All Is Bright

The holidays have come and gone, and oh my goodness they were wonderful and crazy. Here’s what went down:

Everyone arrived by Christmas Eve, and the crazy, fun, crowded, and busy family time began. A HUGE surprise was that cousin Avery brought a girl with him. A girl. Like a not-related-to-us girl. Like a girl-met-at-university-and-I-want-you-to-meet-her girl. Auntie T didn’t even know “the girl” existed until they showed up at Avery’s university to pick him up! She was pretty upset. It got a bit awkward when we realized that she would have to share a room with the rest of us girl cousins. Ellie was not happy, she was extremely sassy when they got here, way more than her usual sassy.

It worked out okay though. First of all, the girl’s name is Megan. She’s from California, but is going to school at Avery’s university. She’s very nice, though she dresses very colorfully. Cammie and I have caught Avery and Megan several times together under the mistletoe.

Now, we are all enjoying our presents. Oh, what a plethora (Father says that’s a better word than “a lot”) of presents! I think this is the most fun, seeing my cousins playing with their new toys, wearing their new clothes, and all using their new things. Ellie is walking around like a peacock, showing off all her new things, practically strutting. Cammie and I burst out laughing every time we see her prancing around and glancing at herself on every reflective surface (windows, clean tables, and mirrors).

The day after Christmas, Father and I have a tradition: We get up early, bundle up, take a thermos full of coffee for him and tea for me, grab our cameras, and “go for a wander”. We walk and take pictures, but only a few, because we have a rule that we can only take a picture of something truly beautiful. Before taking the picture, we must explain our reasoning to the other. Why is this picture of something truly beautiful. He always finishes our walk by taking a picture of me and telling me that he “must”,and “because there is nothing in the world more beautiful to me than you, Marie”. 

I asked him this year, why he started our tradition of wandering. He said that he didn’t; Mother did.

Father said that when he and Mother first got married, they didn’t have money to go anywhere special for holidays, or any other special day for that matter, so they would go walk, talk, and take pictures. When she got sick, and couldn’t walk as much anymore, Father started taking me on walks. This is how most of our traditions started, with Mother.

Our walk-wandering is probably my favorite Christmas tradition. More than presents.

The picture I took today was of a grey field, taken at a slightly crooked angle, and full of sheep. Normal, everyday beauty.

New Years is right around the corner. Father says we will be heading to the States after New Years and probably staying there for a while. That will be different. I know America is big, but we go around the world all the time, so staying in one country for a while is really different for us.

Mother’s side of the family is in America, so maybe that is why? Father really isn’t explaining much to me. He’s almost being secretive about it. It makes me nervous when he does this. I don’t like unknown things. Father probably thinks he’s being fun or that I’ll love the surprise, but I just want to know so I can talk to him about it and think it over and bond with the idea and…. I just want him to tell me!

Family and Holiday Time – Father and I

November is gone, and December is here! Family is arriving at Grandma and Grandpa Miles’ cottage house, making it feel full and festive. The Holidays are here, it’s Family Time. Father has two brothers and a fraternal (which means they look nothing alike) twin sister, and they will all be here by Christmas day. I love being with all the cousins. I am right in the middle age-wise, and I’m “the American cousin” (even though I’m really half) so they think I’m extra fun. I think it’s because of my accent.

Cousin Sid keeps walking around the house saying “Christmas time’s a-comin’!” in an absolutely horrible American accent, but it makes everyone laugh, so he just keeps doing it. He’s such a clown. 

Right now, it’s a couple weeks away from Christmas, so not everyone is here yet. Maybe I should explain who everyone is and which cousins go with what Aunt and Uncle… Yeah. I’ll do that first.

The oldest in Father’s family is Uncle Wesley. He is married to Aunt Mel, and they have two kids, Sid and Cammie. Sid is 16 and Cammie is 11, and is the closest to me in age of all the cousins, so we play together the most.

Uncle Will is the next oldest, and he is not married. He loves all us cousins so much, and he couldn’t stand watching his siblings be parents and not have any children himself, so he adopted Marcus about three years ago. Marcus is 7 now.

