Friday, December 14, 2012

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

By Susan

         This December started off in typical Texas fashion: 85 degrees and bright blue skies.
         I have to admit, I resent warm Christmas weather. My childhood Christmases in Kentucky were cold and icy winter-wonderlands spent at my grandparents' log home, Fort Henry, perched on a mountainside above a lake, just on the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest. We’d chop a twenty-foot pine ourselves and drag it into the house, tying it up to the walls to keep it steady. We’d often have snow; we’d always see (rein)deer. Every year my grandfather would jokingly threaten, in front of a roaring fire, that he was boarding up the chimney this year to keep “Santy” from bringing us gifts.
My cousins Morgan and Evan with one of our famous trees tied to my grandfather's El Camino.
(I know, it's almost too good to be true.)
         And so to me, something about this time of year inherently means dashing through the snow, not big Texas heat. The hot blue expanse of Texas skies never really meshed with my idea of Christmas. I miss the mountains. I miss seeing my breath. And yet I’ve lived here for over ten years. Every other year, I’ve taken my brood to Kentucky, where we’ve experienced what I've called "authentic" yuletide seasons. The log home was sold years ago, when the maintenance and remoteness of the house became too much for my grandparents to manage; yet we always had big Christmases full of lots of noise and egg nog and family cheer.
         This year I’ve had a hard time getting in the mood. We’ll be at my in-law’s house here in Texas for the week of the holiday, so I excused myself from decorating my own home. That’s right: no tree. Not one single spray-painted pinecone or sequined stocking. Not even one glittered Santa or gaudy brass candlestick shaped like Rudolph.
         Sunday night, a cold front blew through. Twenty-eight degree mornings. Frost on cars and winter coats with mittens. We even had a light dusting of snow. My younger daughter and I built roaring fires in the fireplace each night this week, and I started to get in the spirit of things. Then I realized I wasn’t really grumpy about the weather, or about Texas, after all.
         This is my first Christmas without my grandmother, who died October first. She was my last grandparent. She was the one who loved those twenty-foot Christmas trees and that log house in the woods. Part of my bah-humbug attitude, that I was blaming on Texas, really was about the passing of time.
Susan at Fort Henry, Christmas Eve, 1975
         I’d never have those Christmases again. My children know different traditions (one, if I am not careful, could be of their mother not decorating for Christmas). And although I am blessed to have healthy parents this Christmas, and I know that my daughters and extended family are healthy as well, somehow I know that without my grandmother, Christmas will never be the same.
         And so I pulled myself together. It was simple, really. I didn’t have to go all out. Stockings on the mantel, a little greenery on the open staircase. Some background Christmas music, and The Night Before Christmas propped open, ready to be recited, just the way my grandmother used to read it to my sisters and cousins and me, and later, to our children. I found a few special ornaments that once hung on one of those giant Christmas trees at Fort Henry and put them out where I could see them, even if I didn’t put up a tree of my own. Not yet, at least.
A Fort Henry tree, with my grandmother sitting in front.
         This morning, the weather in Texas is mild again. Not warm, mind you, just pleasant. And I remind myself that the season really isn’t about the weather, or about the big family celebration at the cabin in the woods. It’s about celebrating a season of kindness and giving and religious celebration.
         I’m going into the New Year with lots of hope. I’m also ending this year with plenty to be thankful for. And so I’ll forgive Texas weather for being what it is, and I’ll embrace my daughters instead. I’ll even forgive time for marching on—thankful that I’m left with such wonderful memories, even though I can’t have the Christmases of my past ever again. God-willing I’ll have plenty of great new Christmas memories before me, even if we are wearing T-shirts and shorts on Christmas Day.      
      And even if I don't get a twenty-foot tree.


  1. Love this. I wasn't planning to buy a tree this year--too much "work" and time involved and not enough enthusiasm. Yesterday, after the Connecticut school shooting, I knew my family had to go buy a tree and put it up together. (We will be at home sitting around it next Tuesday, after all, and not away.) It was fun, and in a way, the usual fuss over who was helping or being cranky felt "normal"--just what we needed last night. We also decided to pay for the tree of the next person to arrive. We tried to sneak away before we got caught. We didn't quite make it, but hearing a woman and her son shout thank you across the lot was gratifying. It was a day to remind each other humanity is still worth it. I cried all the way home, and it was a bittersweet cry.

  2. Oh, Julie. So sweet. I know how you feel. It's funny, when I started writing this post, I didn't know that it was about my grandmother. I didn't know it was going to be about my Fort Henry memories. I really couldn't figure out why I was so averse to decorating this year... Writing this post made me see that I needed to put things in perspective!


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