Each year we spend Christmas with our friend Geraldine and her family. They are a fun, talented, happy, growing family. Earlier this month we spent an evening at Gerry’s decorating her Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree is usually not a tree at all, but an oscillating fan on a stand with a wreath on it. Over time, the wreath has gained a few items like a couple of crocheted stocking-shaped ornaments made by my sister-in-law, a squirrel with a San Francisco Giants t-shirt and this year’s addition, a fluffy white owl that had been part of the packaging of a present. Inside the wreath is a handmade clay nativity plaque with angels dangling stars over the manger scene. Everyone is smiling. It’s a scene of joy, the joy of Christmas. It’s not the usual Christmas tree. We even make fun of it. After all, who puts their presents under the Christmas Fan?
We all become children for a minute at Christmas. We like to surround ourselves with what we love, like the 9 of Cups in Tarot. But other things surround us, too.We were speculating that there’s an increase of television advertising for prescription anti-depressants at Christmas. It seems like in the “season of giving” we are more inclined to think about what we haven’t got, too. I miss my mother, my old kitty, seashells on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the parts of all the places I’ve lived that I liked, no matter how bleak. I think about my friends in faraway places whom I have not seen in too long. I hope I will see them again. What if I don’t?
I can fall down deeper into this whole in the whole “what if” chasm. What if I had clicked on the “Sell” button and had been able to pay off the house? I hesitated, afraid my husband would be sad or angry with me. He means so much more to me than a house payment.
What if I had taken the job teaching 7th and 8th grade at the little Catholic school in southern Illinois? It was a huge decision at the time: Do I take a teaching job to make use of my college degree and fulfill my idea who I might be? I went for the bucks instead, a higher paying job utilizing my typing class from high school enhanced by a glossy diploma for a B.A. in English. Foregoing teaching for the business world led to my degree in computer science, my move to California, meeting my husband John. At the time, I only compared salaries: $5,000 per year to teach, $8,000 per year to type. The math seemed simple, if a little disappointing. And it has led to this wonderful life.
What if I had said yes to the proposal from a precious high school love, who purchased a new car and drove it from the dry, high plains to the humid hills of Missouri to convince me? I said no because I was afraid. I was afraid it would go wrong, that our youth and foolishness would burn up something sweet and good. My path had taken me a different way. I made a lame excuse but it was still no. It was the right answer, I know now. So often you don’t get to know if a choice like that was right and I am grateful now to know. He has had a remarkable life with children and grandchildren and adventures he would not have had with me. My life has been full of adventure too, adventures of a different kind. And we did both find the right ones for each other.
I could get stuck on the fact that my family isn’t particularly close. We are divided by geography, our parents’ choices and our own strongly held convictions, a stubborn streak we all consider character that is likely genetic in its intensity. We are politically opposite, opinionated on guns, money, crime, loyalty, tradition, care for the needy and perhaps even how to build a fence and why. But I revel in the closeness we do have, what I have worked hard for since I was a child, bent with the grim determination that love will, TOO, conquer all, darn it. And we have all learned what topics to tread lightly on but it is only in my generation’s greying age that we have learned better how to take those light steps, when to say something and when to just let others be. In those light steps, we have been able to cross barriers that were too bitter for earlier generations. We have made progress.
I love the beauty of an old-fashioned Christmas and love the images of more than 100 years ago showing Santas and angels, holly and ivy and mistletoe. These are the images of memories of what might have been, what approaches my memory of the Spirit of Christmas: that kindness and hope can, for a moment, heal the devastating pains of loss, the ache of unfulfilled wishes, the confounding of the illusion that if you work hard you must succeed, the outrage of loss of control.
With the flood of memories and near-memories, it can be hard to realize that this Christmastime is the important part. It’s fine to remember, but don’t get lost there. It may be a movie you can play over and over again but you can’t step into it and be there. You’ll lose today which will become the new memory to regret next year. That’s why healers so often recommend to “live in the now.”
Christmas Eve I rose from my reverie to dress for dinner at Gerry’s house. I was partway there, nearly ready to put on my long red dress when I stepped into the kitchen and glanced into the dining room.
Quincy, our rescued cocker spaniel, lay asnooze on the red oriental rug. But something was wrong. All around him were strewn the remains of a one-pound box of chocolates. Wrapping, brown papers and half-eaten chocolates along with what had been the long narrow cardboard box dotted the dining room floor. Perhaps seven chocolates were left. Quincy was breathing but otherwise still.
A laugh caught in my throat. It would have been funny except chocolate can be deadly to dogs. More than a chip or two can cause pancreatitis and death. We woke Quincy up from his stupor and walked him around.
“He looks like he swallowed a Studebaker!”
My dismay grew as he waddled unsteadily on his doggy pegs, his stomach distended on both sides and tight. John started making calls and found a vet hotline. One household remedy involving hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster and some serious walking around the backyard later, and Quincy gave up most of what he had gobbled down. I had momentarily panicked, remembering there had been a ribbon on the box, then realized I found it in the debris I had swept up. When John and Quincy came back upstairs, the dog had resumed more or less ordinary canine proportions and was wagging his tail. He resented the indignity of the home remedy, still snuffling from the bit that went up his nose.
We watched him for a while longer, then went to Christmas Eve dinner a little late, barely in time for the present exchange and happy to have cooling leftovers with the family we adopt as our own. We all tired earlier than usual this year and retreated to the comfort of home.
This morning we woke up to the goldfinches fussing over the feeder. Quincy was snoring loudly like any other Tuesday. We all went out to Christmas fan and unwrapped our presents, just a few because we agree we don’t need much. Sitting here I realized that I got my dog for Christmas, my dog, my cats and my loving husband. All is calm. Now.
Best. Christmas. Ever.