The holidays are almost upon us.
These days, they are so much different than they were when I was younger. I was a child and grandchuild of divorce, which did have some benefits. At one point, I had – and I counted them – 10 grandparents, and one year I had five different Christmas celebrations, with all the attendant presents. I cleaned up that year.
The main event, though, was always at my grandparents’ house – my dad‘s parents. Grandpa John was a minister in the Disciples of Christ church. He was a good man – a bit closed off in his feelings, as many men of his generation were – but always cheerful and loving with me.
Grandma Hazel was the consummate pastors wife – always baking, always cooking, always sharing her hospitality with anyone who came in her door. She and grandpa were children of the Great Depression, so she always kept anything that might have a use. She was no hoarder – everything was neatly stored, both in her closets and in her stellar memory.
She had a rolling cart full of Tupperware containers, each one of them stuffed with different kinds of cookies and treats. She also had a little pantry with an old refrigerator/freezer that was filled with jams and preserves. You didn’t visit grandma Hazel without going home with an armful of each.
On Christmas Day, our family would gather to the tantalizing aromas of turkey or ham or roast beef, talking and laughing about the year before. My dad has five siblings – one brother and four sisters – their high school photos lined the narrow hallway in my grandparents’ small white brick house.
When dinner was finally ready, the adults would all gather around the big table in the cozy dining room/kitchen, under the crystal chandelier that grandma Hazel was so proud of. The little ones were relegated to the “kids’ table” in the add-on room next to the kitchen. I still remember the one year when I was promoted to the adults’ table, and got to rub elbows with all of my aunts and uncles over dinner.
My family always sang “For health and strength, and daily bread, we give the thanks, oh Lord,” before we were allowed to eat. Often I would forget, and end up singing with a bite of mashed potatoes in my mouth.
At the end of the meal, the womenfolk would clean the dishes (I would usually help), and the menfolk would end up in front of the TV watching football. Eventually, we would open presents, and my grandpa, John, with his head bald as a cue ball, would end up with five or six bows attached to his bare pate.
The final part of the ritual was usually the men watching football again, and then usually falling asleep in front of the TV. I have a great picture somewhere of my grandpa, sleeping in his chair, bedecked with festive bows.
That was such a simple time. Back before I knew about the tension between my grandparents, or between my mom and my dad’s father. Before I knew who was the black sheep of the family. And before both of my paternal grandparents passed away. It was a time that seemed like it would never end, and yet now it feels like it was so long ago.
I miss my family, those innocent bonds that tied us together, the great meals shared together under my grandparents’ roof.
Christmas these days is a much more antiseptic affair – just another day on the calendar. Our last Christmas tree, five years ago, fell to the ground with a crash at two in the morning, dumping a bucket, full of water and all the ornaments onto the hardwood floor with a loud crash. It was the final blow to the holiday I once adored.
In about three weeks, I will be releasing a new short story collection, containing five queer contemporary stories. Three of them have Christmas themes – my way of returning to those halcyon days, I suppose, if only in fiction.
I hope the holiday spirit will come back to us, to feel that sense of wonder, warmth, and connection that I knew all those years ago under my grandparents’ roof. In these trying times, joy is hard to find, but all the more precious for the effort.
So I’m making a resolution for myself this year. To find the holiday joy again, in however small a portion, in whatever unlikely way. To remember my family as it was, and to being a little of that spirit into our own home.
And to you, my beautiful readers, for whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you find some joy too.