“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me.”
There is nothing more depressing than hearing Bing Crosby belt that one out when you are sitting alone in the candle-lit kitchen of your lonely apartment on Christmas Eve, roasting marshmallows on a fork, with a cigarette lighter.
That was me … Christmas Eve, 1991 – in Casper, Wyoming – my first TV job, in an isolated town. I was not just alone, I was lonely. I don’t think I really understood the word until that night. I had very few friends, most were co-workers. My family was celebrating the holiday on the other side of the country at my grandmother’s house, as they had done every Christmas for as long as I could remember. The only difference was, I wasn’t there.
I sat in near darkness for hours, listening to the most sentimental music I could find. It was almost as if I was trying to keep weeping. I should have timed it, Guinness Book and all. I could just imagine my family: they were eating. A lot. My grandmother’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs. She also had roast, gravy, brown and serve rolls, casserole, two different kinds of cake, homemade candy … did I mention brown and serve rolls?
I was missing all of it. My great-aunt Alda handing everyone the gifts she got for them, with the caveat, “I know you’re not going to like it.” That always drove me nuts. There would also be some sort of yelling – not arguing, mind you – just yelling.
When I was a kid, I could hardly contain myself. I lived for Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. When I hit college, I wanted to eat, unwrap and go. I had very important things to stress about, and I really needed to do it in my bedroom, with my FM stereo blaring anything but Christmas music.
All I can think about is the line in the play, Our Town, spoken by the ghost of Emily, as she walks about, looking at all of the things she’s taken for granted: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
How many moments do I miss by thinking only about what will happen in the next moment? How many simple, yet blissful everyday or every-holiday, seemingly minor events do I let go unacknowledged, never knowing that one day, I will give anything to experience them just one more time? No, Aunt Alda, I never hated your gifts. The really big underwear used to kind of freak me out, but your thoughtfulness was priceless.
My grandmother, my Alda, my attempting to wait up all night to see Santa, even that stereo and butane lighter are gone. I don’t want to squander “right now” by worrying about what I’ll cook for breakfast on Christmas morning. Neither will the ghosts of my Christmases past rob me of what is happening all around me this year.
The meatballs, the cakes, the “yelling, not fighting,” all of these little “wonderfuls” are to be realized. As I get older, it’s not the things I appreciated in the moment that hurt my heart the most; it’s the ones I let slip away, assuming they would always just be there. Your life is full of gifts. Don’t leave any un-wrapped.