Sunday, December 10, 2006


It always surprises me that those lovely Christmas Eve candlelight services haven't been banned by the fire department.

The one I know best starts at 4:00 PM, still daylight in late December. On the way into the service, everyone is invited to take an unlit candle equipped with a white paper skirt to minimize the amount of wax on the floor and upholstery. By the end of the service, when the burning candle is produced and the minister begins the candle speech -- put on your coat now instead of trying to do it with a lit candle in your hand; keep your hair and scarf out of the flame; pass the fire from candle to candle without absolutely pouring wax onto the carpet -- the church windows are completely dark.

As the flame passes from candle to candle along the pews and the candlelight increases, the electric lights go off, except for my brother-in-law's music stand light in the choir loft at the back of the church, and a similar light on the organ. Everyone stands and sings "Silent Night," remembering the words as best they can. A hundred-odd candles in the light-colored interior of the old New England church produce enough light to read by; but who can manage a hymn book in one hand with a candle in the other? Every year I think about printing a bunch of copies of all the words we'll need in 25-point type, and then don't remember to do it.

My husband and I stand side by side in the choir loft. He sings the "Silent Night" descant he learned in school and I follow along, a fraction of a beat behind because I don't remember it from one year to the next.

At the end of "Silent Night" the minister dismisses us, the organist starts "Joy to the World," and we all try to remember those words as we file out into the Solstice cold and darkness, having failed, for another year, to burn down the church.

When my son left home we made common cause of renting a van, since I had some furniture to move as well. I reserved the van for Saturday at 9:00 AM. Justin finally got down to packing on Friday and continued far into the night, with a few hours off in the afternoon to play basketball.

At quarter of eleven he took another break, and we went out to buy juice and fizzy water. Discussing on the way who was to drive the van, he mentioned that he had mislaid his wallet and hence his driver's license. This reminded me that I, too, had become separated from my license two or three weeks before, when it and my credit card apparently slipped out of my wallet into the ether. I had replaced the credit card, but I kept hoping the license would reappear.

Don't they ask you for a license when you rent a car? We don't travel. We rent a van once in a while, but not often enough to cement details like what the rental company requires. The more we thought about it, the more sure we were that to get the van, we would have to produce a license. We also thought that you have to be twenty-five to rent a vehicle, so maybe Justin's license wouldn't have helped. By the time we got home we had accepted that we were paddling around the estuary of Shit Creek trying not to get swept upstream.

I called my friend Sherry at quarter past eleven and left a message with a brief and unclear account of the situation. She called five minutes later: her daughter had done something obscure with the phone, so they hadn't gotten to it in time (I love young people). Sherry thought we might yet carry the day by throwing ourselves on U-Haul's mercy. She and her husband were willing to be a backup plan in case no mercy was to be had, to drop everything on what was obviously a busy and complicated Saturday and come to Medford to help me and Justin get our heads out of our respective asses and deal with some reality. Blessings be on Sherry and David. They both have rescued me more than once from motor vehicle-related lapses, and never said a word about what a stupid thing that was to do.

Justin kept packing far into the night, with sporadic help and small gifts from me until I went to bed around midnight; and again around 1:00 AM; and again around 3:00 AM (I don't sleep the way other people do). Justin kept saying, "What are we going to do when we can't get the van?" and I kept saying helpful things like, "Run away from home." My husband had dismantled much of the living room to free up the items that we were moving. Laurie can be absent-minded himself, but he doesn't lose important pieces of plastic. We expected that he would not be patient about this. I drifted off to dreamland well after 3:00. Justin soldiered on, packing and laundering until 5:00.

Eight-thirty, with doom staring us in the face, came cruelly early. Our plan was to go to U-Haul at the appointed time and proceed nonchalantly until it was absolutely clear that we weren't going to get the van. Only at that point would we come home and confess to Laurie before bothering Sherry.

"Credit card and driver's license?" was the first thing the lady at U-Haul said. She didn't know why. It's a state law. Period. No flexibility whatever. The "can I talk to your supervisor?" route didn't occur to me until later. I don't think it would have worked.

What did occur to me on the way home was that, in contrast to my first years of replacing driver's licenses, some Registry offices are now open on Saturdays. While I explained the situation to Laurie, Justin consulted the Registry's web site and determined that in fact the Watertown Registry was open. Laurie held his temper commendably. He was even willing to come to the Registry to keep me company (that's love!), but we agreed that it would make more sense for me and Justin to go to the Registry and replace both licenses while Laurie whacked at the living room some more and called Sherry to explain that a better idea than imposing on them had occurred to us.

The lady at the Registry had a nervous habit of going "No-no-no-no-no" while scrutinizing any piece of paper presented to her. The first time there really was a problem with my application -- green ink, whereas only black is acceptable. When I brought her a black one she said "no-no-no-no-no" again but accepted the paper. A minute after that, she was staring into her computer and making "Oh, no, what's going on here" noises. I asked her if there was a problem. She didn't answer, but made more sounds of dismay. By this time, my temporary license was emerging from the printer; whatever her computer was doing, it didn't concern me. Armed with the temporary license, we went back to U-Haul and left with the van.

We moved our furniture and Justin's effects, including a huge laundry tub full of books. He carried the tub downstairs and into the van intact but moved it upstairs to his new apartment in two loads. Had I ever known him to make two trips when one lazy man's load was even a theoretical possibility? Adulthood dawns.