In honor of the coming Christmas Holiday, the broad window behind the checkout desk at the library sports a garland of construction paper gingerbread men and women “dressed” in various costumes. While the nice librarian was scanning my stack of books I let my eyes look over each one. Most were cute but a little disconcerting, Something was there, pulling my gaze, asking for my attention but I couldn’t get my eyes to focus. Until I noticed the pirate. Second to the end on the left hand side, smiling with a bright candy smile was a peg – legged – hook handed gingerbread pirate complete with black hat and broadsword. He made me smile. I told the librarian that I liked the gingerbread pirate and his funny little peg-leg and it made her laugh too, which made me smile even more.
One of the things I am grateful for in my life is my ability to take a rather large amount of delight in small, often silly things. It enriches my day. (It’s also a pretty handy tool for a writer.) Small treasures like peg legged gingerbread men or the twirl of a few leaves falling from the sky have been known to cut through moments of self-pity and discouragement and put life back into a more positive perspective.
I think I get this, in part, from my parents. Mom and dad always found ways to fill our days with delight and love. Out of necessity they turned ordinary things into extra-ordinary finery.
Christmas Eve, for instance. With mom working retail and dad holding services at the
church there wasn’t much time, money or energy for a lavish feast. I think the tradition began during dad’s first year out of seminary. My brother and I were still young enough to have an early bed-time but old enough to participate in the 5pm family Christmas Eve service and pageant. After a busy day of work for mom, and in-between services for dad, the parents whipped up nothing more spectacular than french toast. We listened to Christmas music while they cooked and basked in the soft glow of colored lights on the tree. To add a little flare to the meal mom and dad pressed angel and tree and snowman cookie cutters into the Wonder-bread and Viola! Christmas french toast. It was such a hit that, much to my mother’s amused chagrin, my brother and I still request or make french toast for dinner on Christmas Eve – though I don’t think either of us use cookie cutters anymore. Or Wonder-bread.
Then there were the “adventures.” These too started during dad’s first year or so out of seminary. We were living on Long Island, mom was often at work when dad would say, “ok kids, time for an adventure.” My brother and I piled into the car with an anticipation that rivaled that of Christmas Eve because our “adventures” often ended up at The Ground Round — a family friendly restaurant that served popcorn at the table, scoops of ice cream in small, plastic baseball hats (Collect them all!) and showed old cartoons like Gulliver’s Travels on a television screen so large I felt l like one of the Lilliputians.
Dad never told us where we going and often seemed to drive in circuitous routes, stopping at what looked to my young eyes like the most random places for a hodgepodge of odd items: CVS for dental floss, the post office for stamps, a quick stop or grocer for milk and juice. It only now occurs to me that our “adventures” were very clever ways of getting us kids to cooperate while he ran errands. But since we didn’t know where we were going, since the prospect of fine kid dining loomed as large as the restaurant’s television, and if either of us had any extra allowance money and we found something we wanted to buy – as long as it wasn’t candy – we could, my brother and I adored these small adventures.
This Thanksgiving day, as the little one growing inside me kicks and turns and floats about, I am filled with so much joy (and a full dose of anxiety). It is my sincerest hope that I too may be creative enough to instill the capacity to find delight in the simple and the mundane; to turn french toast into a Christmas Feast, a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy the adventure of a lifetime, and a peg legged gingerbread man the grace that connects two people in laughter and joy.