My family is not having the Christmas that you hear about in carols and television specials. I am typing this from California, where we were supposed to arrive next Tuesday for the holiday festivities, but instead I flew down six days early to help take care of my aunt, who is in the hospital. My mother is here, too, and my aunt’s two daughters, my cousins. My aunt came down with an acute illness, very fast and sudden and serious, but after more than a week in the hospital, she’s going to be alright. Today she even cracked a joke. I was so elated that I tried out a couple of bad puns, and she actually laughed at them. It was a good day. I’m glad to be here.

My mother and I spent the late afternoon sitting in squeaky, vinyl-covered chairs next to my aunt’s hospital bed, reading books while she napped. At one point, through the wall, I could hear an old man in the next room start to sing. The sound was muffled, and I couldn’t make out the words, and he was not what is commonly called a good singer. But he sang easily, cheerfully, the kind of slow, ambling song you might hear someone sing beside a campfire in an old western. He went on like that for maybe ten minutes. I hoped he would go on forever. For the past few days, I’d been wanting to write here, but I wasn’t sure what to say. Then I heard that man singing, and I thought, Well, there you go. This is what you write about. Exactly what’s happening.