Tag Archives: alone

Holidays x One: Fourth of July

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     Growing up in 1950s Eagle Rock, in NE Los Angeles, July 4th was a community event. The families gathered at the local park where children roamed in packs from one family blanket to another. Cotton candy was the food staple, accompanied by sandwiches, hot dogs purchased from the local firefighters with GIANT vats of ketchup pumped by our little hands and ending up on our little shirts. At dark my two older sisters and I would huddle together on the blanket and compete to guess the color of the next firework –shooting into the air and exploding over our heads while we oohed and aahed in delight and wonder – always a little afraid that those trails of burning light might last long enough to land on us and kind of hoping they would. In those days you were left to your own thoughts about freedom, bombs bursting in air and patriotism, without any music to push you further.

The fireworks were amazing in blazing reds, silver, blue and gold, dancing over the monuments and the river. The U.S. Navy Band played and the breeze carried the sound and the colors over our heads and into our hearts.  

When I was single and working in Washington, D.C. it happened to be the Bicentennial year of 1976 when a large group of us met at the hillside of Arlington Cemetery, along with hundreds of others, to watch the special fireworks display. We young women spread out red, white and blue blankets and pulled out picnic baskets overflowing with fried chicken, pies, quiches, apples and cherries, hoping to impress the young men who did handstands and cartwheels on the grass hoping to impress us. The fireworks were amazing in blazing reds, silver, blue and gold, dancing over the monuments and the river. The U.S. Navy Band played and the breeze carried the sound and the colors over our heads and into our hearts.

As a young mother, I lived in Los Angeles while my husband, Randy, pursued a career as a film editor and I wrote Sunday School stories for a curriculum publisher. And worked on a screenplay, like every other LA writer. We lived at the top of a high hill overlooking Chavez Revine and set up our balcony as Fourth of July Central. The babies were bathed and in pajamas and sat on our laps while we downed beers and burped through God Bless America. From there we could see fireworks at eye level and several others surrounding downtown. I played “What color is the next one?” with my toddlers.

A few years later I was a single Mom living on a historic street in La Mesa and we organized a 4th of July parade with all the children. I bought a cassette tape of Sousa Marches and we put in in the red wagon. Costumes were fashioned and ranged from Uncle Sam to Mary Poppins to Jerry Mahoney. Neighbors sat on their front lawns and watched the children march up one side and down the other, once, again, and yet again. The local newspaper documented the event.  On my front lawn was a table of watermelons – icy cold and sliced – so the whole street gathered and ate and a new tradition was started – spitting seeds into the bushes.

Ten years later my July 4ths became water events for the next decade. My new husband, Mike, was a boat guy. We’d gather a group of kids and friends and head out to the water, getting as close to the barges as possible. Earsplitting launches exploded into incredible colors spinning and spiraling overhead. And yes, as the fireworks burned their way into the water at times, sizzling and fizzling like a match. But I was never afraid with Mike around. That lasted, even after he became ill, until the year that our oldest child’s family and their best friends came over to watch fireworks from our back lawn. I was again on top of a hill and we could see about four different displays coming from various locations in the valley below. The grandkids were parked on blankets on our lawn, dancing colors reflected in their faces, eyes wide in wonder. It was the most beautiful July 4th of all. The next day I was awakened by a noise that sounded like the random firecrackers that get set off in neighborhoods. But it was different. Pounding. At last I sat up and realized that it was sound of Mike’s cane.

“Mike, are you O.K.?” I shouted from my bed.

“No,” he shouted back. “I’m blind.”

After that, I didn’t make a big deal of fireworks. I didn’t seem fair to watch them with a blind man.

This week I planned ahead. I’m a widow now and living at the little La Mesa house again.

My sister called, “Are you doing anything for the Fourth?”

“Yes,” I said. “I bought a rack of ribs that I’m going to slow cook on the barbeque, corn on the cob and then some hot dogs to use up the coals. I have some wine, some sweet potato fries, fresh green beans from the Farmer’s Market and I bought a Key Lime pie. I got a fire log for the fire ring after dark and I might put a beach chair on the roof to see if I can see any fireworks.”

“You must be expecting company.”

“No, actually, I just wanted to create a fabulous day for myself. I’m going to sit in the shade and finish the courtroom novel on my Kindle, be in my bathing suit, do a little yard work and putter around. I’ve got the outdoor shower if it gets hot and the fire ring if it gets cold. It will be perfect.”

And it was.

