In a few days, I will flip the antique perpetual calendar over.
Again. As I do every year.
Along with cooking black-eyed peas in some form (try this Tanzanian Soup-Stew or this Spicy-Smoky approach, two of my favorite ways with black-eyes) and fixing other lucky foods (cornbread, collard greens); along with teaching Left-Brain-Planning for Right-Brain People in that funky week between Christmas and New Year’s (in 2023, this two-afternoon course was on Wednesday, December 27 and Thursday, December 28)..,. along with these things, turning the funny, beat-up, clever little brass perpetual calendar back to JAN 1 is one of my New Year practices.
I believe Ned, my late husband, and I bought this item at an estate sale, out at Holiday Island. This is a retirement community just north of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where we then lived.
That estate sale? Good Lord, now that I think about it, it has to have been at least 45 years ago. I ask myself, almost reflexively, without even thinking about it, the questions that every woman or man of a certain age asks her or himself: “Where did the time go? And how did it do it so quickly?”
Ned kept the perpetual calendar on his desk, flipping it to the correct date when he remembered to do so (Ned was not great with being aware of time; flipping it over on a daily basis was more aspirational than actual for him).
A few weeks after his death, I took it over.
As the first line of W.S. Merwin’s poem For the Anniversary of My Death says: “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day .”
And there, right there, is the thorn in my daily and annual flipping over of that perpetual calendar from Ned’s desk.
It is a funky but persistent little thing, with its two-wheels-that-are-actually-four turning mechanism, and the interior which is worked by those wheels.
In case you have never seen one of these objects, I will try to explain.
A larger wheel on each end has a smaller wheel protruding from it, meaning there are four wheels in all.
The large wheel on the left shows the abbreviated day of the week, in caps (New Year’s day 2024, for instance, is on MON), while the smaller one sticking out of it shows the first digit of the date. (There being no zeros on this side, you use a blank on the first nine days of the month, single-digits). The large wheel on the right shows the month, abbreviated to three letters also, also in caps; JAN, as you can see in the pictures) . The smaller wheel on this side of the calendar, on the right, allows you to roll the second digit for the day of the month (the second digit, which flies solo those first nine days, is thus sometimes the first and only date-digit ).
Presumably printed on a tiny roll of sturdy paper enclosed in the brass casing, the interior obligingly shows you any day of the week and month, forever, if and as you turn the appropriate wheel.
It has taken much longer to describe this device than to use it. As I say, it is cleverly made.
But, unlike us, it skips years altogether.
This odd object traveled with me from Eureka Springs, Arkansas to Saxtons River, Vermont, and back to Arkansas (the town of Fayetteville this time), where I now reside.
In the moves, many things far more precious to me, more meaning-rich, than this little perpetual calendar, were lost or broken.
Some were one of a kind, like the green blown-glass lamp belonging to my mother, and which was forever part of my growing-up life as well as my adult life in Vermont. Or the upper shelf and mirror, and the twisted columns which held that shelf up, in the Freundenza.
This was what Ned and I called the handsome marble-topped Victorian buffet cabinet, with its beveled mirror and elaborate upper shelf, given me by one of my mentors, the painters Louis Freund and his wife Elsie, hence its name, with which Ned came up). Or the eight of the deep cobalt blue Valencia dinner plates, made by Arabia of Finland, which my mother treasured and collected one by one as a treat to herself: only one survived the trip, along with three of the eight Valencia salad plates, two of the five soup bowls, and two of six coffee cups with their saucers.
Yet this peculiar item, of little value in dollars and not much more in sentiment, has stayed with me.
In a way the days it faithfully shows, with just a little help, can never do.
I roll the days, as the days roll me.
As they roll you. As they roll all of us.
The calendar being more perpetual than those who roll it.
Like the equinoxes and solstices, New Year’s is one of the year’s inflection points, punctuating our perceived time and its cycles. But of all of these turning points on time’s revolving wheel (like the summer solstice being the longest day and shortest night of each year on Earth, and the winter solstices the reverse of this), New Year’s — an imposed, invented human-made formula with its own history of creation, rather than a natural phenomenon — marks one year’s end and another’s start.
So. What punctuation mark would you choose for this moment?
An exclamation mark, for the coming surprises, delightful and otherwise, this next New Year, like all years, will bring?
If that appeals to you and seems appropriate, sure.
Or perhaps a gentle ellipse… drifting off into whatever comes next.
Perhaps you’d prefer the stability of a nice definitive solid period.
Or a question mark? Because who knows what will happen?
Or a series of commas: she did this, he did that, I did this, and this, and this.
Whatever you bring to the New Year, you carry, as we all do, the accumulated experience and perceptions of previous years: the gifts and subtractions, understandings and perplexities, grief and blisses. Life is, among much else, interpretative. And our experiences and the ways we’ve perceived them, and thought about them over time, has much to do with how we interpret our lives.
I don’t make resolutions as such, but I get very thoughtful at this time of year. My wish for you, as for myself, is that our accumulated experiences, overlaid with the shiny wrapping of another brand new year, may lead us to deeper understanding and satisfaction. Less rigidity; more flow. Less dislike and discontent and judging, more loving, appreciation, active acceptance, gratitude, curiosity. As my friend Raven Black puts it, “More like water, less like rock.”
Unless this is a year where you strive to be more resolute; to be a rock; to resist yielding (perhaps having done too much previously). Both rocks and water, literally and metaphorically, do have their place.
Some days, weeks, months, years ask different things of us, sometimes shockingly different. There is time enough for many, many approaches and developments, whether these are acts of self-development or those developments and inventions that take place in the outside world, from weather to science to politics to literature.
Time enough; but not, for us, an indefinite infinity. “Just so long and long enough,” as the poet e e cummings noted.
This is the mystery with which we all live, though not all of us know this.
We are here now. But.
At least, our experience of “this.”
As the days roll into months, years.