Friday, December 21, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

We brought home a Christmas Tree last Saturday and put it up.

We generally get the same size and type of tree every year. Our decorations are all keep-sakes from over the years --

ornaments made by our kids in elementary school, special glass balls made by a friend of my mom when each child was born, garish stuffed ornaments that my mother sewed one year,

little souvenirs from our travels, paper chains, old tinsel, lots of little lights strung at random.

Nothing new, nothing sophisticated, nothing stylish. I love it.

Our tree is not crowned with a star or angel. When my first child was born, one of the baby gifts (I think it was undershirts) was decorated with a large, glittery butterfly clip, which I clamped onto the top of our tiny little tree that year. It has held pride of place now for 30 Christmases. The Santa right below is a recent aquisition.

On the eve of World War II, my parents moved to the San Francisco area, and my dad's whole family moved from Texas to take advantage of new work opportunities. My dad and grandfather (and probably an uncle or two) worked as welders in the Oakland shipyards, building liberty ships. They never left California, although I imagine that they longed for home.

When I was a very small child, my grandparents had a small ceramic plate on their wall. On it were two angels sitting on clouds. One angel says to the other, "And if we're good, we'll go to Texas." I don't know why it made such an impression on me, but this decoration remained in my memory for more than 50 years. I wrote about it somewhere on the web at some time in the past.

A couple of weeks ago there was a comment on my blog from a woman in Texas whose mother had given her a similar plate (she found it in some junk/antique store in Arkansas), which she was going to give as a gag gift to someone. First, however, she wanted to know if it was worth anything and did a Google search. Up popped my posting, she contacted me, and today I received this in the mail:

Receiving this little plate made me ridiculously happy. And it points out to me that one of the great lessons of the Christmas story lies in the unexpected kindness of strangers -- be they angels comforting startled shepherds, kings from the East, overworked innkeepers with no rooms but with a dry and warm stable, the Salvation Army workers who gave my late father-in-law hot soup and a blanket when he was released after 6 years of digging coal in a Siberian gulag, ordinary people serving meals to the homeless, or a thoughtful woman in Texas who correctly figured that I would be touched by a souvenir from my past. These and a thousand other small and great actions reflect the unexpected blessing and extraordinary kindness that underlie Christmas as God's gift to us.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I don't think so.

I have a headache.

All was starting to calm down nicely (found the right crutches, got DH started on a course of prednisone, DD#2 salvaged one of her overdue bills, I started to work on work again, I even made it to knitting group). I actually got some Christmas shopping done, almost a miracle since I usually get around to shopping 2-3 days before the event.

Yesterday afternoon I had just made a cup of greatly-needed coffee, waved DD#2 off to work, sat down with DH, and my cell phone rang. DD#2's name was on the caller ID. I knew what it was, I just knew that I would hear her voice telling me -- "Mom, I've gotten into an accident."

I was right.

I was very calm, grabbed my AAA card, relevant phone numbers, and drove away. As much as I wanted to run away from home, I had to go speak to the police, arrange the towing, call the insurance claim rep. In all fairness, this was a three car event, with the car in the middle causing the actual accident by rear-ending a sedan (car #1). DD#2 was driving car #3, and rear-ended car#2, which was rebounding off car #1 at the time. Obviously not my daughter's fault, BUT in California the law automatically assigns blame to the last car in the rear-ending incident. Her car was completely undrivable and may be declared a total loss. Three tow trucks came. Thank God, no one was hurt.

This is her third accident in 3 years. As she is 21 and still lives at home, she has to be on our car insurance. Why does she still have a car? I would really love to give a good, rational, mature answer to that question -- but I don't have one.

Comic Relief: A rubber-necker in the next lane was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Two more tow trucks had to be called to the scene.

DH was checking out mortgage refinancing options on-line a couple of weeks ago, filled out one of those inquiry forms, and was expecting a deluge of email, right? We have gotten unsolicited calls from at least 2500 people and places, to the point of getting pretty rude. Here are three actual exchanges between me (DS) and unsolicited callers (UC).

Call Scenario #1, which I like to call "Stuffy Old Bitch Answers"
DS: Hello?
UC: Let me speak to Claus.
DS: I beg your pardon?
UC: I'd like to speak to Claus.
DS: Are you personally acquainted with my husband?
UC: Well, no, but he asked for refinancing information, so I am following up.
DS: Young man/young woman, let me give you some advice, which you may already have heard from your mother but have obviously forgotten. Never, never ask for or address someone by his first name unless you have been invited to do so. I have no interest in speaking to someone as poorly trained and ill-mannered as you.

Call Scenario #2, In Which I get Rid Of The Caller As Quickly As Possible:
DS: Hello?
UC: I'd like to speak to Claus (pronounces it "claws", easy mistake to make)
DS: You want to speak to whom?
UC: Claus
DS: Sorry, nobody here by that name.

Cal Scenario #3, AKA Having Some Fun:
DS: Hello?
UC: I'd like to speak to Claus.
DS: Sorry, he no longer lives here.
UC: He moved?
DS: Yes, he has moved to China. Would you like his new telephone number?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent Quickie

Sounds almost obscene.

I really miss Hamburg. I usually spent the first 2-3 weeks of Advent in Hamburg, visiting my very dear MIL, going to Christmas Markets, drinking Gluhwein (mulled wine, sold on every street corner), eating sausages, drinking more Gluhwein, drinking beer, drinking Gluhwein -- I think you get the picture. As MIL passed year before last, I really, really miss going to Hamburg. Those Germans really know how to celebrate.

How did I spend the first Sunday of Advent of 2007?

Running around Pleasant Hill and Concord, trying to find a pair of crutches because the dialysis nurse took too much water out of Nick (after being told NOT to take out any), and he now has a whopping gout attack in his left knee. The pain of putting weight on his left leg is excruciating. The man cannot walk. At all. Period.

Bugger it.