When George and I were newly dating, he was the captain of a boat that fished year-round in the Bering Sea. George flew back and forth between Seattle and Dutch Harbor every few months, while the boat stayed put in Alaska. This style of fishing meant that when George was home, he was home, and free from all boat-related work. And because he lived in a beachfront condo in Ballard, he was also free from all home-related projects. The two of us were free to do whatever we wanted, go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. We were also free to do absolutely nothing if we wanted!
When the month of December rolled around each year, we truly enjoyed the holiday season. We hosted a Christmas party a couple of times, attended the parties of others, traveled to visit relatives, and shopped easily and slowly, stopping for coffee and treats in between stores.
One year, we went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore at University Village (an especially big version of the store, complete with two floors and an escalator). We separated upon entering and agreed to meet “later on,” (who knew what “later on” meant, and further, who cared? Not us!). When “later” came, we met at the appointed place (the center of the first floor)—only it was hard to recognize each other because we each carried a stack of about 10 books in front of our faces.
“I can’t decide which one to get!” I said from behind my tower of books. I had some books on writing, a couple of classics, and two or three current works of literary fiction (I think The Corrections and Middlesex was among them). Oh, and since it was Christmastime, I may have had one as a gift for somebody else.
“I’m having a hard time deciding also,” said George. He had a couple of books on politics, a pop fiction title, and probably one or two on homebuilding.
“Well,” he said, “Let’s take them all!”
“Really?” I asked, and laughed. I had never done such a thing before.
“Sure!” George said. “Why not?”
So we did. And then we walked across the way to Office Max and bought a bookshelf for our new books, which George assembled that very evening while we each had a glass of red wine and listened to Christmas music.
Things are a little different these days.
George has been home for a week before the start of the Washington Coast Dungeness Crab Season, and to say it has been hectic is putting it mildly. We have a running list that includes things that needed to get done last month while he was knee-deep in gear work, things that need to be done before he is gone for the next few months, and also of course, Christmas shopping.
We did get to the Barnes and Noble in our town this year, but with Vincent screaming in the backseat and all of the traffic (it was dinnertime—the only time we could go!), I had a splitting headache before we even made it to the store. I jumped out of the car by myself and raced into and back out of the D section of the literary fiction aisle before George and the kids came in. (I already knew which book I was buying for him. To be honest, I’m trying to lure him out of the world of pop fiction and into the realm of literary fiction.)
I saw George as he came into the store carrying Vince in his left arm and Eva in his right. I dashed to a different section of books. The next time I saw George, he too was in the D section of literary fiction. “You’re getting me The Living, right!” I said as I passed. “Dillard!”
He ignored me.
We met up at the counter. I tossed my books to the clerk and ordered, “Don’t let him see them!” while I shot a warning glance at George.
“And I don’t want her to see that one!” he said, pointing to his selection. (Of course, Reader, you and I already know what it is.)
We were in and out of the store in fifteen minutes. No snooping around, no reading the backs of books, no treats. No laughing over stacks of books we can’t decide from—who has the time to read them all, anyway?
Also while we were there, Eva saw her Jazzercise daycare teacher and thought she was supposed to go with her for the evening. She fell into line with the teacher’s own two children and tried following them around the store for a while before we finally convinced Eva she was supposed to stay with us.
At home, although we did have lights and stockings up, we hadn’t yet–as of Thursday–put up a tree. George asked again if we were going to get one.
“What’s the use?” I called from the kitchen. “Christmas is, like, on Monday or Tuesday! It’s too late!”
“I’m married to the Grinch,” George muttered to nobody in particular from the family room.
Ah, how things have changed.
Things have changed, but they’re still good. I laughed a genuine laugh that night in the bookstore at the sight of Eva running wildly through the aisles, head thrown back and giggling, as she clutched a book and ran away from George. And speaking of George, he arrived home on Friday afternoon from his errands with a live Christmas tree secured to the top of his truck. By bedtime that night, he had that tree in its stand in the living room, decorated with lights and ornaments.
And now, the kids are asleep. George will eat his dinner, watch the Science Channel, and enjoy what’s left of his Christmas “vacation” before the crab season officially begins. We’ll spend tonight wrapping presents for our little ones; a doll-care center and princess socks for Eva, duck teethers and frog rattles for Vincent.
Life has changed—and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.