Auntie T, Father’s twin sister, and Uncle Vin have four kids, Avery who is 20 now, Ellie who is 17 and always sassy, Gemma who is 12, only three years older than I am, and baby Bert who is 5 now. Bert was a happy surprise to the family. Babies are so fun! I also learned last year that Avery is not Uncle Vin’s son, but when Auntie T and Uncle Vin got married, Uncle Vin adopted Avery, and since Avery was only two or three at the time Uncle Vin is really the only daddy Avery has ever known.

When everyone is here it is super crowded! All the girl cousins have to share one room, and all the boy cousins have to share one room. The parents all get their own rooms, except Uncle Will, who gets the couch. 

“That’s what I get for not getting married!” He says every year, very dramatically.

It’s not too bad though, the family room with the couch is separate from the hall, which leads to all the bedrooms, and from the kitchen, so we can maneuver (which means move carefully) around the house in the morning and at night without waking him up. Avery has offered to take the couch several years in a row now, but I don’t think Uncle Will much likes the idea of sharing a room with Sid, Marcus, and baby Bert. Father gets his own room, because he and Mother used it together, and no one wants to make him change now he’s alone.

Right now, it’s just Father, me, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Wesley, Aunt Mel, Sid, and Cammie, which sounds like a lot all listed out like that, but actually it feels spacious! Sid’s in a room on his own, and Cammie and I are sharing just the two of us (almost like we’re sisters). Sometimes we do pretend to be sisters and she talks with an American accent, (which actually sounds very good, unlike Sid) and I will talk with a British accent. We have fun, though every now and then we need “me time”. Aunt Mel suggested it, I think because Cammie is getting “pre-teen-y” and moody. Aunt Mel says it happens to everyone and Cammie is very sensitive to it. Aunt Mel usually swoops in an institutes (meaning put into place) “me-time” before too much friction (another word for conflict) starts between us, and we give each other space for a little while. I think Aunt Mel is very wise (I don’t think I need to explain that word).

Cammie is a lot like Father. She is creative and thoughtful, talkative but not outgoing (Aunt Mel had to explain that word to me, I’m not sure I get what it is, I just know what it isn’t…). Cammie is generally sweet and friendly, but can get “passionate” (as Aunt Mel calls it) when she disagrees with someone. 

Sometimes, when Cammie needs space, I go outside with Sid. Since he’s a boy, he doesn’t really like to sit inside and talk like Cammie, but he and I will play outside together for hours, at least until Avery gets here. Sid idolizes (also a new word I learned from Aunt Mel, it means you put all your attention toward that thing or person) our grown-up cousin Avery. 

Other times, I will go sit with Grandma or Grandpa and we will read a book out loud together, or I’ll tell them stories about places and people Father and I visited.

Tomorrow, Grandma and Aunt Mel are taking Cammie and me into town. We are getting last minute shopping done, and treating ourselves to some Christmas treats. We always go out and have a Christmas luncheon with tea, and cookies, and everything! Usually we wait until Aunt T and the gang arrive, but this year they are coming exactly on Christmas Eve (instead of on an earlier day like other years) because of Avery’s university schedule. 

The rest of the year Father and I are dashing around the world, but during the holidays Father stops everything and just enjoys “family time”. I love it. Father says this coming year we will be slowing down. I don’t know what that means, I hope it means more family time, because I would love that. At the same time, that makes me nervous. I’ve been traveling around with Father all my life. When Mother was still here, we traveled as a little family. Now, it’s Father and I, as a smaller family. I love traveling, but having a home might be nice too. I’m not sure, I’ve never really had a place to call home. Just family, which is good too. Just different.

The dark day – Father and I

The holidays are coming, and for as far back as I can remember, the holidays have always started on November 12th, Mother’s birthday. When I was little, this day started the festive season with a bang, so much fun and festive-ness. It was wonderful.

Now, instead of starting the holiday season with joy, it starts with darkness. 

This year we are spending the holidays with Father’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa Miles, in England. They live in an old house out in the English country. I call it The English Farm House, but they call it The Cottage. Either way it is beautiful. It has a huge garden with growing things everywhere! Though, right now many of the trees are leafless and twiggy. 

None of the relatives are here yet. It’s just Father and I, Grandma and Grandpa.

