If my daughter Elizabeth could have her heart's desire and follow Harry Potter's footsteps into Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it's certain she would someday learn to transform herself into a bluebird.
The most beloved of birds, bluebirds are the flying sapphire sparks of springtime at our old family gold mine high in the barren black-rock wastes where the southern Wind River Mountains dive like humpback whales beneath the great Red Desert. In the weird alchemy of memory, the extended family of bluebirds there - cheerful and impossibly fast - are a premonition, a schematic drawing of Elizabeth's quick little brain. If I had really paid attention, the bluebirds might have shown me the whole messy path that led through to today. Makes me wonder what obvious portents I'm missing in my life today...
Like her artist mom, Elizabeth was born imbued with the language of color, and this season finds her ever more intrigued by the rich feminine universe of fashion and clothing. Having grown up in a house of dirty boots and clean shotguns, for me all this is like visiting a foreign country, an anthropologist smitten with a wild native girl. It's time to quit relishing conflict and start relishing leftover turkey. Don't mention it to any of my hardass high school classmates, but I find myself flipping through catalogs thinking "Gee, that's a pretty outfit."
But at her core, Elizabeth's strength will keep her from ever becoming one of those people who hang their existence on how many clothes they have hanging in the closet. Probably her favorite toy of the past few months is the 70-pound pumpkin we won by guessing right in the annual Halloween contest at Astoria Community Store. She rolls it around the house, climbing aboard and balancing - teetering, arms extended - a surfer girl riding a great orange orb. I can't foresee my tough pumpkin surfer ever becoming a stuck-up fancy girl.
Yesterday we cooked our organic, free-range turkey - I like to think the extra 20 bucks it cost guarantee it had a pleasant, if too-short, life - and in our small way celebrated the memory of all those loved ones who didn't sit with us. My Mom joined Donna, Elizabeth and me, and it was a warm and happy evening, though sadly diminished from the feasts I recall when my grandparents still bound our family together with buttery gravy and dusty stories. How little we truly appreciate anything until it's gone; who could have known that seconds of dressing and mashed potatoes would become such treasure when tasted again through the veil of years?
Like most writers of my generation, I was brought up considering sentimentality one of the deadlier sins. Yet I have no more success avoiding it than I have some of the other better known ones - sloth and gluttony coming especially quickly to mind today. Just as the holidays grant us a certain license to indulge in rich food, there's every reason to indulge ourselves in sentiment and genuine emotion. It's more phony, I think, to deny the importance of tears of remembrance than it is to give them room to run. We owe it to ourselves and all those we've ever loved to take those memories in our hands from time, turning them around and around and feeling their smooth and rough edges, like an heirloom we recognize even by feel in the dark.
We're so very lucky in America, and bound together by the ever-twining tendrils of blood and memory, each of us a survivor of a long series of wars and hard times, and good times and plenty. We should each be able to hold true to our own core beliefs and political positions, and yet mourn that so many of us are so mad at one another. There's too much cynical manipulation masquerading as piety, too many sanctimonious busybodies claiming to be progressive. All this has become a jarring racket that confuses and divides. It's as if the garbage lying in the weeds to the left and right of the highway has come to dominate the wide, straight and level middle way of our nation.
I'm thankful for the underlying wisdom and courtesy of America, and I dream of a time when our leaders share those values. I trust our nation will someday return to a time of calm neighborliness, starting here at home with respectful attention to differing views. It's time to quit relishing conflict and start relishing leftover turkey. I wish all of you, of every political persuasion, joy at this precious time.
Matt Winters is editor of the Chinook Observer