A One-Armed Christmas

…means everything takes longer, everything is basic. Followers of this blog will know that all of the cancer surgeries and treatments have caused a rare but known side effect called radiation-induced brachial plexopathy. Basically, my right arm is paralyzed. I can no longer use my arm or hand or fingers.

And that doesn’t undo me. Oh, no. One-armed me is still me, only danglier. Slower. Pokier. Accidentally slappier . And this year, even with this new, unanticipated diagnosis, I’m hell-bent on making a heavenly, albeit klutzier, holiday. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

But how will I manage? How to set up the decor, the cuisine? Here’s the one-limbed plan:

  1. Let the tree standards sag. Yes, I said “sag,” and I am unashamed. (Skin and body parts are already there.) This year’s tree has fewer ornaments, fewer lights, and less perfect spacing. Silvery strings of faux pearls asymmetrically skim the branch tips in an uneven spiral ladder that, in past years, would have badgered my sense of organization into nighttime handwringing, but, lo, I have but five functioning digits this year, and this, dear reader, saves me. The stringed pearls and all the ornaments are uneven, atilt like drunken orbits, and I am, oddly, not unhappy to allow this unruly state of festive whimsy to take precedence over my need for faux-fir control. Let the ribbons reign askew, let the star steer south. All systems are jaggedly GO.

2. Packages shall remain in their original mail wrappers. Observe the box. Observe the plastic bag.(See photo below.) There will be no coiled ribbon adornments, no glittery paper sheen to enhance the gift itself. I am not yet able to use scissors with my left hand, and cutting and taping would require an ambidextrous choreography of such complication as to induce hysteria. I am somewhat sad about this. Otoh, it saves resources and paper. Boxes and plastic it shall be.

3. Vegetable chopping will be done by our teen and by my patient husband. From our teen I anticipate globally-circumnavigable eyerolls. She will likely take frequent breaks to scroll on her phone; I will gently urge her on to continue slicing the celery bits. But the mood shall remain lighthearted because beets, potatoes, beans and barley are a bounty to push back sadness. Like the oats and peas song, who knows how they grow?

4. I will remember what I can do. One arm is useless, the other has flourished. But two strong legs carry me to forests and trees and water. When I close my eyes, I can hear house finches and mourning doves singing the start of a day. Poems like this one, by Thomas Centolella, illuminate the ache, wonder and mystery of being here at all. And I can still read them. I can cackle and jump. I can plant and sautee garlic, hoard chocolate and recline. And food! One arm means an artfully poised wineglass during dinner. Let the singularity of my upper limbs not deprive me of a smooth cabernet, which I will gladly toast to this season. Glog, sugar cookies, rib roast and pie. A caress. One arm, ladies and gentlemen. The cat’s soft fur, a little spritz of perfume, a fistful of soil; cloudberry jam and a steering wheel in a car going who knows where. One arm, one arm, one arm can hold it all. Fist bump!

Thus the holiday goes. Everything will take longer and will be wobblier. Do not hand me the hot soup tureen. But look in our kitchen window and you’ll see the soft edges of steam from something warm, a dish probably held by two or three of us, ready to pass, season, or heartily eat.

Cheers.

This disheveled tree is a testament to lower standards.

4 thoughts on “A One-Armed Christmas”

  1. I adore your post – the last line brings up and into my mind a very usual sight, should one be an onlooker into a Norman Rockwell painting, except it’s cut, burned, and poisoned without any a big deal being made of it by the family serving the terrine of food. The green tree’s decorations not quite right to the people in the know – still the comments will come”it looks great” for someone whose lost the use of one of her appendages due to cancer. And it’s these pictures we will look back upon next year to remind us we were either better or worse off then, now. But the untied apron strings of you and your reluctant teen sous chef who’d rather be on Instagram or Tiktok keep her held safe to you for a bit longer. We never do know, so sad so true, how long it will be before those independent souls free themselves from the kitchen; yet she will always remember how you showed her to cook, every holiday when she recalls to her own family, “my mom showed me…” and you live longer than the day and the coming years ahead of which I hope you see many many more. This is tricky – to create an image we all can understand – and it’s up to snuff for so many, yet not for those of us who remember every year’s commentary on the beauty of the wrapping paper, the decorations on the tree, the scent of the combined dishes at the door to greet every visitor. But we know how different this years’s preparations, meal, and decorations are as we shift our weight from one foot to another, one arm to the other, fewer people but the love, the love, the love is all that really matters and all anyone remembers. All those “things” represent the love. And you are set free of the resolute duty of the ties which bind us to the responsibility of yet another year of stuffed stockings filled with love. Wasn’t that always what we really meant anyway?

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