Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change one thing about my life today in order to return back home to the things that used to be. But at this time of year, especially with Christmas just a few days away, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about how things were back then, when going home meant going back to my hometown, back to my roots. Back to where my mother lived, and spending Christmas in the house where I grew up.
But when Ben and I got married and had Ashley, going back home for Christmas took on a new meaning. It meant going home to pick up my mother so she and her dog could spend Christmas with the three of us.
In my dreams, I still can.
It became a tradition for my daughter and me. No matter where we were living, I’d always take off on December 23, Christmas Eve Eve, as my mom always called it (because her dad had called it that), and Ashley and I would drive to my hometown, pack our car with my mom’s suitcase and the gifts she’d bought, and the three of us, plus her little dog, of course, would head back to our house to begin our Christmas celebration.
All the way back to our house we’d talk about what a great Christmas we were going to have as we listened to Christmas music on the radio. No singing along though, because none of us were talented in that department! When Ashley was still a child, she’d excitedly tell her grandmother all the things she’d asked Santa to bring her, as my mother listened intently, already knowing what was going to be under the tree, and thankful how Ashley’s belief in Santa Claus would last at least another year.
The next day, of course, was Christmas Eve, and by then Ashley would be so excited she didn’t know what to do. In her younger days Ashley and her grandmom would watch cartoons together in the morning, and then one of us would “suddenly” remember one or two gifts we’d “forgotten” to buy, so we made that one last trip to the crowded mall to make that one last purchase. Even in Ashley’s teenage years, the cartoons long forgotten, we still had to make that traditional last minute shopping trip.
Those last gifts would be wrapped and placed under the tree with the others, and then it was time to make one last batch of cookies. It didn’t matter that we already had more cookies made than any of us could eat. Ashley and her grandmom still had to make just one more batch together.
Because when it was time for bed, no matter how old Ashley was, we HAD to put out a plate of cookies for Santa. Tradition. Maybe that’s why we always had to make that one last batch….
And Christmas morning….the one day of the year I could always count on my mother smiling, and even allowing her picture to be taken! In the earlier years, the family room would end up hosting the remnants of a cyclone of discarded wrapping paper, bows and ribbon, and toys that we wondered where we’d find a place for without getting rid of some that were already there.
After all that fun, my mom and Ashley, and sometimes with Ben being allowed to join in, would play with all those new toys, quickly determining new favorites. Ben was sometimes selected to assemble certain gifts, which is still not his forte, but for his daughter, well, he actually did it and didn’t even complain.
At least not very much….
And now, my mom’s been gone ten years. I haven’t lived in my hometown for over forty years. My childhood home belongs to someone else. But I have my memories. And every time I see Christmas pictures from there, my heart opens its album of memories, and once again, in my dreams, I’m transported back to the days of my youth.
To the days of visiting the local Western Auto store and picking out the bike I wanted Santa to bring me.
To the days of beautifully decorated store windows at the local family clothing store, now long gone and its space replaced with cozy cafes and gift shops.
To the Christmases spent at my mom’s house, with aunts and uncles and cousins, a beautifully decorated fresh cut tree in the living room, and flickering candles on the table.
And in my dreams, I also imagine some new faces, interspersed with the old.
I create memories with my mother being with us as our daughter Ashley and her then-boyfriend Chris celebrated Christmas with us for the first time. I imagine my mom sensing even then, as I did, that this young man would one day be a permanent member of our family. I picture her talking to him for hours, getting to know him, so she could give him her grandmother’s stamp of approval.
I create memories of my mother being with us the Christmas Ashley and Chris had recently gotten engaged, and talk around the dinner table centered on wedding plans. I imagine her excitedly discussing all the details of the upcoming ceremony while Ben and Chris just looked at each other.
And I create memories of my mom being with us last Christmas as Ashley and Chris broke the news to her personally that she was going to be a great-grandmother! I can imagine the huge smile on her face as she looked forward to holding another generation in her arms! I imagine her excitement knowing this baby was being named after her. And I imagine her doing everything she could to make her extremely sick pregnant granddaughter as comfortable as possible, reminding her it would all be worth it. And she would’ve been the only one who could’ve gotten away with saying that!
And this Christmas I will make another memory in my mind. I will imagine my mother sitting in our family room by our Christmas tree, holding and playing with her 7 month old great-granddaughter Rachel. I will imagine her delight as she holds her and helps little Rachel open her first Christmas presents. And I will imagine seeing the joy and delight once again on my mother’s face; the huge, bright smile I only saw when Ashley was around. Because now in my mind she had the special privilege of holding her own granddaughter’s daughter.
And even as I write this, I can see my mother in my mind’s eye. And it’s a beautiful, precious sight that only I can see…a special Christmas gift to me.
You most likely may no longer be able to go back to your childhood home for Christmas. The home may no longer be in the family, and your family may unfortunately no longer be around. And if you were to physically go back there, you know it would never be as you remember.
Because we can make our minds remember what we want to remember; how we wanted something to be, as opposed to what it really was. We can make those memories as picture-perfect as we like. It’s sometimes easier that way.
In my dreams, Christmas is perfect. Every year. Just like this one will be.
Because in my mind, I’m still going home for Christmas.