Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Little Match Girl--Marcia

The roads turned into sheets of ice last night. It took only moments for the cold to soak through my jeans, and it took hours to warm back up.

We canceled the Roosevelt caroling party. The image of fifty children racing, sliding, colliding, and cracking the whip along Queen Anne Street and Academy Way was all we needed to decide to pull the plug. I parked my car down by the crumbling tennis courts at the far edge of the playground and waited for the stragglers I knew would show up.

My kids immediately got out of the car and started sliding around on the sidewalk--Bowling for each other. It didn't take long before merry revelers showed up with their canned food and cookies and joined in, despite my insistence that the function was canceled.

There must have been 25 of us clustered around Allison's SUV singing because we might as well anyway. Here were children. Here were mini cupcakes, chocolate cookies, and rice crispie treats. Someone had a candle in a jam jar. Someone had a flashlight. Someone in a puffy pink snow suit came wrapped in a battery-operated light pack. So we sing. Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman 'was a Hmm, Hmm, Hmm,mm mm', Silent Night, Joy to the World, Feliz Navidad 'Prospero Ano y hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm.'

A little girl named Juliet sang a solo about a rooftop. It was staggering. Another tiny one led us in 12 Days of Christmas and we sussed out 8-12 on the fly. We questioned ourselves all the way until '5 golden rings' and we all knew the home stretch. It was good--And it was cold. The sky was crystal, the ground was crystal.

It was a great show of spirit, standing there against the chain link fence. Our new school loomed, under construction behind us, the street too icy to drive down was empty. I was proud of us for rallying and enjoying ourselves. We sang 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' and meant it. It felt very subversive given the stir in Ashland over the Christmas tree at Bellview Elementary.

I woke up this morning, lit the flame under my tea kettle and thought about "The Little Match Girl," a story my mother used to read to me every Christmas. I bought the book for Daniel when he was born. When he was old enough, I started to read it and then put it away. It's a horrible story. The girl dies on the street because no one will buy her last match. She curls up in a ball and freezes to death.

I looked out the window at iced over grass, the hoar frost on all the branches, the dead quiet grey of the morning. And then I thought of Joanie Mc Gowan.

Joanie was a local personality. I wanted to be her. Sometimes we would wind up in the same place, the same functions, fundraisers, concerts. She had no idea who I was. I was an insignificant nobody. She lived as if she was on fire. Tall tall woman, giant hair, big throaty voice, funny funny wisecracker, great red lipstick. Living juicy. I wanted to be her friend, hobnob in her circle, become one of the stand up comedians with the group she helped start--the Hamazons. That was so me. If only she knew, we were supposed to be best friends.

Then one day about four years ago on a bitter cold morning in February, just like this one, a fellow commentator on the radio, walking on the greenway in Ashland, found her. She was dressed only in blue jeans and a bra. She was blue from cold, her great wild mane of curly black hair fanned out around her. No one really knows what happened. There was no foul play. Something snapped inside of her. She got hypothermia. She died. The gorgeous, glamorous diva, died like a transient on a cold winter night. She faked "fabulous" so well.

As the temperatures drop and the holidays loom, take good care of your friends. Light a match to a candle in their name. Keep them warm, keep them safe. Even strangers can come together around nothing more than a chain-link fence and find some comfort and joy on a cold and empty night.

Amen Joanie, I'm thinking of you. I still hear the shadow of your voice when I turn on the radio.