We’re finishing out the Christmas holiday. I’m struck by how our lean celebration has left me with distinct memories and a restful feeling that I’ve never had after Christmas. In past years, our family typically had three days of celebration: Christmas Eve with our immediate and church families, Christmas Day with our immediate and Riddle family, and the morning after with our Rosser family for brunch. It was all very festive with lots of food and conversation and felt like you were pulled through by an overwhelming tide that just carried you. Afterwards, it took a while to sort through the presents, the conversations, and the mess that was left in our wake; that was Christmas.
Of course as our children grew up and married and had new families to be with, our holidays had to adapt. And then with the pandemic this year, our holiday really had to adapt. Instead of our immediate family gathering at one time, we had Christmas in three shifts to keep down any potential COVID exposure.
So, I celebrated with my son, Brooks and his family last Saturday December 19th. I asked him what I could bring, assuming I needed to cook something traditional for the holiday.
“Just bring yourself. We’re going to keep it simple,” Brooks instructed me.
It seemed odd to not be taking something, to not have a meal together at Christmas. But, I didn’t need to add stress by insisting on trying to do it like we had in the past. This was a different year and Brooks and Emily should determine what would work best for their busy family.
Just accept this year as it is, that still, small voice inside me said about that Saturday and the rest of the holiday. Nothing was the same this year, for our family or anyone else. Why try to force the old on the current situation?
I would see my younger son, Ross after the holiday. For the first time ever, I’d be alone on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I looked forward to the rest because I felt deeply tired from this year. There would be Netflix episodes to watch, new books to read, and favorite meals from local restaurants to enjoy. No cooking– which meant it would be much more relaxing– a time to rest.
But between Saturday with Brooks’s family and my two days of rest, I needed to go home for Christmas. I wanted to return to my hometown and to our farm to remember the special things that were always part of the holiday. I took off the Monday before Christmas to travel there and savor the time that has been made more precious by this year that has kept me away.
My friend-since-first-grade, Donna made lunch for me. We sat in her cozy and beautifully decorated home and ate salads and croissants along with our sweet rum-based drinks. She is always so welcoming of company and makes her guests feel relaxed. Her house sits at the top of a hillside and provides a wide view through her sliding glass doors of the tops of the trees. The sun was shining brightly on their bare limbs that were moving in the breeze to background music of Cold Play on Donna’s stereo.
We talk often, but it always feels best to talk in person. We’ve discussed lots of situations with me sitting in her red chair and her across from me on her black-and-white striped sofa–Donna’s beagle, Lucy posed near my feet, hoping I’ll drop her a morsel.
I don’t feel rushed and appreciate that Donna’s a patient listener, waiting until I’ve finished my thoughts before making any comment. Lately, we’ve talked a lot about my recent foray into the Brave New World of online dating– some of it comical, some of it frustrating. These conversations feel like they did when Donna and I were 18 years old discussing the latest bough and trying to interpret his confusing behavior. We shared a dorm room, along with our friend, Pam during our freshman year of college. We had many late nights of those conversations eating dorm-room snacks and wondering what was in our future, since so much was ahead of us. Now, in our mid-sixties, we wonder what our future holds when there is much less expanded before us.
We talked for almost three hours and I hated to end our visit. There is always more we could discuss, things we’ve thought of asking each other, details we’d only skimmed over in the past. With time moving forward, we feel the need to not let go of these things which may be lost. But, I have to go in order to make two more stops that will complete my visit home.
It’s been months now since I visited my mother’s grave. I pulled my Camry off the road next to the Shallow Well Church cemetery. Standing in the December cold, I remember her service on that chilly Saturday last May. We’d had to wear mask and do the pandemic distancing. I’d looked out over the crowd and had been surprised by the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that showed up in the pandemic to honor my mother. I felt deeply touched by the palpable love that she’d given to others and was returned on that day in May to our family.
