I say to mom, who lives nine hours away, “Let’s meet in the middle and have Christmas and celebrate the not-so-little-anymore-boy’s birthday.”
I drive six hours and mom and the boy and his mother, my sister, meet me at a hotel lobby that has a seven-foot tree with presents underneath.
I drive six hours, gassing up at the most expensive spot—the base of the Grapevine (Tejon Pass)—in winds that make my teeth clatter. I drive as fast as I can to get to Christmas, hardly noticing the landscape, forgetting that sometimes weather can shift quickly in Gorman.
The woman I grew up alongside and her youngest son (on the eve of nine) and the woman who grew us and I stand in the lobby at the end of a year where we have met on three occasions, but we easily pick up the conversations we’ve been having along the way. We eat three meals together, exchange laughter and wisdom, gifts and kisses, and then we set off our separate ways.
There is more to think about on the return side of the journey.
The first couple of miles of the Grapevine are, as the day before, unremarkable. Then, there are flecks of snow on the ground: a herd of bay ponies dappled in white. I wonder if I am driving into a Christmas card.
Someone shakes the snow globe and what were rain drops become flakes. Falling faster flakes. And, the people all around me press their brakes as they speed their way down the freezing pass before it is closed.
The only person I know who needs a shirt like this is named Norm.
If I had to write a composition about what I did on my winter break, I would first lament the speeding finale that prohibits any graceful dismount and makes me think for a moment: I did nothing. And, for the first few days I did nothing but grade as quickly as I could, promising to post final scores rapidly. Thus, when it was finally time for adventure, I joyfully drove my friend L–’s four girls and our friend C– packed her car full of girls (and one poor little man) to Apple Hill to get apple cider and unexpected sunshine in the foothills three days before Christmas. The girls in my vehicle range in age from four to sixteen and all were excited for Santa or presents or the upcoming feast or all of the above. In fact, as I arrived at the door, there was a sidewalk chalk dear Santa Letter scrawled inside a large arrow, showing him the way.
Yes, cider and samples of more than a half dozen apples and olives and sauces and oranges is enough to inspire me to make the drive, but my real incentive is the apple wood smoke fire and its sweet smoke that fills my hair, my coat, my scarf, all of the layers of me—and the promise of a whiff of this calming scent days later.
But the just-under-an-hour drive was not calm. The girls were filled with Christmas songs, and they sang in funny voices, in solemn voices, bumbling some words, blaring others all of the way.
Novice tourists to this attraction, they’d hyped it up in their minds, wondered where the roller coasters and other rides were. I worried for a moment that where we had been jingling all the way there’d be disappointment, but there were free fruit samples and this fantastic machine to peel and core apples.
Because she appeared, at first, cumbrous, out of place, I presumed her a lost West Indian manatee who, looking for warmer waters, made her winter way from the Gulf of Mexico through a brackish river to a shallow, tepid estuary in the suburbs of Fort Myers. Because she spent more than half of the day, like a teenager, submerged, grazing on floating hyacinth, alligator weed, and mangrove leaves, I surmised she was sibling to the dugong and was not so surprised by the muscular rudder that seemed to stretch from her thighs. Because I found her later on the deck of the pool in a crowded condo complex, because years before I emphatically doubted our driver in Huatulco as he swore he’d sighted a sirena from the bluff where we stood, and, because, beyond story books, I don’t believe in water spirits, I hesitate to tell you this. Because her ancestors are associated with drownings, floods, storms, I should have been more careful, but I was arrested by her nacreous tail and swept into the choir of sailors, pirates, and schizophrenics who are certain we’ve sighted Atargatis–or one of her beguiling sisters.
What does a bank heir dream of? Of course, it is dancing on Broadway, something his mother forbids. Of course, though, she sends him off to foreclose on a small theater in nowhere Nevada where he meets pretty Polly and, of course, devises a plan to save the theater by — of course — putting on a show.
Full of Gershwin hits, the audience can hardly resist singing along to: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Embraceable You,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the festive, irresistible percussion workout “I Got Rhythm.”
In the dark of the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers, Florida, we weren’t surprised when the heir got everything he desired (isn’t that what heirs do?), but we were reminded of the importance of pursuing our myriad passions.