Sunday, December 23, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas

My family has often gathered in different homes in different years. Some years we would have Thanksgiving and Christmas at Dad's. Sometimes they would go to my step mom's sister's house with an invite for us. With the children all in military or squirrel service of some sort in our younger days, getting together each holiday was not always possible, but there was always a home to go to.  Since my Step Mom died, the holidays are something Dad would just prefer pass, quickly and quietly.  We understand, the family gatherings are to be no more, only a handful of us left.

Going home is always different for people. Some have parents already gone, and there is no childhood home. Others have memories that are painful. events that  either temper or destroy, lit from within, like the fierce, still glare of a furnace.


I am lucky. My memories of childhood are good. Laughter and exploration wrapped in an warm blanket of sight and sound and tastes that I can taste with the fall of that first snow. My  memories of those times, though dusted with occasional hardships for us as a family, were, during the holidays, always  joyous, moments that like many childhood memories, hold that impossible quality of perfection we often assign to things we can never have back. 

My family never had a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people with Martha Stewart decor. We'd gather and all help in the preparation. Turkey, perhaps from the forest, not the freezer, sweet potatoes and pie, homemade bread and green beans. Though my Mom would make this green Norwegian jello dish that can best be described as a mayonnaise-based science experiment gone bad, but it was tradition. It was HOME.

 At Christmas, we never partook of the great debauchery of glut that crowds a home with paper trash and moments of surprise that pass like some race car past a stand; a streak of color, a exclamation of sound. Then gone so fast, leaving only a smell of something in the air that is burnt and past saving. Our Christmas was never like that, mine still aren't. They are slow, old-fashioned and savored. Their memory always haunts the edges of a busy, busy life.


Meals at Christmas were not a theatrical production, but elegant. Nothing that took all day, as it was a holiday for my Mom as well. Never something out of a can. Growing up in the depression, Mom learned to make up a delicious meal out of almost nothing left in the fridge. To this day, I still prefer a meal made myself, even if it's an apple and sharp cheese and a small dish of pickles, to something fast food-like, believing that the only creatures that should eat something tossed at them out of a window are seagulls.

Christmas day was special. We'd start with a breakfast of Bear claws from the local Scandinavian bakery and coffee. Well the adults anyway, for them, as myself now, coffee was a food, not a drink. I always begged for some, because that wise looking man on the Christmas-y looking red Hills Brothers can, brightly colored and studded with little stars, always looked so happy and full of knowledge as he drank from the coffee bowl. The decided grown up act of the Christmas coffee consumption and the robed man with his deep drinking pleasure was likely the reason my parents lingered over the table, whispering the quiet whispers of long lovers, while we snorted and charged around them, playing soldier and spy with our new toys.

The decorations still dot my home, an aluminum tree, wooden toys, a Nativity set that set on the bookshelf for some 30 years.  It was old, small and looked to be two different sets, the wise men, wearing bright pink and such robes, sitting atop  bright metallic silver dromedary (pimp my camel!).  Still it was OUR Nativity and when we were really little we took baby Jesus on a tour of the neighborhood on our bikes from a shirt pocket just so he could get acquainted.


The meals I make are what we had then. Lunch was Lefse in which was wrapped meats and cheeses with the ever present plate of cookies. Something to hold us through the afternoon of board games and music, perhaps carols I'd play on the piano. We'd have sung, but my family all bore the same family voice - all volume, no tone. So they would listen as I simply played and with the notes of that old piano resonating in us, we'd build the fire. Then, when the fire was blazing and the light outside began to fade, we would sit quietly and spend the rest of the late afternoon watching the Grinch or perhaps White Christmas and read books we'd all received, while Mom would put the dinner together. It's the dinner that I will still make, even if just for myself and a friend or two.


Roast beef with gravy, green beans with lemon butter, mashed potatoes and a old fashioned "bun warmer" full of homemade cloverleaf rolls. The smell would lead us into the kitchen like horses from the range, my siblings and I would chomp at the bit while Mom put it all together, placated with a slice of dill pickle or an olive from the ever present relish tray.

