It’s hard to believe Christmas is only four days away. I have Christmas cards pinned to the bulletin board near my desk, and my list is sitting here, mailed cards neatly checked, the rest of the names waiting for electronic cards. Three bags of gifts, as yet unwrapped, are piled in a chair, waiting for attention. The house is undecorated, I don’t do that any more, but the rotating wallpapers on my computer monitor are bright with Christmas ornaments. and there’s something new every day on the electronic Advent Calendar. As good as a tree, for me, and no needles to sweep up.
The weeks since Thanksgiving have flown by this year. I remember when, long ago, the weeks before Christmas passed as slowly as the glaciers, the anticipation almost unbearable. When I was a little girl, we lived in the midst of family, aunts and uncles and grandparents and a close circle of cousins. Christmas was a whirl of activity, baking, shopping, and warnings that Billy the Brownie, a popular radio character in the Midwest, was watching us. I got small presents from Billy for years, his handwriting suspiciously like my mother’s.
When I was ten, my parents had no qualms about moving a thousand miles or so from the rest of the family, from the suburbs of Milwaukee to the not-very-similar suburbs of Miami, where Christmas lights on palm trees were as common as lights on firs. In South Florida in those days, Christmas and Hannukah were practically the same holiday. My parents, my brother and I had our family celebration on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. For years I spent the rest of Christmas Day with my (Jewish) best friend and her extended family, who were always up for a party.
I was married in South Florida a few days after Christmas during my first year in grad school, on about a week’s notice, because my mother worried (rightly) that if Jack and I didn’t get married then, we’d do it on the cheap some time and she wouldn’t be there. We did get married on the cheap–the church was still filled with Christmas flowers, my mother made my dress (dark green), and my parents’ back fence neighbors, who owned a bakery, gave us a lovely cake. (A few years later, my brother got married in the food stamp office of the Lafayette Parish courthouse; my mother knew what she was talking about.)
Jack and I spent the next few years in Louisiana. Once or twice we went to Miami for Christmas, but by then he and I were each other’s family. For a while we shipped big boxes of presents back and forth with relatives, but eventually that faded to phone calls and cards, boxes of fruit from Florida sent to Jack’s family in Maryland.
We moved to the Houston area in 1976, my parents joining us here a few years later, my brother not too far away in the Pensacola area to visit, and we decorated big Christmas trees and filled the space under them with presents, books and scarves and puzzles and stocking stuffers.
Life and death bring changes, even to Christmas. These days I have friends instead of family, but that works, too. Jo Anne and I were acquaintances when I went to work for her at the Scorekeeper in 2003. We’d met through our membership in RWA, but we didn’t know each other well. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Eight years later we’re the best of friends. Friday we’ll have our annual office party, with Ha Tran, the third member of our team, drinking champagne and exchanging gifts.
On Christmas Day, I’ll drive down to Galveston with LaRue, my next-door neighbor of more than thirty years, and her daughter Lisa. We’ve spent our holidays together for years, sometimes the three of us and sometimes with a motley crew of neighbors and friends. This year we’ll enjoy the buffet at the Hotel Galvez, a century-0ld landmark overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Christmas ain’t what it used to be, but neither is anything else. This time of year brings a tidal wave of memories, most of them good. I choose to enjoy them, not dwell on them. I prefer to think the next adventure is just around the corner, and the next year will always be more interesting than the last one.