So yeah, Christmas is tough. The exhausted thinking organ between my ears is struggling to ponder. It’s done. Another one in the books. Survived. The only thing left to drudge through will be the returns tomorrow.
Last night and today were outstanding. The fella’s brother came to visit. Star Wars exceeded my skeptical expectations, in 3-D nonetheless. Good friends, gift exchange, card games, and adult beverages. Today, after opening gifts with the ‘not brother-in-law’ we spent the day with the rest of my family. Food, laughter, family, and fun. I’d thoroughly enjoy if this became a yearly tradition. It occurs to me that I find a certain solace in tradition.
Sadness, however, seems to loom behind the curtains this time of year.
As we drove home this evening, the fella and I began talking about our childhood Christmases, and at what point the holidays became so emotionally difficult.
My earliest childhood memories of Christmas play on an annual repeat. Christmas Eve was at my Grandma’s house. We ate chex mix till we were almost sick. Our gifts were few, heartfelt, and always included underwear. I can still smell that house, see the yellow glow of the light over the kitchen table and an either side of the sofa. My uncle would sit on the far end of the couch watching TV with the closed captioning on. The grown ups would be around the kitchen table, sometimes having drinks. We loved our time there, but were always eager to get home. What if Santa got there before us?? On the way home I would scoot as far down in the seat as I could, lay my head in the bend of the station wagon window, and scan the sky for any movement that might be a sleigh.
As if tuned to acutely recognize the first lights of dawn on Christmas morning, we would leap out of bed. Our parents required us to eat first, so cereal was sloppily slurped down, and one by one each paper was torn and gift exposed. We never asked for much, and were appreciative for what we received. After gifts, showers for everyone, and we would all drive to Nanny’s.
Nanny’s house was a much more formal affair. Best behavior. No food on the carpet. Homemade candy, but don’t eat too much. At lunch I sat in the back middle of the table we all filled. Nanny, Aunt, Uncle, and my family – totaling eight. It was best to keep your head down and be quiet. Frequently I got in trouble. One particular year, in order to consolidate space, Nanny had combined two jars of pickles into one. I love sweet pickles and would quietly gorge myself on them as we ate. This year however, as I reached into the jar and put the pickle in my mouth, I was met with dill. Nasty dill. I had no other choice but to swallow it. I did. My sister, sitting on my left, reached for the jar. I slapped her hand away, still unable to stop gagging. “Not them!” was all I could get out. She caught on, started laughing, and then we were BOTH in trouble. See, it was ungrateful of me to be anything other than compliant and appreciative.
Several years later, after undergrad, we were all sitting around the same table. After some polite quiet conversation, my Nanny looked at my Aunt, nodded, and announced to the entire table that they had known for a long time that I was a lesbian. Not that it matters, but I’m not. It is nice, however, to know that they had accepted their conclusion with open minds. Apparently a girl in her 20’s is supposed to have a husband and several babies, not be traipsing through the woods in a uniform doing ‘a man’s job’. Years later, when the fella and I moved in together, her reaction was simply, “Well at least she’s over that lesbian thing.”
You see, they used to refer to me as ‘precocious’, and it wasn’t necessarily meant in the most positive light. At 5-6 years old I recall asking my mother what that word meant. She answered that they just thought I was as smart as a lot of grown ups. How could that be bad?? That solution to my curiosity was probably the only thing that kept me present with that half of the family. My perception was that I wasn’t who they wanted me to be and also not who they thought I was, yet they didn’t seem interested in getting to know me.
I digress. The point is that we had a routine. A set of traditions and time with family. When Grandma and Grandpa died, that foundation was rocked. It has never been as clear to me as it became today.
Lunch then gift exchange time. My nieces opened the things I made for them. As an adult I certainly enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them. We laughed a lot and many special things were exchanged, until there were only three left…one in front of each of my siblings and myself. Momma began telling a story about finding a box she had stored decades ago. Inside she found three quilt tops. The stitches, she said, were far from perfect because they were made when Grandpa was teaching Grandma how to quilt. The fabric squares were made from old clothes. Momma specifically remembered some of her childhood garments and one of Grandpa’s old suits.
I began to cry, completely embarrassed at the wave of emotion that had taken me. It’s not them…though I do miss them…it’s the time, the place, and the comfort of it. It’s a feeling of safety and regularity, and knowing that everything is taken care of and okay. How frequently do we have that as an adult?? I have a job, a full belly, and a roof over my head. That makes me more fortunate than many, yet I still find myself sad, yearning for something that cannot be replaced.
It is my hope that the times we create now will give my nieces something to look back on, and perhaps to miss…because things change and grow. I’ll probably always have a little nugget of sadness in my heart for times gone by, but I have more joy for the times we have and the times we WILL have. I’ll cherish those moment of sadness because they only mean I’m lucky enough to have had experiences worth missing.