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Day by Day: Good and bad, the memories just keep coming ... and going

What does the song say? "Memories light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories...."

This year, especially this time of year, memories are a big deal. My problem is that they don't exactly "light" the corners of my mind. It's more like driving in fog; less watercolor and more out-of-focus shades of gray.

There are all kinds of reminders that my memory is going, not the least of which is that the memories I can recall are not remembered by anyone else the same way.

It is like when decorating the tree, I would pick up a particularly ugly ornament, made lovingly by the hands of one of the kids. I start waxing on about it, and they interrupt me and say it was not Cory who made it but Katie and it was fifth grade, not fourth, and that was the year Dad and I got into such a fight about him putting on the lights that I stormed off and went to bed and left them sitting there wondering if next Christmas they would be the children of a broken home.

I don't remember it that way.

Then there are the lists, the ones made to jog the memory, ensure efficiency and cut down on the trips to the grocery store. I make them; oh, I'm always making them. It's just that I forget where I put them, or forget to check them before I leave the house, and even when I do take them to the store, I somehow always seem to miss the one or two items that the trip was actually for.

This Christmas was bad. I made at least three extra trips for things like more sour cream and cream cheese and then forgot oyster crackers anyway. But Kevin always likes to shop on Christmas Eve - he can get them. He went willingly enough but he called from County Market and said he was giving me one last chance to add to his list because he was not going back there, never again for at least a week.

Hell, it would take him at least a couple of days to get back to the car because he had to park so far away. The place was full of "animals," he said, and he wasn't ever going to the grocery store, any grocery store, on Christmas Eve again. Did I get that and did I need anything else?

Food, as you might expect, is a big part of the holidays around our house. Gifts that come with receipts are a thing of the past. Just around the time my brothers and sisters were thinking about getting healthy, we started giving each other things like caramel pecan and hot fudge sauce, homemade banana bread and Uncle Dave's homegrown salsa and chips.

And as bad as my memory is this time of year, I never forget to make the cheese ball, the cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and the sour cream onion dip with potato chips. These are the appetizers we eat before we serve the whole milk- and butter-laden oyster stew my mother always made.

These long-held traditions have defined our family for generations. So how was Katie to know that her suggestion of adding a fresh vegetable tray to the menu would upset such a delicate balance? It was a mistake of youth and I have forgiven her.

Kevin is a sucker for holiday memories, but his recollections are worse than mine. He doesn't remember the trips to see Santa with over-stimulated, sleep-deprived 2-year-olds that led to meltdowns of epic proportions. I chipped a tooth one year fighting with Kevin through clenched teeth so as not to offend the perfect-looking family in line behind us.

My dad and Diane Thompson used to play Santa and Mrs. Claus all over Stillwater and it was always fun to take the kids to see them. But there was that one year when Cory clearly called him "Grandpa," which had the kid behind him announcing that Santa was a fake, which was followed by Katie asking if Grandma minded him hanging around with another woman all the time.

But the thing about memories is we are making new ones all the time. A lot of people around here are cherishing their memories of Willis Miller, the Star-Observer's patriarch for more than 60 years who we lost last month. Excuse me, Willis, who died last month. He isn't lost -- everyone who knew and loved him knows exactly where he is.

But to ease the loss of his physical presence, he has left us all lots of things to remember - books, photos, spoons he collected on his travels, and years and years of words on paper that chronicle a life so full it is hard to figure how he got it all done.

I will be moving into Willis' office soon and I am humbly hoping that some of his wisdom, wit and abiding sense of what's really important in this life will rub off. As we've gone through the things he left behind there, it is clear that Willis not only cherished his own memories but those of others as well.

He never failed to respond when everyone from close friends to total strangers stopped by to get his help with the details on some memory that might otherwise be lost.

We lost two men with sparkling blue eyes this year -- one was a very good actor, and the other, while not quite as big a celebrity, still never had or ever will, get a bad review. He is a part of my memory that will never fade.

Happy New Year.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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