Sunday afternoon I was visited by the ghost of Christmas past. It was nothing at all like the ghost that visited Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”,that grim phantom with long white hair, a childlike face and bright beams of light streaming out of its head. My unexpected visit had nothing to do with supernatural specters or apparitions and everything to do with sentimentality and nostalgia.
The plan was for the kids to be here at 3 pm to exchange gifts, followed by a 5pm Christmas dinner. Of course nothing ever goes according to plan around here so as per the norm, it was after 3:30 before everyone got here and we were able to get started. The grandkids were excited and eager to get things going. Although they had already opened gifts that morning at home they wanted more, when you’re a kid there is no such thing as too many presents. And there definitely was no gift shortage here, grandma loves showering the grandkids with gifts, she did another remarkable job this year of accommodating them. They all sat around the family room floor surrounded by their stacks of gifts, examining packages, just waiting for the word so they could begin tearing into them. Even little Janessa was busy picking up packages and shaking them, it was cute.
It wasn’t until after things got started that the past decided to pay me a little visit. I was sitting there watching Janessa opening gifts when suddenly it was 1977 and I was back in our little house in Glendora watching my two year old daughter unwrapping gifts. The memory was so vivid, it was surreal! We were sitting in the living room Ray and I and both sets of grandparents all eyes on Janene our first child and their first granddaughter. This was actually Janene’s third Christmas. She’d been two months old for the first and fourteen months for the second much too young to really know what was going on, but this time she was into it. She was ripping into gifts and have a great time! My little angel! It was a special moment, a special time.
I was really enjoying the memory when just like that, little Janene did a slow fade and I was watching Janessa again. I quickly looked over at my daughter and watched her for a moment enjoying her youngest daughter’s excitement. I wondered if she too was reliving some Christmas memory of her own or simply making a new one. Janessa was so cute holding up her gift for all to see then hugging it. Then in a wink it was cast aside and she was grabbing for the next one.
Then it was Jonathan’s turn to open a gift. I watched him as he tore at the wrapping like all little boys do and thought of my boys John and Alan, when they six years old, ripping and tearing their way through their gifts all those years ago. And just like that I again found myself in the past, here in our San Dimas home watching first John with that mischievous twinkle in his eye and that million dollar smile opening gifts in the living room and making quite a production about it. Then John slowly faded into Alan my youngest,who sat quietly near the tree opening his gifts, quite a contrast to his brother’s antics. My boys.
Anjalene, my first grandchild went next. At eight she was excited about opening gifts, but much more patient than her brother. She took her time and did a whole lot more talking as she pulled off the gift wrap. She was so much more animated, nothing at all like her mother when she was eight. Janene was more the quiet type. Funny, but Anjalene is much more like her uncle John was at that age. I have to tell you, I was having a ball watching the kids. By far kids are the best part of Christmas Day.
Then it was Joshua’s turn but he was nowhere to be found. Later Suzanne would corral him and open gifts but right then he was more interested in playing and exploring than sitting and opening presents so we moved on to Jacob, John and Suzanne’s oldest. He had his own style when it comes to unwrapping. While watching Jake I again found myself thinking of Christmas past. For some reason watching him brought on the memory of our first Christmas after my mom passed away. Janene was sixteen, John was thirteen and Alan was almost three. It was the worst Christmas imaginable. Mom had died suddenly on the 21 of November. Four weeks later it was Christmas.
Suddenly I was there again, reliving the pain and guilt that had caused me to destroy Christmas for my children that year. It was awful. It was raining on Christmas morning which only added to my misery. I tried to sit there and watch the kids open gifts, but i just couldn’t. How could there be joy or good cheer in our home? My mother was dead! Finally I couldn’t take it any longer and I came undone. I caused quite a scene, disrupted everything and jumped in my van and took off. The next thing you know I’m standing all alone at my mom’s graveside in the pouring rain, grief stricken and in tears. It wasn’t pretty.
Ray eventually found me at the cemetery, told me what was going on with the kids. After I left the house they were even more upset and crying. John finally jumped on his bike and had gone out looking for me. Man, I had really screwed things up. We went home and I tried to patch things over but the damage had already been done. After all these years I can still see their faces, the pain and confusion. God, I screwed that one up. Sorry…
Yes, the ghost of Christmas past paid me quite a visit this year. Stirring up some memories to cherish forever and some I would rather forget. All these experiences are a part of us, a part of who we are, of who we have become…
Just a thought…