I felt great for days.
We don't do holidays. We go to my grandma Frieda's for Passover, but we skip Chanukah, which my father insists is trivial, and Thanksgiving, which he considers a meaningless ritual. We do, however, spend every Christmas at Margot's house. It's a holiday she feels entitled to celebrate since she was married to Tony Molinaro for all those years. My father never goes to Margot's, and this year Jason wasn't there either. It was just us, and we decorated the tree with all of Tony's mother's beautiful old ornaments. There's an angel that's always been my favorite, fashioned out of silvery glass. When Tony's mother was alive she assured me it would bring good luck to whoever hung it on the tree. Tony's mother always preferred Margot to her own son, and when they broke up she took to her bed and was dead by the following spring.
Even after Margot and Tony divorced, Margot always included her ex-mother-in-law in the festivities. Tony's mother must have been at least ninety. Her hands shook as she held out the angel. "Here's the thing about luck," she told me on her last Christmas. "You don't know if it's good or bad until you have some perspective."
This year we made a toast to the old lady and Margot actually cried. Right as we finished the tree, snow started to fall. We all rushed to the front window to look. It was the kind of snow that you hardly ever see, so heavy and beautiful you fall in love with winter, even though you know you'll have to shovel in the morning.
Margot had made a turkey with stuffing, a noodle kugel, and a white cake topped with coconut that looked like the snow outside. After dinner, she and my mother put on aprons and did the dishes and laughed. I let them listen to Elvis's Blue Christmas; I hardly ever saw my mother having a good time, so how could I complain?
In Jill's family Christmas was a big deal, and I knew when I went over to her house in the morning she'd have a dozen great presents to show me and I'd have to try not to be jealous. Jill and I had given each other bottles of White Musk, our favorite scent. I envied Jill just about everything, but I didn't feel jealous right then, listening to Elvis in Margot's house. Truthfully, there was nowhere else I'd rather be. Lucky for us, Margot lived right around the corner from us. Her house was our house, and vice versa, unless my father was at home. Margot and my mother intended to be neighbors forever; they had dozens of plans, but not all of their plans were working out.
I'd overheard my father talking on the phone. He was intending to leave as soon as the weather got better. As soon as he could break the news to us, he'd be gone. He was in a holding pattern, that's what he said, but he wasn't holding on to us, that much was certain. I didn't tell my mother what I'd learned. I didn't tell anyone. I wanted to see Margot and my mother dance in the kitchen when the dishes were done and drying on the rack. I wanted to see them throw their aprons on the floor.
That night, when we walked home, my mother put her arm around me and told me to wish on a star. She still believed in things like that. We stood there in the snow, and try as I might, I didn't see a single star. But I lied. I said that I did, and I wished anyway. We stood there while my mother tried in vain to see that same star. My fingers were freezing, so I put my hands in my pockets. The angel was there. I knew that if I tried to thank Margot, she'd tell me to cut it out, she'd say it was nothing, but it was definitely something to me.
It was late, but we could hear traffic on the Southern State Parkway, even though it was Christmas, and snowing so hard. You had to wonder who all these people in their cars were leaving behind and who they were driving toward, and if they knew that in the distance, the echo of their tires on the asphalt sounded like a river, and that to someone like me, it could seem like the miracle I'd been looking for.
Reprinted from Local Girls by Alice Hoffman by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by Alice Hoffman.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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