Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christmas Pop: Homage #1 to watakushi shōsetsu (20th century Japanese I-Novel)


It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching. The tunes you only hear at this time of year are trotted out and you’re trotted down memory lane, whether you wanted to do those particular mental and emotional laps or not. Do you like the traditional Christmas tunes, or a blend of old and new?

By "new," I mean all the Christmas "rock," but I don't mean the formerly "new" tunes such as those from movies. I love "White Christmas," and of course, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which has the sweet, wrenching pathos of Judy Garland's voice...

the next self-destructively doomed singer to have such a voice was .. well... was it Karen Carpenter? "It's Good-bye to Love" stops me in my tracks every time.

I think I like the Christmas-themed 40s and 50s movie tunes even more than the old standards - "Adeste Fidelis," "Good King Wensciazslazs" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Christmas rock tunes? Yuk. I have to say that I get pretty tired of the 80s "Christmas Rapping" and other "novelty tunes" ...

Weirdly enough, as much as I dislike "Christmas Rapping," and Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," they trigger very nice associations. "Christmas Rapping" brings memories of driving across town to see my mother, my dad, my brother Paul and my sister, Elaine, to open presents, to eat pumpkin pie, pecan pie, turkey, cold green beans and cranberry sauce. Then, wandering outside to look at the cold, clear sky.

Last Christmas, I was snowed in, along with the rest of the populace, by a colossal 12 inches snowfall. That was record-breaking for Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City airport was shut down for days. My mother and my dad drove over to my condo.

My mom was very frail and afraid to get out of the Suburban due to the ice and snow. If she slipped and fell, she might break her hip or some other bone. My dad loved the idea of helping me dig out of the snow. He grew up in northern Vermont, and he liked to discuss how / where / when to handle inclement (read snowy) weather.

I had to smile when he got stuck and I go to shovel him out -- bending his snow shovel in the process (not good). I'm no expert in shoveling snow, despite my 4 years in upstate New York. There, though, I relied on the apartment crew. Jimmy, a fiesty, short guy who invariably wore plaid flannel shirts and sturdy snow boots, always made sure the driveways were plowed, the walkways and sidewalks shoveled, and plenty of salt and calcium on the surfaces so they they were dry -- despite the snow pushed into mountains at the end of the driveways.

So, I learned nothing at all about shoveling or blowing snow during my sojourn in northern climes.

I did learn about the evils of ice, and for that reason, made sure my mother did not venture out alone on it. We drove back to my parents' house. We stopped by the Shell station near my parents' house & I grabbed a hot coffee. Then we went pulled up in the driveway, and then opened the garage door so my mom would not have to walk on the snow / ice very far.

We made it inside. Everyone was great. We opened presents. My mom got me an L. L. Bean flannel pajama set -- just the kind I love. Very soft, very warm. I apologized for not getting them much -- I think I got my mom soft socks and something else, but I'm not sure what. I brought my dad all kinds of organic crackers and snacks that I bought at the Reasors at 15th and Lewis in Tulsa right after Wednesday tennis drills.

I had bought food and then headed to Norman.

They said I should go -- there would be a huge storm. I had a hard time believing it -- it was 50 degrees and balmy. It was the 23rd -- we had the 24th off from work.

Thankfully, I trusted my dad's weather report. The very next morning, yes, it snowed -- it was a blizzard! I would have been trapped in Tulsa for the entire Christmas weekend, and I would have missed spending time with my parents.

Little did I know that a mere two months later, my mom would slip and fall (just before Valentine's Day) and would break her hip and shoulder. After 30 days in the hospital, most of the time on IV's and unable to even sip water, due to breathing and aspiration problems complicated by pneumonia, she would be released to go home -- to hospice -- basically to die.

Unfortunately (at least in my eyes), no one realized my mom would bounce back -- with the help of the 24-7 home health care, and so when the angels of death (hospice nurses) gave my mother massive doses of morphine and other drugs, they interfered in a dramatic and rather grotesque way on any chance at all of being able to keep going.

I still feel quite guilty. I should have taken a stand and compelled my dad to get rid of hospice. Get rid of the angels of death. As severely, and gravely ill as my mother had been over the last 22 years, I never expected her to not make it.

And, well, as much as I hate the corny "Christmas Rapping" song, it reminds me of my last Christmas with my mother, and all the bittersweet memories one has of a relative who was deeply and chronically ill for most of my adult life.

And, as much as I hated that she suffered, we were all codependent. When she had a good day, we had a good day. When she had a bad day, we all called each other and wrung our hands as we fretted and discussed how inadequate modern medicine is, despite all the advances.

Now, I would say that memory is inadequate, not medicine, and worse -- the postmodern human heart is inadequate; severely lacking.

If reality is a construct, and meaning is to be an iridescent sheen on the water of life, well, sometimes the multiplicities of interpretive possibilities are just too much for me.

I miss my mother.

I did not like to see her suffer. I would not want her to be consigned to a life of endless suffering.

I miss her anyway.


Note: this is the first of a series of writings inspired by Japanese watakushi shōsetsu, the I-Novel, a very special kind of autobiographical writing (see Naoya Shiga's work).