Monday, December 30, 2013

After the holidays

I always like the idea of 12 days of Christmas. It was especially helpful when we had to travel a bit to visit relatives, rather than have to try and see everyone on the 25th.

Apparently, some other people think the same way, as i received a few Christmas cards on Boxing Day. Which we don't celebrate here in the US, so it was a back-to-work day for me. I also got a late Christmas card on the 27th, and smiled as i opened it. So, when i saw an envelope on the 28th, i thought it might be a late Christmas letter and opened it eagerly.

It was a letter all right, written in delightfully clear penmanship, from a friend and former colleague's sister, C. I knew C, had spent some delightful times chatting away with her, as she and K lived together. I last spoke to K, my friend and former colleague late spring or early summer. C had moved closer to her job, which had moved from the city to a more southern location. They were thinking of taking a vacation, travelling northeast to Boston where they'd lived for a decade, and i invited them to stay with me if they wanted or i could meet them in Boston. It was all conjecture at that point. The summer came and went with no phone call, and i thought of her again in the early autumn. I meant to call, but got busy and during the holidays, i knew she often spent time with her son or siblings, so decided i’d call afterwards, in time for her birthday on 14 January.

The letter was brief. C said K had some health issues. Yes, I knew about those as K and I had discussed them a bit. And, that K had died unexpectedly in mid-October. My eyes filled with tears immediately. C wanted me to know as K was quite fond of me, and felt that I had been a good friend over the years.

I looked for her obituary on-line, still not quite able to believe the letter. The obituary was as brief as the letter, so there was no explanation other than “passing away unexpectedly.” She died on the day I was going to see Macbeth er, the Scottish Play with Kenneth Branaugh and Alex Kingston. The HD showing was cancelled due to technical difficulties and was later rescheduled. I didn’t make it to the rescheduled showing because we got a bit of snow and I was concerned about driving home in a blizzard. K always had her nose in a book and read all sorts of things, so she would have found it fitting that I was seeing something literary. And my mind dwelt on that, as often happens when one is shocked upon hearing news and frantically searches inside one’s self to make sense of it all. We first met nearly 18 years ago now, and she helped me tremendously. When I started at my current job and we needed someone else to do the same work I was doing as there was too much for one person, I called her at the old company. She no longer worked there. A former colleague at another company where many had gone (when I applied there for a job, I was known as “another refugee from that company”) had the old phone list and supplied me with her home number. I knew the phone was in her sister’s name but couldn’t remember C’s last name to save my life. K had married and divorced before I met her, and kept her married name.

And so I called to say hello and to see if she’d be interested in doing some work for us. We needed someone who could use Word very well, and I knew she could. She loved science, and this would most likely be right up her alley.

She ended up working for us and was hired on as a regular employee after several months. She stayed until she was laid off about two years ago now. Our boss at the time told me it was because of workload, or rather lack of it. There wasn’t enough to go around. But, she and K got on like oil and water, and everyone felt it was based on a personality clash, nothing more, nothing less. K had hoped to remain working until 65 to boost her retirement a bit, but at least she was 62 and could draw social security if she didn’t find another job.

What I didn’t realise that day I called her to see if she could help us was that she’d been laid off from the company where I had met her and had been unable to find another job. She had oodles of experience, but not the schooling companies wanted, and she was an older worker. She later told me she had grown quite desperate, as her benefits were running out as was her savings, and she was in a pickle.

And then I called. Did she want work? Did she ever. And then it was my turn to walk her through what we did, what we needed her to do. We had a few other contractors to help as well. Our then boss and owner of the company wanted to make one of them a permanent employee, and K got the nod. On some very bad days, I’d apologise to her for getting her in this mess. She’d smile and say she was grateful for the job. On some very bad days she had, I reminded her that she had won out over a Ph.D. for the job. She had, too.

And then I got the chance to move back to the coast and keep my job, become a telecommuter. She was glad to see that I was able to have my dream become reality. We’d chat on the phone after hours from time to time, and would discuss projects and things in general, just like always.

After her departure, I’d send jobs that she might be interested in. After about six months, she decided she’d most likely stay retired, and we chatted about that.

That was the thing. No matter how much time elapsed, we always picked up the conversation where we left off. We were both curious about all sorts of things, so after a cursory catch up of work stuff, the topics could cover anything and everything.

I’d been thinking about what I was going to tell her when I called wishing her a happy 65th birthday.

I stared again at the letter. It was real.

I let some of my former officemates know the news. Some work for other companies now, and all were saddened by the news.

She was one of those really quiet people who showed up at work to work. What a concept. She was not the chatty Kathy sort. Heads down, get work done, and when she went outside for a smoke, she’d take a book to read.

Once you got past that quiet exterior, you found someone witty, bright, articulate, thoughtful, kind, and a solid citizen. The kind who hated injustice, questioned authority, played by the rules that made sense. Who liked decorum without being stuffy.

I shall write a note to her sister. I know how hard the holidays can be when loved ones aren’t around, and I’m sure there’s been just enough time since mid-October for the shock to wear off a bit and for the painful realisation to sink in that she’s truly gone and isn’t coming back.

I should like to do something to honour my friend. Not that she’d ever expect it nor request it, but I’d like to do something all the same. I’m thinking a donation to my local library in her memory just the ticket.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The best things in life...

