Good Will Mandate – (or How to have a Pleasant Christmas)

 

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The family begins to gather.  First, the child from out-of-town, then the children who live close by, the older grandkids, the aunt, the babies, a neighbor, a few friends, a dog or two (couldn’t find a keeper) and suddenly,  it’s Christmas!  And the festivities begin.

Let there be armfuls of packages, overstuffed bellies, crackling fires, joyful singing, lots of laughter, game playing and couch napping.  Let there be peace on earth, re-runs of It’s a wonderful life, and harmony in our home.  That’s the plan.  That’s my goal.  There may be a grandchild or two that has to spend a little bit of time-out on the stairs or a dog that may need to be put in his kennel to get us there, but we will have tranquility in this house.  I am declaring a temporary nix on all unintended little jabs that quickly escalate into hurt feelings or wounded pride.  I’m also tabling the myriad of discussions that could arouse a little too much passion from an incredibly passionate family.  Why? Because I’m the mom and it’s Christmas.  We can get back to those inflammatory subjects another day.  My mother mandate for Christmas 2016 is: GOOD WILL WILL FLOW

Taking a cue from the way certain political figures field challenging questions, our family now has a brilliant strategy – don’t respond at all to something you’d rather avoid, just simply change subject.  We invoke state capitals as our diversion tactic.  For example:

Auntie, “Have you thought of giving your child less sugar?”

Son, “What’s the capital of Vermont?”

Someone, “Lansing?”

Someone else, “No, Montpelier.”

The rest of us pick up the game, dropping the potentially toxic conversation. Voila, crisis avoided!  

We actually tried this at our last family gathering.  One would think that our Thanksgiving was a scene straight out of Pleasantville.  Perhaps it was a bit too nice and a tad less colorful than previous holidays so I briefly consider lifting the good will mandate. Quickly evaluating probable conversations that might occur over eggnog, I envision,  “Can you believe the President Elects choice for Secretary of State?”

My knee-jerk reaction, “what’s the capitol of North Dakota?”

 

 

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Visitors for Christmas

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Here I go again.  It’s that most wonderful time of the year.  Anticipation of and preparation for the season awaken my creative energy and unlock my secret longing for perfection. I envision a totally unique greeting card, individual well-selected gifts, an enormous glittery tree, a front porch to rival Southern Living, and a simple but elegant dinning table. I am dimly aware that frustration, angst and tension may quite possibly be the end result, but it’s still early and hope abounds.  Armed with an arsenal of ideas from Pinterest, I get busy, going through box after box deciding which treasures will go back to the attic and which ones will come out for this year’s grand decorative theme. Gas logs blaze and Christmas music plays, enhancing my yuletide experience.

I fondle some precious ornament, perhaps the one my daughter made in grade school. I hum along to some unnamed melody that suddenly turns sad and familiar at the same time.  I’ve been set up, the trigger is pulled and he appears. He, as in The spirit of Christmas Past, stepping forcefully into the room dragging his good friend Melancholy with him.  After years of futile resistance, I now consider them odd little friends.  My only concern is how long they will stay.  It may be hard to shoo them away this year, because this is the first Christmas without Mother.  I greet them with a sigh and give them time to properly air the memories so that they can leave and I can get on with the present.

They ask me to pause over this red crinkled glass ball,  an ornament from my childhood.  It hung on mother’s tree. Remember that Christmas when Daddy bought Mom all those fancy clothes?  She good-naturedly tried them all on, making the living room her runway, and her children her adoring audience.  The next day she returned everything, anticipating an enormous credit card bill.  Remember the story of how Papaw made Daddy promise to bring Mother home to see him every Christmas before he granted permission for Mother to marry him? How about my first Christmas as a wife of just one month?  We had that crazy little tree with no ornaments so we hung fruit from the branches.  Daddy made such fun of that tree.  I crossed-stitched and framed a dozen ornaments like this cardinal to hang on our next year’s tree.  Here is the wooden rocking horse that reads, “baby’s first christmas”.  Our first baby, my baby girl.  And then two boys. Children, turned teenagers and now adults. I can see their toddler faces on Christmas morning surveying three separate piles of toys from Santa, and that slight pause before they recognize theirs and dive in.  Then all the other Christmases we excitedly wait for each of them to come home because none of them live with us anymore. Now they bring their babies.  We have grandchildren, lovely, loving grandchildren.  One, so new he has no teeth, one has all his baby teeth, two are already middle schoolers, in braces.   They’re growing so fast. Everyone grows so fast, grew so fast.   Mother, you tried to tell me that.  I heard you then,  I believe you now.