When I wrote the above, I was going to bed and it wasn’t the 12th yet, but I can’t sleep…

It is about 1 am right now. Officially her birthday. I went to bed at about 9, but I just lay there, thinking of her. Her eyes. Her smile. Her necklace with the gold heart and the tiniest of diamonds resting in the middle of it. I wear it everyday, so I will never forget her.

I will never forget her. She’s Mother.

But I realized, as I was laying in bed, that there are things about her that I am forgetting.

What did her voice sound like? What did her arms feel like when she hugged me? How tall was she again? What was her favorite Christmas song? What did her singing voice sound like?

I don’t cry often anymore, but that’s when I cried.

I’m starting to forget details.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I was only 6. There are so many things you think to remember when you are 6. There are so many other things you wish you had asked. There are so many more things you can remember now, that you were too little to remember at 6. 

I am so filled with darkness. It’s not sadness really, it’s more like emptiness, like a room you used to go into all the time is now dark and unused. It’s been four years. So the really deep sad feeling is more numb now. But there is still darkness. Father feels that darkness too, I think. He won’t talk about it though.

Tomorrow morning is the morning I will not see him. He will spend it in his room. He will lay in his bed, covers pulled up to his scruffy chin (he’s growing out his beard), and just lay there. Eyes closed. If he opens his eyes, he will cry. He’s too British for that.

Grandma will bring breakfast and coffee to his room, and sit with him. She will not say anything. Everything has been said, but she says, “He should not be alone”. So, she will sit with him until he gets up. She will stay with him all day if need be. 

I will not go sit with him, the darkness gets too dark when we look at each other.

Now I am alone, downstairs on the couch with the quilt off my bed, writing in my diary.

Grandpa found me last night on the couch. He made me hot chocolate. He said that dark days are okay to have, as long as we don’t spend them alone. Alone, the darkness will swallow us up. Alone, the cold living room would have swallowed me without Grandpa there, and the hot chocolate. He started the fire and sat with me until I fell asleep. I woke this morning still on the couch, Grandpa was still with me, asleep in his easy chair.

We had breakfast together, just Grandpa and I. He told me to get dressed, and we’ll get out of the house for a little while. There’s some sun coming through the clouds today, and he said a lamb was born a few days ago. I’d like to see the lamb, and the walk in the sun with Grandpa will be good. 

Dark days need people, sunshine, good food, and love. Lots of love.

Fall Days – Father and I

It has been a busy month! Father and I first arrived at the Blasi family’s vineyard the second week in October, and now there is only one week left in November. We are leaving in just two days. We have been here a while, and I want to write some things down so I remember them. Father says that’s what a journal is for, so here we go.

On Wednesday morning, Mami, Mrs. Blasi, baby Leo, and I all head to the local market for the weekly shopping. The nearby town is about a 20 minutes drive, the Blasi’s are pretty well out in the country. Mrs. Blasi spent the drive there talking nervously with Mami about what happens when the roads have snow on them. I entertained baby Leo so he wouldn’t cry the whole time, he’s not a big fan of car rides. 

Of all the things I have done in Switzerland, going to the market is my favorite. All the stalls, smells, people, fresh things, it’s wonderful. My favorite stall at the market is the honey stall. All those golden jars of deliciousness (Father says that’s not a word, but it is accurate). Because it’s a market, the honey is not mass produced (meaning, made for lots and lots of people in a factory style way), but made by one local person in small batches. This honey stall has jars of honey from several people actually from several of the local towns. The owner of the stall says that she and another lady have a partnership with a group of local beekeepers.
This is how it works:
The different beekeepers have their own hives, own bees, own flowers for the bees, own jars and labels, but they sell them together at one stall. The owner says that this group all started because her husband used to keep bees, and travel to all the local markets to sell the honey. It was a full-time job! She actually doesn’t know anything about beekeeping, and really never enjoyed it like her husband did, but she loves honey. When her husband died, there was no one to keep the bees, or to collect the honey. She says using up that last jar of honey was like losing her husband all over again, and she couldn’t stand it. So! In honor of her husband she organized a local beekeeping group, and she and her friend gather the jars from the different keepers, and sell them at the markets, so the keepers can stay focused on just one side of the process.
I have three jars of honey ready to go in my case. I love honey.

