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OtterChristmas 1.0-NestingInstinct

birds-nest-flowersThe Muse and I have been empty-nesters since we met, twenty years ago. I suppose one never really gets over an empty nest. No matter how large the house, regardless of how many cats cohabit, the nest feels rather hollow inside without some regular injections of kid energy. The single-generation place always seems more house than home.

Sorting through alternatives for this holiday: should we drive to South Dakota, perhaps trundle off to Walla Walla, or just stay at home?—The GrandOtter's request to come visit easily skunked the competition. It offered the only opportunity to feather the beleaguered old nest, so even though the airfare could have transported one of us to Paris, The Muse agreed to bring her out.

The drive to Denver's mysteriously-misplaced airport in nine degree dark, half way to Kansas it seems, didn't deter us. I was suited up and ready for what I most often characterize (and properly) as the death drive long before time to leave. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat squirreled around all day, as I'd closed off the guest room for a concerted de-furring. I hung around for hours, understanding that nothing I might muster as an activity could possibly mean very much beside the shadow of The Otter's impending arrival.

I wondered, as I always wonder before she visits, who she might show up as this time. Our world stops at a fundamental family level between her visits, but hers continues, morphing who we once knew into a wholly new entity each time, so it seemed completely reasonable to wonder who she might be this time. Her life has always employed more insidious screenwriters than ours, so drama continues in her absence, most often without our ever knowing the direction or velocity of her meanders.

An enormous bright orange half moon rose before us, prefacing glowing possibilities, as we wended our way out along that misbegotten freeway. The next ten days should eventually get around to disclosing just what that big old moon was trying to explain to us. Enticing magic bookends one end of this latest adventure.

I can't imagine a better place to people watch than the corridor exiting the escalators disgorging week-before-Christmas airline passengers. A moderate-sized throng encircled the cordoned off area, some individuals carrying placards and signs. One insisted that all the young woman holding it wanted for Christmas was her Marine home safe and sound. (He arrives safely, to the sound of cheering and clapping.) Observing from a safe seat just outside the perimeter became a throat-lumping affair. Who could help but tear up a bit watching families reconnect? One young man dropped to one knee before a waiting young woman in the middle of the exiting crowd, to propose marriage, I guess. A ring was exchanged for a teary hug and kiss, and the waiting crowd broke into spontaneous applause, prompting me to choke back a warm sob or two.

The Otter finally emerged from the machine, apparently unchanged since I'd last seen her a scant six weeks before. She struggled to identify her borrowed bag on the carousel, but we were in no hurry. She'd brought a sinus infection with her.

The Muse, who becomes the concerned grand inquisitor when The Otter appears, began the cross-examination on the long drive back to The Villa. Of course her questions scream one essential point, that The Otter remains unspeakably precious to her, worth defending to the death or beyond, but her grandmother bear must seem a bit over-bearing to The Otter. It does to me. What might otherwise present as choices slide more to the imperative end of the scale. 'Could' slipping dangerously close to 'should,' 'might' becoming 'must.'

Neither Muse nor Otter could possibly incur any violation through this exchange. They're just catching up, not trying to catch anyone out. The Muse insists that Otter must earn herself at least a four year degree if she expects to become viable in the emerging economy. She does not want her precious to grow up to be assistant to anybody, but a professional in her own right. The Otter reports that she's still unsure what she wants to study, what she wants to dedicate her life to, and prefers the idea of investigating possibilities in a community college before even considering a "University," as she derisively refers to the alternative. I appreciate her ambivalence, never having really trusted anyone who knew what they wanted to be when they grow up; even and especially grown-ups themselves. She seems much less certain of her future now than she was ten years ago, at eight. Then, biologist or veterinarian loomed. Now, counsellor, coach, or confident seem more attractive.

I nuke a leftover adobo turkey thigh for her as The Muse settles in to get some background on a disturbing medical condition The Otter disclosed as we slipped our way up into the snow-drifted foothills. Nobody has any idea if this condition qualifies as a significant threat or an individual quirk, freckle or peril. Grandma Bear digs deeply, asking unanswerable questions, unaware as the clock ticks past two am on a school night.

I fulfill my rightful role as a primary negative influence on The Otter by offering her a short glass of Hungarian plum brandy "for medicinal purposes." Her cough sounds as disturbing as productive, and I explain my prescription as essentially Niquil® that tastes better. Otter finishes the glass in two tearful swallows, remarking how clear her nose suddenly seems. She exits then, wanting to brush that taste out of her mouth before the liquor overwhelms her into sleep. She's still puttering, settling into the nest, a half hour later when The Muse and I finally lie down.

This morning, the house whispered sacred incantations. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat even seemed uncommonly reverent as she hectored me for her morning pate. None of us are on our best behavior, but a certain mindful formality hovers nearby us. Otter insisted that she would sleep in rather than zoot down into town with us so The Muse could make an essential meeting. She's on vacation this week, except for a short series of absolutely essential meetings that should no more than inject variety into what could otherwise teeter on a cabin feverish week. I left Rose in charge.

Later, The Otter will rise and I'll make her favorite Lemony Snicket omelet, allowing us both to relive times a decade ago when the nest was filled with her daily presence in our home. She was the principle presence making that old house a home. Today, The Muse and I have a home to go home to. Happy Holidays, indeed.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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