Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Am My Father's Son

Cousins: Ethan, John, Pat, Margaret

Today. Freezing. Snowing. Last Day of the Year. My cousin Janel's wedding day. I am the piper. Proudly.
I LOVE this photo of Joe and Janel. Priceless. She even looks stunning while walking on ice in heels!

Janel's ma and my da are first cousins. That makes us second cousins. And her son and daughter and I are second cousins once removed and her ma and I are first cousins once removed. And so on and so on.

I got in my kilt and coat and cape and headed on the subway to Queens to St. Thomas RC Church. The walk from the subway with knees exposed was South Pole expedition-like, but the warmth of the church (and I do not intend that for laughs, just literally) upon arrival was welcome.

I had not seen Janel since she was out at my dad's funeral in 1994. A kid. A lot has happened to both of us since.

I first met Janel and her two brothers Justin and John when I came to New York with my dad in 1981. I seem to remember her in pajamas with feet in them. Cute as a button they all were. Their dad, Buddie, God bless him, was there. What a nice man. And my grandma's twin, me aunt Mona. And my dad, of course. All gone now. Their mom Margaret has been part of my life ever since. I think she is fantastic. And she always calls me John Connolly's son. I like that.
My beautiful cousin Margaret.
The family photo.

I can tell Janel and I are going to get along great. She was such a sweet, cute kid and I think she has retained much of that. I look forward to seeing more her and her husband Joe.

The wedding was wonderful. I played pipes on the steps of the church. Finally my fingers froze and I had to stop. "How cold was it?' "It was SO cold there was no birl" - for those who know what that is.

My cousin Mona was there from Ireland with her grandson Ethan - 3rd cousin to my nieces and nephews. And 2nd cousins whom I had never met - sisters Margaret and Clare from London. I liked them instantly and now Clare and I are more than cousins, we are Facebook friends. Huge!

The table centerpieceThey even had a guy rolling cigars at the reception.

The reception was at the Inn at New Hyde Park on Long Island. We had a deluxe bus take us there. It was as lavish a do as I had ever seen and a lot of fun. I got to be at table #1 with all my cousins and look around at new life and new generations happening and thriving and I felt blessed.Cousins John, Clare and MargaretMargaret and her two sons, Justin and John
The toast

A new year, new connections. I so wish my parents could have flown out and been there with me. They would have loved it. And my siblings! My dad would have been in his element in New York with the Irish relatives. I could just see it.

I am proud to be John Connolly's son.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Knives

I am slowly moving into and committing to New York City. Every time I go home to San Francisco I go under my sister's house where all my worldly possessions are stowed and bring something back - as if I am sneaking slowly into Manhattan, piece by piece.

My "big purchase" this time were my knives. Back in the days when I had money I bought good knives, much like one should have a solid navy sport coat and good trousers; it is a key staple. And now that I am eating at home more for health and budget, this seemed like a good item to bring back. I am so glad I did. My first slice through a root vegetable post return was transcendent.

I also brought my own kilt back. I have a band kilt, but I wanted my own. It reminds me of my parents and it fits me better and it is my family tartan. All these things are important to me. I have it here now and I will wear it proudly. In fact I will wear it tomorrow when I play bagpipes at my cousin's wedding. Family, roots, family, roots. I am bound to them in many lovely ways.

An impulse buy under my sister's house were two fridge magnets. One is of the bell, fish, tree and bird - all symbols of Glasgow, Scotland, perhaps in some ways my emotional home.

And the other is a magnet of the painting "Man Wearing Laurels" by John Singer Sargent.

When I saw this painting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I knew I was gay. That may sound an odd thing to say, but it was a feeling that was sealed. It was not a pornographic feeling, it was that gut feeling where I knew that it was certain and true for me. Of course I have never met a man wearing laurels and if he were standing in front of me nude in the form of a mail-o-gram I would find it silly, but the painting had the artist's own emotion painted into it and the gaze from the model was one that I could not look away from.

The knives, the kilt, the bell, the fish, the tree, the bird, the man wearing laurels. I bring these things into my new year with best hopes for the future.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Red Cat

Cheline and Hilary and Steve and I had "Christmas with the Cohens" at Steve and his wife Nhadine's house last Christmas. It was a wonderful vegetarian multi-cultural, multi-religious gathering of folk in Brooklyn. I loved it. It was where I got my Rabbi juice glass. Another story written about way back in this blog. Steve has since had a baby and the rest of us have not.

We met for dinner at The Red Cat on 10th Avenue in Chelsea.

I think I like the coziness of dining in the Winter. Friends, food and coziness. I guess I like dining in the Summer months too. And the Autumn and Spring can be good as well. So I am full of crap, but the coziness and root veg vibe appeals to me. It has a sharing/caring tone that the other seasons seem to lack. I think at least. I should try writing about this in July and see how I feel out at a table by the beach with old friends and summer fruit and ripe tomatoes and watermelon and red onion.

