© Jo Hewitt THE TEAL MANGO, 2012
The SSB Drever and I had plans for the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day. I had decided I would officially declare it a non-work day, I had no intention of lugging around my notebook, and we would just enjoy the fun and sense of community at the square for Small Business Saturday.
So many people turn out, not just for the shopping, but for the lighting of the square. The weather had been unseasonably warm and it was a great day for it. Lamp posts, benches, doorways, street signs, everything is adorned with lights and seasonal greenery and other offerings from the world of nature. We have a diverse community around Jewel Square, in Golden Heights, and on Artisan’s Hill, diversity in many forms-economic, religious, ethnic, cultural, and the generations. Too many people in too many places become a little snippy about is it “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” or “Season’s Greetings,” or something else. Some unspoken consensus took hold of the people around here. They just decided that the important thing was happiness and harmony, light and beauty, and just being nice, good people who are grateful every day that they are lucky enough to be here around the Jewel Box.
Somewhere along the way, the lights went up! They went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day one year and they stayed. They stayed through the longest night. They stayed through Christmas. They stayed through the New Year-both the western one and the Chinese one. They stayed all through the darkness of winter because that is when we need the light the most. And then they stayed some more, throughout the whole year, or at least part of the lights did. The ones that came down were replaced with others in celebration of whatever was the current season.
This is a great time to be at the “Jewel Box”; it really sparkles. There is so much going on. The restaurants, bistros, all the little foodie places have some special offering for the day. I have always enjoyed the roasted chestnuts, like the first ones I ever had in Vienna. I love the kale chips with different flavors and spices from Snickety -Snacks. And the best pakora I have had is along the Square. There are different drink stations also-coffee, hot chocolate, spiced cider, and more . They are there for shoppers and for the good-hearted citizenry who have volunteered their time and energy for the adorning of the square. There are little boxes for donations to cover the costs of the drinks. Any extra is given to a charity selected for that season and year.
So many neat and unique little shops! There is Mike’s Hardware and Fix It Shop, The Dawg Haus-SSB’s favorite, Lauren’s place where she makes and sells her own children’s wear designs and will do custom designs on request. There is Fiona’s shop which carries organic skin and body care. Fiona also custom blends oils and extracts for the body, for candles, soaps, incense, etc. There is Vagabond’s End. That is Jacqueline’s place. She refinishes furniture, turning them into refreshed and trendy pieces. Vagabond’s End is also an outlet for many of the artists and craftsmen on the Hill.
We parked near Vagabond’s End. It is near the east end of the Square, shortly before the road that meanders along the river toward the Artisan’s Hill area. As SSB and I came upon the buttery brick building, Frank was up on a ladder placing lights and garlands over the front entrance. Sandra was feeding them up to him and people were trying to maneuver around them. So we went around to the side entrance. It was much better that way, besides, it was closer to Jacqueline’s work area.
As soon as we entered, SSB started going crazy. She had spotted her buddy KaTy, Jacqueline’s rescued canine friend. KaTy came running. Jacqueline heard the commotion and was on KaTy’s heels but not before KaTy and The SSB had begun the infamous Canine Tangle where they dance around me and wrap me up with their leashes. Jacqueline was laughing as she lured the two with treats to sit on the side.
“Thank you!”, I laughed. “I’m glad they are such good friends.” At this point they had settled down and were busily gnawing on the “bones” she had given them.
“Did you come to see it?” she asked.
“I did.” I answered.
“It is over here. I am almost finished.”, she said. “Just a few details left.”
I walked over to the direction she had pointed. I don’t have a dishwasher. Most of my dishes I wash by hand. I had wanted some sort of cabinetry such that I could use the top as functional counter space for my kitchen, have a storage drawer, and have pull out rack type drawers with a draining rack for dishes to drain after I washed them. Somehow, she had found a small old table and turned it into what I had imagined.
“It’s beautiful, Jacqueline. I love the color. Usually, I don’t like a lot of blue, but this blue, and the antique over lay with a touch of that green, is just so nice!”
I’m glad you like. I’ll let you know when it’s finished and you can pick it up.” she said.
We chatted a little more and then The SSB and I left. We made our way to the western part of the square, chatting, laughing, and of course SSB getting her share of ear scratches and head rubs. We eventually turned to cut through the Jewel Box to cross Golden Place North and to go to The Teal Mango. Maddie had little white lights entwined through the railings along the steps and around the veranda. The sun was just right to beam off the lights and dance on the bevels of the entry door glass. I have always been pleased that she never changed the original door.
