Missing Christmas? That’s understandable. After all, we’re living in a world where going home for the holidays has turned into staying home. And it’s not just for the day itself.
There’s no parties and no open houses. No individual traditions of pre-Christmas lunches and small gatherings for private gift exchanges. No looking at the December calendar and doing a mental Venn diagram of who likely will be at which event so that only one’s husband sees the same festive outfit twice during the season. (That last bit makes me sound terribly superficial, but then I’ve always said that I’m very shallow—deep down.)
No meeting of cute young couples or seeing friends one has known for years. No promises, which will go mostly unfulfilled, to get together after the first of the year. No gossip and no telling old anecdotes masquerading as party conversation.
So, for your reading enjoyment, I will tell a story that you would likely hear if we were somewhere chatting over an eggnog. Or a martini—I hate eggnog.
Picture it—Tyler, 1982. Karl is coming home with me for our first Christmas together with my family. Back in January, Karl and I had the conversation from which we date our commitment, when it was made clear that I would never play Lisa to his Oliver Douglas, that farm livin’ was not the life for me, and that Dallas (if not New York) was where I’d rather stay.
A couple of months later, I came down with a serious case of hepatitis and had to be hospitalized. Recuperating at home, Karl came down to visit. I was in the den when Mother came into the room and announced, “A man in leather just arrived riding a motorcycle. I think it’s for you.” Not a particularly auspicious beginning, but Mother soon had the family albums out, and Karl showed the appropriate level of interest in them.
Then in August, Daddy died suddenly, and Karl met the rest of the family. Considering how long ago that was, it is somewhat noteworthy that no questions were asked by anyone, inside or outside the family, about exactly how he fit into this picture. But then, knowing me probably made it easy to put two and two together.
We got through Thanksgiving well enough, but I was a bit trepidatious about Christmas. First holidays after a major loss are usually the hardest. I hoped that Karl’s first Christmas with us would make the transition less difficult. So we loaded up the car with presents and made our way home.
Our tradition was to open gifts on the night of Christmas Eve, and we all took our usual places on the sofa, chairs, and floor of the living room. Karl, sitting in the chair in which Daddy sat, seemed natural and right.
Of course, I was most intrigued by the two boxes from Karl that were for me. One was medium sized, and the other was quite large. I had checked out the bigger one surreptitiously and found that it wasn’t as heavy as I suspected. Visions of a coat began to dance in my head as we had gone to a Christmas reception at Koslow’s earlier in the month. Maybe it was mink, or perhaps beaver. Or what about that cashmere coat in camel with the fox collar? I could hardly wait to open it.
As we all took turns opening presents, I naturally opened the smaller one first. It contained an alarm clock radio, a practical replacement for the one I’d gotten when I’d gone off to college years earlier.
Another round of gifts, and it was time to open the big box. I ripped into it, expecting to find something glossy and plush, only to find a large plastic bag with a zipper containing a dual control electric blanket. While trying unsuccessfully to conceal my disappointment, I looked around the room only to catch Mother’s eye. She gave me a look that clearly said, “You’ve got some work to do on that one.”
Lord knows what happened to that blanket, but the alarm clock has been on my side of the bed for the last 38 years. The buttons on it that move the time only go forward, not backward, so going off daylight saving time in the fall or changing the alarm from 8:45 to 7:30 is a real chore. It’s a bit the worse for wear, but then so am I. And Karl, too, for that matter.
I could strain for a metaphor here, likening the clock to our physicality, the passage of time, or even American democracy. But it’s Christmas, so we’ll let that go.
Karl wasn’t with us for the holidays in ’84 and ’85. He was on his last tour in the Navy before retiring, and I got just a taste of what military families go through. Of course, he wasn’t really in harm’s way, just floating around the North Arabian Sea in peacetime.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of families whose Christmas will be forever altered. Thousands more will be added to that group fairly soon. Tens of thousands of others are praying that their hospitalized family members pull through so next Christmas isn’t even harder for them than this one.
The rest of us are lucky. All we have to do is stay home for the holidays.