Jilly D.

Christmas this second year

In Holidays, Time and seasons on December 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm
holiday gifts

Judy and Wayne's tree ornaments from Marge

Christmas always meant too much to me. I had enjoyed the pageantry of the Sunday School Santa Lucia Festival of Lights and could hardly wait for Christmas Eve to arrive. Food was central to our family celebrations. The cookie production was enough to drive this child to distraction. My mother used to hide the Christmas cookies she baked in the bottom cabinet of the Grandfather’s clock. She hid the key during November and December. There were tins of goodies stashed in the recesses of the basement and out in the garage where we wouldn’t find them; or thought we wouldn’t.

At the age of 10 my mother found me one Christmas Eve morning at 4 a.m. ripping the wrapping paper off my new game board of Boobytrap. I was so eager for the holiday to arrive; I jumped it up a day. My mother sent me back to bed. I’m not sure I even believed in Santa anymore, but I knew my sister did and we wouldn’t get to open the presents for another 24 hours, at least.  My mother prayed for 27 hours.

When I was out on my own and far from home, I created my own Christmas traditions as a new kind of old fashioned single gal. I cooked myself a turkey, stuffing and all. I prepared the wild rice, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the salad with mandarin oranges and candied almonds. I poured myself wine into a fine German green-stemmed wineglass and sipped the season as a gift to myself.  Every year I enjoyed a fresh Christmas tree with my own handcrafted ornaments and popcorn and cranberry strings. I had recreated my childhood joys without the stress and pressure of family to complicate things. It had been at least a decade since I’d spent Christmas with my family and then I met Sam Warren.

The first year I celebrated Christmas with Sam’s family, I called home to my parents.

“They did nothing on Christmas Eve,” I complained. We had always had boiled shrimp and steamed wild rice soup on Christmas Eve. Then the Christmas cookie plate appeared. Coffee and sweets before family swapped gifts under the lights of the tree. And we always attended a midnight carol service.

The Warrens weren’t like the Swensons. Family and food were not synonymous. Christmas Day was the last straw. Sam’s mother served lasagna.

“They aren’t even Italian,” I whined to my mother on a long distance phone call. “A tossed salad, lasagna, apple sauce and a couple pieces of garlic bread; this was Christmas dinner?” They didn’t know about lutefisk (salted cod) or lefse (potato flat bread). They had never heard of Swedish sausage. Where was I? I felt far from home.

They made me feel like family and soon enough it was home. The Warren family traditions grew on me. They weren’t about food, but family.

This Christmas, the second after Sam died, I didn’t think I could face the old routine again. Somehow I got through last year but I don’t remember a single thing about the holidays. Chalk it up to post-traumatic stress disorder. We forget the intensity of pain like labor pains involved in the miracle of birth.

I knew last year I had done everything as it had been done before; holding onto the remnants of our life together.  It didn’t work. I’ve had to let go of all that in the year between. Facing a reenactment of the Christmas holidays without Sam again seemed way too much this year.

No lasagna. Pizza and buffalo wings and munchies to graze on Friday night, Christmas Eve, at sister Judy’s. This is a new tradition started last year, Judy told me. She’s a smart sister. I hadn’t remembered she’d done this for Christmas Eve. I thought it had been on Sam’s birthday last year earlier in the month. But time plays tricks on your mind to shield you from the enormity of the now; when death is so fresh, so close.

This year after supper the Warrens exchanged their gifts around the Christmas tree in Judy and Wayne’s livingroom. Their son Jamie sits in the far corner of the living room. His sister Marti Jo is with child and sits on the floor in front of her new groom, Randy. Randy is on the end of the sofa, next to me in the middle. Marge is on my right; Wayne’s mother is next to Sam’s dad Charlie in the rocking chair. Sam’s daughter, Tricia, and her boyfriend Kip, are seated on chairs facing away from the desk against the wall. Wayne sits in his navy blue LazyBoy. On the floor under the tree three Warren women span four generations as they sit at our feet. Sam’s mom, his sister and great niece Jadyn. Jamie’s daughter is now 9 years old and Jadyn is a good reader.

Since Jadyn could first read, her Great Grandmother has involved her in reading the Christmas story aloud. First Jadyn reads a passage. She passes the book to her Grandma Judy and she reads a passage and then Jadyn passes the book to her Great Grandma Jan and she reads a passage until the miracle is revealed.  After the story recitation, Mother Warren leads the family prayer.

This is a family of love. Mother Warren explained to Jadyn that each and every present under the tree has been given in love. When you unwrap the gift you may forget where you got it from and it may even get broke or lost. But if you look for that empty box and folded up wrapping paper and ribbons you will still find inside of it all that love that was intended.

  1. This Christmas story with his family but without Sam made me cry.

    • Made me cry, too, Renee. Cried and cried. Cried while writing it. Still cry whenever I read it. But it’s my story and sometimes hard to tell whether it was just my pity party or the specifics and particulars of my situation connected up to common threads of others’ experience. I wrote it because I couldn’t not write it.

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