Unpacking Memories

It is the time of year when many of us drag boxes from deep in the closet, from under the basement stairs, from the garage and as we open up the containers we celebrate what “was” more than what “is” or what “will be” and that is the very nature of Christmas.

As we pull out the hand-made ornaments and lights, the garland and balls, we also pull out the memories of piling on the big wooden toboggan and zooming down the hill with snow and ice crystals flying into our face. We pull out the memory of the year all the aunts and uncles and cousins came for Christmas, blankets and pillows everywhere as we all tucked in together to celebrate the holiday. We pull out the time Santa came to the Community Hall and gave us each a small bag of candy and a Christmas orange, his beard a bit off centre, his glasses bent, his face looking very much like someone we knew. We unpack the time the cat climbed the Christmas tree and it toppled over, balsam needles everywhere. We unpack the hike to the woods with the saw and sled to find the perfect tree or the “just pick one” variety when feet were cold and patience had run thin. We unwrap the quiet, the memories of those we can no longer laugh with, tell stories with, raise a glass of cheer with, missing them all over again.

This year I seem to be feeling even greater joy at placing my daughters’ Christmas creations in a place of honour around my home, my girls somehow made children again, the magic bringing them close to me, so I can pull them on to my knee and hold their heads close into my chest and smooth their hair to make everything in their world feel right. Life is no longer that simple. I can’t kiss away the messiness and heartache of being alive the way I could kiss away the sting of scraped knees.

I am digging through my box of Christmas memories this morning. Thea’s soap flakes snowman is missing one of his arms and one of his eyes. I could mend him I suppose, but I hate to alter him, hate to interfere with his natural aging. Laurie’s Santas have faded, one is missing the pompom from the tip of his cap and his beard has thinned. Samantha’s and Aimee’s wax crayon stained-glass colourings have ragged edges and are becoming more brittle every year. But each one is so absolutely perfect. When they have been placed where I can easily see them, then it feels like Christmas.

I tend to blend my memories together like a good soup – the ones from my childhood stir evenly into the ones I remember as a mother. Is it me building green and red paper chains to drape along the curtain rod or is it my daughters? Is it me playing Christmas carols and songs on the piano with my girls singing or is it my mother? Is it my sister and I hearing with utmost certainty the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof or is it my daughters whispering and giggling from their beds?

We never bought new ornaments for the tree when I was a kid. Some were held together with scotch tape and others with glue. The string of lights went out when a single bulb grew weary of shining and it was a treasure hunt to find which bulb had died. The angel at the top of the tree was badly deformed by time, and we re-used the lead-based tinsel year after year, pulling the single strands from a ball of tinsel that very much resembled a nest of some kind. Bing and Nat and Perry are all crooning to me as I start my Christmas baking, but instead I hear my father’s voice singing out from his guitar or from the piano. I close my eyes and he is on the sofa with me, for a moment or two, before he fades away again.

I walk Gracie in the dark to take in all the Christmas lights that have popped up on houses around the neighbourhood. I love the lights that spin with stars dancing along the fronts and roofs of houses. Magic. We would drive into town when I was a kid, up and down every street to admire all the Christmas lights, the excitement almost too much to bear. Ahhh yes, Christmas memories – take me home.