I am generally a cauldron of optimism and contentment. I have two breaches in my Pollyanna persona every year: when summer ends, and when Christmas is over.
In my youth, both of these were associated to a return to school, and a loss of the free spirit I crave. I hated school, with its rigid timelines, the scorn of nuns, and the social stratification that made me squirm. I loved learning, though, and toddled off to school for college and teaching years. Then I added a few law school “back to school” seasons. I always mourned.
In my adult years, these endings do not include any loss of freedom. They accent the reality of time passing, life moving inexorably forward. All my past Christmases are like a card in a stack. Events, loved ones and experiences are embossed. We can revisit these memories readily because Kodak has frozen these moments in time. Memories delight, they comfort, and they assure us that each holiday is unique. They also remind us that life shifts, and the next holiday-or day- is not to be taken for granted. Only I could turn the ending of my holidays to a rumination on mortality.
As I stowed boxes yesterday, I packed up the bunny and doll that were part of my Mom’s Christmas. I found myself saying goodbye, almost apologizing for their imminent captivity. I wrapped the LLadro nativity Mom and Dad had given me. I remembered back to the year she made a wardrobe for my Tiny Tears doll behind locked doors. One year she decorated a doll house with carpeting and wallpaper for Jenny and me. No matter how many nights the food budget only allowed gravy bread and a frozen vegetable, we had Christmas magic. Things we craved, but could not dream of owning sometimes appeared: a Villager sweater, an electric blanket or a full length mirror for our bedroom door. One year a horrible hat with a giant spangled pom pom appeared- it delighted Mom, but was ridiculous. I wore it because she had chosen it for me…until the pom pom mysteriously fell off. Mom knew before I that sparkle and glittery stuff would captivate me..I just had to grow into it.
As homage to the season, the Joliat 6 were allowed in the living room while the tree was up. Many nights we would read while Andy Williams crooned Christmas songs on the stereo. Sometimes there was fudge. It was a special season, often punctuated by Dad’s efforts to build an ice rink to keep us busy, and make us tired. This led to far more work for Mom, as she was the cocoa chef and the floor mopper. We bunkered in as a family, and relished every twinkling moment .
As we grew older, the holidays flipped in focus: we tried to find special gifts for our parents, to say “thanks.” They needed nothing, so it was a challenge to create something special. We had models made of their home, found hand made treasures, and bought Dad more sweaters and hankies than he could never really use. One year Steve and I dropped a dog on them, then went to California to visit the Dahls. Little Brandy had kennel cough and worms, and when we arrived home, we learned that she had cost them hundreds of dollars. My mom was in love, and my dad probably never totally forgave me. But the memory of my Mom’s ecstatic face next to my Dad’s contorted visage is part of the family Christmas quilt. When the boys were small, we trundled to Detroit to share the holidays. This was a risky business, with weather worries and separation rage as we pried the kids from their new booty. After a few years, we tethered ourselves to Chicago. With the exception of a late-day doldrum,(when I called my folks) I coped. And over compensated until I became a Christmas maniac.
Christmas is past. I was called back to earth yesterday, and I did not like it.
Because I can clearly shuffle through my deck of Christmas memories, I do not take the gift of family time and beauty for granted. I am grateful for each glimpse of love I see my kids exchange with their spouses. Though I was guilty of some strategic dozing, I loved Christmas Eve services. Henry was the star on the top of our tree- a healthy baby is the most precious gift..(.and the reason for the season, according to the good book.) Joy reigns in my heart and home, and it is magnified by all the glowing that I over-decorate my house with. I feel blessed to have memories to embrace, not chase away. I try to follow the Dickens admonition to keep Christmas in my heart all year without becoming the nut who never takes her lights down. But I can tell you- those lights keep my spirits bright. January does not do that for me.
As I packed away this year’s stuff- and there are 50 boxes of stuff- I wondered if they would be touched next Christmas if I was ill, or gone.
Now that is a dose of Christmas Yet To Come despair for my merry spirit of Christmas Past and Present. I guess it is my peculiar Seasonal Affective Disorder. I found myself writing precise labels on the boxes, and tying color-coded pipe cleaners on them to designate what room the goods were headed for. I stopped myself from writing a note to the family just in case I was not there for the 2012 candle power. Yeah- I know it is a morbid capper for the season. I know that if I vaporized, my particular madness would never be repeated. But I also know that my thousands of twinkle lights will be part of the Dahl family history. Steve and the boys will remember, just as I remember, that we had our own special moments. Someday they may ponder a bad gift I wrapped with excitement, or a moment that the assembled memories of the family can immortalize. That is what makes the festooning and deforesting a labor of love. And optimism. It is a milestone in the Dahl memory book, and it will carry forward in time, with me and my glimmer or without me.
I have one piece of Christmas left to disassemble: the main tree. Every ornament tells a story, and they are happy stories. This tradition continues: for the last 15 tears, I have given each kid a few ornaments to symbolize the year that was passing. Now their trees are like a collage of their pasts: school plays, hobbies, travel, colleges, World Series, drums, motorcycles, Grandparents, pets- all the incoherent pieces of their lives are represented, dated and dangled. This year, I made ornaments showing the circle of life for the Dahls- Henry and the boys, Rachel and her brand new baby. I marked the imminent marriage that will bring Justine into the circle as a Dahl, and the adoption of Bea, Mike’s constant accessory. Each little box with 3-4 ornaments was given, and received as a P.S. on Christmas day. In years to come, my daughters-in-law and sons will string these “good old days” on their trees, and I will be there with them, in heart and spirit.
I will shake the blues. This little dip is the price I pay for floating for the last 40 days. I will light some candles, eat carbs, relocate the wall decor that I stowed during the decoration phase. My house will be clean, if not sterile. Maybe I will tackle the family photo project I have ignored for years….or just clean the cupboards and closets. When the sun sets at 5, I will focus on the spring: it brings us the marriage of Matt and Justine, Roger’s next visit, Henry’s perfection and who knows what else? Good stuff awaits, bad stuff will be shared and managed.
Life goes on. And on.