The first snow is floating down covering the ground in a blanket of white. The twinkling and glistening of the colourful lights bring cheer to the dark skies. The smell of sweetness wafts through the air, special treats baked only once a year. It’s almost Christmas time.
As I was redecorating our Christmas tree this evening I was flooded with memories. Bittersweet memories. It all started when an ornament hit the floor. A loud pop, followed by a crunch. Broken pieces of a beautiful, rich red ornament splashed across my floor. The colour that onced graced the walls of my Grandma’s dining room – that daring colour that stirred my soul. And now, shattered at my feet was yet another ornament passed down from my grandmother. I’ve broken five so far this year.
And every time one fell a part of my heart broke with it. Because it’s hard losing something that once belonged to someone you once belonged to. Someone you loved and someone who loved you. Even if it’s just something as small and trivial as a few Christmas ornaments.
She’s been gone for a year and a half now and I’ve forgotten the sound of her voice. That’s the hard part, the things you miss – little things that you take for granted. Big things too.
And suddenly I’m transported to her living room – with sticky, sap covered fingers my twelve year old self hangs ornaments on her Christmas tree. Standing with my siblings we decorate the tree. Commenting on the ornaments as we added them to the branches while she sat in a nearby chair, sipping tea she’d never finish. She always left tea in the bottom of her cup – I’d almost forgotten that too. On this day she sat watching us carefully adding her precious memories to her tree. The sharp smell of the pine needles assault my own memories now. And it’s almost as if I can relive the moment when a delicate bulb slipped out of my fingers and onto the dark hardwood floor. Tears slid down my cheeks then. Tears slid down them tonight, too, just for a moment.
I can smell her pumpkin pies. Pecan pies, too. I can see them placed on the counter cooling. I can see her in the kitchen making Christmas dinner. Turkey, stuffing, creamed peas and more. I can hear the chatter of family talking. And I can see myself, in the TV room with my siblings and cousins, watching a Christmas movie and feeling bored. Wishing we were home, playing with our new gifts – gifts I no longer remember. To entertain ourselves we would run down the stairs to her unfinished basement, chasing each other as our socked feet pelted the cold cement floor. Running through the frames of future walls, squealing with delight and hoping desperately we wouldn’t find any dead mice. Then when we grew tired and cold, we’d head back upstairs. If we were quiet and didn’t disturb the adults, we could play with the wooden carousel she had on the coffee table. How we all loved that decoration, watching it spin around with its wooden people rushing past our faces and the candles trying desperately to hold on to our vigorous turning.
I would love to have another Christmas day at my Grandma’s house. To walk through the halls, to stand in the rooms where my memories live. But those rooms have changed, and the basement has been finished by new owners. All traces of my grandmother are gone from that house. So it stings a little when traces of her crash to the floor and break. When my Christmas wreath is redecorated because dilapidated ornaments are loosened or missing. And my heart aches from missing her.
It’s been many years since I had a Christmas with my grandmother. Decades have passed since I ate her pies and sat in her tv room. It feels like forever since I tried on her hats and stood in her foyer applying her lipstick. But it also feels like yesterday, and so it is unbearable to know I wished away those moments I now wish to have back.
When I step out my door to turn on our Christmas lights I am standing on her steps, plugging in her lights as she stands in the window watching. It’s funny how moments are fleeting but memories are everlasting. Tonight as I breathe in the crisp air I remember the woman who loved me. And I think about the ones I love. I think about my boys, and wonder what they’ll remember when they’re thirty-five and thinking on Christmases past. And I smile, knowing they get to experience a little bit of my Christmases past. Because even if all the ornaments shatter and none remain, I still have Grandma’s pie recipes.