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“This Old Face” and Other Holiday Surprises

Frantic days, closing in on the holidays.

One chore: shoot  a promo for BackForever, for my pal, Jeremy James. Jeremy is a rock star in the serious business of eliminating back pain. He and I have just finished a major effort, THE YOUNGER NEXT YEAR BACK BOOK, which we both think will revolutionize the field. The cover says it’s “The Whole Body Plan to Conquer Back Pain Forever.” Oh, boy! Jeremy was the brains of the outfit, obviously, and I made it mildly amusing (not so easy with a book about back pain). I just got the printed “galleys” this morning, so it’s done. But, sadly, it won’t be out until next summer (that’s publishing!). However, Jeremy has also created a video protocol (BackForever) which will let sufferers use his protocol on video to heal themselves with behavioral change. Much, much more about that, soon. Anyhow, that’s what the promo is all about, so it’s a big deal.

We took a crack at this, two weeks ago, but I had the flu. I could barely speak, had low energy and looked like hell. So we’re back. Today, my voice is fine, my energy is near red-line (the usual). But I still look like hell.

This Old Face

Not a total surprise. I am 83 years old, after all, and I am supposed to look like hell. But maybe not quite as bad as all this. Not with all the exercise, the no-booze and the good sleep, for heaven’s sake. So we’re gonna fix it. Hilly and I get up early, go to spin class (high circulation is the best skin refresher). Then we get out pills and salves. Eye drops to reduce redness. A coat of face paint to make me look as if I had a tan (or at least a coat of face paint). And – new to me –  Preparation H to rub on my swollen eyes. (It is a trick known to all actors and Hilary, for some reason). If it will shrink hemorrhoids, it’ll shrink your eyelids, right? My eye-lids are swollen and the eyes themselves are wet and nasty, like oysters, which is not a good look. Not exactly like oysters, but you’d get the reference if someone made it.  Those steps, a ton of coffee and the passage of time help. I look ok if not amazing and we go down for the shoot. (Preparation H doesn’t do a thing for your face, by the way; I asked my beloved skin doc, Robyn Gmyrek. But I liked the boldness of it: we were doing some damn thing!)  We do the shoot, and it feels ok. Our colleagues out west say it’s “fine.” “Terrific” in fact; they love the energy.  No one says I look funny. Excellent. That’s Sunday.

A Tree in the Forest

Hilary and Olive

The next day is sheer pleasure; we get our tree. We go to a farmer, up toward Mt. Riga, walk around in his field. There is one obvious choice, a big beauty…the best I’ve ever seen. I am nuts about it… have no question. But Hilary, for some reason thinks it’s too big, which is nonsense. It’s perfect! I say. We’ll never get it in the house, she says. On and on. All this is not about the tree, by the way; it’s about our world view. She thinks our house is too big (it is perfect); she thought our boat was too big (how I miss it); and she more or less thinks I am too big. Or too intense, or needy, or ego-crazed.  Well, she’s right about all that but – short of rubbing Preparation H all over my head every morning – what is to be done? We’re 25 years in, and the deal is the deal. Pretty sweet deal, too, we’d both agree.

With a lot of help, we do get it into the house and it looks amazing (see pic). Then it falls over, just as Hilary warned.  It is as high, lying on its side, as a normal tree, standing  upright. We power it up. It falls again. We rig it with guy-wires and so on; that works. Brilliantly. And it is simply the biggest, and best looking tree  in private hands in  the entire country. We have been collecting tree ornaments for 25 years. They look amazing too.  I am a-glow.  Hilary relents,   grovels (no she doesn’t)…loves it. Everyone is impressed. It makes our Christmas. Then I go on to the serious business of hanging yards and yards of pine roping all over the place. The living and dining rooms look like Santa’s workshop, only with a bigger tree.

These Old Friends

Next step, prepare for our Caroling party that weekend. There is a teeny life-view problem here, too.  We have a hundred people coming, which Hilly finds stressful. I do not. The prospect makes me feel wonderful, actually.  I thrive on this stuff. She worries.

