Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That wasn't so bad

On Saturday the 27th I celebrated Christmas with my family. I'd been dreading it -- my kid sister can be quite the drama queen about these things.

But when I got there at 6:00 PM, everything was fine. My niece's boyfriend was sick with strep and asleep on the sofa bed in the basement. The rest of the family was watching old VHS tapes of Christmases gone by. Seeing how easily I played with my now 14 year old nephew when he was little seemed to soften my sister's often hard heart.

The kids got me good gifts -- my niece got me ginger beer and a bottle of Stoli so I can make my own Moscow Mules, and my nephew got me Cubbie blue gloves with special fingertips so I can work my phone/iPod without removing them.

I was home by 9:30. No snark, no hurt feelings. Color me relieved and happy.

The new purse enjoyed Christmas 2014

The best gift I got this Christmas was my holiday surprise -- the handbag from a coworker I barely know, along with her very sweet note: "To the most thoughtful person I've ever had the good fortune of knowing. You spread the holiday cheer year around." It meant a great deal to me because, though we seldom interact directly, she sits near me every day, all week, and sees the woman I try to be.

I'm not going to be carry the bag to work. The straps are a little thin and the material would show dirt/damage too easily. But I don't want her to not see the bag and then assume it doesn't matter to me, because nothing could be farther from the truth. So I made it the star of my Key West 2014 photos, which I'll share with her.

Here's my bag by the pool. My hotel was lovely. A white clapboard beauty originally built as a big, private home in the mid-1880s (which made me happy because that very neatly ties into my current fixation with the 19th century). It had three pools -- one small heated one, this one, and a jacuzzi. I swam both Tuesday and Wednesday.

My room was tiny. Just a bed, a chair, a couple of nightstands and a TV. Very slanted ceiling. If I was half of a couple, like most travelers, I'd have been cramped. But as it was, I was fine and I really liked skylight over my bed. It was a great way to start the day -- looking up at the sky.

Christmas Eve we went to worship at the little Methodist church. (Yes, that's my new bag alongside the Nativity.) It was very sweet -- a simple but profound sermon about momentary happiness vs. a lifetime of joy and carols about Christ. The congregation was very mixed in terms of age, ethnicity and economic strata, which (though I'm not a Methodist) is something I look for when I worship.

My friend is a proud gay man who was raised Catholic, so religion is a mixed bag for him. He enjoyed the ceremony of the service (or "mass," as he stubbornly insisted on referring to it) and the songs but he seemed so unwilling to hear what the minister said. The sermon didn't include even a mention of sin, nor punishment, and instead emphasized how following Christ's teachings can lead us to greater hope and joy. Yet somehow my friend believed the meaning behind the words was one of "sin" and "punishment." It's too bad that he couldn't get past his childhood training and listen. I think organized religion is something that's missing in his life, and regularly attending a prayer-based service in a welcoming congregation like this one might bring him comfort ... if he would let it.

Christmas Day was sunny and in the mid-70s, a little too cold to swim. So we walked the beach. It was awesome for this Midwesterner to wander up and down the shore, wading into the ocean, when for half a century I woke up on December 25 hoping for a white Christmas. I enjoy four seasons and look forward to snow, but this was very cool. We stumbled upon a couple from Ft. Meyers who come down to Key West and sets up their own little Christmas Tree on the beach. They were gracious enough to let my purse pose with it.

We had a delicious lunch at an outdoor bistro -- on Christmas Day! -- and then wandered around downtown Key West. My friend's partner unfortunately had to work and we went to visit him. He has the noon-to-8 shift every day at a small neighborhood bar, frequented by locals not tourists, and he hates it. I can see why. It's incredibly depressing. Smoky, filled with people with nowhere better to be. It's not like Cheers, there's not a lot of camaraderie or support. Just booze and cigarettes and loneliness. The hours are steady, the work is easy (mostly beers and shots) and the tips are good. But he wants out very badly. I hope he finds something soon. Some people can be surrounded by negativity and it doesn't touch them. My friend's partner is not one of those people. This is damaging him. 

One of the things keeping him sane is, ironically, Bonanza. He watches the reruns every day from behind the bar. We talked about my current 19th century obsession and it got me thinking about Captain Tony's.

This Key West bar was built in the 1851 as an icehouse and a morgue. There's a hole in the roof to make room for The Hanging Tree. It's legit -- at least 20 people were hanged from it, including more than a dozen pirates and The Lady in Blue, a woman who wore a blue dress when she axed her whole family (Lizzie Borden may be more famous, but The Lady in Blue did first). For people who believe in ghosts, it's significant that this old building has never suffered any serious hurricane damage, ever. They maintain that the souls who died here protect it still.

While my purse posed with the Hanging Tree, I like Captain Tony's because it's where both Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett both hung out when they were new to Key West. The Captain Tony's stage is where Jimmy gave his first performance of "Margaritaville." Christmas night there was a guitar player doing a creditable job covering Bob Segar.

And then my purse and I came home. It was a good, albeit unconventional, Christmas. I felt loved and free from stress. They made it clear I was welcome back next year. I am grateful that they are in my life.