My husband can’t understand. He gives me these looks, I know he is literally thinking…WTF. He stares at me,
sometimes shaking his head, and I know what he means by it. And I don’t care. This IS MY FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR. The chill in the air, even the sunny California air gets a chill…I promise. The warmth inside, the music, the smells. This is my heaven. Christmas. Let me make this clear; not the commercial, flashy, expensive kind of Christmas that is most often portrayed this time of year. NO, no, no.
My idea of real Christmas comes from my head. I know that sounds crazy but this is why I decided I need to explain. Christmas for me will forever be a montage of a few very specific Christmases. We will travel through them like The ghosts of Christmas, a la Christmas Carol, but more scattered. My memory has always been spotty and pretty blurry.
Christmas time 1980 something…to be specific, 89- the year the best present in the world came, and it came 10 days before Christmas. We had been decorating all day. Living at Mama’ and Papa’s for some reason which I can’t recall. I was 7, as a 7 year old I was pretty much happy just watching the lights go up and smelling the tree, we always have real ones, I think it is because Christmas doesn’t start until the smell of real noble pine fills the house. I can remember commotion, suddenly throwing our evening out of whack. Adults rushing and then Mom and Dad, are rushing out the door. I remember being upset that she was going, where was she going? Why was she going? I didn’t want her to leave, its Christmas time in our house. My big sister puts her arm around me, it’s ok she will be back, they are just going to have our baby. I’m scared. What if she never comes back, what if she doesn’t want me after this new baby comes? My thoughts can’t be calmed. So big sister does all that she can to comfort me, she offers to read me to sleep. How about a big girl book, one I’m reading… sounds harmless enough. She begins to read the Dark is Rising. And suddenly my over active imagination fills this memory with lightning and rain and a scary darkness. Big sister meant no harm, she is little more than a child herself, and she had two younger siblings to comfort while Mom was away. Soon the sounds of Christmas music return to my mind and the memory moves forward. The smells of hot food and cookies and pine, the sounds of the old Christmas records that I memorized so early, the chatter, the lights all come rushing back. I can’t remember what I asked for or what I got that year. But I do remember her, them, My big sister doing what she could to comfort me. And My new baby sister bundled up, puffy cheeked and puffy lips, large eyes wide open watching all around her, or sweetly sleeping in her swing next to the tree.
The next year that stands out in my mind is equally as hazy and equally as troubled, but equally as sweet. The year was … 3 or so years later. I measure everything after ’89 by how old my baby sister looks in the memory. I’m not sure what the grown up circumstances were but they were grave; no Dad, he was not there for us much before that anyway. Apparently no money, and no other resources could be spared or found for the flashy Christmas you might see from somewhere else. Mom made it clear, Santa couldn’t make it this year. I’m not sure if these were her precise words or this is what my brother and I deemed this year in our Christmas bank. But what I do know is we were told that we should find things from our own stuff that we know someone else would like and gift them to that person. She encouraged us to wrap them and put them under the tree, My brother and I were 9 and 8 and decided that we needed to be sure our baby sister still believed, we wrapped as many of our own things as we could, she had to have more presents under the tree than us or she might not. This was our plan, but the holiday cheer didn’t stop there, My mom spent all her time, making the rest of the home so cherrie and merry and bright that we did’t even notice what could have been such a sad time. The baking and cooking filled the house with the best smells and tastes, the records of Christmas tunes never stopped and we decorated every inch of that house from top to bottom, with garland, lights, paper cutouts of snowflakes and angels and make homemade ornaments for our tree. The tree was still real, small and barely the height of my little brother, but Mom made it feel big, she put it on our island counter and the light from it sparkled through the whole front of the house. We would sit under that tree and stare up at the sparkling through the branches with all the other lights in the house dimmed and the lulling music in the background and just feel the magic of Christmas and family.