While it’s fitting that this new venture of mine should begin with a celebration of new life, it could have taken less time to write than it does to gestate a human!
Thank heavens A.B. took the initiative last summer, or the baby shower for Eli and Jen might never have happened. I’m not one for events that follow proscribed conventions, and organization isn’t a strong point, but Anna Belle Wood – who, along with brother Zack, was a frequent, beautiful presence in the home I shared with Eli, Anda, and their father Ande for two decades – is supremely organized, creative, and energetic. She is such a joyful instigator!
A.B. took responsibility for the invites: It was the first time the words “Nana Nan” appeared in print, and aside from obsessing over the issue of one “n” or two, I was delighted with the designation she gave me. She planned the perfect activity that brought out the artist in all of us, painting a collection of tiny white onesies our friend Kristen kindly shared. Favors were left to me, and I settled on seeds and flowers in colored glass bottles that would provide a symbolic and permanent souvenir of our day. Athens is blessed with many great gardeners, but I turned to Todd and Dale of Veribest Farms, as we’ve known each other since Eli was a young boy himself. They are as lovely as everything they grow.
I have a distressing dilemma: I’m a news junky, and it’s a challenge (to say the least) to stay informed while remaining sane. At the time leading up to the shower, the airwaves were full of dreadful, heartbreaking news about another boy, Trayvon. I was full of fury, disgusted by the feeble lawyers who could have – should have – shown beyond a shadow that Trayvon’s final struggle with that stalker was his rightful fight to stand his ground, to be where he had a right to be, on his way “home” with treats, to get out of the rain and sit on a couch to watch a game with his waiting cousin.
And there was constant coverage of the relentless and regressive threats to the futures of all the young girls and couples who weren’t equipped in any way to raise a child, who felt panic instead of joyful anticipation. The news revealed the worst hypocrisy, a society that simultaneously exalts and marginalizes mother and child. These men in power infantilize women; they shout about freedom, as they seek to dictate how others should choose. They sit at D.C. chophouse tables, devour juicy steaks we takers pay for, while concocting plans to “help” those mothers: Let’s force their kids to work for lunch at school!
I was appalled by the black-and-whiteness that blinds us, that keeps us from seeing the glorious spectrum that surrounds. I felt guilty, but I knew that if I was going to impart only loving energy – good prana – into the gift I was planning, I’d have to compartmentalize in the face of all the injustice, make the world less with me, so I shut off the news. It was time to immerse myself in the immediate, and my first offering to my grandson was my happy task at hand.
There’s a huge trove of fabric and trim stashed in my house, but aside from a few pillows, I’d never made anything of consequence. Despite it being out of my comfort zone, I was determined to make a blanket. I relied on James, my design partner and devoted friend, to help me edit my overflowing ideas and to instruct me on technique. (He tries to keep his enjoyment of sewing a “secret,” but, oh well: Busted!) I focused on the soft teal-blue corduroy that’d been waiting for years to wrap up the baby soon to be with us, on the miracle of finding the exact number of pom pom “pistils” I needed for my finishing touch. They too were waiting, tangled up in my ribbon drawer, right where I looked. With every stitch I breathed a prayer for the little boy who somehow stirred some ancient love: All I wanted was to create something to envelope him, to keep him soothed and protected, to know that he, like his grandmother, will have the good fortune to find what he needs.
Long ago, I’d gone for an astrological reading, and the astrologer looked me dead in the eye and blurted, “Procrastination is a fundamental demon.” Well, my planets don’t lie: She’d honed in on a flaw that has always plagued me. But, for once, I didn’t procrastinate, and my blanket was completed and wrapped peacefully, with none of the typical last-minute frenzy I create way too often. I know it sounds silly, but this fact alone told me this birth was bringing about a shift in me, as well.
I was blessed with trusty villagers to help me with the other “immediates” – the flowers and tables, the menu, which filled out every day. A. B. and husband Ty helped with arranging for the flow, brother Zack strung his sister’s welcoming festivity flags, and James dug our old formica table out of the barn. While once I thought it would be too painful to use anywhere besides the kitchen of the big old house I’d left with such sadness, it looked surprisingly bright and right on the porch of my new old house!
Regarding the food, I had no worries… My sister Layne, a chef in L.A., had had to miss Eli and Jen’s nuptials because they married in December, and we know what “The Holiday Season” means when you’re responsible for feeding everyone else’s party guests. But there’d been too much loss since she’d last been here to see us, and we were determined she would share in this joyful beginning.
Layne’s the best kind of cook, loving and generous. She and dear friend Kenneth commandeered my kitchen, and I was delighted to relinquish control. They prepared for three days, all the while visiting and reconnecting with this new, reconfigured family.
When I saw the spread that Kenneth and Layne made manifest, I was astonished. We’d clearly crossed over from Southern abundance to Jewish excess. Did we really need three of my mother’s sour-cream chocolate-chip cakes? Yes, we did: It was the cake of my childhood, one of Eli’s too. In honor of Gertie, who wasn’t happy unless she was feeding someone, there had to be enough to send some home to every household.
We needed a typical smoked salmon spread to honor my New York Jewish roots, potato and egg salads for lifelong veggie Eli, watermelon-feta salad to quench the watermelon cravings of the mama-to-be, bowls of crumbled bacon to add to everything… Pickles and olives and peppers. Ty’s greens. We needed enough cheese to cause a coronary, beaucoup bread from Big City, where Jen and Eli fell in love baking together through long hot nights, popcorn to sentimentally reflect the kernels that flew across the kitchen every time Ande prepared for our household’s Friday night ritual: the X-Files and way-too-late video games… I remember overhearing someone – Zack, I think – marvel, “She’s putting out more!” as Layne brought another heaping bowl or platter to one of the laden tables.
I haven’t attended that many baby showers, so perhaps it’s not for me to say that this one felt different. It felt intimate, and maybe more meaningful for all the upheavals our family had experienced in the not-too-distant past. Like Eli and Jen’s weekend-long wedding celebration in the mountains, this gathering felt healing. We laughed, we hugged, and we ate. A lot. We fed our hopes for this baby’s future.