Christmas time was a special time around our household. Decorations at home, decorations to put up at the store, treats being baked for the holidays, mom putting together music for school, music for church... presents slowly filling in under the tree covering the tree skirt. Our Christmas Eve gathering/gift opening (yes, we always did Christmas Eve not Christmas morning... that's just how we rolled) was our family (Mom, Dad, Chris, Matthew and I) and then the two grandma's (Grandma O and Grandma Gert) and Rolly and cousin Sara. So the gifts would fill in pretty quickly and quite numerously.
I remember one year when I was about 7 or 8 that presents weren't filling in for me and I was getting very antsy for more to show up sooner, so I took it upon myself to make some presents, even though I didn't know how to wrap a present nor did I have any gifts to wrap. So I made some. I put two paper plates facing each other creating a pocket of sorts... big enough to put SOMETHING in... and I did. I don't remember what it was, but I put some little trinkets in them and then taped them shut. I put bows on them and wrote the "to" and "from"s and put them under the tree and then convinced Mom that we should open some presents... my presents. It was like hors d'oeuvres for the upcoming Christmas Eve... it was enough to hold me over... I didn't really care about everybody else, I just wanted to open something.
My wish list every Christmas was never TOO crazy. My parents would usually ask for a list and I'd get one thing off that list. I had to be careful; ask for too much and I'd get the worst thing on the list... ask for too little and I'd get too little. It was the only kind of gambling I played as a kid, and I was not very good at it.
We'd get the JCPenny Christmas Catalog in the mail before Thanksgiving and it became my main source of reading for the next month. The gift section (toys) was half the catalog and I'd browse that thing front to back then back to front then all over again. I'd circle the "maybe's" and then evaluate my choices and re-evaluate those until I was sure where I wanted to land with my final list.
Every year there was something that seemed to be "shooting for the stars" and I always wondered if it was even worth throwing it out there. I didn't want to miss out on an amazing opportunity... If I didn't shoot for the stars, how would I ever get the amazing "whatever"? I can remember thinking that each "thing" that was so amazing was going to be the most amazing thing I ever got. One year it was a remote control car. I got it. Was it amazing? Meh. not really. The next year it was a miniature pinball game. I got it. Was it amazing? Meh. Not really. This pattern repeated pretty much every year of my youth. Wish... Get.... Meh. Wish... Get... Meh. It's not that I was ungrateful, it's just that I was getting caught up in WANTING a gift more than what the gift was for. I could be found counting the gifts as they built up. Finding the one that was marked with my name and try to figure out which thing off my list it COULD be. When left home alone or near the gifts for too long, I'd most likely be found near the pile of presents sizing mine up. Shaking, weighing, sliding back and forth... and yes, I can admit it now (considering Mom and Dad are no longer around) I carefully unwrapped one present then re-wrapped it. I had never performed such delecate surgery and it rattled my nerves. Afterwards, I knew that I didn't like that I had done that, so I never did it again. I do remember that often I'd call a friend or friends up and see what they got so we could figure out what we were going to play with the most. Did Peter get a BB gun or did Jeff get that one cool video game? The photo call was brief and just a rundown to compare notes, maybe wish each other Merry Christmas.
As I got older the gifts got a bit more selective and I remember being a bit more disappointed every once in a while. But I also began to realize that the gifts weren't why we were doing what we were doing. The music began to sink in. The words began to make sense to me. I began to realize that the Grandma's weren't going to be around forever. What I didn't count on was that the number of Christmases that I'd get to experience as a family like this were coming to a close quickly. I didn't know that Mom and Dad were going to divorce about the time that I headed off to college. I didn't realize that shortly after that I'd love one grandma and that Christmases were going to be not full of music and decorations like they were when Mom was still around. Dad did his best to keep the holiday traditions together with his brother Rolly and Sara and then us boys, but it was never the same.
Slowly, year after year, the memories of Christmas became more and more nostalgic to me. The music was from when times were Norman Rockwell-ish to me. The harmonies of the Christmas hymns were sung the same year after year... they became tattoo'd in my brain... I'd follow the tenor line in the green hymnal and sing along ... every year... year after year... and I still do. I don't have to even look at the line anymore, it's the only notes I hear when I hear the songs now.
But since the passing of my parents, especially Mom, the singing of those songs has become incredibly difficult. That tenor line that so easily came to me now just reminds me about how Mom showed me how to find my part in any song. I think about Mom playing the hymns on the organ. I think about how good the times were and how I didn't even know it.
When the music plays, often it takes all I can muster to just sing the melody let alone any of the harmony. My stomach instead sinks and heart swells as I feel the memories sweep through me. My eyes will tear up and the lump in my throat grows to a point when singing becomes impossible. I love Christmas and Christmas music, but I think that the memories of it is still too much for me to get past. And that's ok.
I try to appreciate the reason of the season. I try to appreciate what I've got in my life that's amazing. I try to appreciate what I had and how that set a foundation for me for all the things in my life now. I think about where the next Christmases may be and what memories may be created. I think about how I hope to be able to sing those songs again and how I'll still remember singing them with Mom and Dad up in the balcony in Zion.
I'm writing this now as I go to bed on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow will be a new day, a new Christmas that I'll spend with my daughter and my brother's family. We'll exchange a few gifts and likely watch a Christmas movie or two. Have some soup. Play some games. Just enjoy each other's company. Perhaps memories will come up of the time that we spent in the past together. We'll talk about the food Mom used to make and the gifts we opened. How we always opened the presents oldest to youngest. How eager the kids were to get toys and how the adults loved getting tools or soap on a rope or socks. Dad smoking his pipe lending his air to the heavy scents of apple cider and cinnamon, smoke from the fireplace and wax of the candles. We'll enjoy our time together and perhaps now, I will enjoy it all the more as I savor everybody's company and these moments of family. Perhaps I'll tape together a few paper plates and see if anybody enjoys the gifts from Little JT. Everybody likes opening gifts. I bet they won't be able to figure out what's in them. Perhaps I'll call up some friends and wish them a Merry Christmas and see what they got for gifts... see if there's anything worth going over and playing with! Maybe Jeff finally a cool video game or Peter finally got a BB gun. That WOULD be kind of fun. Maybe it would take my mind of the past and start moving forward.
If you don't hear from me, don't be offended... I tend to get chatty and may only talk to a couple people all day. But know that if I know you, you are likely in my thoughts during this season as I think back on all my Christmas memories.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.