I had our hometown florist, who years before had prepared my wedding flowers, to make arrangements for Mama and Daddy’s gravestone and for my Aunt Polly’s–which is next to theirs. I’d not been good at maintaining the flowers at their sites, not like they’d been with their parents. But this year, the red and white arrangements were a proper crown for those granite stones and the bright sunlight yielded a mid-afternoon beauty. I stood at their graves, talking to them, telling them how much I missed them and remembering how they’d loved Christmas.
In my mind’s eye, I could see Daddy taking a hammer and nail and breaking into a coconut, painstakingly harvesting the white fruit. Mama would make her fresh coconut cake that would be the centerpiece of Christmas desserts. Aunt Polly would make a thin M &M chocolate chip-style cookie that would melt in your mouth. Over the years, none of us have been able to create a cookie like Polly’s.
I say my goodbyes to Mama and Daddy and wonder what Christmas is like in heaven. I carry the memory of Polly with me as I get in my car and drive to my home, the farm where I grew up. Now, my younger sister, Peggy lives there and her house has a portion of the 1880 farmhouse where I lived until 8th grade.
That two-story nine-room house was built by my great grandparents. Rather than do a costly renovation, my parents built a new brick ranch behind it. The old house was cut into two parts and moved to another area of the farm. The front portion, which Daddy made into a rental unit in front of our farm pond, later became Peggy’s home. All these years later, Peggy and her husband, Chuck have made two additions and it is the gathering place of our Rosser family. How special it’s been for Peggy to keep the homeplace alive.
When I arrive, Peggy is making Christmas crafts with her two daughters and five grandchildren; it is the happy chaos of the season. Later, the children take a break and are screaming and jumping on the bed in Peggy’s room. Since I’m the only one wearing a mask, and still in my dark coat, the children play like I’m a boogey man. I go along with it, knowing how much fun it is for an adult to act crazy with the kids. Later, my great nephew, Camden who is six, is seen whispering to the next oldest, Malli, who is five. She comes over to me with her wide grin, her white-blond hair like a little angel.
“He said you’d just been let out of prison!” she tells me, then laughs and runs away.
How funny! What a great imagination my nephew has. It reminds me of my days of make-believe friends growing up at this place.
“Well, I’m going to have to eat you all up!” I tell them and chase them around the bed.
They love it and so do I.
Later, Peggy says that I need to teach her grandchildren how to 2-Step– referring to last week’s post and how I dance with Baker. She finds Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” on her phone. I take turns with each of the five, holding the little ones in my arms and taking the hands of the the bigger ones while their feet are planted on the floor. I hope one day they’ll remember me fondly, as I do my Aunt Polly. I hope they’ll remember how we played boogey man and danced the 2-Step in their grandparents’ bedroom at Christmas.
As a girl, I roamed through the woods with Aunt Polly to gather evergreens to decorate our home–much like I saw years later in an episode of The Waltons. That gathering of greens became a beloved tradition for me, and now on my journey home, Peggy and I leave the kids and grandkids and we walk by the edge of the fields and through the woods, talking and gathering pine and cedar. It is a walk I will remember, my favorite across the fields and sharing with Peggy the ups and downs of my life. It has been so good to have my sister’s support in the past year as in all the years.
It’s getting toward dark when I leave Peggy’s. I walk out toward the old tobacco barns that are now Chuck’s workshops. Looking out over the pond and fields, I think back to the nights before Christmas as a child when I waited for Santa. I remember coming down the wooden stairway of our ‘old house’, now part of Peggy’s house, excited to go in our den and see what Santa brought me. This year two of Peggy’s grandkids will do the same.
It’s the end of Christmas and I linger with the bittersweet memories of this year. The images stand out so clear against a sunny and cold day. My heart is warmed by the family and friends that remain in my life, that journey with me through this holiday and into the new year.
I leave you with a prayer that you will savor the special memories of this Christmas season of 2020. Carry them as you walk forward into the mystery that is 2021. May you feel God’s love and care, no matter your circumstances, as you grow forward in the light.