* * *
I opened the door to the sounds of the buzz of coffee talk and the little chimes Maddie has on the door. They are tuned to a soprano voice with a Mongolian tonal scale. There is happiness but tinged with a whisper of sadness of a loneliness the wind might feel on its journey across a vast plain in its song. It was quickly usurped with the hissing of steam, the clatter of cups, the clunk of a side table turning, falling to the floor as a five-year old climbed up on it to get a better view of a man chasing a golden retriever which had grabbed one of the garlands which had slipped from the man’s hand while he was up on a ladder fastening it in place on one of the street lights.
“Hi, Jo!” Maddie called out in passing as I made my way to the counter. “Be with you in a moment.” With that, a call and response sort of chorus of “Hi, Jo!” with me “Hi” -ing back to everyone there-Paul, Katie, Sarah, Brad,Ty, everyone. I love it! I feel like Norm at Cheers.
“So what will it be today?” Maddie asked as she slid behind the counter.
“Could you make that concoction with coffee in almond and coconut milk with cinnamon and ginger that I had the other day?”
I picked up my coffee and Drevie and I walked over toward the room at the east end of the shop, through the open French doors. I don’t know how this room was originally used, if it was a dining room, a parlor, a drawing-room. Maddie uses it as a space for her piano and for those of who have pets and want to come in for coffee. It keeps us far enough away from the food and prep area to keep her legal with the board of health. I found a cozy chair and settled in.
Some people left. Some more people came. People got up, refilled their coffee and moved around. Some of the others-Paul, Sarah, Laura and others-came to gather in the piano room. We talked about whatever was new-politics, the latest jokes-sometimes the latest jokes are the politicians, family, today’s events, the holidays. Maddie joined us when things slowed a bit.
“How about this?” she said. “Tell me a childhood memory from Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, whatever holiday you celebrated, that you loved. I don’t know, something that made you happy.”
Everyone was quiet for a while, their heads in different poses, looking at the ceiling, outside, or down toward their coffee and tea cups as they thought.
Paul spoke up. “I remember the Christmas that I got a Montgomery Ward bicycle and spent the day riding.” Paul is originally from Charleston and still carries a little of it in his voice.
“I don’t think I even came home for dinner. I had seen the long thin box with my bicycle stashed in the garage. My dad explained that the box contained an ironing board for my mother. I bought the story!”
“The other memory would be my first train set. Lionel steam engine with two red passenger cars. I still have the cars and track some 76 year later.”
“Yah. A train,” Adam chimed in. “I saw my dad building this track thing on a big piece of plywood in the basement for weeks before Christmas. He told me it was for his boss. Yah, I fell for that one!” Adam and Paul both laughed.
Adam continued. “One Christmas, my dad put these notes on the tree. They were clues and we had to go through the house with the clues and try to find the gifts.”
We all laughed at that one.
“Okay, for me” Katie said, “it was lying down under the tree and looking up at the lights. We had a mixture of fat ones and bubble lights. I would stay there for the longest time.”
“For me,” Brad said, “it was sneaking to unwrap all the Hanukkah presents to see what I was getting and then to wrap them back up again so no one would know.”
Sarah began, “I’ve been thinking and my childhood memory is…I remember coming out the big heavy dark wooden doors of our little Methodist church after the Christmas eve midnight service… my grandmother, my mother, brother and me. My mom and I sang in the choir, and on Christmas eve, we always did ‘Jesu Bambino’, with good-lookin’ Eddie Balco singing the solo, “When blossoms flowered ‘mid the snow, upon a winter’s night, He gave the world it’s Christmas Rose, it’s King of love and light…” (he, Eddie, had slicked back black hair… reminds me now of John Travolta from ‘Grease’)… but I digress… We all lit candles and they turned the lights out, so we could sing Silent Night together. My friend Diedre and I were acolytes, so we had to be dressed in robes to light candles all over the church, and then sneak out of the front, to race through the back of the alter area, down the back steps, through the basement to the back of the church, up the stairs into the balcony, to sing alto, tenor, or whatever low part was needed to ‘fill out’ the particular song we sang. Ok, so at the end of one of these memorable Christmas Eve midnight services, we opened the heavy doors to go home, and…from the darkness and drab we left, when entering church…a freshly fallen blanket of snow was transforming the world into this magical place, sparkling and new… it was truly heartening, miraculous… and even for a kid, the metaphor was not lost on me.