Mami says it’s too bad I’ll miss the Christmas market, because it’s even better. Fresh baked sweets, gingerbread, steaming mugs of hot drinks for the cold nights, the twinkling lights, the decorations, ah! The way Mami describes it! I wish we were staying for Christmas just so I could visit the Christmas Market, even just once. But, as Father says, “We have a previous engagement” (meaning, something you have promised to do).

One Saturday, a few weeks ago, Mr. and Mrs. Blasi, Gabriel, Laura, baby Leo, and Father and I all went into town for a fun time and a special lunch. We had so much fun! The car ride was the funniest, because we didn’t exactly fit in the car. The Blasi’s have a larger car, but there were still not enough seats for us all. Laura and I sat on the floor on Mrs. Blasi, and Gabriel’s feet, and baby Leo kept throwing his toys on our heads and squealing with laughter. Father and Mr. Blasi were in the front seats with their knees nearly at their shoulders, because they had shifted the seats forward as far as they could. Both Father and Mr. Blasi are about 6 feet tall!

After lunch in town, which was amazing, we wandered around looking in the shop windows. Laura and I loved this, though she kept moving on too quickly. I saw the most beautiful necklace in the window of one shop! It was silver with a little pendant in the shape of Switzerland, and a heart cut out of the shape. There was a little card next to the necklace, and Laura translated it for me. It said, “My heart is in Switzerland” It was too much money for me to buy, since I have already spent so much on delicious honey. Then, we got some ice cream and sweets and headed home. When Laura and I went upstairs to go to bed that night, Gabriel was waiting at the door, with something behind his back. It was the necklace! I was so excited, I kissed his cheek. His face turned bright red, and he muttered something in Italian, then went to his room. Laura laughed until she almost fell off her bed.

So many more things have happened this month, but, like I said, it’s been very busy! I really just want to remember these two things and the feeling of being with the Blasi family. I like being with them, I like their vineyard, I like their home.

But, Father and I leave in a couple days. We are heading to England, to spend the holidays with Father’s side of our family. 

I’m excited for it, but I’m sad to leave my Swiss family.

Mami and Papi – Father and I

When Laura and Gabriel are at school, Father and Mr. Blasi are busy with the vineyard business, Mrs. Blasi is fussing with baby Leo, he’s teething and has been so cranky! I go and talk with Papi and Mami.
They may be Laura and Gabriel’s grandparents, but they insist that since Father and I are such good friends of the family I should call them Mami and Papi too.
They say they are my Swiss grandparents. 

Mami says she likes to keep herself busy by helping around the house. Usually this means, walking around the house, straightening things, sweeping floors, dusting things with her hankie, and carrying food on trays to Papi in his bed. Sometimes she is very wobbly, and I carry the tray for her. Whenever I go into Papi’s room, he asks me to fluff his pillows, sit with him a little while, and read to him. Mami usually feeds him while I read. Mami assures me that Papi knows me, but he never remembers my name.

Papi always has me read the same book to him, Huckleberry Finn. He says it’s his favorite English book. I never finish it, but he doesn’t remember me reading it to him before, so I just end up reading the same part to him over and over again. Papi always falls asleep after he eats, while I’m still reading to him.
Mami says Papi is forgetting because he is old, but she is just as old as he is and she can remember lots of things! I think there may be something wrong with Papi. It makes me sad because he’s still so sweet and kind.

Yesterday, Papi was not his normal self. He was very grumpy and it took him a long time to fall asleep. He kept wanting his pillows fluffed, and he would keep mumbling things in German and Italian. Mami just smiled at him and did whatever he wanted so he would be most comfortable. I actually got through four chapters that day. Just as he was falling asleep, though, he looked over at Mami and asked, “Who are you?”
She cried. 

I left. I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t. Father says sometimes these things happen to old people, they forget. Even the people they love most.

When I was getting ready for bed on yesterday, Mami knocked on the door of the room Laura and I are sharing. She came in and sat on my bed for a while. She said she wanted to explain why Papi’s questioned made her cry (she is a pretty serious woman, so seeing her cry was really weird). 

Mami told me their story:
“Who are you?” was the first thing Papi ever said to her.

