It came from Mary Kate Schellhardt, the actress daughter of my dear friend Tim, and her boyfriend filmmaker Matt Palko, who are renting my Los Angeles area childhood home from my brother Mike, who now lives with his family in Bangkok, Thailand.
It was a chance to spend time in familiar territory -- a house that my parents bought when I was 18 months old and where my brother Mike and sister Tai lived from birth, experiencing both love and terror as the children of a sometimes violent, sometimes nurturing alcoholic father and an always loving, but often terrified mother.
It was a chance to spend the holiday with another family comprised of some very special people -- Mary Kate, one of my favorite adult children of dear friends, her Dad and my close friend Tim, who was flying from Chicago for the occasion and Mary Kate's wonderful sister Eliza, traveling with her husband Chris from Colorado to celebrate the holiday.
It was a chance to give up control of a holiday I hosted for years and to just enjoy being a guest -- with only a brief stint in the kitchen making the dressing.
It was lovely.
Imagine crossing a threshold you had toddled over and stormed past, walked through in hope and in sorrow, and now with happy anticipation, to be enveloped in loving arms and words: "I'm so glad to see you...How wonderful to meet you...I'm so happy you're here...I love you, dearest friend..." And to hear yourself saying the same....
Imagine feeling an instant ease without a trace of awkwardness not only with long-time friends but also with the significant others in their lives whom you're meeting for the first time.
Imagine the delight of finding that the innate eccentricity of a place you once called home lives on in its current residents. Matt, who counts tomahawk and knife throwing among his many interests, has set up a target in the backyard and before dinner there was a lively contest where an assortment of young people -- Chris, Chris' brother Tim and his soon-to-be bride Kristen, Ryan, Bob's grown up Little Brother whom we call our "surrogate son" -- all trying to master the skill that Matt makes look easy.
Mary Kate, Ryan and Eliza
Imagine the pleasure of stories told, fun and intimate conversations with friends old and new, over a candlelight dinner and the flickering glow of a backyard firepit where we settled, wrapped in blankets and holiday cheer, to continue talking and laughing together for hours after dinner.
Imagine a late night dessert by candlelight and being stunned that it's nearly midnight when it seems the holiday just began an hour or two before.
Imagine the seamless passage of time when a few of us found ourselves the elders, surrounded by lively thirtysomethings with growing careers and families. Mary Kate's friend Lacy was there with her husband and baby son Jackson -- whom my friend Tim entertained through the evening with songs and stories and countless hugs -- partly a warm up exercise for being a grandfather when Eliza and Chris' baby girl is born in April (and when his grandson, thanks to eldest daughter Laura, arrives in March) and partly pure joy at meeting and spending time with this delightful little boy.
Imagine the wonder of spending time with some young people -- like Ryan whom I'm seen grow up at close range since he was a droll little nine-year-old to the fine young man -- and psychotherapist -- he has become. And with some young adults like Mary Kate, with whom I enjoyed some time together when we both lived in Los Angeles, and with her sister Eliza, whom I watched grow up and came to love in a lovely series of Christmas pictures over the years. The real life Eliza, filled with intelligence, wit and warmth, and her equally wonderful sister, the beautiful and ebullient Mary Kate, were a joy to be with -- and to watch as they enjoyed each other, joining forces to whip up culinary delights in the kitchen and later on sitting, knee to knee, talking with great enthusiasm and love. Chris and Matt, so welcoming and kind and quick to share a warm hug and fascinating story, added joy and fun to the magic of the day and evening.
Imagine a quiet celebration of a long-time loving friendship. Tim and I enjoyed time together, celebrating and rediscovering all the elements that have built our nearly 50-year-friendship. I have always enjoyed his intelligence, his kindness, his warmth and fierce loyalty, but I had forgotten, as we've aged, just how wonderfully uninhibited, silly and funny he can be in the company of people he loves. Watching him sing, joke and reach out with warmth to Ryan, whom he was meeting for the first time, took me back through the years to our college days and what it meant to me to meet a man, a journalism classmate, who was both brilliant and kind, ambitious and generous of spirit and what a blessing it has been to be his friend over the years.
Imagine an acceptance of the cycle of life and of aging - sitting on the porch where I celebrated my second birthday, now, all these years later, celebrating with friends both old and new.