12 December 2008

The Christmas Elephant

I love Christmas. I love picking out a tree, pulling the ornaments out of the boxes, hanging up a wreath, putting lights on the house, wrapping packages, getting together with family and friends.

It’s always been the holiday in the family. Every year, going back to the early 70s, my mother had a huge Christmas Eve party – kids running around, old neighbors dropping in, lots of wine and cheese, many different cookies, a five pound bag of pistachios. Eddie, the Joyce scholar from down the street, bangs out Christmas carols on the piano and everyone sings, gathering steam for a blockbuster belting of O Holy Night. Stragglers hung around until the wee hours, drinking scotch and telling jokes, until finally stumbling home, leaving us to clean house so as not to awaken on Christmas morn to too many half empty glasses and scrunched up cocktail napkins.

And my mother did Christmas right. Everything had a place – the Christmas tree always in the same corner, a garland over the living room fireplace, another over the hall mirror. Presents – perfectly wrapped in a palette of green, red, silver, white, gold – spilled across the room. My mother made appliqu├ęd, embroidered, felt stockings for everyone – first for the core five, then with additions for cats and spouses and grandchildren and the siblings-by-temperament who’ve joined the family, like David, who was clearly our brother in another life. There are so many stockings now that they have to hang doubled up on the hooks along the mantel. She has enough ornaments for an enormous tree, almost all of them old and glass and fragile, but some of the plain little gold balls ended up on a permanently lit and decorated tree, an artificial tree that spends 11 months in a box in the attic, awaiting its turn in the dining room window.

This year, that little tree is just about the only sign of Christmas at my mother’s house. Oh, there’s a garland around the front door, and one over the hall mirror, and a forest of tiny trees on the mantelpiece, but there’s no big tree, because my mother’s living out her days in the living room.

I’m so at odds. It’s always been that we go to her house for Christmas, to be there for Christmas Eve, and the Christmas morning present orgy, and a big Christmas dinner at the end of the day. And then, we disperse, on the 26th or 27th or so, to spend time with other parts of the family. I’ve never woken up in my own house on Christmas Day. It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that it’s never been that way. It’s been Christmas at my mother’s house. Period.

We’re still working out when we can get together with my siblings and their spouses and Mir’s cousins. It’ll probably happen a day or three before Christmas, and then everyone but my brother and his wife will stay with my mother through a quiet Christmas, unlike any other. And then he’ll leave and my sister and I will return, to care for our mother while her aides have some off time.

On Christmas Eve, Mir will go to sleep in her own bed, and Santa will come down our chimney and tuck presents under the tree and eat cookies and milk, and we’ll work on inventing our own Christmas traditions, but still, a part of me is dreading Christmas a little.

Because there’s an elephant in the room where the tree should be.

42 comments:

Library Lady said...

I SO get this. Christmas was always Nanay's (my late m-in-law) special day. It's going to be so DIFFERENT this year.

The one wonderful thing in losing (or being in the process of losing) someone you love so much is the way it can draw you together with the other people you love.

Hold together. And celebrate life.
To me, that's the best way to honor those we love and lose.

RuthWells said...

Library Lady said it great -- I've nothing to add but a hug.

Mayberry said...

I wish there was some way to dress that elephant up in tinsel and ribbons. I'm sorry there isn't.

liz said...

Many many hugs for you and your family.

S. said...

Thinking of you, Magpie, and the year my grandfather died suddenly the same night I arrived home from school for the holiday, and we had one last, unplanned Christmas-season gathering of all the aunts and uncles and cousins out in the Omaha house, at the time of year we always had come together there, but for his funeral.

Winters are hard. It's a season of loss and gathering.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

This time of year can be hard when it's not the same or as wonderful as we want it to be. How blessed you are that your mother gave you so many years of amazing memories.

kathy a. said...

(((( magpie )))) and (((( everyone else in the family ))))

family traditions change over time, because they have to. the tree in your mom's living room is not the most important thing -- being together and loving her and using as much as you can, maybe adding more this year in different ways, IS the important thing. xoxo

and, it is not bad to begin or add to one's own traditions at home. mir will probably be thrilled to learn santa comes to her house, too -- and to pull you out of bed, way too early.

best to you and yours. xoxo

jen said...

oh honey.

sometimes the only way out is through. you'll get there. and it's okay if it's not smooth sailing.

xo

Kelly said...

It all sounds so familiar. My Grandmother's house was the place to be on Christmas Eve and it has all but faded away (for different reasons). New traditions will come and give you opportunity to reminisce about the old ones.

Merry Christmas!

daysgoby said...

Maybe that elephant needs a big green bow?

I understand. Christmas around here is kind of hollow, since it's not the tree and the ornaments I grew up with and and and...

I hope you can make come new traditions out of the old. And please, get that elephant a Santa hat or something? He looks so sad.

Mental P Mama said...

I am so sorry. I remember this transition very clearly, and it is a heavy-hearted one. But beginning new traditions is a part of life. And it will all be well. Thinking of you.

Aunt Becky said...

Oh Magpie, I'm sorry. I can only imagine how this must be awful to celebrate this year.

