Wasn’t what I intended for my first entry here, but it was sparked the entry of a friend — all of which I agreed with, far too much.
I grew up with a very large extended family. At Thanksgiving or Christmas we’d all coverge on my grandmother’s sister’s house in Pulaski, have this giant dinnner, and retire to couches and chairs and occasionally pillows on the floor, depending on your age and size (I was always on the floor…)to catch up on what we’d all missed in the intervening year.
My grandfather was always the oldest in the room, so he always said the blessing at dinner. His words were few, but heartfelt, and no matter the religious affiliations in the room, we never parted with the tradition. When he gave the blessing at the first Thanksgiving after we brought my uncle home from the hospital…it was the first time I ever heard him cry.
Until recent years provided me with a passel of tiny third cousins, I was always the youngest. The buzz of conversation went on all around me and over my head. It should be noted, however, that I didn’t sit in a corner with a book in those days when I had nothing I say. I sat right down in the very center of the room, turned my back to the fireplace, and played with whatever toy I’d brought with me or whatever I’d dragged down from the attic. If I got tired, I’d find a conventient lap; there were plenty to go around. There was no safer, warmer place in the world than that hard floor, and I doubt there will ever be again.
The older I got, the older everyone else got, and as they all had many, many years on me, our circle began shrinking steadily when I was 16 or so. My grandmother’s sister (my aunt Lene, so I don’t have to keep calling her that) moved out of her old farmhouse and into town. My uncle had all his health problems; we couldn’t take him anywhere easily, and no one could quite come to us.My aunt Lene died, and I spent my Thanksgiving holiday in a hospital waiting room, explaining to her greatgrandchildren why everyone was sad and crying.
I watched my grandfather decline daily from Alzheimer’s and I thought any reason I might’ve had to celebrate was surely gone. He’d find me sometimes at night and ask me questions. Some nights, he thought I was my mother, but some nights he knew that I was me and he’d ask what I was doing and how school as going and I’d tell him and he’d beam at me and be so proud. I lived for those moments, and I remembered them when he couldn’t remember his daughter or his own wife, when he thought our house a nursing home that he couldn’t leave, and when he’d get angry because he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see his parents, who’d been dead for twenty years. He died in April two years ago, and though that last year was hell, I remember thanking anything that cared to listen to me that I’d had that one last year. I can’t count the times I told him I loved, just to make sure he’d remember.
And then I started working retail. It’s a craft store, so the air of creativity alleviates a little of the oppressive commercialism, but working retail during the holidays really is as bad as they all say.
My little family is getting smaller, and I’m getting further away from it. What once was a warm, safe, security blanket of a holiday has slowly become associated with pain and loss, greed and appearance. I realized a while ago how easy it would be to crawl inside a cynical shell, to reject the entire season for any number of reasons…but then I got angry. Really furious. And also determined. All the apathy and cynicism in the world can’t take what’s mine unless I allow it too — so I simply won’t allow it. I have all my old memories, locked away in my head to be reviewed any time I want. And I’ll make new memories. I will play in the snow and get my tongue stuck to icecicles and crochet scarfs for my friends and smile and say Merry Christmas to everyone I see (even though I’m not supposed to, for the sake of political correctness) and sing Christmas carols to the stars after dark on Christmas Eve and just you try to stop me. The world is not going to hand me happy holidays anymore, so I’ll make them myself. They’ll have meaning because I say they do, not just because they should.