I had friends over for cocktails last night. One of the friends backed out due to illness, so I texted around to round up a third visitor, making it an occasion for friends to meet other friends, which now started to feel like a party. It turned into a small, but festive, mingler, with four of us sitting in the light of the Christmas tree sipping on Old-Fashioneds and dipping into the delicious food they brought.
As I tidied up the house in preparation, I looked at it through a host’s eyes. I still haven’t replaced the rug on the stairs or the missing tile in the bathroom. Those are on the big-home-repairs list. The rails of the slide-out recycling cabinet came undone, so I just removed them, door and all, until I get a handyman to help with it. A slate tile popped out of the hallway floor. The hallway closet light has been getting wonky. A few of those things are just general state-of-the-house issues. The mounting list of things-falling-apart just looks downright shabby. An image of Daughter and I knocking around this crumbling structure, Grey-Gardens style, flashed through my head. I decided to fix something.
I climbed on a stool in the closet, took apart as much of the light fixture as I could, and snapped a picture of what was left in the ceiling. I made a mental note to add “paint the hall closet” to the list, and set that aside. There was a task at hand.
I took the photo and the pieces of the fixture to the local shop, where nothing is computerized, there isn’t much merchandise, and a guy or two sits behind the long counter, and I don’t understand how these guys stay in business against the Big Box stores, but I’m glad they’re there. I deposited the light fixture pieces on the counter and showed him the photo. The guy didn’t blink or laugh or mock me. “Right, you’ll want a whole new one. Want to go with porcelain or replace it with plastic?” I preferred the porcelain but worried about the cost. I shouldn’t have. It cost $5. If I replaced the whole thing, though, I’d have to rewire it. Yes, I would, but I can do it, he assured me. He explained how to do it. So I did it. In undoing the old wiring, I could see how to do the new one. I was a little confused about screwing the fixture in. Figured it out. Had a few zany moments of finagling the circuit breaker to turn everything back on. Figured it out. The new replacement comes with a white string, rather than the old metal chains. I appropriated the pull from the old fixture and attached it to the new one. I haven’t seen one of those “coupling mechanisms” in years, but I got a little thrill as I remembered how to use them, since I used to use them all the time. For what, I can’t remember, I just had a feeling of deep nostalgia for, vaguely, the 70s.
I went to another local hardware store and realized that you just need to find the right product for the job. I bought some adhesive for the slate tile, slapped that down at home and weighed down the tile with a stack of annotated Federalist Papers. Ends up you need to wait a day or two to grout it. Now I know. By the time the guests arrived, I removed The Federalist Papers and made a little band-aid around the tile with black duct tape, and it looked kind of cute and definitely much better than a void in the middle of the hall.
I was glad for the company, because I’ve been wanting to try my hand at Old-Fashioneds. There are all sorts of local bitters being made these days, of all different flavors, and regional bourbon and rye. I even bought a handcarved muddler from a local woodworker. I’ve been wanting to try out all these local products in Old-Fashioneds, but that’s probably not the kind of thing I should be doing alone. It was a nice excuse to have people over, a normal social function that I’ve stopped doing. I guess that’s how I can ease back into social life–hey! come on over for mixers/local bitters/cheese tasting/whatever, it doesn’t matter. Three or four guests is a good size. I was reminded how much I enjoy hosting. And the house looked so pretty. And my friends are so funny.
That’s the extent of my holiday socializing. There are no other parties or invitations. A few people have given me the “We should get together” spiel, but I’ve learned to receive that with the same commitment as “If there’s anything you need….” which is to say, I don’t get my hopes up. The children and I will spend Christmas Eve and Day alone. I guess we’ll play a lot of board games. Maybe the dogs will get some really good walks. I’ll probably do a Buche de Noel, not to make the perfect Christmas, but because it will help me pass the time. Heck, I’ll have so much time that I’ll probably whip up some meringue mushrooms. If I really get lonely, I’ll make some marzipan woodland creatures. But just in case one of those invitations pans out, I’ll have a plate of cookies or quick bread or something at the ready. And there’s a lot of bourbon and bitters left over. Maybe I’ll try another round of cocktails at my house, if I can round up a guest list.
I’ve stopped feeling resentful of our exclusion or whatever’s become of us, socially. As I cycle around to our second Christmas, I can accept how isolated and…forgotten we are. It’s real. And it isn’t awful. The living and dining room really do look pretty. There’s a certain superficiality to it, because our festiveness does not run very deep, but it’s not fake, either. Last year, the decorations just shouted “loss” to me. That’s not happening this year. I have the runner on the dining room table, which signals a secular sort of “waiting” for Christmas. On Christmas Eve I’ll lay out my grandmother’s holly tablecloth. On Christmas morning, I’ll do like the Episcopalians taught me and go with a red tablecloth. There are our traditions. There’s a funny feeling I get when I sit and read a book in this pretty space, knowing that it’s not going to be shared and being okay with it, anyway. It’s ours. In an unexpected way, knowing we’re going to have a lonely Christmas and having Christmas, anyway, means something.