Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keeping watch

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up, Christmastime meant cousins. Oh sure, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too...but truth be told, the cousins were the highlight. I'm not sure when and where it all began but at some point my mom and her sister must have made the decision that neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night would keep them from celebrating Christmas together. So even as they settled into different states, a day's drive apart, we never missed a Christmas with one another. 

For the most part we alternated houses each year, so the only thing we ever needed to know was if it was a "Portland year" or a "Spokane year" because everything else was just details. We never questioned this arrangement, or balked during the years when it was our turn to cram ourselves into the car and make the long winter drive over-the-mountains-and-through-the-gorge-to-our-cousin's-house-we-go.  It was just the way Christmas was. And we loved it.

I think sometimes it was almost more torturous to be the ones doing the waiting rather than the traveling. At least when you were on the road you had some sense of forward progress. You knew how much longer it would be (because you asked every 10 minutes), and you had the thrill of feeling yourself inching ever closer with each passing mile sign (and you shouted out every single one).

To be the ones waiting at home was agonizing.

This was long before cell phones and the ability to stay in constant contact with loved ones on the road. While we were waiting for our Portland family to arrive, we might get a single call all day updating us on their travel schedule IF we were lucky. And that was only if they were lucky enough to find a stop with a pay phone and Uncle Dave was willing to spring for the call. (Not always a sure thing. His kids still love to talk about having to share a small fry growing up.) But other than that, all we could do was wait. And wait. And wait. And asking mom how much longer it would be was useless because she didn't know either.

So, she'd do what she always did when all other attempts at distraction failed. She told us to go watch out the window.

And we did...for what felt like hours. It might have been minutes though. I'll be the first to admit that childhood recollections of time are seldom accurate. But it felt like we hung over the back of that living room couch staring down at the highway for close to a lifetime.

My childhood home, the home in which my mother still lives and where we all still spend Christmas every year, sits atop a small, pastoral hill. When we were kids, all of the trees surrounding the house were not nearly so tall and full as they are now and we could see all the way from our big living room windows down to the sleepy highway that lead to our gravel country road. Back in the day, the number of cars that came down that highway was not substantial, so great excitement would ensue each time one appeared. Inevitably though, my older brother would quickly tell us why that couldn't be their car because it was the wrong color, or too big, or had the wrong shaped headlights.

(Okay, I'm not really sure he commented on the headlights, but he was always much wiser than either my sister or I about which cars were actual prospects and which ones didn't deserve a second glance. We were foolish enough to get excited about delivery trucks.) 

But just when we would start to fear that they really never would arrive, a set of properly shaped headlights, belonging to a car of the right color and size, would turn onto our gravel road.


We would fly off the couch and race to the front hallway screaming, "THEY'RE COMING!! THEY'RE COMING!!"

And at long last, when that same set of appropriate headlights would finally make its way up our long, sometimes icy, snowy road and swing into our carefully shoveled driveway, the hysteria would give way to...


Let the festivities begin!!

I think maybe I see Santa?
Singing "Up On the Housetop".
We were practically The Osmonds.
I feel like Valerie is about to go all "Junkyard Dog" on someone here.
Don't Tracy and I look a little frightened?
P.S. We LOVED The Sunshine Family!!

Inevitably someone (me) ended up mortally wounded/deathly ill and in need of medical attention.
Christmas can be a dangerous time.
Thankfully, I had a doctor with a terrific bedside manner. 
Yep, that's a turtleneck with a Fa La La La sweatshirt.
I've always been festive.

Matching footed pajamas?
I think we were drunk on eggnog.
I kid.
Okay, so maybe that matching jammies thing wasn't a one time deal.
Or ended in childhood.
And that cousin Christmas only grew....
How did we get so lucky?
The next generation.
Pure love.

This year, as we string lights, decorate trees, sing Christmas songs, and wrap presents... sometimes I find myself asking, "How do we do this? How?"

What do we do with an absence so great?

And the only answer I can come up with is this...

We celebrate all that she loved. We remember that there is a Light no darkness can overcome. We share memories and make new ones. We carry the past into the present, and have faith in the future.

On the days it feels hard to celebrate and carry on with the traditions she loved so much, I picture her keeping watch.

I think of her giddy with excitement, anxious to share with us the incredible gift of perfect joy that she now knows. Always the hostess, I imagine her waiting with happy anticipation to usher us in and give us the grand tour.

And I believe that, for her, the waiting will be but a minute. It isn't agonizing or endless because she now lives in that beautiful space outside of time. She is both happy in the now, and in all that is to come.

For us, the waiting is longer. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that as much as the distance stings, I do hope for the wait to be very long. I feel okay saying that because I know she hopes that, too.

But when that day does come, I take comfort in knowing that one of the first voices I will hear will be hers. She will throw her head back and laugh in that way that only she can, and then proclaim for all to hear....

She's here!! She's here!!

Forever and for always.