I often wonder what it would be like to go back in time and watch myself as a kid. As my kids grow, I’ve become obsessed with asking my parents about what I did after school, what shoes I wore, did I sleep upside down like my daughter, and so much more.
You know where I want to go back to the most: my childhood home, at Christmas. God, if I could only go back.
I want to see Grandpa again on Christmas Eve. He’d be in his nice shirt and tie, and I could smell his Stetson. I want more than anything to hear one of his off-color remarks, where he just grinned through Grandma quietly snapping at him, “Allenn,” and everyone laughed.
I want it to be that Friday afternoon, when my older brother and I ran through the door at 3:50 p.m., our consistent arrival time off the yellow, Route 4 bus, and saw that Mom had decorated for Christmas. And if we were lucky, she had also baked something special to eat.
I could see that shag Santa decoration that hung behind the front door. The entertainment center with the small, boxy television that was now home to red and green balls and certain snowmen and Santa knick knacks. And Mom’s perfectly laid out Christmas village with the tiny lights inside, on top of Grandma’s antique buffet.
I’d look at the precious nativity set that always sat on a small table just outside my room. Each ceramic piece was hand painted. Mom’s project in college. We were repeatedly told not to touch it, but I could never resist moving the donkey around, and trying desperately to hang the beautiful, blue-robed angel from the top of the small stable Dad made out of pieces of thin plywood and tiny nails. Jesus had to be in the best spot and only I could masterfully arrange the whole gathering of kings and shepherds.
I’d feel the cold on Christmas Eve day, as we hopped on our snowmobiles and rode a few miles north to our closest neighbors, my wonderful godparents. I’d eat the special cookies that she made for me every year, packaged with what was always the first present I received.
And on Christmas Eve, I want to feel the sights and smells of the two dinner soups: Oyster stew passed down for generations, and for all of us who swore that oysters looked as gross as they smelled, broccoli and cheese soup. I want to fill my plate full of meat, cheese, and crackers, and hold a little dish of orange and yellow colored, warm soup. I want to skillfully avoid Great-Grandma’s date-filled cookies and find one of Mom’s chocolate chip.
If I could just see Great-Grandma Angie again, maybe I could understand why she was so quiet, but always pleased to have her chair and small glass of wine amidst the noise. Maybe I could better see her hardship of growing up in the Depression. I could be with her in Grandma’s house, where I sat under the front window and listened to Anne Murray’s Christmas tape over and over.
I want to go back to every Christmas Eve until I was eighteen, but mostly to the ones where I so desperately believed in the man in a red suit. The magic that could maybe put something great under the tree, like a Nintendo. I want to watch all the kids load up with my dad and uncles to go drive around and look for rabbits in the snowy night that only the headlights could illuminate, while we hoped that Santa would visit during our absence. Or there was the time all the cousins went to the barn to visit my sick cat, “Tommy Lee Jones,” (you didn’t read that wrong) because Dad had taken him to the veterinarian (a barn cat’s visit to the expensive veterinarian was absolutely unheard of on the farm, but he did it for me). I want to stroke that beautiful black, tiger striped cat who moped among straw bales and leather saddles, not knowing it was Christmas.
I want to see our little faces as we enter the house and realize that Santa left unwrapped presents under the tree. I always delighted in joy at whatever was left, even if it wasn’t the Game Boy I secretly prayed for as we drove in a pickup across a white-covered, bumpy pasture. I want to see me get the basketball hoop that would entertain me and endless baskets for years. Through all the kids’ delight, I want to watch the faces of all the moms and dads. Grandpa always seemed to smile a little extra, and I’d give anything to see it again.
Even though Santa’s timing at my house was different than my friends’ and even though he oddly came back that evening to fill our stockings while we slept, I just knew he was real. His magic was before my eyes. That time the hoof prints were on the roof, and when red streaks shot out of the chimney just as we were driving back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. If only I could see how much Grandpa smiled those nights.
I still believe so much. Mostly in the magic of Christmas. How I’ve loved my grandparents more than just about anyone in my life. Mom and Dad’s herculean efforts through those lean farm years to give us three such a special holiday. The feeling that for just one evening, everything is right and perfect in the world. Even in your tiniest little place on the earth.
I still believe. But more than anything, I just want to go back. I wish I could.
If you celebrate, Merry Christmas to you. And to all, God bless.
Luv ~ jackie
“I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.”
~ I’ll Be Home for Christmas (you pick the version, but I can tell you when I heard Anne Murray sing it after writing this, my memories felt more alive than ever)