'Tis the season for bundling up. Each trip I make into the outdoors is prefaced by a lengthy dressing session: Scarf, coat, hat, gloves. My long wool coat protects me against the windchill that's making our twenty degree weather feel more like five below zero. My gloves serve little to no purpose, as the cold permeates Isotoner's double-layered shield against the freezing breezes. My hat keeps my sensitive ears warm, my scarf is there to create a barrier between my bared clavicle and icy air. But it doesn't matter. My nose freezes, my cheeks throb, my legs feel the wind through my work pants.
The time I should be taking to do the Christmas shopping that I still haven't started is spent, instead, hunkering down in the house; making me, for the first time, consider shopping over the internet. Right now, for instance, I know I should be in Middletown buying my Secret Santa gift for one of Billy's many cousins. I know I should be selecting wrapping paper and bows and selecting the perfect gift to rest inside of one of the many boxes I'll wrap this year. But instead, I'm at the computer, glass (and bottle) of wine in front of me, laundry clicking away in both the washer and the dryer and waiting for Billy to get home.
In the midst of my new job, of learning countless new items and procedures, I find my mind drifting back to Christmas seasons long past. Seasons that found me young and happy, seasons that flew by without me even noticing.
I'm thinking of what it was like, at ten years old, traipsing through a Kentucky forest with my family, trying to locate and cut down the perfect tree. My mom and dad and brother and I, all bundled up in our winter garb, hiking boots stomping along pine-needle covered trails. My dad with a cap on his head and his flannel jacket. My mom and brother pulling up the rear, eyes glued to every tree we passed, both of them trying to picture it, lit up and festooned, in our house. Me, somewhere in between the two parties, eager to help but frustrated with the cold; imagining presents and little multi-colored lights perched in the corner of our Hopkinsville home's living room; busy finalizing the list I'd be sending, via my mother, to Santa. I'm thinking of the ride home, our carefully chosen tree tied to the roof of our car, exhausted from being outdoors, my face burning from the warm heater following the cold air. Daddy pulled down box after box of ornaments from the attic, each full of tiny compartments for the ornaments. Pieces of our family's history: Ornaments my parents bought as they traveled the world in the Army - a miniature wooden nutcracker they bought in Germany, a teeny-tiny Christmas tree from Georgia - and pieces the four of us collected together - a mitten made of construction paper stuffed with cotton, its decoration courtesy of Crayola and my kindergarten class, Chase's tiny handprint solidified in Plaster of Paris from preschool. Daddy strung the lights while we went through the boxes, picking our favorites and waiting to hang them on pliable branches. The house smelled of the cedar tree we chose, and Chase and I loaded the bottom half of the tree with our ornaments. "Laurie's first Christmas, 1980," "Chase's first Christmas, 1986." Ornaments we made as gifts for our parents. Old glass ornaments that we carried from box to tree slowly, our eyes moving from floor to tree to gauge the distance, one hand beneath the ornament to catch it should it fall.
The tree my parents erect every year looks as beautiful now as it did back then. No theme, no reason to the placement of ornaments or colors chosen; Just memories hanging on fresh branches, backlit by green, blue, yellow and red lights. But these days, the tree doesn't come from the woods; it comes from a vendor in the middle of Milford. They pick their tree without the aid of their children, working their way through the aisles of pre-cut pine until they find the fattest, fullest one there. They wait until Chase comes home from school to put it in the house, then they call me for the annual decoration.
I'm not the same Laurie I was years ago. I used to be thrilled to decorate, but a few years ago, I found myself waiting impatiently for the ceremony to be over with. I looked at the boxes and boxes of ornaments as tedious work before me, not memories caught in cardboard dividers. I was consumed with my life as it was then, the subtle undertone of displeasure that plagued me back in those days. I hurried through the hanging, not taking the time to recall what each ornament meant, how it reminded me of our house in Kentucky, of the My Child doll with blue eyes and black hair that Santa brought me one year; the one that reminded me of Las Vegas when Santa left me my very own phone line. I didn't take care to recall the look on my parents' faces when they gave Chase and I something we really, really wanted. The way their smiles consumed their faces when the gift they gave us was truly unexpected; a new gaming system for Chase, a sapphire pendant for me. My mom's face, streaked with tears when she saw the Orthodox Icon I found for her. My father's salt and pepper mustache spreading with his smile, his blue eyes wet, when he opened the Army figurine I gave him, with a plaque I'd had engraved that sat on its base reading "Soldier Daddy."
This year, I want to reclaim the undistilled happiness that Christmas always brought me. I want to pause and think of each ornament before I hang it on the tree Mom and Dad chose for us. I want to put thought into my gifts. I want to remember the way it was before, and make new memories to think of later.