When the meal began after a moment of Grace, words spoken for those serving far away, it was a silent flurry of roasted meat, the creamy blanket of potatoes, and perfuming us all, the deep seated comfort of garlic. The meal would last until every last morsel was taken. It seemed as if we could eat endlessly, as if we'd had some successful inoculation at lunch time and could consume not only two plates of food, but more cookies. My youngest brother and I would help my Mom clean up as they gathered around the table for one last cup of coffee


As we bustled about, washing up and blowing bubbles at each other with the dish soap, we could hear the older members of the family, the laughter, and the comfort of a family together for a holiday. As we finished, I went to pick up from the table the can of coffee with the little man and the stars. But instead, I sat down beside it, full to bursting and worn out from a day of enchantment, lay my head on the table and my eyes drifted shut. Whatever laughter there was, there was, whatever deep worries my parents may have had about life, about a family member fighting in Vietnam, were outside our door. Now it was Christmas and there was something deep and starry in the kitchen. Simply moving the can to one side, I lay my head down beside it, nestled into my folded arms, stomach full, warm, happy safe. Despite my very young age, I knew that whatever happened to my family in the coming days, I could live for the rest of my life on this measureless family security.


Tonight, a cup of coffee and the sound of an instrument playing the first strains of Christmas music brings that all back in small ways, as I gather those I love near me in spirit and thought, the smell of good coffee awakening something in me  I was hoping for snow, but it was not to be the day dawning gray, the sky the color and texture of iron, that quietly pressed down upon the land until it lifted up into the darkness without notice.

I will not be "home for the holidays", but I will be home in spirit, with good food, gifts and conversations with loved ones on the phone. Not all of them family by blood, but family all the same, with that same tangible connection, silent invisible, like the draw of a bright flame that doesn't need immediate presence to warm you. Simple, loving human contact. Laughter with like minds and spirits. For the holidays are not simply about being "home" to a childhood memory, that for me and many others, does not exist any more. It's not about who or what have at your table, but what you have in your heart. It's more than the faith that you actively practice, or the faith that sits in quiet silence, waiting. It's sometime else, a connection to our friends and children, to the one who quietly loves us, to our God who gave us a wonderful gift. It's a visceral reminder that we are all connected, we are all worthy of love.

We can't all go home for the holidays but we can all let in a little bit of that old fashioned holiday spirit. Let in that feeling of succumbing to something that laps at the edge of your life all year long, something that will wear away the hard edges of stress, so for a moment, you can be a child again.

Tonight, as the light seeps out the sky, my future, not what I'd planned on years ago, my family changed in ways we didn't expect quite yet, a momentary longing of homesickness welled up in me and threatened to spill over. I just stopped, and for a moment my world was still. I looked at the photos around me, the gifts from friends and family, Barkley. I look out onto the frost twinkling on the ground like tiny lights in the sun and breathe in deep the beautiful world around and my homesickness disappears like tears melting into snowflakes. I realize that, just as love is not a lover, being with your relatives at home does not make it a Holiday. For the love that we expect to gather round us on these special days is there all of the time. It is a smile, a laugh, a certain special way of being alive. It is an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness that seeps into the broken spaces in our spirit like fresh fallen snow, making us whole.

May you all have a blessed Christmas - wherever the day takes you.
Love - Brigid and Barkley


31 comments:

  1. Merry Christmas! The gals and I hope you and yours have a terrific time...

    Dann in Ohio

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad you get to be home for Christmas, with those you love around you.

    Be safe, warm and happy - and Merry Christmas, ma'am!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rev. Paul - I will be off work, but I won't be with family, but it will still be good. Thanks for your well wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've had a LOT of holidays, good-bad-ugly-sad but never a perfect one (I know better LOL)....I'm not one to stress about em, either....and it's always good to get another one, especially.....

    No matter what the circumstances happen to be, (good) memories are something that goes everywhere with all of us.....all we have to do is remember them....

    Merry Christmas to you and Barkley ! And everyone here at HOTR :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. The journey is but a brief passing. The celebration is a lifetime.

    Merry Christmas

    ReplyDelete
  6. Merry Christmas.
    Thanks for sharing your talent for sharing such sentiments.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Merry Christmas to you Ms. B and Sir Barkley from Kandahar -

    Yes, things change and does that mean Christmas changes too ??

    I am still a little kid at heart and have already started tracking Santa as he will be here soon. I believe in SANTA Claus and the reason for the season with my heart & soul.

    Missus MJ and I still believe and make sure that Christmas is the most special time for us, the 4 children(all grown & gone except daughter who will be 17 in JAN) and even our pups.

    All my best wishes to you and yours from the sandbox. Next year, I plan to be back in Middleboro, MA for sure - For this year, I will hang here with the troops.

    " God Bless Us - Everyone !"

