After shopping in the cramped mall, then standing in long lineups to pay for my gifts with a credit card, I search for my Honda sedan in a parking lot thats crammed with a sea of vehicles. I search and sesrch, walking up and down the rows, like a fool who has lost his keys. By chance, I locate my car, escape from the parking lot, begin driving home on the snowy streets, listening to Christmas Carols and contemplating the holiday season, relieved that the task of gift purchasing is finished for the day.
On the way home, looking out my side widow, with hands on the steering wheel, I glance at the snow falling like white feathers dropped from the sky. Snow covers the slow moving cars on the streets and concrete sidewalks, where there are pedestrians bundled for winter. Snow carpets the empty park, where there is a slide, swings, monkey bars. Snow blankets the rooftops of houses and buildings. The roads become icy and slippery like a skating rink. Feeling the rear of the car slide back and forth, I drive cautiously toward my home in suburbia. After arriving home, parking the car inside the garage, I remove the rusty shovel from the garage, clear the drive and walkway of snow and ice. The winter air feels as cold as an icy lake.
When the task of shoveling is complete, I return it to the garage and trek to the comfort of my warm bungalow. I open the front door, stand at the entrance, remove my down-filled parka, winter gloves, rimmed cap, and hiking boots. Then I walk in my wet socks into the living room, turn on the stereo, begin listening to Bing Crosby singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I begin writing out a Christmas To-Do list and inhale the aroma of gingerbread cookies baking in the oven. After finishing the list, I gaze at the Christmas tree, decorated in white lights, sliver tinsel, red balls. Underneath the tree, Maggie, my four month old Lhasa Apsos chews on a plastic bone, unaware of the meaning of the season.
For a half hour or so, I relax and listen to my favorite Christmas carols, such as Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year…” Afterwards, I imagine the perfect Christmas dinner: family sitting around the table, smiling, laughing, telling jokes, reminiscing about Christmas past, while devouring the roast beef dinner. Afterwards, they’ll exchange gifts, based on names drawn from a hat. The evening will be filled with warmth and yuletide. It will become part of the family lore, like those Christmas Cards we save or the idyllic Christmas tales on television.
But the reality of our Christmas Eve is this: My elderly Dad, 81, will be vacationing in Florida for the winter, soaking up the sunshine and warmth with his second wife. My girlfriend and myself will gather for three or four hours with my elderly mother, 80, adult brothers and their wives and grown kids, at my brother’s place, where will exchange superficial pleasantries, engage in small talk, drink a couple of beers or glasses of wine, then sit at an overcrowded dining room table. We’ll gobble up butter ball turkey, mashed potatoes, and buttered sweet peas, in silence, as though lost in thought. After dinner, mother will open her gifts, usually things she doesn’t really need, while everyone else looks on, sips coffee or tea, nibbles Christmas cake and pastries. At the end of an early evening, perhaps 9:00 p.m., we wish everyone a “Merry Christmas,” then depart for home, a fifteen minute drive. I won’t see my brothers and their wives or kids for another year. Usually, while driving home each Christmas eve, I’ll wonder if we’ll still gather as a family when mother has departed this world. I suspect not.
Though the visit is short, I am always grateful for the time with family and the feast of a delicious turkey dinner. I would never want to be homeless and eating Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army.
After daydreaming for a few minutes, my thoughts are interrupted by my girlfriend, who arrives in the living room with a plate of hot gingerbread cookies. She asks, “Would you like a cookie?” I chew and swallow it, feel grateful that she’s part of my life of many unexpected changes.
As I have grown older, I have learned that some things in life are never what we hoped they would be. I have also learned to accept what is, and to let go of those things I cannot alter. Now, I focus on savoring the joyful Christmas carols, watching the occasional festive special on television, tasting the delicious turkey dinner, opening the occasional gift, spending short time with family. I’ve reached the conclusion that “the perfect Christmas is what life should be but never is.”