This will be my 3rd Christmas without my Mom and I am not over crying about it. My Mom and Christmas were synonymous, so everything about this time of year makes me think of her. These are all good and happy thoughts, but they invoke the tears to no end.
I was a lucky kid with one of those storybook childhoods. Our Christmas tradition was to spend it in San Francisco with my grandparents at their house with my two aunts, my twin cousins, my family of 5 and our dog, Gus. Christmas eve was mellow with a dinner of Minestrone soup. Then we would all get dressed up to attend Midnight Mass. That always had a enchanted feeling to it; leaving the house at 11:30 pm to go out into the bitter cold night to drive over to the Star of the Sea Church. It was a beautiful building with an angel walking on water painted right on the ceiling. The choir was also spectacular. They were so good, that when they finished singing Ave Maria, you wanted to clap, but that is not what you do in churches. When the sermon would start, I would always feign sleep until it was time to kneel and/or go up for communion.
When mass was over, we would go back to my grandparents house where we were allowed to open one gift before we had to go to bed. I still remember when I believed in Santa Claus and I would squirm with excitement when I was permitted to put out the milk and cookies for him. I even swore I heard the jingle of the bells on the sled as he flew overhead.
When I woke up in the morning, always too early, I would run downstairs to find the tree swarming with wrapped gifts. We did not have a lot of money, but my Mom was a master at making sure we all had a lot to open every year. One time when I was quite young, there was an open umbrella with a bow on it sitting under the tree. It was clear with colored elephants on it, and I was so thrilled that it was for me. I promptly broke it when jumping off the banister with it, pretending to be Mary Poppins.
We had to have breakfast before we could open our gifts, but as soon as we scarfed some captain crunch and orange juice, it was time to all sit around and tear into the paper. After we opened our gifts, we would get dressed in whatever new outfit we just received and all the kids went to the playground or Golden Gate Park to try out any new toys.
Dinner was the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and peas. Then most of us would go on a long walk through the neighborhood to the park to walk off the turkey before it was time for pie.
One memorable Christmas was when I was about 12 years old. It was a few days before we left for San Francisco and my Mom had placed our wrapped gifts in our living room. One for me was obviously a record and I was certain it was the new Duran Duran album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger. I was so excited by the prospect, that I needed to make sure, so I unwrapped the gift just enough to have my hopes torn to shreds when I saw that it was actually Michael Jacksonís Thriller LP. For some reason this fueled the flame and I ended up peaking at every single one of my gifts. I tried to re-wrap them as best as I could, but my Mother knew instantly what I had done. She confronted me and I denied it. She threatened to not give me anything for Christmas, but ended up just telling me that I better look damn surprised when I open them for real come Christmas morning. She gave me such a disproving look, I feel bad to this day.
I moved to Seattle January 1996, so when December of that year rolled around, I flew home for the holidays. It ended up snowing in Seattle that Christmas and I was horrified that I had missed it; I have never had a white Christmas. The snowstorm was so bad, that it screwed up air travel for days. My flight was canceled four days in a row and it was a miserable experience for me. I did not end up getting back to Seattle until exactly midnight on New Years Eve. This experience made me decide to avoid air travel this time of year, so it was my last Christmas home until the Christmas after my Mother died. I felt like I needed to be home for that one to be there for my Dad and my Grandparents and my aunts and my siblings. We went through the motions of all the old traditions and we knew she was there with us. Since then, the family is sort of scattering to the four winds, doing their own thing for the holidays. I donít know if I will ever be in California again at Christmas time. I think it is time to start my own traditions; I have a base of wonderful memories from which to draw.