"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The best present

It's 5:30 PM, Okinawa Time, and I'm watching a small but determined cockroach zoom his way around the Naha airport cafe.  I had been writing in my journal and sipping on a can of Orion beer, but now I am simply watching in mildly horrified fascination while idly wondering if the cursory napkin swipe I gave to the mouth of my can was indeed sufficient as a sanitary precaution.

The cockroach is making a beeline for the refuge under my suitcase.  This is exactly where I do not want him to be, so I ease up out of the plastic seat and inch forward -- the Squeamish Hunter in Pursuit.

A quick toe tap and its all done.

Except now I have the twitchy squished remains of my late cockroach to stare at, while scanning the floors and walls for any relatives.  My skin prickles and my imagination illustrates.  I sigh.  Once again I am forced to remind myself exactly how far I still am from the gritty, backpack-toting world traveler I want to be.  Equilibrium destroyed by inch-long cockroach.  I think again about the email I recently received, inviting me to apply for a teaching job in Korea.  I wonder if there's a checkbox on the medical form for "Unreasonable Roach Phobia".

Of course, it is nothing but a good thing that I reluctantly begin to pack up a little early, because I suddenly realize that I have managed to forget something quite vital, and spend the next 15 minutes frantically circling the various airport shops and kiosks, buying all the gifts for my host family that really should not have waited until this last of last minutes.

My flight leaves in little over two hours.  Once again I am on the move.

Only this time I am dragging my suitcase, laptop bag, oversized purse, and unnecessary raincoat towards Check-In with a considerably heavier heart than I remember from airports of recent past.  Just 90 minutes ago I gave my last wave at a departing Rav-4.  And that was that.  26 days.  Six months in the planning, two years in the wanting.  Time for another page.

Inside my journal, I have carefully recorded the events of each day I spent on Okinawa.  The idea was that these hastily scratched notes were to serve as a spur to memory later down the road.  I can think of nothing worse than losing the fragmented mosaic that made up my short time on this island, and at the time of recording, I thought I was doing a fairly good job.  But now, settled firmly in seat 5C, having been reminded that my seat cushion can be used as a flotation device and that I should secure my own oxygen mask before helping others, I page through my entries of the past month and already they seem painfully inadequate.  December 25, 2011 is barely more than a page.  One page.  I couldn't do a little better than that?

"Mary...wake up.  It's Christmas..."  Eve has my bedroom door cracked and is calling softly.  I can hear the smile in her voice.
The night before I had issued the usual standing request of 'Wake me up when you get up,' because otherwise it is entirely possible that the day will be half over before I emerge.  But actually this morning I am already half awake, drowsily watching the thin winter sunlight filter across the walls that are the same cheerful yellow that Eve had requested for her bedroom when she was a little girl.
I roll over and grin. "Morning Sweetie."
Eve leaves me to make the final transition to horizontal on my own time.  Down the hall, I can hear Christmas music that she had obviously waited to play until I was up.

I shuffle down the hall to the smell of coffee.  Georgians have this insane idea that "coffee" is something that is instantly dissolved in hot water, and served black with sugar.  There have been few things as wonderful during this vacation than the ability to step up to Eve's space-age coffee machine and present it with an oversized Christmas-themed mug where it is filled as if by magic.  Add a (very) liberal pour of International Cafe caramel machiato creamer and top it off with an equally generous squirt of whipped cream.  Heaven.  Georgia, I love you, but you could really stand to pick up some tips about coffee.

Mug in hand, I make it into the living room without killing the kitten -- on accident or on purpose.  Jade's 100% favorite game is to launch herself at your ankles while you are walking.  It's pretty cute, until you accidentally boot her ten feet and she looks at you like she knows you did that intentionally, and now the game is REALLY on.  (It's also not tremendously cute when she connects, btw -- all ten front claws and two rows of emerging, perfectly sharp baby teeth.)  God made kittens adorable for a reason.

"Merry Christmas everyone!"  Eve, Brad, and I position ourselves around the living room, each taking our own couch so as to have enough room to stack our loot.  Everyone traditionally always does very well on Christmas in my family, and this year is no exception.  Keeping traditions is important, after all.

