Over the last several years I have begun to dread the holidays. I can’t pinpoint exactly the year it started, sometime after I got sober but I don’t think that really had anything to do with it. If anything sobriety made the holidays more enjoyable, if not for me for my family because I wasn’t getting drunk on fuzzy navels at the Christmas Eve party and acting the fool. I think a few years ago when I had been dating this guy since about March, and he broke up with me about two weeks before Christmas. I had been buying him gifts for about a month, including a great painting, some clothes and a Tiffany necklace. When he broke up with me, I was devastated. I had really thought I would spend the rest of my life with that bozo and to realize that he not only was breaking up with me, but had been cheating on me, well, that was just too much. I regifted what I couldn’t take back to stores and muddled through the holidays. Right about that time someone I knew in AA died of a drug overdose and it was just a difficult time all around. I sort of decided then to check out of the holidays. I would go through the motions, pay lip service to enjoying Christmas, but really my heart wasn’t in it. I knew I would never feel the joy I used to feel when we would wake up Christmas morning and, after anxiously waiting for my sister Tricia put on her contacts, we would run into the sunken living room of my parents’ house and rush over to our gifts. My sister Melissa, my nephew Brandon and I would select a specific chair in the living room that Santa was supposed to leave our gifts on. Even Brandon getting TONS more presents than Melissa and I didn’t really bother us that much, because we were so excited to have our gifts and to be together. We usually had a Christmas Eve party the night before, sometimes with just our family, sometimes with other families at our house. On Christmas Day my Mom would cook a huge Christmas meal while we played with our toys. I even remember the year my Mom walked us into the den where the fireplace was and showed us the boot prints where Santa had walked through the ashes of the fireplace and had tracked on her floor. I look back at that now and realize how much fun my parents must have had staying up to put the toys together and get everything ready for us on Christmas morning. My Mom once said that Dad, ever the jerry rig type of guy, was always trying to rush through putting our toys together and if there were extra parts he would try to ignore them and pretend the toys wouldn’t fall apart when we started playing with them, so he could get to bed.
Even the run up to Christmas was fun. Every year my sister Melissa and I would help my Mom put up the Christmas tree in the living room. When we moved into our new house in 1973, for that Christmas my mom had bought a new Christmas tree with all new ornaments. The ornaments had a candy theme, with gingerbread houses and gingerbread men, popcorn garlands and popcorn snowmen, gum ball garlands and gum ball houses, and other sorts of candy accourtrement. She bought strands of colored lights and the effect was quite beautiful. We had a huge bow window in the middle of our living room and the Christmas tree was in the center of the window. After we finished decorating the tree, my Mom, Sister and I would sit in the darkened living room with the lit and decorated tree and sing “O’ Christmas Tree,” making up our own lyrics to fit our particular tree. “With candy canes, and lollipops, and an angel on the top; O’ Christmas Tree O’ Christmas Tree, Oh How I love my Christmas Tree.” Melissa and I would then spend the night in the living room in sleeping bags with the christmas tree lights on, unaware of the dangers of a christmas tree catching on fire from the lights.
I have spent 35 Christmases in that house, except for the year we went to Minneapolis to visit Melissa when they lived there. Even the year I was working in San Marcos and had to work the day after Christmas, I still flew home Christmas Eve, woke up Christmas morning at our house, then drove with my parents the 250 miles to San Marcos that afternoon so I could work the next day. But this year I wasn’t sure I wanted to be anywhere for Christmas. My Dad died in June, and even though he really didn’t like Christmas either (for some reason it made him really sad, maybe he missed his family who were for the most part dead) there was a reason to go to Winnsboro. Only after he died did I fully realize how much in the center of all our lives he really was. Although he would yell at us to hold it down when we were singing O’ Christmas Tree because he was “trying to hear the TV” he always was there, a constant presence every year. My heart really wasn’t in celebrating this year. I thought about taking my Mom to Accapulco, or maybe Colorado but none of those ideas seemed really good to her. My Mom thought about us spending the holidays with my sister Melissa in Frisco, although on Christmas Eve they go to Jay’s parents and really we would just sort of be sitting around their house alone. I sort of felt as though I didn’t have any anchors in my life any more, that maybe I should just check out of the holidays this year, ignore them, only buy presents for Jack and Ryan, not go to any Christmas parties if I’m invited to them, just pretend December 25 is another day. Then someone at work who lost her husband a few years ago said something that made me think. She said, “Your Dad wouldn’t want you to not celebrate the holidays, he would want you to enjoy your life.” I through, yeah, he would, and just because he’s not there, and even though it may be really sad, I want to try to get through this holiday with as much normality as I can. So i called my Mom and told her I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning in Winnsboro, that I have spent 35 years doing that and the idea of not being there Christmas morning was too awful to think about. There may come a day that she sells the house and we have to do Christmas somewhere else, and even if we drive to Melissa’s Christmas day for Christmas dinner, I still want to spend the night at the house I grew up in. She sounded relieved and said she really wanted to do that too. I am not completely ready to scuttle the years of memories of Christmas past. On Christmas morning when my Mom and I wake up, we will drink our coffee, open our presents to each other and on our way to Christmas dinner we will stop by the cemetery and lay a wreath on my father’s grave and remember that life isn’t over quite yet.