There are times when, according to some folks, Yours Truly is fairly laid back about many things. In most things, I usually try to not let things stress me out. I’ve heard a rumour that many people feel stress and panic and fear and anger and misery and all sorts of things at this time of year. I guess that makes sense. There is a certain push to celebrate one of the biggest gift-giving/family seasons of all year, and if you’re not celebrating, you’re a big poop. That’s what they say, you see.
After I turned about 16 (and therefore was a horrible gorgon for the following 5 -7 years), I wasn’t much in favour of Christmas, and it was one of the things that stressed me out rather a lot. With the exception of getting to spend time with my young cousins and my uncles and aunts, there wasn’t much I liked about it. I wasn’t religious…I didn’t believe in God, in fact. I didn’t much like not going to school, we were always away from my friends, and my parents usually were only together for a day, and it seemed like they regretted even that time together. And then there’s other baggage.
We often travelled at Christmas. When I was 17, we went on the family vacation on which National Lampoon based one of its more famous movies about traveling with your family.
These were no innocent days of tender falling snow and lights merrily twinkling away among hoar-frost dappled trees. At our Christmases, Santa only came to the house after all the liquor was gone. But that was *normal*, you see. That’s the way it had always been. It didn’t seem bad or wrong until the year when I was 17.
But there was always something decidedly lovely about Christmas, even when I was a gorgon and my mother and I couldn’t be in the same room without screaming at each other. And, as these things go, I knew it instinctively when I was Very Young, and then promptly forgot about it until the second and subsequent Christmases after Mum died. There is the sense of being together; we were *always* together on Christmas, with the exception of one year in 32, I spent every Christmas with my family.
I would come home, and the dusty artificial tree that was stored in the rafters above the garage would be decorated and twinkling. Gifts were always placed underneath, and I knew there would be closets filled with other gifts that would not come out until the last person in the house had gone to bed. I get to be romantic about it now because there is distance between being a gorgon and being a mother myself; between now and then. Distance between me and Mum. There is an insurmountable, vast distance between Mum and I, and it is a distance that is largest at this time of year.
Once, when I was 11, I came home after school absolutely livid. I’d got into a fight at school and beaten the tar out of a kid who laughed at my best friend Sarah and I when we were talking about Santa. The kid had ridiculed us for ‘still believing in Santa’. “What are you, BABIES?” he’d cried. And then he burst into tears because I punched him in the throat.
I needed my mother to validate, if not what I’d done, then WHY I’d done it. “He’s wrong, isn’t he, Mum?” I said, sobbing. “There IS SO TOO a real Santa. Isn’t there?”
My mother, who was tiny, gathered me up on to her lap (which was pretty near the same size as my own lap), and she said, “Do you believe in the wind?”
“What?” I snurgled.
“Do you believe in the wind?” she asked again.
“I’m talking about SANTA!” I wailed.
“I know. We’ll get there.”
“Of COURSE I believe in the wind.”
“Why?” She asked.
“That’s a stupid question,” I answered. Lippy even then, you see.
“Well, can you SEE the wind?” She asked.
“Well, no…but you can see what it does to trees and stuff.”
She nodded. “And can you TOUCH the wind?”
“No, but you can feel it,” I said.
“Well, she said, Santa’s the same way.”
I didn’t follow. “I don’t follow,” I said.
“Do you believe in love?” She asked me.
“Of course I do!”
“Can you SEE love?”
“Well,” I pondered, “No, but you can see the effect it has on people.”
“Can you TOUCH love?” She asked. Even then, sometimes I had to be led to conclusions.
“No, but you can feel it,” I said.
“Well, Santa is made from the expressions of love that we give to one another. Santa is real as long as you believe in love.”
Which is very tender and sweet and utterly blasphemous if you’re relgious, but from that day to this, there has never been any question in my mind at all about whether or not Santa exists. God is a different story, but I’ve always understood the way *SANTA* works. Mysteriously, there were *always* gifts under our tree, gifts for every person there on Christmas morning, even people who were unexpected guests, from Santa. Strangely, Santa’s handwriting used to be an awful lot like my mother’s, but that seems to have changed somewhat in the last six years.
I have never felt so alone as I did the time I realised, after Mum died, that there would be no gifts from Santa in my stocking that year. Not an orange, not a lump of coal…nothing. I knew there were gifts from Santa for everyone else, but that my Santa gifts were much more ephemeral. More important. Longer lasting. Requiring no batteries. Much, MUCH more difficult to hold.
Inasmuch as one’s attitude toward secular Christmas changes when one has children (you could hate Christmas all you like, but once you’ve seen how excited your kids get when there’s a tree, and lights, and candy canes, and wrapped presents (even if they’re just presents you plucked out of the toy box from last year because they’ve forgotten about them), it’s really tough to hate the season when you’re part of the joy it brings), I think it’s really been in the last six years I’ve truly understood why Mum’s favourite season was this one.
You can’t replace people, and you shouldn’t try. So there are things I don’t do (the stupid Crackers and hats, for one), and there are things I do that Mum never did (church). But, and forgive me for the way in which this is phrased…
Jesus Christ, I miss you, Mum.