With the passing of the year things have changed - as they do - and this Christmas will be different from last year in so many ways. First we're another year older, then we're in a different apartment in a different part of the city. For the first time in over 18 years we don't have a puppy or two running around getting underfoot as the tree gets trimmed. Bundnie always loved the little felt mice that went on the tree and one year actually managed to get a hold of one and hide it. Reese was always a little afraid of the tree - he could never figure out how the hell it got there and why it was sparkling.
And this year one dear friend will be missing from Christmas celebrations. Last year we spent Christmas with our friends Betty Jean, Stephen and their off-spring Sarah and Brian. We had started off as colleagues in Warsaw but, to our good fortune, became friends. Though the reason for their stay in Rome was not the happiest it proved a happy time in many ways. We shared a lot over the past 18 months: food, drink, conversation, warm companionship and laughter - particularly laughter.
I have made passing reference to both BJ and Stephen but never went into details as I felt it was not my story to tell. Stephen was under going treatment here in a three year battle against cancer with the incredibly strong support of BJ, if ever there was a team it was them. They returned to Canada in October and the night before they left I spoke with Stephen on the phone. He was tired but he wasn't giving up - that unique recognizable laugh of his still came, though perhaps not as easily as in the past. Stephen passed away on November 11th with BJ, as always, by his side.
Many of the plants on my balcony came from BJ when she was closing up house the first year we were here. And she gave me this Christmas cactus just after we arrived. I've never had much success with Christmas cactus and last year was no different. It sent out a few weak little buds but nothing bloomed. Then suddenly this year ten or twelve buds appeared in early November and by the end of the month it began to blossom.
In a somewhat silly, sentimental way I guess I'm associating those blooms with the good times we shared: the food, the drink, the conversation, the warm companionship and the laughter - particularly the laughter. This Christmas will be difficult one for BJ, Sarah and Brian and I wish there was some way we could make it easier. The only thing I can offer is that we are holding them in our hearts and as we gather for Christmas we will remember them in our toasts and graces. And when I look at our Christmas cactus I think of them and Stephen with the joy of friendship shared and laughter - particularly the laughter.
21 dicembre - San Pietro Canisio