In The New Year, It’s A Lick and A Promise

Here we are. You, me and 2014. The annual day of NEW: A NEW BODY, A NEW OUTLOOK and for the truly ambitious: A NEW LIFE! I usually love it. I fully embrace NEW and CLEAN. It’s a lifestyle, and I don’t go halfway. On New Year’s Eve, I take down the Christmas tree, wrap up the glass ornaments, clean the refrigerator and vacuum my car. If I really get fired up I go through the boy’s closets tossing too small clothes into a bag for Goodwill. After the abundance of the holidays I continue the fresh start feeling at the grocery store where at least one fitness magazine finds its way onto the check out belt atop the baby carrots. I feel slightly smug: “Hey, I’m doing this on New Year’s EVE, I’m ahead of the game by a whole day!” But not this year.

Today, the Christmas Tree is fully up and lit. The refrigerator still contains Christmas day leftovers. The greens I placed in baskets around the house are dropping needles on the floor in sprinkled green halos. I forgot to run the dishwasher so I am drinking tea out of a tiny teacup instead of my mega-mug. There’s about ten loads of laundry and my car looks like Sasquatch has been living in it. I am usually pretty intense about schedules, being tidy and organized. Something may appear to be off. Although, maybe it isn’t.

My Grandmother, who has been a constant presence in my life, died yesterday. I have been mourning her for months, however. She’d been in Hospice since October, as cancer, her fifth fight with it, overtook her body. She’d had breast cancer twice, colon cancer once and now lung cancer for the second and last time. When I had cancer, almost 13 years ago she cried and said how sorry she was, she thought it was she who gave it to me, she thought it was in her DNA. I was happy to tell her that it wasn’t. I had gene testing done and it was bad luck, not heredity. Every time adversity came to her door, she answered it, looked it square in the face, kicked it to the curb and then ordered dessert.

I think of her resiliency in the face of hardship. She was a widow at 49, raised my Aunt, then 13, watched me on a regular basis, worked, tended the house and her friends. When my Aunt got married, she welcomed the new married couple in, gave them her house and helped raise her grandson. She was always ready to go on a trip, eat a hot fudge sundae, read the National Enquirer, laugh at pratfall humor and enjoy a lobster roll. She had a thing for Patrick Swayze and men in uniform. I was the closest to her out of all my grandparents and spent nearly as much time at her house as my own. I’ve lived in two states, one city, seven towns and nine houses. She lived in the same house on the same street in the same town all my life. She taught me how to sew one rainy afternoon as she cooked boiled dinner, let me sleep in my bathing suit and gave me Nilla Wafer and butter sandwiches. There was no-off limit place in her house. I spent hours investigating her bureau drawers. While she wasn’t wealthy there was money for college books (she paid for all of them) and art supplies. She insisted that I register for china when I got engaged and two days later boxes from Filene’s appeared. I was the proud new owner of two place settings and the sugar and creamer in Noritake’s Sweet Leilani. It was just to get me started, she said. Then when the wedding was over and it was revealed I was one place setting shy, she had it boxed up and sent to me with a little card. She helped watch my twins when they were babies and I was exhausted and when I took her out for lunch, she’d never let me pay. She was not wealthy but I discovered real generosity doesn’t need wealth. She simply had determination: “I’m going to do it, and that’s it.” She’d say.

Over the years as I’ve had my own family and the things my Grandmother did with me, for me and told me have become part of my life’s fabric, I scarcely know a place in my life she didn’t have a hand in. One particular day especially stands out. It’s a silly thing, as it happens. I was watching my Grandmother tidying up the living room. She quickly wiped the side tables and fluffed the round, camel-colored, corduroy, down-feathered pillows. I must have asked to help because she said “Oh no, I’m just giving it a lick and a promise.” A what? “I’m giving it a lick of clean and a promise to come back later and do a better job. It’s good enough and I have other things to do.” I loved that right away.

On this 2014 Day of the New I am going to give A Lick and A Promise to some things so that I can go do other things, more important things. Clearly there is only so much time. How do I want to spend it? Instead of a maniacal attack on the linen closet, maybe I’ll tidy the first shelf, shut the door and go have lunch with a friend. Instead of spending time scrutinizing my body for too flabby parts I’ll read a good book. Instead of scrubbing the inside of my car…um. I really have to scrub my car. It needs at least two licks. But then I’ll go for a nice ride to the beach and get a lobster roll. Just for you Grandma. Thank you for always being there but mostly thank you for passing down your strength, humor, determination and joy of the simple things.

I hope you are dancing in heaven with Grandpa and he lets Patrick Swayze cut in.