As I walked the dog this Christmas Eve, I noticed that this sleepy hamlet had a sense of bustle to it. Extra vehicles spilled out of driveways and lined the streets. As I gazed at Christmas lights, I glimpsed large groups gathered in living rooms and dining rooms. Seems the grown children who left years ago to find better work opportunities have returned with their own families for a day or two of festivities. Oh, to be home for the holidays!
My last trek home for Christmas was fifteen years ago. My grandfather, living in Ontario and I, based in Vancouver, decided during my summer visit with him that we would both venture to Texas for Christmas. I’ll go if you go. Since my grandmother had died a few years earlier, we were the two single guys, each wanting assurance that there’d be someone we could relate to. We stuck together and shared some good laughs. I remember him “modelling” all the baseball caps I’d bought him. He loved to cover that shiny bald head. My grandfather died a year and a half later so there is no one left to convince me to make the trip.
I did try to go a couple of times while I was still with my ex. I thought it would be nice for the two of us to bond with the family. On one occasion, when I wrote about going, my mother replied by saying that since my brother and sister’s families had other plans, “there is no point.” The next year, it was the opposite scenario. Both families were coming so my mother told me there wouldn’t be room. I still remember my ex’s aghast look and his reaction when I got off the phone: “They really don’t love you.” They do; it’s just complicated.
This year, my sister and brother-in-law are based in Saudi Arabia. I knew my parents were heading to my brother’s house so I called on the 23rd to wish them Merry Christmas. My mother repeated her holiday tradition of recent years, gushing, “Oh, I got to thinking. You should have come home.” It is always said when it is too late, an empty thought that, in my mother’s twisted way of being, is still heartfelt.
I have spent a few Christmases with my closest friend in Vancouver but our contact has become less frequent as my time away from the city continues. I am getting used to Christmas on my own.
When I first bought my home here, I spent a few Christmases buying and decorating a live tree and putting up the lights outside the house. I played Christmas music, baked shortbread and made a full meal of roasted veggies, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
That stopped during the year I took a leave of absence from work to write full-time. Forced to be frugal, I did without the tree but still made a mini feast. In the years since, the home I was once so proud of buying doesn’t feel like mine. Sure, I continue to pay the mortgage, but I’ve gone back and forth in putting it on the market and taking it off. It’s that old cliché: this house is not a home.
This year I told myself I’d embrace the spirit of the season, but time got away from me. December is always a ridiculously busy month at work and, combined with the five-hour daily commutes, Christmas Eve arrived before I knew it. Boxes of ornaments sit in the basement, boxes of cards I bought rest on the hutch in the dining room. I’m not trying to be a Grinch; I’m just pooped.
I put on a brave face as I prepare for another holiday alone. Get through it without wallowing. I have rented some videos—yes, there is still a video store in town--, I bought a new jigsaw puzzle (woohoo!) and I picked up a magazine and a new book for reading. I’ve got fresh veggies for dinner and I bought pure maple syrup to top my blueberry pancakes on Christmas morn. The key is to keep busy. Still, I admit to wiping away tears after my mother’s belated quasi-invitation to come home.
In some of those windows tonight, while things may have looked lovely, there were probably some hurtful words exchanged, some old wounds scratched up. Nonetheless, we are told that Christmas is a time for families so many people keep going back even if they shouldn’t. Indeed, I may not have it so bad after all.