“Are you ready for Christmas?” I was asked the question four times yesterday morning as I did my 16 errands. The question irrationally irritates me. I don’t know what it means or how to respond. Yes, I am ready for a Prince or Princess of Peace to return and shine light into the darkness that envelopes this world. But I don’t think that’s what the questioners mean. Maybe I don’t like the question because it makes me feel like I’m not doing enough, not anticipating enough, not buying enough. Perhaps they assume my Christmas looks like their Christmas and it probably doesn’t. Maybe I need to figure out what Christmas—and the question—means to me and not concern myself with what it means to the questioner.
One of the getting-ready things I wanted to do was make the house look different for my sisters; more in the style, if not the reality, of how it was when we were growing up, before it became tired and worn. I want to infuse it with new life. Or maybe I want it to infuse me. I’ve reorganized the kitchen, removing counter and cupboard clutter; I made the living room more cozy; I had the chimneys cleaned last week and I’m enjoying long-absent crackling fires on these frigid evenings.
There was one last thing on my pre-Christmas list: the storage room. It’s long been a disaster zone, although I have cautiously worked on it a couple of times since I’ve been here; but I have been relocating stuff from upstairs to there for the past month and it was a holy horror. The large room in the basement began as my father’s workshop. When he built a new workshop over the carport, the room became my mother’s craft room, along with storage in shelves and cabinets my father built. I was far away during those years, which lately has brought a certain sadness to me, but as I worked I imagined Mama dabbling in activities that I hope brought her joy—quilting, silk painting, collage—finally getting out of the kitchen, while my father puttered elsewhere.
I don’t know when she stopped doing those things and abandoned the room to storage of things no longer needed or used but that she was unable to discard. In the past four years the only time she went into the room was with me in an attempt to clean off “the table” because she might want to do a project there again. It was never accomplished. Every piece of cardboard and plastic bag had a reason for existing and she couldn’t imagine it anywhere other than on the table. Maybe I should have ignored her admonishments not to touch anything without her there to supervise, then begged forgiveness for my seizure of control and encouraged her to let it go and focus on a project together. Rearranging past reality sounds so easy. You can drive yourself crazy wishing you had done it differently when, if you had it to do over, all things being equal, you would make the same decisions.
The table is one my father made when we moved into this mid-century modern house in 1960 and the round oak pedestal dining table would not do. (It’s in the family room. Nothing discarded.) When their ship came in, an expandable teak table was purchased and the handmade cherry-stained one relegated to the basement.
I’ve written before about my caution in getting rid of anything, and my mother’s absence doesn’t change that. The stuff belongs to the family; it’s not mine to decide what has real or nostalgic value and what is expendable. But I can reorganize it. One of my dreams has been to finally clean off that table and remove the protective faded-to-colorless, cracking plastic table cloth and reveal the table my father made.
I did that yesterday, at least enough for now. Even though I threw away nothing I didn’t think was 100% safe to discard (well, 99% safe), I took three carloads to recycling, trash, and thrift shop. And I didn’t even touch what was on shelves and in cabinets except to create space by removing empty cardboard boxes and consolidating stuff.
I found a bag of cotton gloves in an old suitcase with a Northwest Orient baggage tag on it. I imagined my mother wearing them, perhaps to church, or on a jetliner. I did throw away the bundles of tiny scraps of wool fabric from sewing projects, recognizing the blue plaid of my junior high drill team kilt. I left the larger scraps for my sisters to reminisce over another day.
Snooping through boxes and barrels, brought to mind the last time I searched my parents’ bedroom for my Christmas gifts. It was the last time because I found them that year and Christmas morning lost some of its wonder. It blew back in when, after all the gifts had been opened and we were buried in a sea of wrapping paper (which Mama would later carefully fold and save, some of it still in a cupboard in the storage room), my mother asked, “Gretchen, did you get a doll clothes case? Rebecca did you?” She had hidden a box of gifts so well even she forgot about them. Turns out she wasn’t “ready,” but it is one of our cherished Christmas memories.
Sitting here writing in the coffee shop in my picturesque small town, I’m watching city workers clean out the planter box in the sidewalk in front of the historic Fox Theatre. The first crew removed grates and cleaned out debris; a second crew came behind and added new soil and tamped it down before moving down the street to the next one. I assume the grates were taken away for cleaning and will be returned.
Everyone is getting ready in their own way for Christmas and the new opportunities the change in year could bring. Like so many of you, I am filled with anxiety about the near future, and I feel helpless to impact it. What I can do is influence my own future, hopefully for the good of those near to me. People all over the world read this blog, and I am imagining if we each did what feels good and right to us, and transformed in however small a way those with whom we come into contact, and those people did the same, we can change the world. Are you ready?