Memory hits me hard and brings out a year’s worth of carefully checked emotion.  My senses are all hyped-up.  I see Christmas in all it’s  hysterically twinkly sparkle, it’s spectacular calm and its remote sadness.  I hear choruses radiating throughout the atmosphere and penetrating deep inside my head.  Christmas is strangely new and comfortably familiar.  It feels like long hugs, quick kisses and an achy gut.  It tastes of all things wonderful.  Christmas fills me up and breaks my heart.  It smells like pine trees, cookies, apples and mother. Yes, it sometimes smells like mother.  Mother and Channel no 5 , a fragrance she defines.  That perfume was probably under every one of the trees of my youth, wrapped in department store paper next to her box of Whitmans Sampler.

I get up and go to my room.  The bottle that I took from her house when we packed up her things is on my dresser.  I take it in my hand and unscrew the top.  I ceremoniously put a dab of her scent on my wrist and rub it against my other wrist the way she used to do.  I lay down on my bed and try to smell her, let her presence surround me.  Mother and the memories of 64 Christmases become this moment, this Christmas, and suggest the probability of future holy days.  

In a little while, a new guest arrives.  Her name is Gratitude and she is powerful.  With her in the room, I can allow the Spirit of Christmas Past and even Melancholy to stay.  They expertly choreograph the delicate dance between what was, and is, and is to come.

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A field and an old House

 

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She pauses every time she drives by the field with the sad, abandoned house.  Something about the scene causes her to wonder if she has ever been inside the little house or played in the flower strewn yard.  Perhaps she visited this place when she was very young and she cannot quite remember who lived there; but that would be impossible because she did not grow up in Georgia.    It could be that she recalls an indelibly haunting painting she once saw years ago of a girl on the ground in a field, with her head pointing and her hand reaching and her legs dragging toward a house in the distance which has to be her home.   Maybe it’s simply because something about this spot perfectly frames an emotion she cannot quite access.  Today, as she drives by she becomes the girl in the painting, suddenly plunked down in the field of yellow.

What a spring this has been and today is the most lovely of all.  The temperature is perfect and everything is in bloom.  Capture this moment, I think, soak it all in.  If I could pick a spot of total freedom, it would be a field like this, a wild, twirl-around field of yellow flowers.  I am happy – until I am not.  Something heavy washes over me and pushes me down.  I am alone.  I can finally feel what I feel.  Tears come.  My mother is dead.

I’ve been busy and I’ve been brave and she was sick for a long, long time.  She was so tired and so frail and so confused.  I actually asked God on more than one occassion to take her home.  He answered my prayer so why do I cry?  I haven’t really been able to talk with her for years though I did get glimpses of her from time to time.  I cry.  Now I can never pick up the phone and call her again.

“She lived a good long life,” people say.  She did and I know that.  It’s a comfort.  I cry.  I think about the time my grandmother told me that losing her mother was the hardest thing she ever faced.  I’ve heard that from other people too.  I cry.  Up until now I didn’t know what it was like to loose your mother or how to comfort a freind whose mother died.  I still don’t.

Jesus looked down from the cross at his mother and asked John to care of her.  I look up from my field of yellow flowers and ask Jesus to care for my mother.  I look towards the house in the distance and try to get up.  I reach for a home that no one lives in anymore.

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Painting by Andrew Wyeth – Christina’s World 1948