Ghosts of Christmas Past
And just as with Scrooge, my Christmas ghosts remind me of what used to be and what I still hold dear.
Unlike Scrooge, my ghosts don’t necessarily encourage me to reconsider my life path. They are simply reminders about change, about being a parent and about how the best Christmas gifts often go unopened for years and sometimes even decades.
And every holiday season, my ghosts remind me of when I was an adolescent and received gifts that I didn’t unwrap or appreciate until years later.
They were given to me when I was struggling with the usual angst and therefore oblivious to anything my parents were dealing with.
And they were dealing with a lot.
My dad was unhappy with his current employment and seeking a new job. My mom was happy and fulfilled with her role in the community, but supportive of my dad. Therefore, the needs of my dad, the family breadwinner, won out and he accepted a job almost all the way across the country from our Oregon home.
Shortly after accepting the new job, he packed up his Ford truck and our family dog and drove cross-country to West Virginia. And my mother, my brother and I were left behind.
He made the move in early fall, and even through my self-absorbed haze, I knew much my mom didn’t want to move.
She even insisted that no one was going to buy our house anytime soon. But it sold almost immediately, and plans were made for the rest of the family to move to West Virginia over the Christmas holiday.
I continued my life as usual, pretending the change wouldn’t occur. My mother appeared to do the same. And with the holidays approaching, she made sure all the family traditions were kept. We decorated the house and the tree. We participated in holiday events. And we baked Christmas cookies and breads. Our house was warm, festive and inviting. In fact, there were very few indications that our life would soon be disrupted in ways that would take me years to understand.
But that Christmas WAS different.
My dad wasn’t around, and my mom’s eyes would tear up every time ‘”I’ll be Home For Christmas” came on the radio.
Too soon, school was out for winter break, my dad came home to help with the move, we hurriedly celebrated Christmas and just as quickly packed the house. Then we left. Forever.
Initially, I thought I would never adapt to my new life. Everything was different – the way people talked, how they viewed the world and what their priorities were. But I was young, and I eventually adjusted. But because I was young, I was also self-absorbed. So, the fact that my mother was facing the same issues at the “real-world” level didn’t seem important.
I knew she was unhappy. I knew that she went from being a community leader to being someone fairly unknown. And I knew that she just couldn’t conform to the suburban culture that we suddenly found ourselves in.
But I also thought she was “old” and just wasn’t affected by things the way I was. Or at least she knew how to deal with everything better.
I’m now even older than she was at that time, and I know we “old” people don’t always know how to deal. At least I don’t. And I don’t always hide my frustrations and imperfections… not even from my children. And during the holidays, I sometimes simply choke.
But my mom never choked. Even when she was going through one of the hardest times of her life, she never put her own issues, concerns and needs before those of her kids. She pretended that whatever her children were going through was a much greater priority. And she knew the importance of making us feel like we were home, even if she didn’t feel like she was.
That’s why, the Christmas after “the big move” felt just like every other Christmas. We decorated the house with the same decorations that we’d put out in years past. We baked the same cookies and breads that we baked in the past. And we listened to Christmas carols on the scratchy records we’d always listened to. It felt like we were home for Christmas.
I actually received several unwrapped gifts those two Christmas holidays. I received the gift of learning to move forward with my life while still embracing the past. I received the gift of understanding the importance of traditions at Christmas. And I received the gift of a role model who gave of herself at a time when there was often little left to give.
I unwrapped those gifts years ago, but I’ve held onto them. Every year when we hang the decorations on the tree… some which go back to my childhood…these Ghosts of Christmas Past come back to haunt me. And they remind me that life is constantly changing: new people arrive while others leave. Circumstances sometimes improve and sometimes get worse. And sometimes, even the entire culture seems to dramatically shift. But amid these changes, we can still appreciate the Ghosts of Christmas Past, celebrate the Ghosts of Christmas Present and hope that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come provide opportunities for our children to open the unwrapped gifts we’ve given them. And that they too are haunted by Ghosts of Christmas Past.