Maybe it is just the friends and the food. Clothing optional. As in weather-specific.

I had the lovely special of roast suckling pig over beans and white cranberries. And salad of bitter greens as a starter. I will remember it all especially the salad. There was wine. I wanted some. I hated that. But I enjoyed my NYC tap water as it complemented the greens quite well.

But the company was the most important and it is did not disappoint. Aren't I supposed to say/feel that anyway? But it didn't! Some very smart folk and we got to talk about politics and finance and Beyonce was only briefly mentioned to offset the bitter greens of the economy.

But most of all we had a nice laugh and an appreciation of breaking bread together over the holidays with the anticipation and promise of a new year.

Maybe it is that that other seasons lack.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

And the seasons, they go round and round.

Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

Every year (see post below, I have actually gone once) we go to Uncle Tommy and Aunt Marina's to see their Christmas tree with the toy train around it.

Eileen thought since we could not get there this year that they would come up from Half Moon Bay and meet us in Golden Gate Park to see the toy train exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers. They did and we went and it was brill. I recommend it. Go.

Aunt Marina and Uncle Tommy as if they were under surveillanceMy fave photo taken by my 5 year old niece Oonagh. The composition is really great. You focus right in on Johnny with some amusement given by his big cousin Mitch on the left and some gravity by his Uncle Tommy on the right.

It is famous sites/buildings of SF made out of recycled materials like cassette tapes, keyboard buttons, fork and hair combs. There is a train that runs through and, of course, loads of plants.

What a great day to be together and hang out with Uncle Tommy and Aunt Marina.

I go back to New York tonight and it was a perfect last day in San Francisco.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Girl and Her Dug

Maureen and I have developed this annual tradition that we seem to have kept (except maybe during the war years or years when I am in not in SF for the hols). The idea was to meet every Christmastime for breakfast and hang and catch up. It started out as breakfast and morphed into throwing a ball with Maureen's dog, Kobe. It really has no dictated shape except that it is "our thing."

The traditions I know or am usually a part of last for one time only as in "This is the first annual camping trip/skiing trip/cookie exchange for charity..." But we in spite of ourselves have kept this one going.

Today we went to Ocean Beach to throw the ball with Kobe. I love that beach because it is where I think of my insignificance. There was a photo in the Cliff House similar to this one below that had Victorians walking on this very same beach I am on. I imagine them all with thought bubbles like "I wonder if I will ever work again?" "Will I ever meet the one?" "I need to lose this weight." "I haven't read the classics" "Why didn't I get a masters in journalism?" and "I should have been younger." And I realize that every single person in that photo is dee ee ay dee. And I know I am just a leaser on that beach and on this planet and I best damn well learn French, see Argentina and enjoy every bloody moment.

I was struck in one of those joyous bloody moments which was today that Maureen and I think so much alike. We had very frank talks about Catholicism, abortion, down syndrome and Obama. It was good to talk to someone, a close friend, so openly and honestly and be able to really talk. On that beach in our clothes of now knowing that this beach will outlive us and we will be dead with some of our questions answered and others left hanging and the only certainty is we spent a day over the Christmas break together throwing a dog a ball on a beach and that was good.

Boxing St. Stephen

On the way back to San Francisco from the River, I stopped to see Jan and Ashley and Bodie in San Rafael.

We walked to the sea wall with Katie, their dog.

It was a beautiful Marin winter day, cold and sunny. I love the lighting up here this time of year. It just makes you want to think about painting some day or paying someone else to capture it all in stained glass.

As we walked along the rocky/sandy path, we looked out over the bay to the two wee islands and the Richmond Bridge beyond. The water was still like it flipped a "Back in 10 Minutes" sign on its window and went down below to check on a baby or bread rising.

The whole setting was serene. It dictated that you talk about LIFE and gratitude and not the price of milk.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Gifts

My sisters on a deserted street in Graton, CA. The only photo I took on Christmas Day. I like it.

The Big Day. The Happy Birthday Jesus Day. The day IT was all for: the running around, the flights, the lights, the wrapping and cards and calendars with windows. All of it.

I could write about the kids and their excitement and their gifts. Nothing to say there except it was all good - all joy and no tears. No disappointment, all fun and games...and new clothes.

I could write about the last Christmas George W. Bush will ever be president. Or what Jesus and God mean to me or how giving feels.

It seems curious to not write about how I felt and what I was thinking and how being in the cabin with those closest in blood line to me and how wonderful - together around the magical tree we chopped down less than 20 yards away.

Oddly I want to write about my material gifts. We (or I, rather with sibling consent) cancelled our Kris Kringle gifts this year. This would suggest that I get NO presents. A perfect way for me to play the "I'm all alone in this world" card which I seem to like to throw down from time to time. For some reason I knew I had no interest in that game.

