This was the most unusual holiday season our family has ever had. Not all bad, but different. If you’ve read my Biggest New Year’s Resolution for ’09, in which I declared Never Again to let this happen, you already know we didn’t have a place for Thanksgiving dinner and ended up using the clubhouse at the mobile home park where we’ve lived for just over a year. And the boxes-up-to-our-eyeballs prevented any hint of Christmas from entering our home. Well, our son and his wife in CA. did send us a lovely bouquet with red roses on Christmas Eve. I moved some CD’s from the dusty table where the CD player sets and placed the beautiful flowers there. One bright spot of cheer. But I’m such a holiday slut, I give myself fully to Christmas, Halloween, Hanukkah… any excuse to decorate and celebrate. But now, no place for the tree, no wreath, no reason to pull the dozen bins of decorations from our stuffed shed, no trimming the tree with all the little ornaments that have their own histories linked to mine, no presents under the tree, no stockings hung (Yeah, I still do that for any of our kids still in town… I’m hopeless!). And worst, no Christmas dinner for the whole family! For reasons too multiple to drag out here, no one had a place both appropriate and cat-free where we could gather for a feast. We visited each other separately during Christmas week, but it felt a bit flat to me.
And then on the eve of Christmas Eve, our little Lhasa apso dog keeled over and had an apparent heart attack. Squiggy was still in there, but we knew his time had come. The little guy was eighteen and a half years old. That’s like one of the oldest living people on earth, I suspect. I called our son, Josh, whose dog Squiggy was supposed to be. It was very late and nothing could be done except keep Squiggers comfortable and see if he made it through the night. Our bigger crazy cardboard-eating dog, Lydia, knew something major was up and was acting so out of control that Josh, whose dog she’s supposed to be *sigh*, kept her with him that night. I couldn’t sleep. Squiggy lay in his bed next to ours, wrapped in a soft blue blanket, and I kept getting up to check his heart with my old stethoscope. Heartbeat was erratic and breathing was raspy, sometimes just fast shallow panting. I’d lay my hand on our little dustmop, and it felt like he had a motor vibrating inside. Quivering. Knowing it would be Christmas Eve, and thinking of all that had to be done and worrying if any vet would be open, added to my restlessness. I kept a vigil at Squiggy’s bedside that night, and I tried so hard to allow this to feel like the part of nature it is. But death is sad and brings up other losses. It was a long night.
When we rose on Christmas Eve, Squiggs was conscious and I carefully helped him to stand. His bedding was soaked, so he needed to be moved. For just a second, Squiggy seemed ok. He shook himself to fluff his wild fur and looked like he might just dash to the kitchen, tale wagging and smiling the way he would when he was pleased. But the next instant, Squiggy fell flat onto his chest, four legs splayed, then rolled to his side, panting too fast to count heartbeats and stared ahead, unblinking. We wrapped him up and found a shallow bin to be his bed for the drive. The vet who was open happened to be a remarkably sensitive older man. He made eye contact with Squiggy and stroked him, and he seemed to understand why I was an emotional basket case even though this little dog was well past a normal life span. Doug and I leaned in, petting and talking to Squiggy, whispering “good dog” words until it was over. Ever since we had to lie beside our oldest son, Jim, as he crossed over in November of 2000, and find the strength to let him go with love, I find all final good-byes echo that one. I hate letting spirits go where they must. But I feel the greatest final gift we can give departing souls is to be fully present and to show only love.
That’s how Christmas Eve began this year. From there, we had to rush to the nursing home where Doug’s 93 year old mother lives in the Alzheimer’s unit. That’s not her diagnosis, but her dementia is much like it. Most of the time she seems like a very sweet old lady who simply won’t recall what you’ve been talking about the second you stop talking about it. Relative’s names get lost sometimes, but she usually recognizes them in person. Lenore, who was a respected bookkeeper for several local businesses until she was 81, was thrilled to see us and didn’t notice my swollen eyes and red nose from crying the whole way from the vet’s. We made the long trip from her unit to the car with her walker. Doug’s family has their big gathering on Christmas Eve, so we brought her over to the old house that smelled of Hoosier home cooking and decades of memories. Lenore was happy and comfortable being in her sister’s former home with people she recognized. She’s always treated as the honored guest, the beloved elder, so we felt good leaving her there. The relatives would see that she got back home.
