We two kept house, the Past and I ...,
Through all my tasks it hovered nigh,
Leaving me never alone.
Talk about culture shock.
There I was, the country girl from a large family who migrated to college, marriage, and motherhood without intermission, alone at Christmas for the first time in my life.
I was divorced, my extended family was scattered across the country, and my sons were both away - one serving in the U.S. Navy, and the other spending the day with his new in-laws out of town.
Ill be fine, I told the newlyweds. I had you at Thanksgiving, and we can celebrate when you get back. I remembered the Christmases my husband and I had disappointed one set of parents or the other, and vowed to spare my children similar guilt-tinged holidays.
I spent the morning cleaning traces of bread and cookie dough from the kitchen, and packing away leftover cards and wrapping paper for another year.
Tasks complete and order restored, I poured myself a cup of hot tea, lighted a fire in the fireplace, and sat down by the Christmas tree. Surprisingly, my thoughts were as warm as the fire.
There, on the tree, were the Chrismons my now-grown sons and I had made a dozen years before. The gold-trimmed Styrofoam stars, crosses, anchors and other shapes were all monograms of the Christ Child we believed represented the true meaning of the day.
On the table beside the tree sat the red-trimmed, wire-mesh Christmas card holder my younger son had made for me in Cub Scouts, and the elegant Lladro figurine my Navy son purchased for me during a stopover in Spain stood in a nearby cabinet. The angel on top of the tree was a gift from a special friend, and assorted Christmas-related souvenirs from other times and gift givers gleamed from every nook and tabletop in the room.
Memories of my once little-boy shepherds or wise men from church and school programs made a return visit, followed by the feasts and family gatherings we enjoyed whenever our military schedule stationed us within driving distance of parents, grandparents, or assorted other kin.
I remembered, too, the orange-in-the-toe stockings hung by the chimney with care, the all-nighters with some-assembly-required toys, and the early-morning light in our childrens eyes when that laboriously purchased, wrapped and assembled object was just what they hoped Santa would bring.
My thoughts returned to the present.
You can come to work with me, my friend had laughed the night before. No, I decided. Following a consuming month of church and musical activities, being - and resting - alone was better than another day at work. I thought, too, of the neighbor who was undergoing chemotherapy. Being alone is better than being sick.
The shadows lengthened, signaling that my first solitary Christmas was about to end. I rose to put another log on the fire and pour myself another cup of tea, when I heard a commotion at the front door.
Merry Christmas, Mom!
The newlyweds had left her parents home following their afternoon meal, and drove 4-5 hours to spend some of their holiday with me. We managed to open gifts and finish a light meal of soup and cookies before the exhausted travelers went upstairs to bed.
I lingered for a few grateful moments by the smoldering fire and still-sparkling tree.
Though I was grateful for the surprise visit of my son and daughter-in-law, it felt like they - and the others - had been there all day.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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