Can’t claim the title above as my own, but on this afternoon in early December the words seemed just right and a tiny borrowing is harmless enough. Among his many books, Donald Keene wrote in 1996 one called On Familiar Terms, a series of essays describing a few of the people and experiences of his time in Japan. Far from Japan and back again on home ground in Louisiana, everything is once more familiar and to large extent an overflow of sensory impressions. Sights and sounds, southern voices overheard, their rhythm and drawl calling up memories of remembered aunts and uncles playing cards at the kitchen table; conversation with friends so enduring that words take on a meaning enriched by time and place and the Christmas table holds promise of not sugar plums and a gingerbread house, but of crawfish pie, po-boys and oyster stew.
Hard to remember the last Christmas I passed in Baton Rouge, but something tells me it was before the invention of ballpoint pens and color television. One Louisiana Christmas that for no special reason sticks in memory calls up images of an ugly brown suit and too much bourbon-laced eggnog. And here I am back again for Christmas with the friend who stood beside me singing carols, had no ugly brown suit but loved the eggnog as much as I. Back for Christmas with the girl I dated but the one that eggnog-loving friend married. With or without the eggnog, Christmas or otherwise, a season with Raymond & Dee is living life grand.
On most mornings my feet find a path along stretches of Florida sand, but this morning it was a different walk along familiar streets with ribbon-wrapped trees and pudgy snowmen decorating the homes of Old Goodwood. The nine months since my last visit have brought some change to those streets and houses. Landscapers have reshaped yards and contractors have both spruced up and added on, but the splendor of huge old oak trees overhanging streets and drooping their branches low over sidewalks is unchanged. Reading David Mitchell’s book Black Swan Green the other day, these words jumped off the page: “Trees’re always a relief, after people.”