“We didn’t celebrate Christmas in Iran.” Mitra spoke quietly from her seat. But I have memories of Shab-e-Yalda. It is the longest night. We would sit around the korsi and eat fruits and nuts…”
“What is a korsi?” someone asked.
“Well, it is like a very low table,” she began to explain, “that is covered with quilts or thick wool blankets. There is charcoal or something to warm the space under the table. The room is cold, but we sit with the blankets over us with our feet under the blankets and the table to keep warm. We laugh and eat and stay up all night. And believe me it get very warm with the blankets and after eating all those dried fruits and nuts, well sometimes things happen and it is very, very warm.
We laughed again.
Ty talked about how his mother would talk about different virtues as she lit the candles for Kwanza. Then he said that through the year, candles weren’t the only thing that was lit when his mother wanted to instill virtues.
Laura’s memory was the time the family drove out of the city to a Christmas tree farm to pick their own tree.
“Just like the Griswolds?” a bunch of us said at once.
“Yes, just like the Griswolds.” she replied. Laura is from Chicago.
Little by little everyone shared a little piece of their childhood holidays.
“What about you, Jo? What is your memory?”
I had been thinking. There are two memories that have stayed with me all this time.
“Christmas Saturdays,” I said.
“I grew up much farther north from here. By the time we were past Thanksgiving it was just plain dark and cold. By then I was tired from school and I really wanted Christmas vacation. So, on the Saturdays before Christmas, when I was waking up, I would do it as slowly as possible, take my time. I would lie there awhile and pretend it was Christmas and I had a break ahead.”
“The other memory,” I continued, “was the year we had all blue lights on the tree. My older brother, my favorite one, had wanted blue lights. He bought them and put up the tree that year.”
“We couldn’t have the lights on too long. It was expensive. I loved the lights, though. I still do. I would sneak down the stairs very quietly, maybe an hour or so before dawn. It was a drafty, cold, old farmhouse. I would go over to the tree and turn on the lights. Then I would go to the sofa, grab whatever scraggly blanket or afghan was on it, cover myself the best I could, try to keep warm and lie there, looking at the tree, squinting my eyes to make the lights glowing with halos. I would stay awake as long as I could and then fall asleep. The noise of the others getting up would wake me and I would scramble to turn off the lights before Mom or Dad came into the room.”
“Uhm,” someone said nodding.
Everyone remained quiet, once again looking down into their cups or out the window at the lights and the Square.
I checked my time. It was getting late. I needed to head back home. SSB and I said our thank you’s and good-by’s. Others were leaving, too. The beveled glass door reflected and spattered the light in rhythm with the openings and closings of the door.
* * *
Sunday came and went. The week started as it always does-working, errands, keeping up with life. But Thursday was a little different. It was extremely warm. More so than it had been. It wasn’t just warm, but the air smelled and felt like spring. I was inspired to work in the beds around the house, mulch, rake leaves, odds and ends of outdoor work that was very intimate with April, but very much a stranger to December here.
The SSB had been trying to help me during the day.If I was digging, she had her paws right where my shovel was going, with her paws digging away. If I was carrying things to the garage, she would grab something else and run with it to a location she thought was more suitable. Other times she must have thought I wasn’t moving fast enough; she would come running at me full speed to show me how fast I should be going and swerve at the last minute. She isn’t called the Clydesdale Bullet for nothing!
I took a break in the afternoon to get a bite to eat and have a cup of tea. Before going in, I decided to check my mail. The mailbox was stuffed, mostly flyers and those pesky credit card offers from Chase. I shuffled through it, quickly deciding most of it wasn’t urgent. As I turned from the box to head to the door, The Bullet came running at me. She swerved but did not totally miss me, and the wad of mail slid from my hands, landing in dry leaves the wind had blown up next to the fence where my mailbox sat. I scooped up the mail and took tit into the house, setting the pile on the table.
The weather was changing again; rain was on the way. I gathered my tools, took them to the garage, generally picked up, and SSB and I headed into the house. When the rain hit, it hit hard. Dark swirly gray skies hurled big hard drops that pounded the window-just to show us who was the boss. Persistent, the rain continued long after the sun had given up on the day, but softened its exacting of payment during the night.
