Monday Smiles – 12/23/2013
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams – Bing Crosby
On our drive to Arizona to enjoy Christmas with our grandchildren, Muri and I were talking about how our Christmases have changed over the years. Only the night before, she had the same conversation with our dear friend, Jackie, whose Christmases intersected with ours for some of our best years. Christmas is unique … for those of us who celebrate it … in that it remains a central part of our year for our entire lives. We may tire of birthday parties and Fourth of July fireworks as we age … and children could care less about New years Eve and green beer on St. Patrick’s Day … but Christmas always glitters. It just glitters differently as the years go by, which is why it’s tone and texture each year is determined as much by memories as what’s under the tree, both literally and figuratively.
I vaguely remember Christmases in my parents first home, an Army barracks turned into apartments in New Haven, Connecticut. I remember a red Columbia bike under the tree and my dad teaching me to ride on a warmish January day in the street outside. My memories begin in earnest after we moved to a small ranch home in East Haven, where my bike … but not my memories of it … were stolen. There, Christmas is the smell of pies cooking in the oven on Christmas Eve and trying hard to fall asleep so Santa could come. I remember a fourteen pound portable radio under the tree one year and a wood-burning set every year, it seemed. There was caroling with the neighbor down the street with the warbling voice who thought she was Maria Callas. We’d go off to church with the smell of turkey filling the house and return for dinner with my grandmothers, and usually, my Aunt Marge and Uncle Ted. Marge was my mother’s sister and no one else would have her but I was her favorite nephew. I haven’t a clue why. My best memories of my Dad are going out on Christmas Eve with him to pick up presents from our relatives (after I no longer believed in Santa), a story I related in Fatherhood – A Dad Story.
My memories of Christmas involving Muri began inauspiciously. We had broken up and I spent the holiday sighing loudly (I remember my Mom saying sarcastically, You sound like you’re in love. I was) and painting a winter scene that I gave to Muri when we got back together. I remember our first Hanukkah-Christmas together, me uncomfortable with a Menorah and Muri more uncomfortable with a tree. There were a few Christmases with my parents before we moved to California, where some of our best memories happened. There was our newly adopted son, Aaron, more fascinated with a just-out-of-reach Santa ornament on the tree than with his presents … and our daughter Amy, sitting happily in a gift box, sucking on a candy cane. We began to celebrate Christmas with our best friends, Don and (yes, that) Jackie and eventually, all five of our kids. Those were times that glittered the brightest. California brought a year that hardly glittered at all, too, the year our son was missing. A wise soul suggested we put presents under the tree for him and save them for when he came home. It made a dim Christmas brighter.
These days, we head off to Arizona a few days before Christmas. Our son chooses not to come but that doesn’t mean I don’t hate the thought of leaving him alone. But those grandkids ARE the glitter of Christmas and that’s where we need to be. We spend Christmas Eve at my daughter’s house, and usually, once the kids are in bed my son-in-law, Lars, and I are assembling toys. Still Santa after all these years. There is nothing like the look on the faces of children as they bound down the stairs and first see the presents under the tree. Amy and Lars do their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and we eat light on Christmas Day. Their traditions become ours.
Everything about Christmas changes. It’s rarely everything I’d want but it’s always some of the things and often, many of them. There are faces absent at the table but I love the faces present. Through the kaleidoscope of sixty-nine years of Christmas memories, everything still sparkles. It’s Monday and I’m smiling.