Debbie said...

That is just the sweetest post I've read in a long time. I hope you can find some joy in creating new traditions.

Tina said...

This is such a beautifully written, tender post. I get it; we had four similar Christmases while we cared for my mom at home in a hospital bed in our living room. It's amazing what can become "normal life". Wishing you and yours a blessed holiday.

Furrow said...

So hard. But I hope you all have as joyous a Christmas as possible and that you find your way to some extra special new traditions.

wheelsonthebus said...

I can add nothing but my sadness for your pain that is so steeped in love.

susan said...

I've been thinking of you and your family a lot this season. You do, and you will, celebrate your mother well--but navigating the loss of your old traditions, navigating her loss as she declines: so hard. ((((all of you)))

Rima said...

That must be so very, very hard. But your rendering of the Christmas Eve party and your mother's tradition was so eloquent. For some reason, it made me think of what I imagine a New Orleans reveille might be like, all elegance and glitter and alcohol and smoke rings . . .

I hope those memories can eventually serve as springboards for a new tradition for the next generation in your family.

flutter said...

Wow. I just want to hug you for awhile

Le laquet said...

I'm with you too - I was just speaking to Simon about this last night - my Nana died last Boxing Day (26th December), going to be hard for all of us!

Nora Bee said...

Bittersweet, indeed. The holidays are so good when they are good, so sad when they are sad.

Eva said...

That's not a good feeling. Sorry to hear.

Elissa said...

Our Christmas eves have never been the same. How grateful we are for those wonderful nights. My brother and I will always think of your family during this time - you're etched on our hearts and right now, they're breaking.

Janet said...

It's so hard, isn't it? When the traditions change drastically without our consent. And the impetus behind the change is so heartbreaking.

I'm sorry.

phd in yogurtry said...

You'll develop new traditions. But yeah, for now, its just plain tough. Grab some extra hugs for yourself, from me, will ya?

Hip Mom's Guide said...

You said this so eloquently, and that must have been hard, just like this Christmas will be. I'm sorry we can't all blog it away and make it better. Consider this a big, bloggy hug, and I hope you get lots more real ones from your family this month!

Anjali said...

Oh, that's hard. Big hugs.

Stimey said...

I'm so sorry. It's hard enough to make new traditions when it's what you want to do. I have so many strong memories of the way my mother made Christmas. I've carried many traditions over into my own family's Christmas. It's a nice way to meld the past and the future.

JO said...

I wandered over from the Girl Next Door - and this poignant post truly nailed what I have been feeling for the last six years since own mother passed away.

Growing up sucks.

Thanks for expressing it so elegantly and eloquently!

Maggie, Dammit said...

God, that's hard. I'm so sorry.

So sorry. :(

Vodka Mom said...

That was a lovely, lovely post. I am so sorry about the elephant.


for a minute i thought you were talking about me.

Aliki2006 said...

I'm sending a hug to you, too. And this post made me really realize how fortunate I am to get to travel to spend Christmas with my family, the way I did growing up, and the way we do every year. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to wake up in my own house for Christmas, instead of in the house I grew up in. Your post has made me think about how I would miss the Christmas I know so well, were it to end.

lilypotter said...

I know everyone's already said this, but I am so sorry. This will be the third Christmas without my Nana- we always went to her house Christmas night, and all the relatives (from all over) would stop by. We'd see people we hadn't seen since last year. My aunt tried to continue the tradition, but it's not the same. It makes me so sad that my kids won't remember a tradition that was such a big part of the holiday for me, but like everyone said, we'll make new traditions- and so will you. I don't know if that helps. Either way, I'm sending hugs too.

painted maypole said...

oh, heart hurting stuff, indeed

FreshHell said...

Ugh. Not sure what else to say. Holidays seem to underscore difficult times. Thinking good thoughts and sending them your way.

slouching mom said...

i'm so sorry, babe.

needleinahaystack said...

I will never forget Christmas in that house. I will never forget the smell of pine in the beautiful mahogany lined entry hall or the most magnificent gingerbread house. It was a really perfect Christmas. I think I remember your mom loved smokehouse almonds?
We change, we grow but the memories are still there, even more embedded in our psyche.

heidi said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Just catching up on yours....

Mad said...

You will be Mir's Christmas. That is all.

No, that's not all. My mother died suddenly, unexpectedly 4 days after Christmas in a year I didn't make it home.

Your Christmases will always be altered by this new reality but you will carry on with your mother and all she stood for inside you.

That last sentence is awkward. Sorry.

niobe said...

Blue Christmas. Thinking of you.

bron said...

I've been dreading Christmas a little this year too. I'm thinking of you all and wondering if Xmas Eve will ever be magical again. This is my first one (since 1975 anyway) without you all. I'm going to miss the pig cookies, the music, the fireside jokes and looking at that glorious tree. But mostly I'll miss being with you all.

Lucy said...

Hi,
How nice to follow my sister's post. It's hard for me to put into words how sad I feel about Xmas Eve this year. The pig cookies, cider, laughter, and piano playing were always lovely, but what I will really miss is the sense of friendship, love, and family.