Christmas is the time of the year, for me, that is filled with the most memories.
When we were small, we spent every holiday season at my grandparent’s house in southern Ontario. Grandma and Apple Jack were the kind of grandparents you’d read about in a story book, the kind any kid would be happy to have. Grandma would laugh at your funny tricks and let you eat the sugar cubes and give you coffee in a china cup from Nassau, with lots of milk and sugar. Apple Jack had a huge leather rocking chair in front of the wood stove and he loved to sit there with a grandkid on each of the wide, flat chair arms, helping us feed the fire, using the bellows to make the coals glow, or heating toast for bedtime snack with the big long fork. At breakfast there was always Apple Jack’s home made black currant jelly on the table, served with a special spoon that had a notch in the handle so you could hang it on the rim of the jar and not get your fingers sticky. The morning was filled with the smells of bacon and coffee. Dinner was at the great big dining table set with the good dishes, there were nuts piled in the footed dish painted with sepia pine cones, and there was always ribbon candy in a bowl on the side table. The tree was frosted with the special fake snow made from soap flakes, the ornaments (which were already ancient when I was a child) glittered in the light from the tree, the stockings were laid out on the couches and chairs. There was real snow banked up on the window ledges, we had cousins to play with, an attic to explore, and, more than likely, Laurence Welk’s Christmas special would, at some point, fill the living room with music.
I know that the holiday travel was hard on my parents, I know that in the mysterious world of grownups there was always some tension … but from my viewpoint, Christmas at Grandma and Apple Jack’s house was all I could ever have wanted. After we arrived, once the grownups settled down to talk, my sister and I would walk through the house, touching all the familiar objects that never shifted between one visit and the next. That inevitable stability, that certainty of familiar comfort was, I suppose, a way of touching our roots, of feeling our history. I am still comforted by the old things: on difficult days, I drink tea from a china cup that was my Grandmother’s.
I miss my grandparents very much. I would love to have seen Grandma hold my infant son and make him laugh, to have watched Apple Jack hoist my boy into the air with that same grin, that look of complete, unfettered joy I know so well. My grandparents opened their hearts to us grandchildren, and we could feel it. They loved us with absolute abandon … and the memory of that love is a gift greater than any that I have ever unwrapped beneath a gorgeous, glittering, snowy tree.
Christmas is my time to remember – not just my grandparents and the many traditions of theirs that we still keep, but all of my past, all of my story. I never want one of those perfect, colour-coordinated Christmas trees with all the ornaments following some kind of theme, I want no matched sets of commercial sameness. As I unwrap each ornament and hang it on a branch, I remember: there is the little angel with Jessica’s name written in gold on the banner she carries and here is the wreath made with flowers from her funeral, there is the shell we got when we took that trip to Hawaii with my parents, here is the glass ball from my sister that’s decorated with images of happy children from all over the world, here is the tiny hockey stick that my parents gave to The Boy the year his team went to the city championships, and oh my, here is the really ugly blue fabric ball I made when I was little, studded with sparkling beads and trailing a ratty red tassel… let’s put it towards the back.
My story is there on the tree, and I remember. We tell the tales to each other as we decorate, so that the stories are passed to the children, too.
Yes, I always cry at Christmas time, for a little while. My sparkling tears are the gift I give to those who now live on only in my heart. Like melted snowdrops the tears fall from my cheeks and glitter for one final moment … then they dissolve away as the light from the star atop the tree glows and I am filled with the sure knowledge that love, the gift of this season, is here, surrounding us, enfolding us, carrying us from the past, into the present, into the future.