Manana's Garden

Tilting Towards Light

Each day the light grows shorter. I am impatient with this steady erosion of daylight. I yearn for total darkness when I put the key in my car on the way home from work at 5:00. The sooner it is pitch dark by 5:00, the sooner the light returns. The darkness comforts me. I feel like withdrawing right now. And I feel the giddy rush beginning to build toward the holidays. I am tired of doing. I'd like a week of thrashing rainstorms and cups of Earl Grey tea. I could stay in my gray velour robe and wear the wild leopard fuzzy slippers that Julia gave me last Christmas, listen to my new Liz Phair CD, write in my journal and paint books.

Stan installed this gas fireplace last year. I fought it him about it for a few years. I like wood and woodsmoke and the snap crackle and pop of a real wood fire. But seasoned firewood is rare and expensive around here. You need a place to stack it and a strong back to carry it in. Our last few loads were green and burned like turnips in the grate. I got sick of cleaning out the fireplace and finally caved and he put it in last year. They are ceramic logs that sit in our grate, with a material that looks like ash underneath. The gas pilot is hidden under the logs. With a press of a remote, the fire wooshes up. It's as warm and bright as wood flames. The logs singe and are soon covered in a realistic soot. We've had people over for an evening and none of them knew it wasn't a wood fire until they realized we never added a log to it all night. It's become a hedonistic pleasure. I flick it on before work for ten minutes and drink my coffee beside it. I can still ight a fire even if we are about to go out for the evening. It's made our hearth the heart of the house. All week we've had wild winds and I've come home wrung out from trying to keep the car on the road. A glass of cabernet, a lighting of the candles and the woosh of the fire turning on are beautiful things to come home to.

I love home and layering my nest. Over the years and four houses later, the insatiable urge to buy and decorate has left me, replaced by more artistic urges. But still I browse through magazines for inspiration and like to spend Saturday afternoons rearranging the little bits and pieces of shiny stuff I've collected. As winter appraoches, I'm pulling out the pewter chargers my sister gave us as a wedding present. I've put away the margarita glasses in fiesta colors for next summer and replaced them in the cabinet with sapphire blue goblets my late aunt gave us ten years ago. Last month, my sister underwent a cleaning binge at her house and gave me the original sapphire blue, stemmed dessert dishes that were the inspiration for my aunt's purchase. The original ones were my grandmother's and she gave them to my sister when she got married. I envied them for years and my aunt found the new set in a catalogue and gave them to me one Christmas. The old ones are very fragile and have a little crystal in the middle of the stem and I've put them in the curved glass cabinet.

We used the newer ones a few weeks away when I made my first pot of beef stew for the fall. I invited over my sister and my mother. The table was set with my mother's old earthenware dishes that have blue bands. The tablecloth was a deep burgundy and the blue-stemmed goblets looked rich and jewel-like. I'd bought a collection of bumpy, warty gourds and squashes at the market and piled them into an impromptu centerpiece. My daughter was home from e and we were seven at the table. The beef stew was redolent of autumn with its peppery taste. Made from my mother's recipe, it was layered with memories of our house on Claire Avenue and the long dining room, the french country chairs, and the wide dining room table where my father and mother sat at either end and we five girls tethered the sides in an uneven line up.

I like impromput, quiet nights of entertaining. I am giving back to my mother little bright snapshots of our family together once again. I share with her and with my family the tastes and smells of my childhood. We sit surrounded by the city we all grew up in, a remarkable accomplishment after our years of living all over the country. The fall leaves rustle on the side porch and moon comes up over the living room windows. Our cheeks are flushed with the wine and the table is littered with the crumbs of Italian bread we use to mop up the last juices of the stew. The kids begin to talk of dessert and someone plugs in the coffee pot and the aroma resuscitates us enough to clear the table and lay out coffee cups and an apple pie. My husband patiently marks chestnuts with a slit and banters with my mother about her method of cross-hatching an "x" on the flat side of the chestnut. He claims they don't open well that way after they are roasted. Jessica announces she has to take a shower as she's going out at ten. Chris disappears upstairs to play go on the computer and Julia badgers my mother into a card game. Stan and I clear up and make eyes at each other because we are tired and no one is helping. Then he drives my Mom home and by the time he's back, I have the lights out and the fire glowing and the candles lit. We have glasses of Grand Marnier and sit on either ends of the couch. He rubs my feet and we flip on Saturday Night Live.

Such is the wild, romantic, rocking social life of forty-somethings. And thank God for it.