As I sit here on my quiet tiny Christmas, my third as a widow, I am surprisingly not melancholy or drenched in tears. I ate a hotdog, some chips, drank a pot of coffee and am watching "Mildred Pierce." Last night, my son and his friend were here and we laughed, truly laughed over stupid things. Nothing from the past. We laughed in the here and now. It makes me smile.
Our Christmas times were always a struggle. Being the parents of a first grandchild, of families that by and large did not get along well, we were always on the road. This caused great stress and issues between my hubs and me because they were making us crazy trying to make them happy. But things happened, as they always do, so that we could find the levity in any situation. We had to be at my father in laws for Christmas Eve. We had to be with my mother in law for Christmas morning. We had to be at my parents for Christmas night. Now, that doesn't sound bad until I tell you that the first house was in West Virgina. The Second house was in Virgina. The third house was in Tennessee. We live in North Carolina. Ahhh.. now it's all coming into focus huh? My son never opened a present in my house on Christmas morning until he was 18. Go ahead, say it. "I would never have done all of that! My children have always had Christmas at home." Shut up. We were young kids. We had a kid. We made our parents happy. We went through 4 states in, if we were blessed with either Christmas eve or the day after Christmas off, in about 36 hours. I don't care who you are, that just sucks.
However, because we financially struggled, we never knew what might come out from a Christmas tree at any given house with either our names on it as givers or receivers. When Mawmaw wanted to hide she had spent more money on someone than someone else, we were the givers. When Pawpaw decided we needed something for the house that we couldn't afford Santa would deliver a package. However, sometimes this meant that we gave strange things to people we hardly knew as we only saw them once a year. Rich got his first cousin's new wife underwear one year. I bought his brother a jockstrap. Drew bought his aunt her first bra. On and on it went. Year after year. Until it became quite the game for us. Santa on the other hand showed up with washing machines, vacuum cleaners, hydraulic jacks, or pots and pans. One year he bought a transmission for my car and the next, tires for Rich's truck. Santa was very practical.
Our road trips however lacked organization. We woke one Christmas morning at Pawpaws, very hung over from a night of rummy with the family. There were 7 inches of snow on the ground. We had to go, NOW. So we packed up like the traveling pack of gypsies we were at that time of year and off we went to the next place. Now to say there was a disparity in the families would be a misnomer. Dad's side drank the holidays into oblivion. Mom's side are holy rollers. My parents are hillbillies. So hung over as we could be, we bowed our heads for Christmas dinner. They prayed so long that we dozed off. I eventually awoke to the sound of Rich's snoring and the entire dinner table howling with laughter. Every prayer from then forward started with, "Are y'all awake?"
The next year we were driving on the interstate and an owl hit the windshield of the car tearing the wipers off. I thought we had been attacked by the Taliban. We stopped at a truck-stop and Rich rigged up some tractor trailer blades to flop about so that we might be able to see something of the road. Due to the late hour when we arrived we spent the night at my parents home. I awoke at about 9 and staggered to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. One sip and I had to run outside. I was standing in 8 inches of snow reenacting scenes from "The Exorcist." Food poisoning. Frozen pipes in the house. Need I elaborate?
Two of my favorite things concerned Rich and his dad but on separate occasions. The first was an Emory & Henry ballcap that made him drop Dallas Cowboy tickets into the tornado of wrapping paper that caused a near family riot. He cried and so did I over a simple part of his past. He wore it until it fell apart. Our last Christmas we bought Pawpaw tickets to the Daytona 500. I packed them into a half eaten box of Cheezits. (a private joke between rich and him) When he opened the package and it was a box of crackers he laughed that laugh that only family knows. I was so anxious, that I had to tell him to open the box. Inside was a card that read "You've watched it on the couch 100 times, get out in the sunshine for once." He found the tickets and was so awestruck that the room went silent. We rendered him speechless.
Rich would pull out Drew's toy's and play with them. Firetrucks that made noise or video games. Then he would put them back. His green eyes would dance when they were opened. Drew thought his Daddy knew everything because he knew how everything worked. They would play deep into the night on the floor while I curled up with a new book I wanted to finish. The world was right.
I remember these things without pain. I remember them with a smile. Drew and I are making our own memories now. But now it's not about presents. We might be alone, but we know that together we are stronger. We might have hot dogs on Christmas eve with some Doritos, but we do so with a light heart. We might be forgotten by the world we used to know, but in our new reality, we are a family. We choose who we allow to be family. Family is not blood and bone. Family is laughter and tears. Family is smiles and jokes. Family is a hand on your shoulder as you watch the family you thought you knew turn their backs and walk away. Family is knowing that in the heart of another you always have a place to call home.