Our Lives

Our Lives: Tales of three cities

CorrespondentDecember 28, 2013 


John Valentine.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

It was the best of times; it was the best of times.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, I embrace this never-never week between what was and what will be with absurd optimism, brushing off the cold and damp and the daunting numbers, looking ahead to many sunrises.

The kids came home for the holidays, leaving their churning urban hot spots of D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area. They arrived full of stories, Millennial insights and, of course, new songs and photos on their phones. They arrived, as always, ready for a dose of life in the woods again, ready for a rural recharging by the warm, family hearth.

The dogs could not believe their good fortune. At any moment, at any time of day, from any door, one of their three favorite visitors might emerge and say the magic words, “Let’s go for a walk!” And off they would go, over creeks, in the rain, through the fields, even bushwhacking uncharted territories. Bundled up, chattering away, fetching and throwing sticks, splashing rocks, collecting moss, meandering through the pines. If the water’s up at our favorite curves, we’ll pause, stand still and listen to the chiming ripples coming off a newly created waterfall.

In a toasty corner in the living room beneath a revved-up ceiling fan stands a creaky wooden drying rack, bearing witness to the comings and goings, bending under its colorful cascade of wet socks, coats, hoodies, mittens and scarves.

Sometimes I think we go for our family hikes just to be able to come back, shed a few layers and huddle up around the wood stove. Then it’s all musical couches and more storytelling and catching up. Leaning back together, my wife and I soak it all in, deliciously and vicariously, the 24/7 lives of our daughters. They’ve become the storytellers. How many ultimate Frisbee teams are you on, honey? You hang up your bike inside the coffee shop, where? Your neighbors were Ubering their Christmas tree? It was Metro and BART stories and reports about the demos on the Mall and in front of the new Twitter building.

Years ago, in another century, my daughter would go for walks in the woods retrieving fairy dust, left behind sawdust from the chain saw. The size, color and flakiness of the dust was very important. Each year in his own way, Santa (or was it Mrs. Santa?) obliged. For every Christmas morning, in my stocking by the chimney, I would find a new bright, shiny 16-inch chain for my saw. And as everyone knows, a new chain with bigger teeth and sharpened pitch produces bigger wood chips flying off the bar. And as we all know, too, bigger fairy dust holds the most magic of all.

Gathered in the kitchen around a cutting board, we hear the same excitement as my daughter now describes the magic of the Holiday Boat Parade – sailboats and water-spouting fireboats, colorfully lit up – cruising up the Potomac River. We hear about recent close encounters with their heroes, Win Butler, Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander in San Francisco. And in the pit, too, for Mipso and Mandolin Orange waving the Cackalacky flag three time zones down the road. We hear about Actual Café’s Laptop-Free Weekends. We tell them all about the new grocery store and the new downtown Durham. They already knew all about it from Facebook.

The stories, enlightened asides and humorous observations go on and on. And as we talk and laugh I know it’s not even really about the sparkling content.It’s about context, the being here and now, the family all together, with one another, sharing, loving. Across time and space we’re reminding ourselves through our various oral traditions that we are here for one another, always.

We’re reading Christmas cards one last time, making trips to the airport, boxing things up. I’m thinking of all the people who shared their caring strength and love with me and mine this past year.

Happy New Year and much appreciation especially to Anne Hodges-Copple, Michael Komada, Christy Lentz, Mary Murphy and Fidel Valea. As we say in our house, lovelovelove.

Driving home from the mall a few nights ago, my wife and I were searching the dial for some rock ’n’ roll. Blue Oyster Cult soared and clanged through the van. We laughed and looked at each other, nodding “Needs more cowbell.”

Hey 2014, here we come, ready or not! Or is it, ready or not?

Let’s be ready.

Valentine: johnvalentine732@gmail.com

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