Monday, December 29, 2014

The Magi Have Returned

It's fifty years since I ordered the Platonis Res Publica I wrote about yesterday. My son asked me today about a step I had forgotten to mention. When I had a rather loose contract with my artisan in England, I completed one step of the process by ordering a copy of the text from Blackwell's in Oxford and having it sent to my Dad. So any mistake in the edition etc. was mine.

I described it as the perfect gift. And now, half a century later, there were two more perfect gifts. Within two weeks of each other.

It is common knowledge in this family that Ernie is a marmalade nut. We even made a pilgrimage to the manufacturer of his favorite tawny marmalade last time we were in England. So what a delightful experience for him to open a box from his niece Megan Gottig and find two jars of home-made marmalade and one of lemon curd. Megan explained she had been gifted with a bag of meyer lemons—and what better use to put them to than to make lemon-ginger and lemon-clementine marmalade for her uncle.

She completed her elegant gift with a label made from an early photograph of Ernie (don't you want to pinch those cheeks?) and a printed inscription in somewhat original Latin which surely means, "Real men eat marmalade." Way to go, Megan.

Enough for one Christmas, right? But there was one more gift yet to come; this time it was for me.

Things were a little crazy around here on Christmas Day, so it wasn't until the evening that I opened a gift from Ernie, which completed the trifecta of perfect gifts.

Another book—but one written by me. All my blog posts from July 29, 2005 to a couple of weeks ago in print in a beautifully produced book. He used the service Blog2Print. Their banner is on the right of my page. I had used them to produce a book for my daughter-in-law Marcie as a memento of the first two years of the life of her daughter Veronica. It is a great idea for a present. Later I will write of some of the reactions I have had to seeing my words in print. Thanks, Ernie, for such a thoughtful gift.

So, as Christmas recedes into the past, let me tell you how wonderful it has been to have had these three gifts in my life. I trust Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar felt the same way.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Time I Felt Like the Magi

Sometimes a person knows a gift is wrong before it is even bought. Sometimes that realization comes a little later. Sometimes a gift is O.K., sometimes it seems pretty good. But only rarely does a person hit on a perfect gift. I did once.

In 1964 I left Los Angeles to return home to England for the summer. I had been a graduate student at Southern Cal for a year, which is what I had signed on for. My goal had been a kind of gap year before I got a job teaching, but I liked LA and my fellow graduate students. And I liked the chairman of my Ph.D. committee, which didn't seem as big a problem as it did in England at that time.  So I had the vague feeling that if I went back to California I was crossing a Rubicon which might mean the end of life as I had known it.

I'm not sure how I spent my days back in my childhood home, but some evenings I accompanied my father the The Gun and Magpie for a half or two of bitter. My dad introduced me to one of his fellow imbibers who had a son apprenticing in the bookbinding profession. (Remember books?) I saw some examples of his skill, the gilt edges of the books, the beautiful marbled endpapers and many other facets of the bookbinding profession. I talked with the son in person over a half pint or two. A few weeks passed and soon it was time for me to make a decision. Dear Reader, I returned to Los Angeles. Alea jacta est.

I was invited to Iowa for Christmas with my professor and his family. I wanted so badly to find him the perfect gift. A book was a suitable choice, Not just a book, but the book. In those days he talked of little else except Plato's Republic, but he had every edition on the face of the earth and a few from the moon. But what he didn't have was a hand bound copy with gilt edges and marbled end papers and his initials on the blue leather cover. So I embarked on a complicated transatlantic order which in those pre-computer days took for ever, but thanks to my dad was hurried along.

 The book in its cardboard cover arrived in California in time for me to wrap it in elegant dark green and gold paper with gold ribbon. I travelled with it to Iowa and was so proud to place it under the tree. The perfect gift. One I was so eager to give. No later gift required so much time, so much effort, so much imagination.

Even the Magi should have realized that gold, frankincense and myrrh were pretty second rate in comparison with my book.

To be continued  . . .

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Too Old for Jealousy

There was a time when I grabbed all the magazines at the grocery store checkout with articles entitled "Five ways to avoid Christmas stress" or "How to make your Christmas a Time for Joy". You know the sort. Then they upped the ante and told me that elegance could be mine. They are probably still putting them out, but I don't bother to read them. I finally reached the conclusion that perfection was not for me.

I'm not sure what's going on here. Are the trees covered with snow part of the decor, carried in to the dining room to provide ambience? Or are the guests supposed to take their plates and eat al fresco? Either way it doesn't seem like something we would do in Grosse Pointe. I can see that the theme colors are green and red, though last year they were probably silver and blue, or various shades of copper. All this means, of course, that the plates and tchotchkes a person of discernment bought last year would have to be replaced. Out of date.

No longer do I want to make an impression on guests. In fact, I am the guest in my children's homes. We have always had a lot of fun when we get together. No-one throws mashed potatoes or brings large dogs. We have had our share of small children, but we understand that. As for those in-law problems beloved of Carolyn Hax, they have never reared their heads.

I think we will have fun again this year. Though I do wish I had bought a bunch of candles and bits and pieces in various shades of copper.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

On Sunday morning the laundry chute was full from the second floor to the basement with sheets, towels, tablecloths and dishtowels. There were enough plates, cups, serving dishes and wine glasses—don't forget the wine glasses—to fill the dishwasher three times over, even though I, or more likely my wonderful children and in-laws, had set it going several times on Saturday. Before the day was over we were able to announce to ourselves that Thanksgiving was over.

My oldest grandchild got to meet my youngest. Emmanuel (at 17) is here holding his cousin Joe (at 10 weeks.) In fact every photograph taken this Thanksgiving shows someone holding or looking at this little boy.

The 2014 Thanksgiving dinner was at Elizabeth's. Twenty eight of us tucked into traditional turkey and stuffing and all the fixings, followed by pecan pie, pumpkin pies and pumpkin cheesecake.

Next day was the local parade and more eating and drinking (minus three revelers) and on Saturday a trip to the Great Lakes Museum and the Aquarium, followed by a movie, interspersed with and followed by more eating and drinking. Children slept in various houses, not always where they started off. Football games and naps also played a large role.

So by the time the Washington contingent left early on Sunday morning, we (by that I mean the grandfatherly and grandmotherly duo) were exhausted and it has taken until today to get it all together.

Ernie spent the weeks before Thanksgiving working away in his workshop finishing the fourth and final Advent calendar. All our children have one, though Andrew decided to make his own. His is almost finished, but I think he has a new admiration for the skill and patience of his father. This one is for Lucy and Peter, who will eventually realize that it is also a lot of work to fill the cavity behind each door with an object to mark the days of Advent, leading up to the gold star at the top.

And before we know it, Christmas will be here.