I nearly missed my Thanksgiving celebration, because I escaped late from our testing ground and then I had to rush to the airport in the brutal traffic. Everybody seemed to be heading that way. I was not looking forward to the security lines. I finished a 200-page book on my kindle by the time I wound up at the other of the security line. Kids crying and parents fussing over them, people banging away on their laptops trying to squeeze in a last few minutes of work before boarding the planes to their holiday destinations, harassed-looking attendants running to and fro, suspicious TSA folks inspecting luggage at random – the airport was busy and chaotic, and my kindle was a quiet source of respite from all of that.
“Four hours that way and five hours back? ELI5, please.”
“You have been on reddit too much,” I tell my travelling partner. He looks unimpressed by that statement. I suppress a sigh. Recently, he has taken to quoting reddit as a source in his conversations (/r/relationships, /r/personalfinance, /r/gameofthrones ). It is just a phase, I tell myself, and put my kindle aside so that we can talk time-zones.
The flight is spent with my kindle, and between books, I log into whatsapp. I remark aloud that I am a cripple and technology is my crutch. My travelling partner thinks that the statement is cool and immediately logs into twitter to post that.
It is softly raining at our destination. We get out, make our way through the familiar corridors, and reach the luggage carousel where for us stands waiting a long-suffering woman and her much-tried husband.
“No hair-cut yet,” she says to my travelling companion, who attempts to hide behind me, which is a lost cause since I am half as tall as he is.
She is still as sharp as I remember her, and nothing about her has softened in the time since I last spoke to her. Her husband is still as kind as I remember him, and nothing about him has changed either.
Thanksgiving dawns chaotic. Breakfast is brioche buns, cheese, and sweet tea, and I take mine outside to wander through the garden. My steps take me to a familiar location. The dogs have followed me and lick my legs with great patience until I have finished eating and bend down to pet them.
“It is a tree of great character,” Elisabeth tells me. “Managed to kill the wisteria vines. In my experience, nothing kills a wisteria.”
I wait patiently for her explanation. As is her way, she jumps into another topic smoothly, and asks about my job. Many twists and turns in the conversation later, she says that I am finally becoming a woman, and walks back to the house, leaving me to stand there with the dogs and the tree.
Lunch is at a fusion Asian restaurant that was a favourite among many of my colleagues in grad-school. Their menu is slightly changed and their hours are limited for Thanksgiving.
My lunch companion comes with a kid in tow and hands the kid over while she goes to window-shop at the nearby Dilliard’s. This is a familiar situation and I feed the kid edamame.
“Have I changed?” I ask my friend when she gets back.
She blinks and smoothly intercepts her kid who is trying to eat an unpeeled edamame. Then she says carefully, as if trying not to offend me, “Like usual, you know. You outgrow places and people pretty fast.”
“I thought last year that I wanted to settle down,” I confess. “I tried a lot to make that happen.”
“You aren’t really going to be happy with that,” she said, taking the squirming, restless kid from my arms. “Glad you got that figured out and stopped trying to make it happen.”
“It feels like everyone else is moving forward, sometimes, with family and kids.”
“I used to think that about you,” she admits. “I thought you were falling behind. Now I feel you’ve changed from that a lot. I am not worried anymore. Think of it this way,” she tells me quietly. “Maybe you have moved ahead so much in figuring out what you want. Maybe you need to give people time to catch up with where you are.”
That doesn’t really make sense, so I shrug and return to my green curry. She steals all the bamboo from my dish and it is a return to an old normal, even with the kid in our midst. When she walks towards the shopping center, I follow her, armed with hot chocolate, and a happy kid latched on my hip. She laughs, and comes over to adjust my scarf, and loops her arm in mine before dragging me to the shops.
Dinner is a large and luscious spread, at a large and old table, in the bosom of a large and wonderful family. I am mellowed from mulled wine and baked potatoes, and everything is vibrant and slow, and the old carpet warmed by the fire is a decadent sensation under my toes.
Elisabeth demands the usual, and we play for her, and her little grandchild joins in whenever she can with random la-la-la choruses, with a voice as pure as an angel’s. We run through the few Christmas songs we know, and then it is time for a rendition of more popular songs, starting with Bob Dylan and ending with Leonard Cohen.
The next day’s brunch is with an old friend whom I met in Seattle earlier this year.
He proffers a wine as we sit there on the patio, nibbling on bread and cheese. It is that infamous Menage a Trois from Trader Joe’s. I groan and Sibelius laughs. Elisabeth truly wants to know why anyone would name a wine so. Her husband says it is government brainwashing. Something about subliminal messaging. Soon others join in, with conspiracy theories. They have so many conspiracy theories and I give up trying to make sense of any of that.
“Fond memories,” Sibelius remarks, once it is just us and the dogs, pouring our guest the wine, and then taking my glass to do the same.
This isn’t the first time Trader Joe’s has had such interesting names, after all.
So we segue into other wines Trader Joe’s has had over the years. He looks so worldly and sophisticated, sitting there, discussing fancy french words, tugging on his crimson scarf, that I feel half-guilty about all of this.
Then I give up and try the wine. The most remarkable quality about the wine is its name, I discover, after a few sips.
Somehow, talk turns to music, and Sibelius plays an amazing rendition of Gill Landry’s Mexico and our visitor sings it with as much aplomb and confidence as he did once back in 2012. We are all older, and hopefully wiser. Our visitor talks proudly and happily about his fiancee (a teacher). We listen and offer our congratulations. He shows us photographs of the two of them, and they look very good together.
Later, after he had left, I remember that I used to feel left-behind and slow whenever a friend, especially a close friend, had announced news of this nature. Now, though, things have changed, and I feel calmer about it all, and perhaps this is what they mean about growing up. There is little hurry to get to where others are, and there is more joy in getting to where I want to be, and as I age, I have found out that there is very little overlap between the first and the second.
I have not succeeded in mastering Led Zeppelin’s Stairway, but I did manage to get a decent handle on Luke’s Wall. It is an old favourite.
“I don’t like wisteria vines, for all that they are beautiful in bloom,” my hostess tells me later. “Pretty weeds are still weeds. And these are very difficult to get rid of. Better not to encourage them in the first place.”
I mix the dough carefully, making sure that the butter coats the flour well. Then she continues, saying, “Keep on with it. You are nearly there.”
So I keep on with the dough, and wonder if she meant what I think she meant. Someday, I will be like her, making suitably ambiguous statements in a warm kitchen, and someone will think that I am quite clever or insightful. It is not a pipe dream, I think, because there are people who think Ozzy Osbourne is a fount of wisdom, and there are people who think Trump is a voice of reason.