This is Christmas, and it was spectacular. Open arms and exclamations. “Well, lookie who’s here!” Old people, tribes of cousins, the how-are-we-related-again relatives, and the prerequisite handyman who “God bless his heart, he’s just not right in the head.” Food, food, food, food, food, food and Grandma in the kitchen cooking. Putting on socks before getting out of bed, putting on three layers of clothes just to stay warm in the house then putting on a couple more to go outside. Loading up in the trailer with ten or so kids and a couple of adults to go cut wood and haul it back and stack it on the front porch, and then venturing out again to find the one cedar tree that would stand up sorta straight and fill in the corner, the coldest corner of the big room, farthest from the fireplace. Back inside to drag down the box of worn-out Christmas decorations, cracked glass ornaments, and the little ice skaters made out of lead. Eating more popcorn than we strung. Giving up on cranberries because who cares we wanted to go back outside, and the adults really wanted us to go outside. Cold noses, cold fingers. Breaking ice on the troughs, crunching along the edge of the horse pond, wishing it was ever cold enough here to freeze through. “Not it! Not it!” Running across the yard. “Race you!” Running laps around the driveway. Climbing trees. Climbing over the barn gate. “We weren’t playing in the barn that’s just grass in my hair.” Walking the top rail of the corral fence. Playing house in the old pig sty. Playing war on top of the cellar. Playing Annie Annie Over. Playing tag. Playing Swinging Statues and Freeze Tag and TV Tag. Playing Hide & Go Seek. “NO FAIR! YOU WERE PEEKING!” Running all the way around the house. Squeezing through the iron gate. Exploring the fields and the woods. “We never went close to the pond – those aren’t cattails in my hair, they’re chicken feathers!” In and out, in and out til nearly dark. “You kids get in here for dinner!” Nobody has much money, and somehow still the presents spill out from the tree to the center of the rug. Toys and books and clothes. “No fair, I got clothes!” Handmade flannel nightgowns and crocheted house shoes that turn the slick linoleum into a speedskating course. Adults exclaiming over Woolworth perfume and TG&Y stationary, opening boxes of sausages and cheeses, cans of mixed nuts, cans of hard candies, cartons of Salems, cartons of Winstons, cartons of Pall Mall, cartons of Marlboro. Fireplace roaring and popping, Christmas wrapping paper catching fire, creating prisms “Ooo, bluuue!” before turning into blackish-orange feathery airships rising and shuddering, disappearing into the chimney. Warming our backsides until we couldn’t stand it any longer and then running like idiot children to plop down on the Naugahyde chair, howling in pain and laughter. Late-late night and the stories come rolling out, listening to the words, creaking of the rocker, hiss of the logs, and muted laughter from the kitchen. One more cookie. Heavy eyes and warm pjs and sliding into the nearest welcoming lap to listen. The stories. Raucous and raunchy. Hilarious. Indignant. Whispered. Mysterious. Outraged. Listening through the fog of near-sleep, one eye on the stretched-out kneesocks precariously hung on the mantlepiece with thumbtacks because nobody thought much about store-bought stockings when you had a perfectly good sock that might could hold a pack of gum, malted milk balls, jacks and a red rubber ball, and maybe a little spending money.
This is Christmas, and in our estimation, it was wonderful.
We are scattered now, the living and the lost, all dear, all ghosts running together through the empty house, dark, distant dreams in that warm little head fallen forward against Grandma’s shoulder.