Cathy's Blog Archive

Category: New York Stories

My Christmas Angels

Carrie, Stephanie, and Shannon, Christmas at the Rothenbergers, ca. not too long ago.

And so it came to pass that on this day, the morning of Christmas Eve, I launch a holiday season the likes of which I have never known before. I usually avoid using words that have to be looked up in a dictionary, but palimpsest, “diverse layers still visible beneath the surface of a parchment,” is the perfect one-word metaphor for how I am reflecting on every Christmas of my now 78 years spent on this planet. How is this one unique, “never known before?”

Because I didn’t buy and lug home in my shopping cart a hundred-dollar (minimum) Christmas tree from the nice family that comes down from Vermont to Jane Street each year. Instead, I walk through their forest of pine that crowds the sidewalk, enjoy the fragrance, and feel quite smug. Smug again for avoiding the annual January take-down to the street, leaving behind a trail of needles in my loft, the elevator, and the halls of Westbeth.

Because I didn’t make any of the dozen varieties of Norwegian holiday cookies I have made in double batches each season for fifty years–serenity now!–all the while honoring the memory of my grandma Berger, mother of eight, wife of a preacher, who spent many weeks baking these delicacies, incredibly difficult and tedious, a lifetime to perfect, which she packed up in wash tubs for her children to distribute to every parishioner and neighbor in need.

Because I did not do the massive grocery shopping and cooking for the traditional family Christmas Eve supper. Nor did I greet them  reeking of Clorox from my not-quite-finished Christmas cleaning madness. Instead, I went to their house. Families become far-flung. Times change. So can I.

A few days ago I took the train to Sag Harbor and did very little aside from reveling in the company of Stephanie, Simon, and grandson Colin. Last Thursday Shannon came down from Highland en route to Detroit to join Native American friends who are protesting yet another dangerous oil pipeline, this one running underneath the Great Lakes, the world’s largest body of fresh water. I sewed ribbons on her ceremonial skirt while she graded papers, and it was cozy. And tonight I take the red-eye to LAX to be with Carrie and granddaughter Sara Jane. The plane arrives at 2:00 a.m LA time. Fortunately, Carrie has a midnight church singing gig in Long Beach, in addition to an earlier one, so she won’t have to spend hours in a lonely airport diner waiting for her Mom.

In sum, I have liberated myself from the obligations of Christmas Past, and peace and joy have descended upon me. Here is what I didn’t expect from this paring down the season to the bone: My  mother’s memory of her father nailing a sheaf of grain and dried berries to the barn door, a Yule gift for the birds. My mother’s mother’s ceremony of “Little Yule,” a break from the frenzy of Christmas Eve afternoon to sit for a while, drink coffee, and watch the sun go down. I have often wondered if this is a Norse tradition that predates Christianity (my people were the last Europeans to relinquish the Old Ways). Maybe Little Yule was acknowledging on the afternoon of the Solstice that, minute by minute, the light will return. And it will. It always does. Glad Yule. God rest ye.

December 24, 2018



Gentleman Jerrold: Fierce Warrior in the House

  Congressman Nadler addresses his constituents in the Westbeth Community Room. Photo credit Maggie Berkvist. Republicans are very afraid of my congressman, Jerrold Nadler. Aside from his being the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, with jurisdiction

And the Living Is Easy

Rothenberger and Nilsen families at the beach ca. 1965. Photo by Mary Nilsen. It's the last day of July and I'm wondering why. Wasn't it April last time I looked? Wasn't I twenty-five two weeks ago? Why does time accelerate with each passing decade? Who will ever know what can't be known or need

The Far West Village: A Valentine

Venerable old house with wisteria, Christopher and Gay streets. Painting by John L. Silver, 2005. I have an indelible memory of a map in my sixth grade geography book in which dots indicated the size of population centers in the United States. The entire midsection of the country was sparsely

Christmas in New York

Kathy, a good friend from college days, emailed me from Florida: “As the subject of so many holiday movies, New York acquires a mystique, an aura, a legend of sorts. So I’m wondering what it is like for you.” Ah, Christmas in New York. Last Saturday I walked along the Hudson River Park

Where Was I When the Lights Went Out?

This week is the 50th anniversary of the first New York City blackout. I was a welfare caseworker back then, and in the late afternoon of November 9, 1965, I had just taken the L train to Union Square and transferred to a Number 4 to Brooklyn, feeling lucky because I managed to beat the rush hour

True New York Story: How Revenge Is Best Served

Park Slope, Brooklyn, 1973: Living in a $125-a-month, floor-through apartment in a classic brownstone on a park block. Quiet street, lots of kids, good neighbors keeping an eye out–all in all, a dream come true. The bay windows in the living room still had their