Now it was time to get ready for our own annual Christmas Eve traditions. If you read my “Santa Myth” story, you saw the pictures & heard how we gather with all of our kids still in town, to read And It Came to Pass, and sing carols till we go hoarse before I read the wonderful story in verse, The Night It Rained Toys. Then Doug closes with The Night Before Christmas. This started in 1973. So the first thing we did at home was look for the books. Oh my God, after everything else, the books were MIA amid the boxland chaos. The whole basis of our celebration, missing! I was ready to throw off my figurative apron and just quit Christmas this year! Then I realized that the Nativity story we read is in the Book of Luke, so Doug pulled out one of his many versions of The Bible to cover that. He called our daughter, Amy, and luckily, her Zoe had a copy of Night Before Christmas, as well as a big book of carols. Yea! All we were missing was The Night It Rained Toys. Which I figured I had memorized by now. Well, not quite….
This year Josh volunteered to have it at his own trailer, which is very near ours. (FYI, this whole trailer park living was not a family tradition until Doug had to take early retirement in ’07, but that’s another story.) It was amazing that Josh got it together for this. He’s 25 and lives with another musician. The unique (?) band Josh formed was called Otis and the Rufies (please don’t ask…), but they did pretty well with Josh as lead singer and main song writer. Not my cup of tea, but the guys are talented. Point is, Josh’s place is likely to have pizza boxes and beer cans, overflowing ashtrays, and a bathroom that I fear entering. But the kid pulled it together, and it looked spotless and spacious compared to our Box World. He even lit candles and cleared the table for snacks!
Here I have to plug Lisa Parris’s recipes. I always make some goodies for our little event, so this year I used three of her suggestions. The sugar and cinnamon baked nuts, her super-easy quickie fudge and (drool) the incredible eggnog. We added the rum individually, since our 8 year old grandchild, Zoe, was there. The snacks were so well received, the kids were fighting for the leftovers later! When Amy arrived with her guy and Zoe, we had to tell them about Squiggy’s passing that day. When Zoe was very little, she pronounced his name “Kerggy”. When she became obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, he was “Toto”. But even Zoe knows that 18 is a lot of years for a dog to have. My own sadness was dissipating with that realization and with the lull of the familiar songs, and let’s not forget the rum eggnog!
By the time we reached the finale with Doug reading his part, I was all cozied up with our granddaughter on my lap, feeling warm & fuzzy and a little buzzy. That may help explain this unusual occurrence. And my hearing isn’t perfect, either. Those are my disclaimers. So my husband was reading with gusto, as he has done every year since 1975, but when he got to, “He looked like a peddler just opening his pack”, I had a hearing lapse. When I blurted out a shocked, “WHAT?!” everyone in the room startled and looked at me. I was still stunned, thinking my rather conservative spouse had made a very uncharacteristic crude joke. In a tone of disbelief, I repeated what I’d heard: “Opening his CRACK”?!! You can imagine the burst of laughter in the room! But a look from my spouse soon gave me to know I’d misheard what he said. Even though he most assuredly had not said Santa was opening his crack, the image of old St. Nick bent over the toys, flashing us the full moon, could not be erased. And despite Doug’s noble efforts to continue the story and reclaim the mood, it was a lost cause! Zoe on my lap was in fits of howling laughter that couldn’t be contained. And her granny was no better! Try as I might to stifle the hysteria I’d unleashed, it kept exploding from my throat like Mentos in a Coke. Even with my daughter shooting me The Look that says, “Mother, this is SO inappropriate around my child!” Zoe and I were a unit of crazed giggles that couldn’t be stuffed back in the box!
So a day that began with the deep sadness of loss, closed with music and goodies and laughter (albeit “inappropriate”).
The next day, I cooked a very budgeted-down version of a Christmas dinner. We cleared the newspapers off the sofa and set out three TV trays, so Josh could join his old folks to eat. I played a corny Bing Crosby CD, and we had the bouquet of red roses to remind us it was Christmas. There’s something to be said for low-key.
But next year I want my stressful garish old-fashioned holidays back!