...aren't things.

Despite not feeling much Christmas magic this year, i am grateful that i live in a beautiful place, that our electrics have thus far stayed on through the ice storms which have left many without electricity, and that two kitties are now peacefully napping, one in front of the coal stove, and the other between my keyboard and the screen.

Two things which have especially warmed my heart this Christmas season:

Someone doing his best to achieve sobriety.

A friend's fostering a badly abused white poodle named Toby. He's been at my friend's house a few weeks, such woeful eyes, and unsure what to make of his new surroundings. He's coming out of his shell little by little, likes cuddles, and is now starting to look at his human companions in the eye from time to time. Sometime in the night last night, my friend awoke to find Toby licking her hand. He stopped and went out of the room as soon as he realised she was awake.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas is coming....

I've somehow found myself in a place where i think we have oodles of time until Christmas. It's three days away. Well, less than that, as we're hurtling towards early evening on Sunday.

Even if i don't do a lot of decorating for it, i usually feel a change within me, anticipating its arrival. Not so this year, and can't say why, really. Maybe it's because it falls on a Wednesday this year. It can't be for the lack of snow, the last two storms brought a foot or more each. We had a bit of melt, and now we're gripped in this icy mess, since the warm and cold weather fronts are fighting one another, jockeying for position. We've had rain and freezing rain start last night and fall on and off today, leaving us with a half-inch (~1.75 cm) or more of ice on top of the remaining 10 inches (~25 cm) or so of snow.

I had such inside plans for today but chose instead to watch a movie in the late morning, leaving me in a dreamy state all afternoon. I've got the heat turned up, in case we lose power, and i've only just realized i don't have a flashlight within arm's reach and shall remedy that soon enough.

The presents are wrapped under the tree, except for one gift i bought for myself, i had planned on doing baking, but that didn't occur, and i can't believe we are almost to the end of the year.

I don't like to make New Year's resolutions, i much prefer thinking about those kinds of things around my birthday, but i do think i need to immerse myself more in real life and less in the virtual one. It's so easy when one works on a computer all day to keep staring at the screen after hours to catch up on one more thing, and suddenly the whole evening's gone.

One of the things i plan on doing with some of the away-from-the-computer time in 2014 is to make some Scotch eggs. I found a recipe in an old Watkins cookbook, and as i've got some packages of ground pork from my recent purchase of half a pig, this seems like a good time to try.

I'm also thinking more regular blog-posting should be on the list. I very much enjoy reading other's blogs, don't always feel like saying anything on my own.

So, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. Season's Greetings, Jul, solstice, however you wish to mark this time of year as we see the days increase in the northern hemisphere, i hope it's a good one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Funny moment

Today as i was running errands, a car parked next to mine, driven by an elderly man, who looked very serious. The car sported a bumper sticker, which read,

Laugh, and the world laughs with you,
Puke, and you're on your own.

It made me laugh out loud, as the old gent didn't look the type to have that sort of humor.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Questionnaire via John's blog

The list of questions came from John's blog, Going Gently.

1. If there's one chocolate left in the box, do you have to eat it, or can you leave it sitting there?
It usually calls to me. Even if it's not a favourite, i can't just let it sit there.

2. What do you want to remember most of all, if you survive to be very old?
I should like to remember every kindness shown me. I remember many, but i know there are some i have forgotten, which are often remembered only after someone says something or blogs about something, and then i smile and remember.

3. Would you enjoy being a very rich and famous celebrity?
Yes to the rich part, but i'd rather not be famous. I'd hate to be rude, but would tell sycophants to get stuffed and heartily dislike having my photo taken. I enjoy privacy.

4. What piece of music do you personally find most emotionally moving?
Two-way tie at least between Pachelbel's Canon in D and the Hallelujah chorus. Oh, and there's also Ashogan Farewell.

5. How do you deal with depression, anxiety and bad times?
I never had the diagnosis depression, although i've had some very dark times. I find things to do, sometimes things that bring joy, and sometimes just give something a good cleaning. Setting things to rights always makes me feel better.

6. What do you love doing that bores everyone else stiff?
I actually enjoy looking at most holiday snaps. I also love puttering around the house.

7. Did you ever encounter an inanimate object that seemed to have a will of its own?
Often, and many seem to mock me.

8. What is your very favourite hotel or restaurant?
We stayed overnight at a small hotel in Ireland, not too far from Shannon Airport. It wasn't the biggest or brightest, but the woman who ran the place was cheerful, and she had a large, red dog that slept across the doorway. He had a great deal of faith in our abilities not to drop our luggage on him (see my answer to Q7 about why i found this surprising). Any place that has a big dog with a wagging tail to welcome you is a lovely place to be.

Favorite restaurant--there are many. Locally, there's a seafood shack open only in summer that makes the best fried haddock i've ever tasted. There's also a lovely, expensive place open year 'round with a largely French menu, run by a hockey teammate and her chef husband. Were i to have the sort of money in Q3, i'd eat there a lot more often than i do now.

9. Do you think prisoners who have committed particularly vile crimes should be segregated in jail for their own safety?
No. And if the crime is particularly vile, i'm fine with the death penalty.

10. What do you wish you had known when you were 18?
I wish i could have loved myself better; i was very hard on myself in those days.