Whatever beast that storm had been, by dawn it had moved on, its heart stilled, and we were presented with another delightful day. With breakfast in the works, I took the French press out to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds around the roses near my front gate and fence. Just as I tossed the grounds, I noticed it-a piece of yesterday’s mail. Now, not only was it drenched from the rain, it was covered in old coffee and grounds. I reached to retrieve it. I turned it over as I picked it up. Darn, it was something from Maddie and it was a mess. It was so wet I couldn’t open it without it tearing to pieces. I took it in and found a place for it to dry hoping to be able to retrieve its contents later.
Friday became a busy day, as did Saturday, and Sunday, and before I knew it, it was well into the following week. I took some time to pay some bills and sort through that pile of junk mail. There, next to the flyers was that poor rain-sodden envelope. I had forgotten all about it. But there it was, dried and wavy, stained with coffee. I retrieved a sharp knife from the kitchen to begin the delicate surgical operation it would take to try to open it without totally mutilating its contents.
It was an invitation to be at The Teal Mango on Saturday, this Saturday, two days from now. The time was strange-5:30 in the morning, well over two hours before sunrise. There was a strange list of things to bring and I was not to tell any one. Very odd. I really like more notice, especially as odd as this all was. But, Maddie had given me more notice. It was my fault I let the mail slip. I’m the one who threw the coffee. And I was the one who forgot it in the first place. I guess I would be there!
* * *
This week was a replay of the previous week-warm again. Roses, alyssum, and Calendula do not bloom, I repeat, do not bloom here in December. Some of them are not supposed to even be alive. But they were. Friday started as beautiful as the day before with a starting temperature near the previous day’s high. This is part of the country that has four seasons, sometimes in one day, and sometimes in less than one day. By late afternoon, early evening it was going to prove that adage. The wind picked up, from one direction and then another. The temperature dropped and it dropped hard and fast.
This weather-the low fronts and sudden changes-wreaks havoc on my body. I had already gathered the items that Maddie had said to bring for tomorrow morning. I placed them near the back door ready for tomorrow morning. And I headed to bed. I needed to be up pretty darn early and I just wasn’t feeling well.
4:30 in the morning came way too early. It is so hard to leave a warm bed on a cold dark morning when all your body wants to do is sleep. It’s definitely a clue that it is way too early when even the dog doesn’t want to get up. I had to get The SSB Drever up and outside to potty before I could leave. I pushed her out of the bed, grabbed some slippers and a sweater and we headed down the stairs, to the kitchen and to the back door. I opened the inner door. I opened the screen door ready to give her a nudge out and I stopped.
I had gone to sleep in one world and awakened to another. The violent raging wind had given way to a soft, snow world of white. It appeared an Alberta Clipper had come through. My backyard had turned into a fondant covered landscape dusted with a thick layer of sugar that had fallen from an almost misty sky glowing with an apricot haze of city lights. Big flakes of wet spun sugar the size of quarters were still raining down, hushing the city saying, “Shhh, go back to sleep. It is not yet time to awake.” But the snow did not know that this weather awakens a spirit in me that embraces it.
I took care of the SSB Drever; got her her breakfast. I dressed, put on my coat and other gear and prepared to explain to Drevie that I had to go and she had to stay, ready to bribe her with a treat. But in the middle of my words, she looked at me, turned her back on me, and headed back to bed.
I went out the back door. My eyes peeking out through lashes veiled in snowflakes, I softly walked through 6 inches of snow to the garage, backed out my car and drove off into the dark silence. Driving in a snow like this, at this time of day is meditative. The rest of the city is still asleep and this peaceful snow world is all mine. I scrunched my shoulders into the warm air blowing from the vents, I listened to the sound of the wipers, their rhythm driving with me to the Heights and The Teal Mango.
I had never been there at this time of morning. The bigger light displays were turned off but the smaller lights, especially the small white twinkly ones were still on. They quietly blinked between the snowflakes. I found a place to park two block over and one block up from the “Mango”. The houses were still mostly dark; people were still sleeping. I gathered my things from the car and was careful to close the door very quietly. I padded my way through inches of snow. Along the way, coming out of cars, coming down side streets, coming out of shadows, I saw others, walking along the same direction, carrying the same items-blankets, pillow, and slippers and thick socks.
