I forgot all about the bayberry candle last year, an oversight that had the potential to inflict life-changing tragedy.
Lighting a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve (homeowner’s choice) was a family tradition in my formative years, flawlessly followed to ensure the blessings of health, wealth and good luck in the coming year.
Sometime in the evening of the Eve, my mother would extract an olive green bayberry candle from a drawer in the wooden hutch that my grandfather built, put it into a brass candlestick that had been a wedding gift, place it on the kitchen counter and light the wick, letting the candle burn all night long. You NEVER, ever blow out the candle because that would negate all the advantages the tradition promised.
I’m not big on the knocking on wood / tossing salt over the shoulder kind of superstitions, yet I carried this ritual with me when I had a home of my own. Unlike other traditions like family dinners at 5:30 pm, Saturday night ice cream (how about every night?) and outdoor dining with daddy long-leggers that were all tossed out with the first baby’s bath water, I held on tight to this one. After all, it had worked quite well for a long, long time. I lived an incredibly charmed childhood and suspect that most of it had to do with the bayberry candle.
I never even gave the gaffe a thought until a couple of weeks ago when I rifled through one of my many junk drawers only to discover that there were no more Bayberry candles. I immediately ordered a two-pack from Williamsburg, appalled and panicked that I had uncharacteristically forgotten all about it the year before.
Because I record both the momentous and meaningless in my Moleskin weekly planner, I was able to review with great precision the catastrophic curses of 2022.
After a home-bound New Year’s Eve, January perked up with a tour of Enfield Elementary with my first friend Margaret and sister Emily. We wandered those hallowed halls reliving our adolescence and revving up reminders of just how lucky we truly were. And are. Several months later, the school was demolished, leaving behind what is now just a field of dreams – some laughably lost, some amazingly achieved.
In the beginning of the year, book clubs, church services, hearts games and meetings were virtual, the gym was not. Slowly but surely social life opened back up, allowing unmasked visits with my mother, a celebration for my great-niece Sophie’s 10th birthday and hang outs with Kathy and Holly and Ann.
February bought me another birthday and dinner at a Cuban restaurant with the ever-loving spouse and youngest son. The big surprise was the bill that was paid virtually by the unpresent offspring. The neighborhood gang gathered at Emily’s the following weekend as a founding father was faced with an unpleasant diagnosis (conquered). Kit came from Seattle and Wayne from Massachusetts, proving that neither time nor distance will ever dissolve our childhood bond.
In March we celebrated the impending birth of Kris and Niel’s baby girl, following Covid tests and fever checks (note that these were two people I literally had to BEG to get vaccinated way back when). Oh how things change when you suddenly realize you’re responsible for another human. The shower was at Riverside Church in Manhattan where so many, many hours had been spent watching our future champions play basketball. The middle child came from LA for the event, and except for drinking from Siddiq’s flask (he never shared back in the day), it could have been a day in the life of a dozen years ago.
I got a bright and shiny new bicycle that I pedaled until the weather turned cold.
I spent several Wednesdays with baby, now toddler, Hannah; had monthly lunches with Ann and Gail; walked Overpeck Park every week with Grace and bid farewell to the youngest child as he headed to Spain for a repeat of his 2019, 500-plus mile trek on the Camino de Santiago. My 16 year old clothes washer died and I went to the laundromat for the first time since our first apartment.
South Carolina beckoned in mid-April and off I went to visit my sister, Nancy. I met my new favorite dog, Birdie, and helped my sis host a Seder at the Presbyterian church where she works as a chef. We had a fun dinner party with her besties, Joanne and Mark, had a good time with our dear friend Carrie, and listened to a string quartet play all my favorite Taylor Swift tunes in a cavernous candlelit church in downtown Charleston.
Covid finally caught me in the end of April when friends and family gathered in Pennsylvania to memorialize my soul sister and cruise-partner, Patty. We ate, drank and made merry like the high schoolers we were when we first met – Rachel coming all the way from Oakland, California. I would never have known I had Covid and would never have tested except that 25 other people from the weekend tested positive. Except for the fear of infecting my then 96 year-old mother (I didn’t), I breezed right through. Some got it pretty bad, but thankfully we all lived to tell the tale. Thanks to Covid, I did miss my first Mets game of the season and the long-awaited Alec DeMattheis’s wedding, but I’m also keenly aware that many others have missed way more.
May brought Lauren and Rob from Colorado and we met for dinner along with the Sheas in NYC, met Anne D’Onofrio halfway between here and there at The Farmer’s Daughter with Claire, went to many Mets games, saw middle child many times on his many trips home from LA, regularly spoke and visited with the daughter, had dinner with Theresa and Karen, learned about Angelo’s with Steven and Ann, welcomed the youngest home and then said goodbye again as he left for Traverse City to work the food truck for months on end.
A blast into the past came in June with my high school reunion that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that those were the days, my friend.
Our annual trip to Maine with the college girls over Father’s Day was even more fun than usual because we got to see the other Betsy’s two daughters who we’ve known since birth and partied on the porch with other friends we’d met on previous trips to Higgins Beach.
July brought Karen’s 60th birthday party, followed by a trip to Rhode Island to see Leah and her family which included the marvelous Maxwell and from there off to Claire’s house in Mattapoisett which was filled with that “make good choices” kind of fun.
My friend, Nancy Grasso, lost her battle with cancer in July, but Emily, Beth and Michelle all kicked its butt. We went on a Magical Mystery Tour with Bart and Carol at the Reighart’s Lake House and learned about Bananagrams and Becky’s ice cream.
We had our annual Woolley weekend in early August and were able to play our first live Hearts tournament since 2019 – at Bob and Nicole’s Hawley hideaway. We bid adieu to Donald and Theresa with a touch of sadness and a triple dose of awe when they fulfilled their dream of moving to France.
The college girls gathered again in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend to toast Sue’s daughter, Jessie, as she married the love of her life. And toast her we did, over and over and over. And the very next weekend, Danny and Laura had an absolutely beautiful waterfront wedding in Point Pleasant. A month later was the lovely Holly Hamilton’s lovely wedding and the college girls again spent fun time together, despite the Mets losing their wildcard series.
We had a thankful Thanksgiving, a merry Christmas (made merrier with the presence of Kevin and Kaylina), bountiful birthday celebrations and a fun New Year’s Eve with Janice and Lou, Marilyn and Pat, Susan and Rene and their awesome offspring and friendly friends.
I survived months of plantar fasciitis (in hindsight maybe I should have stopped walking for a while?), we got to hang with Janice and John multiple times, saw Anne and Bill for the first time in literal years, had two cousin pot-lucks, read 64 books, binged bazillions of shows and got to know and love Savannah and Hannah and adorable Ava. I got to welcome the new generation both virtually and in-person, delighting in the Instagram stores of Demi, Graham, Zoe, Ziggy, Leo, Theo, Landers, Harper, Penelope, Thomas, Dominic, Aspen, AJ, Lia, Maxwell and Callum, marveling at the fact that these “kids” are actually old enough to have kids of their own. We celebrated my mother’s 97th birthday, Griffey the faithful hound dog has hobbled into his 13th year, the ever-loving is still gainfully employed, I scored Taylor Swift tickets legally and easily and I had a year filled with more fun than any one lower-old-aged woman deserves to have.
Which is why, when we staggered in from our New Year’s Eve celebration and my spouse unthinkingly blew out the flickering flame, I merely gasped.
After all, I think I’ve got proof that nothing can hold a candle to health and happiness. Most certainly not a botched tradition.
Here’s to a new year full of good fortune and thank you all for charming my life.