Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Without Patricia

This holiday season I am reminded of the past, of how much time changes. I am reminded of how much the passing of time changes everything. My grandmother died this year. For most of my life she was Christmas Eve. Only Christmas Eve, our once a year visit.

No judgement anymore. It's just truth. It was her choice.

I don't think saying the truth is necessarily speaking ill of the dead. Because the truth-of-what-we-do is not always kind. I mean no ill will, which I sat because I am not sure everyone in her life feels the same.

My grandma and I managed a relationship at the end. The death of her second husband freed her in ways she may not have seen, but we did. I did. I met and got to know the better version of her. It was a true gift.

I smile at that notion, as gift-giving was not her strong suit. I'll come back to that.

O Holy Night is playing in my office. I am not Catholic anymore but I have always loved this song. I remember a Christmas Eve, captive in the back room off of my Grandma's basement. where the cigarette smoke was so thick and constant we sat in a cloud. Some of her inebriated friends were there. Sweet enough as they meant to be, there was always drama associated with their drinking as the night progressed.

Some years were hard.

One of the hard ones, I was pushed into entertaining, into singing for everyone. I didn't want to. I never liked being myself at the center of attention. Give me a different skin, a glamour, or let me hide in the light of a spot.

I sang through every holiday song I knew. O Holy Night was one I sang well and really enjoyed singing. I think about that night, now that I cannot aspire to singing anything so grand yet. That register may never be mine again. I try to be grateful that I can sing at all. I mostly am. But I still think about it. When you can no longer do something you loved to do and could do well you're bound to think about it.

The song is over but now I am thinking about that night and my complicated relationship with the loss of my Grandma. Now she is gone. Now she is everywhere.

After my accident, she sent her stuffed Santa Claus along with my mother, to cheer up my rehabilitation room. I've put it out every year. After my Nancy Drew books and this one black, pink, and teal sweater I got from her circa 1989, that Puffalump Santa Claus is one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got from her.

Gifts were not her strong suit and she was always nervous about it, apologizing almost before you had the box open, eager to both defend her choice and dismiss it as a viable present. It was like she considered a test of how well she knew us from our annual visitations. The last thing she did every night was give my mom the envelope of receipts for everything.

I didn't live home after college so I didn't go over to her house for Christmas Eve anymore but she didn't forget about me. My present would be waiting at my parents' house. They were always a little random. Sometimes I couldn't even get my coat off before everyone would be pressing me to open it. What ever would it be this year? One year there was this super soft pair of leather gloves but I liked but they reeked so strongly of cigarettes my parents had banished the bag to the outdoor porch and I--oops--left it behind.

One of the last gifts was a pair of crocheted-to-look-like-ballet-shoes slippers that I returned to the store. I figured I would use the money from the gift to buy supplies for a womens' shelter. I was angry. The gift felt thoughtless, next to what my siblings received. Like she didn't know me at all. And at that age it hurt. I was taking it out on the slippers. It hurt because it was true. It was also true that she was okay with that at the time. We both were.

I got $1.25 in exchange for them.

I may never have laughed so hard in public. The hurt melted away. Why should she spend more money on someone who hadn't maintained contact with her? What part of her actions had taught me to expect more from her? That laugh was sobering. I grew up a few years in that moment. I humanized her as more than just Grandma. She was also Patricia-who-was-trying.

Maybe it's only funny with forty years of context. I laughed so loud the cashier thought I was having a breakdown. She apologized that it wasn't more. I shrugged it off and told her it was fine, that I was lucky to get anything at all.

I know my Grandma cared. I know she worried for me after my accident. She started sending me holiday cards, which I tucked away, not knowing last year's would be the last one. I even have a birthday card from her, which I got on my actual birthday.

I'm smiling, thinking of them.

My wife and I have a little tradition that originated with my family. We'd go out to dinner, a treat for us, and in between the restaurant and my Grandma's house we would drive through residential areas and look at the decorated houses, listening to holiday music on the radio.

As my wife and I drive through the West Side, looking at the houses, I think about all those years of looking at lights on the way to her house. I realized this year that we bring our ghosts with us, wherever we go. They're not always bad. And I'll happily carry her ghost with me on those drives, something meaningful to me.

I'll talk to her know when I want to, even if they're just words spoken to air. There is power in words spoken and unspoken. I will change the pattern. There's still time to get to know each other a bit better.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.