Christmas 1964

You know those movies where the star is looking at something and it gets blurry and music comes up and suddenly we’re back in time, at some critical juncture at the star’s life?

I have been having those feelings the last few days as I have sat in the show lounge on Seabourn Odyssey staring at the Christmas tree on stage. It’s nothing spectacular—just a plain tree with colored lights—but I have found it transfixing. It takes me back to Christmas 1964, the beginning of my sophomore year of high school.  

I was at the end of a long run of different schools in different towns, having moved after seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. I didn’t like myself much at twelve, and even less at thirteen. I was seriously overweight and just starting to notice that personal hygiene mattered. Then, amazingly, I grew three inches without gaining any weight, and actually had curves rather than voluminous mounds of baby fat.  In ninth grade, to my amazement, boys started to notice me. No one remembered the other me who had lived in those other places in that other body. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

In the summer of 1964, before my sophomore year, my family moved to La Jolla, California.  The transformation continued, but now—wow!—I was permitted to date. Life opened up. I was a new person, the teenage me.  And wonder of wonders, the teenage me wasn’t a total dork.

I remember distinctly so many of the details of that Christmas, when I had just turned fifteen . I even remember what I wore to the midnight service at the church we attended.  I remember a couple of the parties I went to. I remember the boy who had just dumped me and the other boy I just met who became my first serious boyfriend. I remember the music.

‘I’m in love with her, and I feel fine…”

“Time is on my side…”

‘’Girl, you really got me now…”

‘Something tells me I’m into something good”

But most of all I remember the blissful wonder at the sense that my life had started. Childhood was over, and this next chapter was going to be so much more exciting.

And it was.  It was exciting, and scary, and heartbreaking, and frustrating, and confusing, and exhilarating. It was a door opening on that liminal period where I got to practice at adulthood without taking on the responsibilities of it.  

This was the first of many points in my life where I have felt as if I were walking through a door into a new life.  I went to college, I got married, I became a mother, I changed careers, I got divorced, I had lovers, I lost lovers, I navigated life on my own. 

Maybe that’s why I have been staring at that Christmas tree twinkling on the stage. It is reminding me of that girl, who became, through so many iterations, the person I am. I look back at her, and I see her strengths.  I see her vulnerabilities.  I see qualities that will lead her astray.  I see qualities that will give her the courage she will need to face what lies ahead. I see a life  that she cannot imagine at fifteen, at thirty, at fifty. I see what she will have to embrace, reject, forgive, withstand, and love with abandon. Even then, she is nurturing all that I will become. 

My school photo at 15


I am sitting in my son Ivan’s apartment in Phoenix, having come from San Diego today to pick him up to fly to the Caribbean for the first real vacation we have taken together. Tonight we do the red-eye to New York, where we catch our flight to Sint Maarten. 

I am still trying to put my finger on why travel feels so different to me now. I used to think it was because I no longer have a permanent home, but I suspect now that there is another dimension as well.  I got rid of well over 90% of my possessions when I sold my condo and moved to Victoria. I have a small storage locker there, filled primarily with important papers, a bit of memorabilia I don’t want to part with, books, and out-of-season clothes.  The contents of that storage locker, plus my car, are the sum total of what I own in this world, other than what is in those two suitcases over there in the entryway of Ivan’s apartment.  

In San Diego, as I was packing to head out to Phoenix, I couldn’t find a favorite jacket. If it wasn’t in my suitcase, I must have left it on the last ship, I thought, but I didn’t see how that was possible, since I checked my room thoroughly and surely would have noticed. 

Yes, it’s true that traveling means living only with what one brought, at least temporarily (well, except for shopping.). But there was something about staring at those two bags and realizing, “This is it. This is the bulk of what I own.” I couldn’t call up visions of a walk-in closet, a dresser packed with things I didn’t bring, to soften the impact. In moments of loss, even of something as minor as a jacket, the consequences of what I have chosen leap out to grab me. Fortunately that feels far more often like a caress than a slap. 

There is more to this nomadic life I have chosen than simply not having a permanent home.  It means truly living only out of suitcases and storage boxes. I am always moving with my possessions from place to place, varying slightly what I have to fit the adventure I am on. That’s why both every place and no place is ‘home.” It’s hard to explain, but sitting here right now in another unfamiliar place, just seeing my bags over by the door grounds me.  Just knowing that my winter clothes and boots are waiting in the dark in that locker in Victoria grounds me too. 

The story has a happy ending: I found the jacket. I had worn it the last evening on the ship and because  I had already packed and locked my bags, I stashed it in a zipper compartment on the outside of one suitcase.  Being very lightweight, it was easy not to notice it wedged down there. I am really glad I still have it, but sometimes it takes losing something, even if temporarily, to break open one’s thinking to find something even more important.