Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Modern Magi Tale

“The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

Odelia loved the infamous O. Henry story. As she finished reading the classic tale, a thought overcame her. She wanted to do something special for her newly-wedded husband, Jameson, even though they had both decided their gift to each other this year would be a Mediterranean cruise they had saved for to be taken next autumn. Jameson would be done with his residency in July and Odelia intended to be finished with her final PhD thesis on ‘The Impact of Judaism on Western Religious Traditions’ by then also.

But not giving any gift to her beloved on Christmas, especially since it would be their first as husband and wife, made her feel empty. Perhaps she should purchase him new clothes, or maybe a new IPOD since his was broken. No. Purchasing clothes for Jameson would be more of an indulgence for her than him. And a new IPOD would sit unused while he worked his relentless hours. Maybe a book? No. Despite his passion for reading, he was too often exhausted to even skim through the daily newspaper.

Odelia sipped on her chamomile tea and considered ideas. Then her heart grew full when she remembered something about Thanksgiving. Hadn’t he raved about her grandmother’s pumpkin bread? She’d call Granny for the recipe and bake this afternoon!

“And don’t forget, Dele – they must be white raisins.”

“I won’t forget, Granny. I love you. Merry Christmas!”

A quick trip to the store was needed for white raisins and a can of pumpkin. She quickly bundled herself up and walked three blocks north from their apartment to obtain the magic ingredients. To her surprise, white raisins were plentiful in stock.
As she walked back to her apartment, she began to sweat. Had she overdressed? The temperature on the bank clock indicated only 18 degrees. Perhaps she was too excited about her project. A break from her studies was desperately needed.
Once she arrived back to the apartment, she stripped her clothing and changed into a t-shirt and shorts. Jameson would probably be pleasantly surprised by the change from sweatpants, sweaters and slippers!

Odelia read her grandmother’s instructions carefully, then methodically arranged the ingredients on the counter. After turning on the oven to pre-heat, she smiled. “Won’t you be glad to see something other than a frozen pizza?”
She found two beautiful ceramic bread pans, received as wedding gift, and never once been used. Then she began to create the mixture. At one time in her life, Odelia considered pursuing a career in art. Perhaps she would convert that old interest into perfecting the craft of domesticity.

Careful not to rush the project, she enjoyed each step of adding the various ingredients. But as the temperature in the oven rose, she, once again, began to feel hot. Could she be getting sick? She opened the can of pumpkin. The aroma of the gourd scoured through her being. She could feel her gag reflex engage and quickly ran to the bathroom, only to lose everything she had consumed for the day. But she felt better. After a few deep breaths, she went back to the kitchen to finish her project.

Once again, the quaintness of the bread pans made her feel warm.

The mix was finally complete and the bread was set in the oven to bake. After setting the timer, Odelia decided to lie down for awhile. She curled up on the sofa with her favorite fleece blanket. Being a light sleeper, she wasn’t concerned about sleeping through the timer. However, the light snow falling outside the window hypnotized her. Soon she was dozing.

Then the calmness within the apartment was interrupted by a door slamming shut and the buzzing in Odelia's dreams was realized as a timer going off.

“Odelia?” Jameson was confused by the smell of the oven and the timer buzzing.
She jumped up in confusion. “Jamie! Oh my gosh! I’m baking something for you!” She ran to the kitchen, shut off the timer and quickly retrieved the two bread pans out of the oven as Jameson stood at the door watching.

Odelia furrowed her brow and scratched her head. “That isn’t how they’re supposed to look!” She glanced at the time to see if she had baked the bread too long. “They certainly don’t look burnt.”

Jameson placed his bags on the table and walked to his wife. “Could you have forgotten something?” He picked up the can of pumpkin, still full.

While Jameson smiled at the error, Odelia began to cry.

“Del? It’s okay! It’s just bread.” Jameson put his arms around his young wife.

“It was my Christmas gift to you though! I worked so hard on it.”

Jameson wanted to laugh, but he held back. “Well, it was very sweet of you. Are you okay? Why don’t you have more clothes on?”

Through her blubbering she explained, “I got hot. Then I got sick.”

Jameson’s medical training kicked in. He unraveled his arms and felt Odelia’s forehead. “You don’t seem to be running a temp. When did you get sick?”

“Actually, when I was making the bread. The smell of the pumpkin overwhelmed me. I guess that’s why I forgot to add it.”

Jameson led his wife to the sofa and sat next to her. “Have you felt sick all day?”

“Off and on.”

“Odelia? When’s the last time you had your period?”

Odelia looked up at her husband. “You got a haircut. It looks nice.”

“Thanks. Dr. Douglas thought perhaps I should take a little time to clean up before the holidays.” Jameson took a deep breath. “ Hon? Do you think you could be?”

Odelia stared at her husband. She liked it when Jameson let his hair grow. But she couldn’t deny that shorter hair made his brilliant eyes quite irresistible.

“Oh, Jameson. I don’t know! This autumn semester has been so busy. Could I be?”

The couple ran to the bathroom. Jameson had brought home a few pregnancy tests from the hospital after Odelia had skipped a period one other time. Jameson, being a doctor, was compelled to administer the test.

“I can do this myself, you know.”

“While you are quite brilliant as a theologian, you’ve had no medical training, my dearest Odelia.”

The couple quietly waited for the results to appear. After a couple of minutes, Jameson anxiously picked up the stick. He then looked at Odelia with an unflinching expression. Odelia reviewed the results. She laughed, nervously, before facing Jameson. The couple embraced in the small bathroom.

“Odelia? This may be the happiest moment of my life.”

“Mine too.”

Jameson stepped back and clutched his wife’s arms. “Would you like to open your Christmas gift now?”

“Jamie! You weren’t supposed to…”

“I know. But you’ll love this.”

Odelia followed Jameson into the kitchen as he pulled out a beautifully-wrapped gift from her favorite department store. Carefully she opened the package. A white eyelet string bikini lay in the folds of the decorative tissue. Odelia laughed.

“For the cruise, of course.” Jameson smiled.

“The cruise! Jameson! Wouldn’t I be due around September?”

“Well, I’m estimating August. Either way, I think the Mediterranean will have to wait a bit longer for us.”

Odelia walked over and sat on Jameson’s lap. “And maybe the bikini will go into storage for awhile.”

The happy couple kissed as the late afternoon rays of the sun began to cast shadows in the small apartment. It was their first Christmas, and they both were blessed with the gifts of the Magi.

Monday, December 8, 2008

NYC... It is Altogether...

"It is altogether an extraordinary growing, swarming, glittering, pushing, chattering, good-natured cosmopolitan place." -Henry James

Well-said Mr. James!

Doug and I took in as much of NYC as we could in two full days. We skimmed through many of the must-sees, but not all of them! We basically tasted it -- someday we'll go back for the full course.

As the New York skyline disappears while our plane flies us away, I am already missing the place. I swear I've been here before -- perhaps in another life? No, how silly of me. All of my favorite movies take place in New York. When you've watched You Got Mail as many times as I have...

But there's something more to this strange sense of homesickness I feel for a city that I would never want to live. It started when we visited Ellis Island. It's the spirit of my ancestors who braved the elements to make a new life here. Talk about courage. And our particular ancestors didn't stop in New York. They went another world away to the Midwest! (Perhaps the people in the burroughs scared them away...Or perhaps the open prairie beckoned them forth.)

So, while the commerce, architecture, history and the arts in New York genuinely intrigued me, I leave the city most inspired by the courage of all the immigrants who created the most eclectic culture in the world...starting in NYC, then permeating the rest of the great nation of ours.