    ReplyDelete
  8. At 8 am Christmas Day I'll be on a flight west, joining my son and his family at noon, their time. I'll miss my 18 mo. old grandson opening his gifts for his first "real" Christmas, but will have the pleasure of giving my gifts (all handmade and personal, though not all made by me).

    My son says the most common words from my grandson right now are "Papa soon!" Even though I see them only twice a year, we keep in touch via Skype, so he knows and remembers me.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas, wherever you may be!

    Bob
    III

    ReplyDelete
  10. i will be home for Christmas, though there were many spent out on the water or overseas serving proudly for Uncle Sam. i'm glad i found your blog... many thoughts and laughter in your words and photographs had me nodding along. have a happy Christmas to you, Barkley, and everyone. thanks so much :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Roast Beef with Gravy? Umm Where's all that Venison you bagged? Far superior to roast beast :) Merry Christmas and a Happy New year to you Brigid and all your fans.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What a beautiful story and what a marvelous gift you have. I for one am so happy you chose to share your gist with us, your readers. Merry Christmas Brigid and Barkley!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Merry Christmas. Thank you for sharing your Christmas' past.

    ReplyDelete
  14. As is always the case, I love what you write and I usually find myself very hungry afterward. Merry Christmas to you!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Merry Christmas, and the best wishes for a good holiday season for you and yours.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Dann - a blessed day to the three of you as well.

    naturegirl - I hope the day brings you a bit of wonderful and joy, yourself. Merry Christmas!

    zdogk9 - Merry Christmas, I wished for one of your scones and coffee this morning, that's for sure!

    john bord - you are wise beyond your years. Merry Christmas.

    Ed Bonderenka - Bless you Sir, may this year find your family richly blessed and under the watchful eyes of our faith.

    Middleboro Jones - Thank you, for the difficult job you do, for the separation from family and country, for the good of others, for courage. Merry Christmas.

    Marty - have a safe trip and get some new pictures of the little one.

    MSgtB - Merry Christmas to you as well!

    IdahoBob - I am SO going to make the salsa recipe you mailed me for New Years. Have a wonderful day!

    ktgm99 - Welcome! And thank you, so much, for your service and courage. May you have a wonderful Christmas, wherever it is.

    Bubblehead Les- you too. I'll get to talk to big Bro, even if I don't get time off to see him. (I continue to be nice to him for he DOES have those photos of me in the horrid turtleneck aqua bridesmaid dress in Vallejo before his wedding when stationed there.
    :-)

    immagikman - the last deer went to a local family that had little meat, of any kind. Thanks for the note at home and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas tomorrow.

    OldAFSarge - thank you, for your thoughts for your kind words!

    Cathy M - thank you. I left you a note on google plus. I hope you have a wonderful day!

    Paladin - May this year be wonderful for you all. Thank you.

    BobG - It will be a good year, another one. I'm very blessed.
    My best to you and your wife.

    danontherock - enjoy the bird hunting and have a wonderful day with your daughter and family.

    Cond0011 - thank you for all of your kind thoughts and the sharing of verse and wisdom throughout the years. Merry Christmas.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Merry Christmas to you and Barkley

    ReplyDelete
  18. Merry Christmas Brigid, At the end we are but memories, friends and family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories!

    Bill

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you, Brigid. That was very kind of you.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Merry Christmas Brigid, to you and everyone you love.

    Six, Lu and Angus

    ReplyDelete
  21. Merry Christmas to you and Barkley, Brigid, from Murphy and me.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Merry Christmas B.! A wonderful post that somewhat mirrored my Holiday tonight.

    My thoughts are with you and yours. May you have a blessed Christmas!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you Brigid, for your words and your work, for being here and creating this space. For all your reminders about what is really important...

    ReplyDelete
  24. Merry Christmas, Brigid! And thank you for your writing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. So glad that you like to write. Happy holidays to you, Brigid.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Merry Christmas, Brigid - and everyone else.

    Christmas was Mom making food, the house decorated (with the things my brothers and I had made in school out of construction paper and colored pencils just as proudly displayed as the finest of ornaments), and music. Especially music. Holiday music on the record player (and very little TV), singing Christmas carols, and my Mom singing soprano in the choir at St. John's Episcopal. Music is central to Christmas for me, and I enjoy it the most singing in the choir.

    ReplyDelete

I started this blog for family that lives far away. Now that they are gone, it continues on to share those memories.

Comments are welcome,but if you have a fake name, no blog and only comment on the rare occasion to criticize or offer advertising for a business I've never heard of, you go straight to SPAM.