In theory, she’s right: we do have a hundred people coming, no help and not much time to work on it. In fact, easy-peasy. I run around and lay in huge amounts of pretty easy food (two hams, a ton of shrimp, a mountain of Swedish meatballs and lots of lesser treats…crudites which have to be peeled …sauces…dips…egg-nog…it all takes time but is straight-forward). Hilly organizes the wine, does the table in the dining room (stunning!) and side-board. She finally talks two women into coming and helping us clean up as the party goes along; that makes a huge difference. There are going to be some 50 cars coming up our steep, snowy drive. We get the plow guy to plow and sand… a genius idea; one care stuck sideways would raise hell with the whole night. (There really are 50 cars, later, all parked on the snowy lawn, at right angles to the long drive. I  love it. Take pictures of their tracks in the snow the next day.)

Last step: I run around and light every light in every room in the house and the lights along the edge of the drive. The big house floats at the top of the hill – warm, yellow light flooding out of every window – like a giant liner in the night. Only cozy. Very, very cozy.

The invite is from 6 to 9, with snacks (there is in fact a serious meal), drinks (a ton of em, some self-help and some – like martinis – made by me) and carols. By seven, the place is packed and rocking. SUCH a nice event. Everyone’s excited, flushed. You can scarcely budge in the big kitchen-dining room-living room part of the house. Heaven. Hilary’s unease has fled and I am moving through the crowd grinning, being hugged, being kissed. Like a whale eating krill. I feed on nights like this.

We pass out some music. I lead us (there is no piano but my voice is “true”, if not great, and big, so I can lead a gang like this. And I’ve known every word of just about every carol since I was ten; doesn’t hurt.) I hold it to a half hour but it is – as always – the highlight of the night. No one sings any more and everyone – including those who just watch – loves this night. God knows I do.  I assign singers to be each of the three kings. Tell which men to join me as Good King Wenceslas and which to be the Page. My mother and I used to sing the Good King 70 years ago and I love it as no other. We do the Twelve Days…not easy, but it ain’t our first time. SO much fun.

People do not go home at 9, as the invite suggested. The last ones leave at midnight. There is a trickle all night and I go outside with each one to say good bye. It’s a tradition in this house. This year it is super cold and there is snow. I slip in and out of a huge raccoon coat I got for nothing, 40 years ago. Warm as toast. “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Thanks so much for coming! Watch out at the bottom of the drive!”

The whole night is warm as toast. Fire burning in the fireplace. Tons of drinks. Good pals, old and new. We do this kind of thing fairly regularly – not this big but parties. But this really is the best ever, as everyone keeps saying that night and in thank-you notes next day. Best day of a year of loss (Harry’s death), anxiety (Politics) and weirdness (me, smacked by a car). A joyous coda to all that and a turning to our future. Which is going to be terrific. This night is a sign.

TEENY MORAL:

  1. DEFAULT TO YES, as the sacred book says. This party looked a little hard at the outset, and it was some work. But it turned out to be one of the best nights of our sweet lives.
  2. LIMBIC RULE: MAKE NEW FRIENDS. The old ones are dying or getting stupid, at my age, and we have a deliberate Replacement Policy. All right, you cannot replace real friends. BUT you can make new ones. And we have had lovely luck at that. Because we WORK AT IT, LIKE THIS WEEKEND. Remember the sacred text: We are MAMMALS! ACT LIKE IT. A party like this is the grown up equivalent of tumbling like puppies, snuggling like otters. SO good for us. It nourishes us, it feeds us, it makes us ourselves. You can feel it. Feel it all the rest of the year.

IN TIME, THE LIGHTS ARE GOING TO WINK OUT in our house on the hill. And in our lives. There will be no one parked in the snow on the long drive. Some one else will live in the house and they may sing or they may not. One could argue that, therefore, all this doesn’t matter. I think that is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw. It matters so much more, because of the coming of the dark. We will have had light in our lives. We will have created and absorbed great light. And that will make all the difference.

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Chris Crowley
Chris Crowley

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