We smiled, acknowledged each other in silence and continued. And then, we smiled loudly, and The Teal Mango smiled back. Along the sidewalk, from each direction and on each side of the walk, up the steps on each side, and all around the porch were luminaries, rows and rows of luminaries to welcome us.
* * *
The beveled glass magically opened as we stepped onto the porch to a flickering with the soft light of candles and tiny string lights. Maddie was there to welcome us. She whispered for us to set our things on a chair and come get something to eat. I went to the east room and laid my pillow, blanket and thick wool sock boot slippers on my favorite chair there. I took off my hat and coat, put the hat into one of the sleeves and draped my coat over the back of the chair. I returned to the food counter.
Maddie knows what we each like. (We are here on a fairly regular basis.) She had set out hot tea, hot coffee and hot chocolate. Truly it was melted Kallari chocolate. She had warmed different milks-regular, almond, hazelnut, cashew, and coconut. She had set out spices. With one arm reaching out to us, her other hand raised to her face, her finger near her mouth, she had come to each of us, and again whispered the invitation to mix our drink to our liking and also have some of the pastries and savory snacks set on platters just past the hot drinks.We moved without speaking. Everyone sensed that this was a moment for reflection and breathing in the lights in the stillness.
I set my hot chocolate-Kallari chocolate in a mixture of nut milks, coconut milk with cinnamon and a little cayenne -along with a little bit to eat on the side table next to my chair. I replaced my boots with my llama wool boot socks. I scrunched my pillow behind my neck and head, pulled my blanket around me, adjusted my pillow again. Maddie had lit a fire in the fire place. By now the fire, with only occasional whispers of darting flames of copper, gold, or blue, had settled quietly into the charcoaling logs whose glowing underbellies were as warm as mine, as I picked up my hot chocolate and melted, like my marshmallows, into the moment.
My eyes tip-toed around the room. Everyone had nestled into a chosen spot and was engaged in the silence. It wasn’t totally silent. The was a barely audible background of meditative music. Parts of it reminded me of the lulling rhythm of a distant train and its whisper. Or was it the sound of a tea kettle, the musical strains when it first begins it ascent to a boil? Or was it the ebb and flow ocean waves? Or, was it my heart and my breathing?
The lighting was minimal but strategically placed, a few strings here, a garland there, around the windows, doorways and French doors. Across from me, near the window, was a little Norfolk pine. Maddie had dressed it with light. Some of the lights were tiny cool white blinking lights. Some were a cool dark blue of twilight. And some were little textured globes, a crackled glass effect in a color between blue, aqua and teal. I snuggle a little deeper under my blanket. I watched the lights. I squinted my eyes to make halos around them, to make them multiply and dance. I felt warm and drowsy. I scrunched my pillow to the side and slowly… my eyes… closed. …
I opened my eyes to the sounds of soft foot steps and paper moving. Maddie was moving through the room with a basket, now nearly emptied of little paper and fabric crafted boxes while those who had one already was opening it, and those who hadn’t were picking one. By the time Maddie stood in front of me, there was one left, a tiny one that was a bit crumpled with a small dent on the side. It had been made with bits of grass and leaf stems in the papier mache. There was a small envelope next to it.
I didn’t open either one yet. I watched the others. As they lifted the lids, the strangest looks came over their faces-a quizzical confusion with perhaps a faint trace of disappointment. Upon reading the contents of the envelope, their expressions soften and gentle smiles rose from the corners of their lips.
I carefully opened the box. Then I opened the envelope and removed and read the note inside.
This box may appear empty,
But it is a space filled with infinite love.
It is filled it with love and wrapped in my love.
Take this space and fill it with love and wrap it in your love.
And as you go through life,
Share it with those you meet upon your path
Who are in need of love.
Maddie had gathered bits and pieces of our memories, wrapped them in warmth and love, and given them back to us. I looked back up. I looked at the faces around me. I turned and again looked at the lights. I squinted my eyes to look for halos. I thought of the blues lights from a Christmas so long ago. I thought of my brother, long since passed away. The light was changing from night to twilight, that time when night meets day, when the past and present become one. I now have another Christmas Saturday, a new one to join the old.
I leaned back and turned my head to look out the window. The dawn was beginning, it’s fingers tracing the rivulets of melting snow on the window. The rivulets from the snowflakes that had danced on my lashes and cheeks had long since dried, but my eyes were wet.