So still. It’s winter.
Clear sky, touch the stars,
A time to forget or a time to remember?
The year you came down with measles on Boxing Day.
The year your aunt was traveling in Mauritius
And brought you a velvet purse, shaped like a star.
The folk who always gathered for the Christmas meal,
The table set with wine glasses for everyone, including you.
When you couldn’t wait to buy cards and write in them.
When you were allowed to wrap all the gifts but yours.
When you were left alone long enough
To pry your way into all the parcels marked for you,
Then had to pretend you were surprised and joyous
When you opened them again on Christmas morning.
When you wanted nothing but a crinoline
Like the older girls in school,
White confetti satin to spin your skirts,
Tulle brushing your miraculously long and slender legs,
A waist like those new dolls—what were they called?—
Barbie! That was it,
Your little sister had one,
And you never told anyone
But you kind of wished you weren’t
Too old to play with dolls,
At least, in public.
And one of your gifts was a crinoline, all right,
But it was blue, and had a hoop, and if you sat on it wrong
Your skirt shot up and hit you in the face.
St. Mark’s, St. Matthew’s
Little churches whose names become a litany
To remember the past with.
Altars plump with cedar boughs,
A tree to frame the crèche where lay
The newest baby of the congregation.
The organist, always a little behind or ahead
Stamping out the old familiar hymns,
Pews filled with prodigal sons and daughters
Their voices blending with the choir
Singing songs as familiar
As the daily bread you asked for.
Your father’s voice, breaking in the chorus of
Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
You so embarrassed the dime you’re clutching for collection
Leaps free of your fingers to the floor, lands on its edge,
Rolls all the way to the front
Where someone picks it up and passes it back,
Hand over hand over hand,
Until somehow it comes to you.
Afterwards, you walk home in moon-drenched snow
That falls around you like a silent prayer.
That Christmas dinner at neighbor Nan’s,
Your father asked to come ahead
To carve the turkey that sat on its tray in full repose,
Fat and golden and stuffed as you soon would be.
Not getting it when Nan launched into the story
Of how she was going to bake a salmon as well,
Only that butcher tried to sell her a piece of tail,
And she told him, Look here; I don’t want a piece of tail,
And you observe the grownups round the table
Lift starched linen napkins to their mouths,
Fork gravy into mounds of mashed potato,
Sip wine from Old Country crystal
And avoid each other’s eyes,
Until someone, it might have been your father,
Starts talking about the barometer,
And how there’s going to be a change in the weather.
The year the lake froze hard and early,
You sat on a log at Deerward’s beach,
Laced up your new skates and set off down the lake toward Nelson,
The sound of laughter, and the swish, swish of steel on ice
Ricocheting through the cold, crisp air.
The Christmas you got your first boyfriend
Sterling silver cuff links engraved with his initials.
And when you broke up the last week of November,
Someone’s mother said if you meet someone
With the same initials, you’d better make friends fast!
So you make friends with him again,
And decades later you find out he still has the cuff links,
Though he no longer wears the kind of shirts they fit.
Later, when you’re home for the first time in years,
Your mother flings back Christmas morning curtains,
Says, “O shit! It’s snowing!”
And you feel warm and loved,
Knowing she’s just given you the best gift of all:
Another story for Christmases to come.
Christmas 2006. I ate borscht for breakfast, and Ted insisted I open one of my gifts, which turned out to be a T-shirt from Weezie's Borscht Hut which is where the borscht was from, too. Quiet day so far, but that will soon change. After Ted's finished blowing the snow out of the driveway we'll head to Nelson, collect Aunt Nancy at Jubilee Manor and go to my sister's place for dinner where there will be twelve of us, ranging in age from 3 to 96.
If you've made it this far, I wish you a safe, healthy, fun, contemplative Merry Christmas.