Unlikely day for finding a path to light...the sort of morning of which Gandalf would announce mournfully, "There will be no dawn." No orcs attacking from Mordor, but mountains of backlogged housework, hormonal brain scrambling, tenant packing up, Christmas decorations sorrowfully reminding one that Epiphany, the Final Frontier, is just around the corner...and then, in a brief burst of energy when the sun broke through, I attempted to boil eggs. I am a pretty competent cook and have a good reputation as a baker, but I am constitutionally incapable of making hard-boiled eggs. Either I follow someone's idiotic instructions and leave them on too briefly (producing Jelly Eggs, yuck) or--more often--I walk out of the kitchen and the pot boils dry and I have India Rubber Eggs and a ghastly black pot.
So I'm upstairs and I smell it...the unmistakable whiff of charred shell. Done it again. Otto, these are mistakes.
Rubber eggs in the garbage can. Back upstairs, I return to the loathsome task at hand--deciding what to do with bags of mixed-up old strings of extra Christmas lights. Test them. (Most still work. Damn.) Untangle them, or start to, and then give up. Put them in a new bag; the old one is full of dust and ancient pine needles and busted spare bulbs. Start thinking serotonin-impaired thoughts about how life is exactly like this crappy bag of lights.
And then, at the bottom of the bag, I found this. It's a 3X5 card in my late father's hand, a diagram of some particularly pleasing arrangement of Christmas lights he had hung across a room-divider screen, oh, 40 years or so ago. It is so absolutely classic Daddy--he delighted, not only in meticulous organization, but in making things easier for himself and others in clever little ways. The Crazy Stable is enhanced by a number of his creations and inventions, from skillfully joined bookcases to customized paint-can openers and hand-routed cutting boards. He taught me to strip paint, plant tulip bulbs, make compost, and spackle, and showed Spouse how to install electric fixtures. We inherited his entire (often baffling) collection of tools, from toilet snakes and pliers to dental picks and jeweler's loops. And we inherited the family Christmas lights, one string being the "retro" big-colored-bulb kind; this particular electronic antique was also Daddy-customized, the expanse of cord between each bulb folded in half and secured with electrical tape to produce a better spacing. (It still works just fine, and bedecks the kitchen window every year.) It may sound maddeningly fussy, but it was really the sort of thing he did for fun...and it's sometimes a heavy legacy to bear as I look around a house (parts falling down around our ears, most simply drifting in entropy) that he would have spent his retirement bringing tirelessly back to life with those beloved tools and boundless ingenuity.
This was impossible, however; my dad never got to see the Crazy Stable, and had he lived beyond 69 (a premature death in a family of nonagenarians) the Crazy Stable never would have been ours. His life insurance settlement bestowed on us our only shot at a down payment and home ownership (a dream he himself never fulfilled). When I realized last month that it had been 20 years since the bleak December day of his death, the anniversary seemed impossible for two reasons: one, it was patently absurd that I could ever get through 20 years without him, and two, he seems so very present here.
And often present through light, or things related to light. His motto was "Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," and looking back he seems to have taken this literally as well as spiritually. He was forever providing hapless souls with flashlights (loaded with fresh batteries, of course); badgering me about "good task lighting" for close work and trying out new high-intensity lamps; rigging up "Gro-Lites" for seedlings and houseplants. He always carried safety flares in the trunk of our car, and would Samaritanize any stranded motorist we passed with a flare and a spare "for next time." Again, he did all this, as near as I could figure, for fun.
And so today, as I groveled despondently in my dusty bag of tangled Christmas lights, I came upon this note, with its goofy little chart of "steady burning" versus "blinking" bulbs and its assessment of "total needs," bulb-wise. It has been a long time--20 years?--since anyone took such meticulous care to anticipate any of my total needs, and I just sat on the floor and pressed the note to my chest and smiled. Then I noticed that my radio, which I'd flicked to QXR some time ago, was playing, not just any old classical, but Bach's Prelude and Fugue for Organ--one of the pieces he and I loved listening to together. (He would sometimes laugh and point to the goosebumps on his arms after a particularly good part, and was a shameless fan of E. Power Biggs.) It's easier to process this sort of thing if you take a Navajo-like approach: ancestor spirits, hanging around, clearly pleased, way good thing.
I think I will leave some of the Christmas lights up past Epiphany this year.
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?