2020 Vision

Austin Tracey

My apologies for the long silence. When last I wrote here, we had moved to the country and my husband was seriously disabled by his back injuries; he retired and we left the busy East Bay for Wine Country-quiet. I have been working on several projects in that time, namely my historical novel about the Orphan Train mama who lost her children and set about getting them back. That novel is in revisions and needs another deep dive. (Not this week, she said, juggling several pins, but one of these days soon.)

The Crow’s Nest

Another sideline has been our cabin, the Crow’s Nest, which we renovated from the studs out, and welcomed many guests, both as vacationers and as creatives, to come stay with us. Check it out on AirBnB here.

Young Luther Bailey, graduating from Southern University, before he became an engineer, home designer and building contractor. He built some 200 homes in Portland, OR, and Phoenix, AZ, in the 1910s-1940s.
Here’s a link to a recent story I wrote about him
(pg 10-11).

We’ve spent the past two years as innkeepers, and that was entertaining; I’ve been revising the novel, then resting (but still innkeeping) between rewrites. In the “rest” times, I’ve been to writing programs or conferences like the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Associated Writing Programs. I started another book project, a biography of my great-grandfather Luther R. Bailey, Doris’s father, the architect, and have gathered much of what I need for that project, including publisher interest.

I was buzzing along on this project and chatting with an agent about my historical fiction in early 2019 when our world came to a crashing halt. My stepson, who I raised from age 5, our Boy, Austin took his own life in February 2019. And that has changed everything.

Playful smile with sister Simone last Thanksgiving.

We are learning to live without our Boy, and it has been the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. We have lived very small in this dreadful year. It’s felt unbearably sad and riddled with confusion and doubts. I have written little and worked almost not at all.

Meanwhile, racism and politics have raged, children are locked in cages, the earth is burning… The Russian River flooded and marooned us in our cabin-on-stilts; my husband had major surgery in May; fires swept the North Bay and we evacuated in the fall… Our son in law lost his childhood home near Sydney, Australia, to wildfires there in November; a tree dropped a huge branch and damaged our roof just last week. And we’re in the middle of a presidential impeachment crisis that we hope will strangle the ugliness of the current administration and begin to lead us back to center.

I got a semicolon tattoo two weeks after losing Austin, and have met others with this powerful symbol of suicide and rebirth.

It’s been a hard year, friends, neither creative nor productive. I set goals in December 2018 that are laughable now; we lead lives that are so other-focused that “2018 Julia” couldn’t even imagine. But I’m writing this — yes, pretty much the first “thing” I’ve written in months — to say that I will write again, we will keep living, our family is stronger for the terrible trials of 2019, and we are making plans for a different life ahead of us.

Nothing is yet confirmed nor written in stone (I mean anything, anywhere in life — but also, for our current plan), but if all goes as it should, we are looking toward a different view in 2020. We are looking at saying yes to life, a kind of resurrection, grabbing on to what we can and living it wholeheartedly.

Fingers crossed that it will happen. Watch this space.

A different window, a new view?

The Longest Night

I love Christmas. I love the smell of pine needles, cinnamon, cookies baking. I love bright lights on Christmas trees. Candles. Some Christmas music (some I hate, but that’s because it’s terrible music, not because it’s Christmas).

2014-12-09 10.18.01-1We’re in that strange in-between era now when the kids are adults, but none has yet married. There are no grandbabies. So there’s no Santa. No cookies and a carrot left out. We still do stockings, but we also play Cards Against Humanities later in the day, and believe me, that is a game that will put you on the naughty list immediately. Sometimes we do Santa gifts (unwrapped) and sometimes not.

It occurred to me the other night how much things had changed since my girls were little, and I crocheted, sewed or otherwise crafted most of their gifts; back when baked goods were all we could afford to give, and we went to Mass and still lit Advent candles.

Nowadays we have a crab feast on Christmas Eve, which has become almost the best part of Christmas. But this is a fairly new tradition for us. I started making Christmas Eve a special feast when I didn’t get the kids on Christmas Day. It was the only way to make up for missing the better day of stockings, gifts and more.

A vindictive divorce with a spiteful ex left me with little furniture and no ornaments. The first year I got the girls for Christmas, we strung popcorn and made paper chains, and I bought each of us a few ornaments for “our” tree, not the other tree with the familiar ornaments we’d always had. We went to a paint-your-own pottery studio and painted all the rejected bits (all I could afford) and every year I have had to look at those silly pig and cow ornaments (who puts pigs and cows on a Christmas tree? We did.) and feel bereft of what we’d lost. One of the few ornaments I bought was a blown glass Christmas pickle, which came with a tag that said it was a German tradition. We aren’t German, but what the heck?

IMG_4569Our Christmases together became more precious because we knew we would be ripped apart the next day, or thrown together after one hurried holiday, to try to get our bearings, adjust to the sugar rush or late night without sleep, start fresh in the morning. A divorced Christmas was painful for everyone.

Somehow, we made those negatives into positives. I was lying in bed with my husband the other night talking about Christmas traditions we shared, and he couldn’t believe that the Christmas Eve crab feast and the Christmas pickle were new, had not been in place for decades, for generations. But it’s true – I had just grasped at straws, followed whims, and made it work. And today, those random moments feel like solid traditions.

Our traditions and holidays keep changing. All of our adult children work in restaurants or hospitality, and that means weekends are booked; days off are Tuesdays or Thursdays. One of our girls, a pastry chef, works Christmas Eve, Christmas morning til noon, and Dec. 26 at 6 a.m., so there will be no overnight, just a flying visit in the afternoon, for her stocking and gifts. For the first time in several years, we might have that crab feast on Dec. 25 instead of Christmas Eve.

And we live in an apartment now. It’s harder than ever for all the adults to find a place to sleep (who wants to sleep on the floor?), and awaken to see what Santa has left. So we probably won’t do that, either. But we no longer have custody disputes or the back-and-forth of shared holidays. That tradition, thank god, is also gone.

So how will we celebrate Christmas this year? What will we do? Be a family. We are two parents of four adults and one teen, one cat, and one granddog who accompanies Daughter #3. We will probably have a son-in-law by next Christmas, maybe even a grandchild on the way.

Things change. We’re adaptable. We’re staying fluid and flexible, reaching out, letting it go, making it work. I didn’t sew a single gift this year, nor have I baked even one Christmas cookie. But the lights twinkle on the tree, my husband’s annual thematic holiday CD is playing in the living room, and somehow, one day or another, weather permitting, there will be cracked crab.

Tradition? Whatever sticks. Worried about it? Not at all.

IMG_4574Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule and a Happy Kwanzaa to all. And that goes for Krampus and Festivus, too. Party on, kids.

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