On the Saturday before Christmas I told Colleen I had Christmas spirit like none I’ve had before. I felt present and at peace with the world around me accepting all the imperfections it had to offer. When she called on Sunday I was spewing like a trapped, rabid raccoon. What sent me so clearly off the edge? Gluten free cookie dough. I was making Confi Tortes and had learned last year that if I use Simply Savory flour the cookies are amazingly good. Sunday morning I realized I was out of flour. Two hours and five stores later I couldn’t find ANY gluten free flour in Chelsea. Panic ensued; I called Lisa to help me with my search. She called in 45 minutes later that she had a bag. Relieved, I would only learn later that the cookies would crumble just by looking at them. The flour wasn’t the same as I had used last year. It was in the middle of this discovery when Colleen called and I let my rage tumble out unedited. Her only reply, “ What happened to all that peace with the world clarity you had yesterday?” Then she howled with laughter.
It was our third Christmas without my mother. My father whispered he missed her, as this was her favorite holiday. I didn’t correct him but it really is his favorite holiday. She hated it. Well, she never really said she hated it but her actions point strongly in that direction. Right after Lisa, the youngest of the four of us, learned the truth about Santa my mother decided only one of us would get a really good present every four years. We’d take turns. A product of The Great Depression, her childhood haunted ours. Eventually, the really good present every four years dwindled to nothing and the Christmas trees looked more and more spindly. She would go from one stand to the next bargaining until the $10.00 she wanted to spend was met. The trees always had an air of abuse about them like an abandoned cat at the door. She stated, ” I like the way less branches high-light my beautiful ornaments.” There is no argument if it is about taste. After all, it was her tree.
My sisters and I tried to fight the darkened cloud of frugality that seemed to hold our family hostage. We orchestrated grab bags but half the group couldn’t shake free the miserly mindset that was dictated by my mother. I was usually the one driving home in tears after Christmas dinner. Always disappointed because I hoped the inevitable would be different, it never was.
Before the violins break out into some tragic song I will interject that we had a good time. My mother loved food and it is there that she splurged in time and effort. The meals served were always amazing. Laughter erupts often in my family and the absence of gifts never diminished our giddiness. In fact, we quietly laughed at our inability to free ourselves from a past we had never actually known. We ate to excess but we were always haunted by what was perceived to be extravagance. She would ask after a gift was opened, “What did you spend on that?” I always deducted at least $10.00 off the actual price but she would still crinkle her nose in disapproval.
As a family this Christmas we finally found our footing around grief and the holiday itself. Lisa, Rob and I bought the tree with my Dad. We were shocked at the speed in which we decided on it and not one of us quibbled about the price. It’s very full and I would even go so far as to say perfect in every way. It wasn’t the most expensive on the lot nor was it the most inexpensive. Lisa and Rob made a pork dinner that I still savor in memory. After dinner, we exchanged gifts. Small gifts. It seems to be happening naturally. Christmas night I sat in the dark in front of our full tree and realized we were finally free from the confines of my mother’s childhood. We never knew the details of the horrors that scarred her. We lived with it’s reverberations. I wished she had been there to enjoy the day. We all miss her and yet I know if she had sat next to me on that couch she would have pointed to the tree and said, “How much did you spend on that?” I would have lied.
As I write this I wonder, what from my own past haunts me now? What memories chain me to certain actions or thoughts? It is easy to point to my mother but I carry my own bag of worries and fears. I will be thinking of all this at midnight and then resolving not to remain comfortable within their confines. It seems, my mother is still teaching me even now.
Happy New Year everyone!