Behold our glorious mess.
Fortunately out holiday traditions cover more than presents.  One of the most sacred family traditions is unquestionably our breakfast, which is baked French toast with peaches.  This year I am able to demonstrate my boundless love for my family by volunteering to cook the bacon, and so willingly offer my hands, arms, and face to the whims of exploding bacon fat for the next 20 minutes.  But as any lover of bacon can tell you, first-degree burns are an accepted and quite acceptable price to pay for delicious delicious bacon.

Breakfast warrior
We pop some champagne for mimosas, and then when that runs out we open a very excellent prosecco I had found in a wine shop in Mihama.  I look around the table at my two companions -- Eve and Brad -- and once again am bowled over by the simple and uncomplicated feeling of gratitude.  At this moment, I am simply the luckiest person I can think of.

We also play with the hedgehog.

After breakfast, Eve retreats with the kitten to take a nap, Brad reads his new music books and I put together my new Star Wars lego set -- a present from my Dad.  Ever since several years ago when I lamented that adulthood meant that I no longer got cool fun toys for Christmas, he has made sure to get me at least one cool fun toy every year.  Thanks Dad.

It is time for next important phase of the day -- preparing Christmas Dinner.  I happily assume my position of sous chef to Eve's uncontested reign of her kitchen.  The menu features roast turkey with turkey sausage stuffing, green bean casserole and scalloped potatoes.  Modest when compared to the mammoth spreads of dinners of old, but there are only three of us after all.  Four if you count Jade, who would soon develop an instant and very insistent addiction to roast turkey.

The music of the hour is Florence + the Machine... new to me but a favorite for my two hosts, especially my sister.  Florence sings her heart out to us as Eve and I approach our 11-pound dead bird with distinct trepidation.   Raw turkey is gross.

But finally the bird is stuffed and safely in the oven, and for the moment, there is nothing for the sous chef to do.

Winter in Okinawa means that the temperature on this fine Christmas day hovers in the high 60s.  I take my glass of prosecco and go out to the balcony, loving the gentle coolness of the afternoon.  Every winter should be this temperature.  Down on the grass, kids are playing with their Christmas toys.  Florence is singing like a siren -- it's one of the first times I've heard the album and don't know the lyrics, I have no idea what most of the songs are even about.  But I love her voice and the ethereal beauty of her music.  At this moment she is belting out that "It's all right.  That's all right!"  And that, my dear lovely Florence, is exactly how I feel.

(Of course, later I would look up the lyrics, listen to the song again and again, because by then I will have fallen in love with it as I'll have with all her songs, and find out that actually it isn't all that apt for a laid-back, pajama-wearing family Christmas when all is well.  But that would be later.  This is now.  And that's all right.)

But now breaktime is over.  I go back in to help with the string beans and potatoes.  So many onions, garlic, herbs.  Butter to melt and potatoes to slice.  Cream cheese and french onions.  Ours is not a particularly health-conscious holiday.  Finally, there's some geometrical negotiating needed to get the casseroles both in the oven along with the giant turkey.  And our work is done.

We open more wine, put out crackers and cheese, and pass the time while everything cooks by watching Captain America, which my father had also given me for Christmas.  And then, for some reason, we decide to watch Conan the Barbarian.  The original.  With Arnold.  Eve is unimpressed, and we soon turn it off, although not before this MSK3K-worthy gem.

Conan's jailer:  Conan, what is good in life?
Conan:  To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
Eve:  Oh good.
Me: (A few minutes later)  I never understand why they just let him go here for no reason.
Eve:  He gave the right answer at dinner.
I guess that makes as much sense as anything else.

And then, we eat.  (There's a small regrettable moment when my totally innocent suggestion almost results in the string bean casserole catching on fire, but fortunately my sister has an excellent nose.  So no harm done.  We shall speak of it no more.)

Dinner is, of course, completely amazing.  Afterwards, we watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  My parents call on skype and we get to wish them a Merry Christmas.  And then Eve and Brad go to bed.  I, of course, stay up and read a National Geographic Japan travel book on the balcony.

And that, my friends, was my Okinawa Christmas.  Spent with my beautiful, wonderful sister, my awesome brother in law, a kitten and a hedgehog.  Whoever would have thought life would be so much fun?


  1. OK, Mary, as you requested, here's a comment.
    Once again, I am enchanted by your writing. If you don't attempt to write a book about your year in Georgia, I'll be very disappointed. I laughed out loud when I read about your encounter with the airport cockroach. I was touched by your love of your sister. Thanks for sending the link to your Facebook pics - wonderful stuff!