I have never been a Christmas card writer, but what I have always been, wholly and undeniably, is a crier. Snuggled into what is becoming my wonted nook in our marshmallow of a couch, I leaned over a greeting card emblazoned with an auroral Christmas tree. I wrote.
“Though I won’t be home with you this year at Christmas, thus defying the vow I made four years ago when I swore I’d never spend another holiday away from home, I hope that I can at least say it’s for a good reason. I’m creating a home here, one that I hope is as gracious and full of love as the one in which you raised me, and one to which I can’t wait to welcome you both sometime soon.”
I wrote, and I cried.
It’s hard to be away from your parents at the holidays, especially when you have a family who’s always outdone itself to make Christmas markedly special. The household of my childhood was one of multiple Christmas trees, of magical ceramic villages nestled between mounds of gently heaping artificial snow, of hermit cookies topped with glistening beads of sugar, thick and pungent with molasses and cloves. There was a mother who taught me to tie the most beautiful bows and unfailingly filled my stocking with the exactly perfect things. There was a father who every year swore he would never again string another set of Christmas lights, and every year continued to do the most stunning job, transforming the humble evergreen into a glowing kingdom ripe for the wanderings of my dolls, toy ponies and enchanted eyes. He suffered, after having sustained the scrapes and nicks of the piney boughs, over an endless bowl of citrus fruit, patiently separating oranges and grapefruits from their membranes despite the acid’s bite upon his skin. He pared apples and sliced bananas, parting beautiful pineapples and coming to find me, wherever I lounged, to present a glistening piece of fruit in the palm of his hand or pop an apple slice into my mouth. The ways in which my father showed me he loved me were subtle.
As I got older and moved only a city away to college and then eventually across the Atlantic, Christmas was a time I anticipated with glee. But it wasn’t just the season, it was the going home. In November I could feel it gathering in the month’s tail end, the days growing shorter, the lights in Puerta del Sol going up. I bought exotic presents–an olivewood cup, a pair of glimmering filigree earrings from a little town outside of my adoptive hometown–and flew them to my real one to deposit beneath the Christmas tree.
The first night’s sleep in my bed after four, six, seven months away was always a relief. I was home. I was safe. In the morning there would be uncomplicated coffee and my mother’s smiling face. There was nothing else I needed. Nothing except, perhaps, every one of the Lindt truffles in the cut glass bowl that always materializes on the Schiller family hoosier around December 25th. Thinking of it now I yearn for that feeling–that particular bouquet of safety, festivity and familiarity, unattainable though it may be. That house no longer belongs to us and my family’s zipcode is now a few numbers East. But the coffee stays the same, and my mother’s smile never gets old.
But this December is different. In two weeks, Niels and I will with our suitcases and two promised cakes head West to his family, not to mine. There will be coffee and I am told there will be a tree. There will be no mother slaving over a pot of creamed onions and no father comically dancing to Dominick the Christmas Donkey.
I’m not sure how Christmas will happen this year minus the going home, minus the embraces of my parents, my dad’s incomparable fruit salad, my mother’s infallible chirpy warmth and wonderful cooking–I think I’ve erased the memory of my only other holiday without them from my mind. I don’t know how Christmas will feel without both of them, but as I wrote them in the card I can only hope they’ll receive before the 25th, I hope that this year finds me away from them for a good reason. I hope that I’m creating not a replacement home, but an alternative one–a home for the future.
The jolly little tree that stands in our apartment may not boast a Steve Schiller caliber light job, and my icebox hermits are mysteriously never as good as those my mother scooped in balls from the bowl of chilled dough, handing to her little and then bigger daughter to roll in sparkling white sugar, but I do hope that between Niels and me, we can fill it with grace and good cheer for any guest who might knock on the door. At the very least, I know we can fill it with good cooking smells, plans for the future and a lot of love.
So. This one goes out to my mom and dad. I love you both immensely, and not just at Christmas time. The missing you is awful, but I can’t help but feel very blessed that mine is a family good, kind, and nice enough to miss.
Hug your parents, y’all: they deserve it. Or if they don’t, go and hug mine, once for you and two times for me, from afar.