My 21-year-old daughteDSC03997r did drop by and we watched Chef together and hung out and ate ribs and corn and caught up a little. I gave her my tickets to the Fair and she spent time on her phone hustling up a friend to take to watch fireworks, as she should. I hope her 4th was one of the memorable ones.

Was yours?

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Holidays x One: New Year’s Day

A New Year Dawns

I’ve been a widow for three years now and the last of my seven children just moved out. For the first time since I was a young, virginal, 25 year-old newlywed I’m alone.

Really alone.

When the toilet clogs and overflows – I throw down the beach towels to stop the flood, lift them, sopping, from the floor and shove them into the washing machine. When the car breaks down, I call AAA. When I want a meal at a restaurant, I bring a book to avoid the stares of pity. When something exciting happens, I turn to Facebook.

My parents have been gone for a long time – Dad for 26 years, Mom for 16. I don’t really remember Dad’s voice, but I can’t forget Mom’s hands, because all I have to do is look at the keyboard and there they are – minus her weekly manicure. My sisters have families of their own. My children have families and lives of their own. It’s hard not to feel like an appendage to their celebrations.

So how does alone do holidays? Some people claim to know. Every magazine article, every therapy workshop, every single’s blog, every pastor’s sermon has a magic cure for being alone that is supposedly foolproof.

Serve others.

Feed the homeless. Spend the night in a shelter. Donate books to a thrift store. Give – get out of your own head – serve.

I beg to differ.

We all should be doing that, all the time. It’s great to serve when God calls, when you know you are impacting lives, when you have the strength and wherewithal to help a fellow human being who doesn’t have either one. Obedience feels wonderful and purposeful. But there’s another important part of being alone that is not considered, let along encouraged in the body of believers.

Celebrate YOU. Do something, extraordinary, joyful for yourself. Do something that only you knows will make you happy. It’s not a sin to spend a little effort to make yourself happy. Something just for you.

So here’s a little series of blogs to get you through the year celebrating holidays alone. Holidays Times One. And the first one – New Year’s Day.

The first day of a new year is full of hope and promise.

If you are a parade-watcher, join the parade. Buy yourself a dozen roses and bury your face in them when a float goes by. Gather petals and make yourself a mini-float with glue and shoe boxes; theme – your dreams for the year. Many parades have Fairy Tale themes. Take an hour and read your favorite Fairy Tales and make a note of how these stories have influenced your life or have embedded your thoughts with expectations.

If you are a football fan, plan your schedule to watch a game. Bet yourself who will win and give yourself a prize if you are right. Make yourself a nice spread, with chips and chili dogs and popcorn. If you are a former cheerleader, clear out a space on your floor to cheer, really cheer, with kicks and cartwheels if necessary. It’s great exercise and really fun to get that rush. Watch as many Bowl games as possible. Drink in the thrill of the win and the pathos of the loss.

If starting the year with a clean slate makes you happy, do it right. Hire a cleaning service for yourself, just this one day, to sweep away Christmas and give New Year’s Day a fresh start.

There is a movement that celebrates picking One Word for the year. You pray and think and listen to come up with your word. Two years ago my word was “Wait.” I created a visual reminder that I pinned on my office wall. Last year the Word changed to “Watch,” a small shift, but one that implied change was happening. This year is more active – “Write.” The waiting and watching are over.

What about resolutions? Buy a year-long calendar (NeuYear.net) and take a long look, or even take a photo of the calendar as a blank canvas, then fill it with events and goals that will make up your year – things you want to accomplish, books you want to read, trips you want to take. At the end of the year, take another photo and celebrate the progress and make that celebration part of your New Year’s Day tradition.

One of my New Year’s Day traditions is to make a photo album of the year before. I’m been doing this for 15 years. During the year I keep a folder on the computer that I fill with the best pictures of the best times. On New Year’s I make a digital scrap book or photo album to catch those moments and capture experiences that meant the most to me.

My family teases me about my photos of inanimate objects – a pretty place setting or centerpiece, a garden about to yield tomatoes or broccoli, my Christmas lights ir sunsets. Go ahead and laugh. These photos bring me joy and help me feel creative and happy and proves that there is pleasure in my surroundings — it’s not only about visitors and grandchildren at this time in my life. It’s fine to celebrate what you find beautiful as well.

The list is endless and can contain all the secret joys and giddy pleasures that are yours and yours alone – a Lord of the Rings marathon, a new recipe, a fresh, unopened book, trying something you’ve never tried. Forgiving. Moving on.

Own it. Make it yours. Let yourself celebrate. Happy New Year.

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