Christmas runs a finger along the cracks in my soul, so they splinter and spread like windshield glass that a pebble has struck. It lays a hand on my love for stuff and my loneliness for my parents and brother.
I know you’re not supposed to admit this, but I love things–horse statues, books, good equipment for my horses and tending the farm. And jewelry. I love diamonds and gold and clunky semi precious stones. (I didn’t use to love clunky jewelry until I started wearing my mother’s malachite and turquoise necklace. I almost didn’t pull it out of the jewelry box when I was collecting her things. I wear it when I want to remember her, when I want to borrow some of her influence.) She was good at searching out thoughtful presents like the glass blown panther for my brother, to honor how he named his car the Pink Panther. I rode with her when she took my brother’s guitar to be repaired. She was pleased with herself.
I remember lying wide awake, as she thumped packages, wrapping them, in the linen room on the other side of the wall. The anticipation of desire and the answering of that desire, the receiving of those gifts was delicious. I especially looked for that white box containing a horse statue. Giving presents was how our parents showed my brother and I that they loved us. While I know the giving of gifts is recognized as a valid love language, it also plays into American consumerism, the buying more and more and yet still more.
Now that I am in my sixties it is time to work in reverse, time to sell stuff, or give it away, to pare down. (Just this month, in what feels like a gift, I did sell a saddle, two bits and a pair of my parents’ skis. The skis went to a dear friend who will hang them in her mountain home. I feel light.) But Christmas comes and I gear up to buy clothes or jewelry or horse equipment as I try to remember the way my parents’ loved me. I dive right into the American religion of consumerism.
This year I almost didn’t put up the Christmas trees because we have a young cat, Smudgie, who runs laps and finds himself in our curio cabinet/pie cupboard (at least until I taped cardboard over the opening). He is so active I figured he’d climb the trees or pull them down. I even sprayed it with a clean smelling pet repellant to keep him off. But it wasn’t him that pulled it down. No, not the cat. It was me. I leaned on the table to plug in the lights and it flipped. (It is a settle, so the table top can flip up, and the table becomes a seat. We haven’t notched it down. So the top can flip down. The tree fell over and my porcelain horse ornaments smashed on the floor. Like an archeologist I put the pieces in zip lock bags and set them on the table. I guess it’s time to stop collecting these. And yes I felt a thud in my gut at their being broken. Just things. They are just things. But I like to look at them a few weeks in the year.
When I started writing about Christmas because the season demands a post on Christmas, more cracks spread across the glass. And I realized it wouldn’t be good to tell you about the hurts. With my parents and brother dead there is no going back to the comfort of my people and the way they did Christmas. We’d wake up to presents and more presents. My mother used to set a beautiful table with her antique flow blue china and silver. (Now I’m ready to sell the china because it weighs down our dry sink. I’ve sold the silver.) We would spend days preparing that feast and dessert. And my father would bring up some political controversy and sit back while the relatives argued. My mom would invite family friends to dessert and they would come.
But when my parents and brother died I wanted to excise Christmas from the calendar, year after year. We tried Christmas with friends, Christmas with in laws, Christmas with my relatives and with just us, and each holiday was a time to lean in and trudge through until we moved to our farm. Enough time had passed to blunt my grief. And there’s something about people who live in the country that brings community, a kind of honesty that I recognized in myself when our neighbors told us their stories including decades old conflicts. I thought that kind of vulnerability and honesty was because I came from the east, but I guess it’s because I grew up in the country, a mile in from the main road. When we first moved here our across the field neighbors invited us for dinner. We invited them when they celebrated Christmas on a different day. Bruce helped a different neighbor when he had a stroke, checking on him. His wife invited us for Christmas dinner and we’ve been going ever since, their meal and conversation blunting how I have missed my own people. When we leave, they thank us for coming, as if they have the same kind of gratitude that I have for being included.
And there are the tiny gifts, like Bruce grabbing me yesterday and I yanked away because Morgen had run into Tessie’s paddock because I’d left the gate in the barn open. It’s so bitter cold and these two mares have fought, hindquarters to hindquarters and Tessie is afraid of Morgen. I yelled at Bruce and ran to lead her back to her stall, so I could lead Morgen back through the barn to her place. I hated that I yelled at him. He does too. He walked in the barn and handed me a hand warmer because my heated gloves failed and my other gloves were freezing my hands, so badly I feared frostbite. (I have since stuffed glove liners in a pair of his lined work gloves and they are working well enough.)
And then he has started to repair the broken horse ornaments because his hands are more deft with tiny broken legs than mine.
And not once have I mentioned Jesus who doesn’t need an obligatory mention though it’s His birthday we are celebrating, and the deep mystery that the one who holds everything together entered a uterus and became fully human, utterly dependent on his parents, who are as imperfect as any of the rest of us as far as raising a child goes. I can’t hardly wrap my mind around God needing his diapers changed or teething or crying for the sorrows of the world.