walked into the room.

Nobody. Nothing. Nada. Zilch – except for Mama, who’d pulled the covers up over her head and was still breathing, no blood anywhere, sleeping peacefully after whatever crazy dream made her screech like an adolescent rooster.

It was a good 2 hours before I could get back to sleep. And that, my friends, is why I fell so easily into rainy-afternoon-nap mode. Wonder what tonight holds?

The Indian Village

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THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, SEPT 16, 2016:

Today, on my dad’s 93rd birthday — our 9th without him — Mama is having one of those deer-in-the-headlights episodes, during which she talks nonstop, to or about people who aren’t there. And she tells us about the Choctaw women she sees walking from the Indian village down in Neshoba County, where the casinos are now. She talks about this every single time she goes into one of these episodes, which usually last about 24 hours and are followed by a couple of days of deep sleep.

“Looky there — there is a young man I used to see every year down in the Indian village.”

And I wonder. What will you and I talk about when we are 96?