One of my favorite songs is “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones. It brings me back to the cusp of full-fledged adulthood and late night Jack Daniels with lime at a seedy bar in Fat City where a fireplace warmed the dive on chilly nights. Mick Jagger would play on the jukebox while I contemplated the vast abyss that was my next chapter. Another favorite song is “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop. There was no great chase in the coming together of my husband and me. We were twenty-somethings fooling around Manhattan, neither aware the other was “the one.” We were just a couple of kids, trying out new restaurants and chatting on bar stools until last calls late into East Village nights. Yet, within our blitheness we did fall, making 16 years last Friday.
Both songs drip with sentiment, hitting me in that exact corner of my mind where a song, a movie, a quote, anything can become “my thing.” And as much as I love those songs, I know little more than their choruses because if overplayed, would they lose their place in my sweet spot, cease to move me in the same way, no longer special?
It began in Kindergarten when I’d bring my saved allowance to the bookstore on the first Friday of every month to buy scented pencils. Chocolate was my preferred brand. It smelled like hot cocoa with marshmallows and it kept its fragrance the longest. But did I use these distinctive pencils? How could I without risking the sharpener grinding away at the swirls of glitter, erasing my prized pencil all together? No. They lived a secure life in a special pencil case on an even more special shelf in my bedroom where sticker albums and metallic crayons remained unaffected by greed.
Among the childhood habits that have carried on well into adulthood, like the fuzzy socks I cannot sleep without, my tenacity for protecting my favorite things from overuse remains with me to this day. Ask me how often I will wear the Burberry trench coat my husband bought me the last time he crossed the pond. I have wondered as I’ve skipped certain tracks of Dave Matthews, Foo Fighters, and Coldplay--bands that defined an entire decade of my life and whom I’ve seen in concert more times than I can count--if this tucking away of the good stuff is a charming character trait or a tiresome character flaw. After all, what happens when the good stuff runs out? What am I left with then?
When my husband comes home with a bottle of Veuve, it is chilled and enjoyed that night. Good steaks are bought the day of and grilled immediately. When Alicia Keys released “If I Ain’t Got You,” my husband played that CD until it cracked and still plays it on the way to every one of our dinner dates. It’s a good song, definitely more his speed than mine, but for the life of me I can’t understand how it can still be special to him.
Then my daughter discovered Dolly Parton, another musician victim to my skip the track habit. How could I continue to love “Here You Come Again” if I know all the words? But the offspring discovered the Tennessee queen and soon “9 to 5” and others were played on loop from 3:30 to bedtime. The girl was obsessed. I was a mixture of pride and paranoia. The last thing I wanted was my brainwashing handiwork to backfire. What if her exploitation of Dolly led to my getting sick of it? But then like some kind of smoky mountain magic, Dolly didn’t get away from me. She blossomed.
Fiona was in a deep bubble bath with just her little head and hand sticking out, gripping a back scrubber. She was in concert mode, pushing out Dolly at full volume, the scrubber as her microphone. When I walked into the bathroom, she gave me a wink and handed me a bottle of shampoo for my mic. Her performance would be a duet there in the echoing walls of my teal tiled bathroom. This is now our bathtime ritual. I now know all the words to much of Dolly and my thing has become our thing. But the “thing” is, these days of our Dolly bubble bath concerts are fleeting. Sooner than I want, she’ll concert without me. And just like before, the song will return neatly folded to the sweetest spot of my mind, yet blossomed into an entirely more precious position than before because I indulged in it with my daughter. Like that bottle of Veuve that only comes home once in a while, the good stuff is often even better when shared.
But what happens when the good stuff crosses paths?
At my local craft store, Thanksgiving is already on clearance. Tom Turkey has been shelved. It’s the season of “Thanksmas,” when we talk about how thankful we are for that big meal we have on that Thursday in the middle of the new Christmas season. Of course, the fine people at Lifetime and Hallmark are even further into the season by now. “Christmas in Louisiana” ran the same night other channels were playing their countdowns to Halloween. All Hallows' Thanksmas? No, thank you.
When it comes to our favorite things, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?
I spend days cluttering my end tables and countertops with Yuletide joy. Christmas essentially vomits in my house where I don’t just deck them halls, I deck everything, but only from an exact day after Thanksgiving to Epiphany. Why? Because I also love Halloween and Thanksgiving. I savor roasted pumpkin seeds with a not-so-scary movie, and few mornings bring me as much nostalgia as when the smell of the preparations of turkey and trimmings mixes with the sounds of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Everything has its place and time, and when those times come, I hoard them like the little girl with fresh pencils. Summer is glorious until that last swim. Mardi Gras is marvelous until the last bead is caught, and then it is tucked away neatly until next year when we do it again. Like “Wild Horses” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” seasons are distinctly special, but to me, they lose their magic when played simultaneously. Mick Jagger is like Christmas and Elvin Bishop is Thanksgiving--one advancing to a more obvious place of prominence than the other, but both deserving of their own spotlight.
However, I am of a house divided. Two of my sisters are avid Thanksmas fans. They say their hearts are big enough for two seasons. Like a parent with more than one child, they share their love evenly and simultaneously. I wonder as I repeatedly ignore the Hallmark Channel from October to December, and as I’m reduced to giving Santa the middle finger each time wreaths are hung on lampposts in early November, if the question for Grinches like me isn’t about too much of a good thing but rather if our nostalgia is so perfectly placed that we’re unable to indulge in an explosion of holiday senses and flavors all at once.
Perhaps therein lies the great divide--between those who choose to indulge and those who choose not to.
There are folks like me who don’t like their holidays to touch. Although we savor every second and suck the marrow out of all the flavor each holiday offers, once we've scraped the china, off it goes back to the cupboard with the good stuff. And there are others like my sisters, for whom their love of Christmas and the entirety of the holiday season from that first brisk morning to the last drop of eggnog runs so deep that too much of it is inconceivable. To everyone, I argue there is room enough in Whoville for all of us--those whose hearts hold one holiday at a time, and those whose hearts grow three times bigger each October 1st.
I know enough to know that whether I indulge or not doesn’t take away from why my favorite things are my favorite things. Something about them marks a time, a memory, nudges me in all the right ways, and when they become too much for me, it’s only because they are worth that much. I wonder, though, what if I’d used those chocolate pencils to write a fantastic story, sharpening them to a stub by the end? Would they have meant even more? If I could rattle off the lyrics to all my favorite songs and share them, would they, like Dolly, expand my heart? Maybe, or maybe I’m just as happy to indulge just enough, knowing that what is too much for me isn’t too much for others.
Or, perhaps our favorite things are seasons in themselves. Will we notice the other good stuff out there if we don’t first indulge in what we have?
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.