But I did get gifts. I got three gifts: a pair of jeans, an historical fiction book about New York and a tea pot. Jeans, a tea pot and a book. I was not looking for them, I was not asking for them, I may not necessarily even need them, but I feel I felt understood, loved and perfect from them.

Giving me gifts can be a land mine of "you don't understand me" to "great another one of those" etc. Sad, but true. I wonder if I got a tie, a CD and a candle if I would have felt sadder, and more misunderstood. Or if everything had an otter theme or "How to Find a Job" theme. I wonder. Somehow I don't think so. My Grinchian heart may have gotten bigger without me even knowing it. Maybe it is not the gifts at all. Maybe I am just plain happier.

I like to think this is the case and I have everything to suggest that this is true.

But I do like my jeans, my book and my tea pot. I plan on using them all together.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Even

Christmas Eve 2008. Russian River, California

Here we are. The Day. Or the Day Before the Day. What IS it supposed to feel like? Should I force it? Should I muster it? Should I CREATE it?

How about just letting it be.

Like Iron Chef, I was left with ingredients: country house, oodles of kids, rain, relatives. (It is odd calling your siblings and their offspring "relatives" as it seems so distant, but I guess they are relatives.)

What do I make of all this? Nothing. I just let it happen. Now THAT is growth.

I loved the rain for starters. The kids helped assemble Christmas cookies. The adults assembled the rest. We took a drive to Healdsburg. I saw a Christmas tree next to an orange tree in the town square. That was magic. California magic.

The kids tracked Santa's progress on Google Earth. That was an amazing add-on we didn't have as kids. I loved it as well. Perhaps if Santa can teach us one thing, that is the planet is one place and are all connected. Whether we like it or not. Whether we believe the same things or not. One place. One.

And the day became the night. Some went to Mass, some did not. And all was well. Sean read "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids and we went to bed and waited for Santa.

One family. One house. One tree. One.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fine Living

Please indulge me today as I share snaps of family and friends. Eileen and Rick have totally got the "always room for one more" influence of my parents. They love people around, as do I, and we decided to have an open house today to have friends over. It turns out I actually have a rushed holiday so it was a way to see people for me.

And here is what I have to say: friends and family and generations and houses looking over rivers and trees with moss and rain and home-made food and Christmas music and dogs in car ready to be walked and missing my parents and longing and hopeful for the next year is the best brew I could ever drink. And I noticed it today. I celebrated it today. I felt alive and happy today.

God bless us one and all, eh?

My niewest niece

A lovely picture of Lisa. How many years do we have now? She made my mom's cookies as a surprise. I loved it. And her.

Walking Sadie. Kids and dogs. I am sorry, if you are not acting with them, they are the best combo in the world.

Holiday Cheer at the Waldhaus, Russian River 2008

Poltergeist TV children


Family Portraits

Jan thought of the idea of taking a photo of my whole family. And then we did it for all the families there. Excellent

Ashley, Jan and Bodie

Lisa and Barry.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Head in a Box

Before the onslaught of family (and there MUST be a better way to phrase that...) I decided to take a walk alone to clear my head and get some air. I think there are two places in the world (and I am sure there may be more) that are beautiful no matter what time of year it is: Central Park and the Wine Country/Russian River. I live right next to the former and here I am in the latter.

It was a perfectly foggy/rainy/redwoody day and I went west on River Road. The goal in my head was Guerneville. I walked over a bridge. Around some bends. Saw rolling vineyards and some pretty farm houses. At every turn surely Monte Rio would appear and then Guerneville. Nope. Just more beauty. It had stopped raining and my walk was pleasant. Noticing no towns I bartered in my head that I would walk there and take the bus back.

A goateed, pony-tailed guy in a truck kitted out for odd jobs yelled from across the street asking if I wanted a lift somewhere. I said sure. Either my head would be detached from my body and put in a box or I would get dropped off in Guerneville. As we drove west, I found out his name was Dan. Because he told me. And he asked me if I got stoned. I said no. He said something like he thought so. I never know whether to be flattered or insulted, but I quickly didn't really care. He told me a mildly dirty joke and then I thought that if I did get decapitated, I would probably be molested first. And so close to Christmas. Sad.

Dan dropped me off and I walked around Guerneville. I got an Anne Lamott book from the local used book store which I thought was meaningful as she lives just south in Marin. Virtually local. As was I. I walked along the main drag and saw the old gay bar and general store. Ghosts of past lives. I got a cup of coffee at the local coffee house. (Something I wish they had in my part of Manhattan - just Starbucks. No local anything.) Rick, my brother-in-law picked me up instead of the bus and I went home.

Almost felt like a wayward kid who ran away from home and got found and brought back. And richer for the adventure.V. typical ingredients in this area...wonder if Dan shops here.