Mami is from Italy, but she moved to Switzerland to get away from the bad things (she didn’t tell me what they were, just that there were bad things happening in Italy back then). She had just started working at a bakery in town and one day Papi came in. It’s a small town, so it was easy to see she was a new worker. Mami said Papi was trying to be flirty (I had to ask what that meant), but she said “I wouldn’t have any of it, I was working after all”. But when she got off work that first day, he was waiting for her. He waited for her after work everyday for three months before she finally agreed to go on a date with him.
I guess Mami was serious even back in those days. 

Papi wanted to impress her, but his father only owned a small farm so he didn’t have much money. Their first date was a picnic! Mami said she was shocked that this is what she had waited three months for, but Papi made her laugh so much that by the end of the picnic she didn’t really care. Mami says on that very first picnic date, Papi told her that he would marry her someday. She didn’t believe him.
“Things just don’t work out the way you plan sometimes,” she told me.

Papi was determined as a young man. A year later they were married. 

Mami said they didn’t have a lot of money at first. She was still working at the bakery, though now she was actually helping to bake the breads, and not just sell them. Papi was working on his father’s farm, but the farm wasn’t doing well. It was Papi’s idea to turn the farm into a vineyard, because Mami had told him all about the vineyard she had grown up on in Italy, and Papi was inspired.

Mami said that she had laughed at this as a silly idea! But Papi convinced her, and they started the vineyard.
It was so much harder than they thought, they almost went bankrupt (I think that means they almost lost everything and were homeless).
Finally, everything started working out, and by that time they three kids, Mr. Blasi’s three older siblings.
Mami said that Papi had a way of always making sure things worked out alright, even if it wasn’t always in the way they had originally planned. He would make it work. This made her smile when she said it.

Papi built more rooms for their house, it used to only have two bedrooms, now it has five. Mami said it took him ten years to make the house what it is now (and it’s beautiful now)!
Mami put in the gardens in the front yard, all the flowers and bushes; and in the backyard, all the veggies and herbs. When Papi finally finished the house, Mami found out she was pregnant one last time, with Mr. Blasi! He is ten years younger than his closest sibling (a sister, but I don’t know her name).
Mami patted my knee and said, “I am so happy to have children in her house again.”

Then, Mami showed me her wedding ring. Her hands hurt her now, so she doesn’t wear it on her finger, but on a necklace. It doesn’t have a diamond on it. It’s just a gold band. She says that’s all Papi could afford back in those days, but for their 35th wedding anniversary, Papi took it to a jeweler to have it engraved on the inside with the words “My Forever Love” in Italian (I can’t read it, but Mami told me what it says).
She laughs when she sees it because Papi’s Italian was never very good and one of the words is spelled incorrectly. He also had the outside of the ring etched, which is like engraving, I think. It kind of looks the same as the engraved things I saw in Venice. The outside of the ring has hearts for each one of her children, and in the middle are two hearts that are connected, for she and Papi.
It really is beautiful, and I told her I love it.

She kissed me goodnight and left singing a song in German, swaying back and forth. 

I’ve seen Mother’s wedding ring, Father has it saved for me, it is engraved too, but I don’t know what it says. I don’t ask to see it because it makes him sad, but one day Father says it will be mine to save, and then I will read it. For now, I wait.

I dreamed about Mami and Papi being young again, smiling at each other, with all their kids in their home, dancing to that song Mami sang as she left my room.
I dreamed about golden rings on young hands, and old hands.
About tears and laughter.
About weddings, and baby cradles, and old Papi in his bed with his worn, red quilt. 
I dreamed about Mother.
About her smile.
About Father laughing with her.
About Mother singing.
About her laying in her bed, with her light purple quilt.
About the machines buzzing around her bed.
About Father crying.

I woke up from my dream this morning, before the sun. I was crying. I didn’t want to wake up Laura, since we are sharing a room, so I went downstairs with my journal to the couch in the living room.
I’ve been writing for a while now.
Mr. and Mrs. Blasi is here now. I think they know I was upset. Mr. Blasi is going to carry me out to the field with some blankets, and we are going to watch the sunrise, while Mrs. Blasi gets some breakfast going.

I love my Swiss family.