A day might come when I tire of hanging the wreath that my sister Joyce made nearly four decades ago after our mother’s death but today is not that day.
She constructed the wreaths from dried grape vines. Our father had torn down my mother’s tiny vineyard in their backyard after her death in 1985. We each grieved my mother in a different way; Dad included. For Joyce’s part, she embraced a segment of my mother’s abandoned role. She carefully preserved Mom’s memory, drying the vines and adding decorations evocative of a holiday season at the house on McLaran Avenue in Jennings, Missouri. I do not know if it gave comfort to Joyce or anyone else, but I found immeasurable solace in knowing the origins of the treasure and the care behind its creation.
Over the years, I’ve replaced ribbons, baubles, and garland to keep the wreath looking festive. It has adorned each of my front doors from Kansas City to California, with several stops in Arkansas along the way. I believe — but cannot be certain — that Joyce made a wreath for each sibling. Whether that’s true I can’t say; and whether only mine endures I also do not know. I gain some portion of delight in the lack of confirmation. I know their doors; each of them; I imagine some similar variant greeting me should I make the journey.
I do not celebrate the Christian holiday. Though raised Roman Catholic, I made the choice to foreswear religion some decades ago. In particular part to this day, I could not escape the inevitable conclusion that “the birth of Jesus” leaves out my Jewish, Muslim, and atheist friends. I cannot fathom a divine entity which demands such harsh results. So as the Christians borrowed the December holiday from the pagan winter solstice, I co-opt December 25th to my own ends. Hence, the reason for the season: My annual spell of breathing; a deep long draw of cleansing air into my lungs before launching into New Year’s avowals. I use this day for sending love, light, and my most sincere wishes to everyone within the ripple of my call.
My chosen herald has inspired much derision and scorn but it appeals to me in the most basic of ways. “Happy Holidays”, I tell everyone whom I meet. Sometimes I substitute “Christmas”. The other day, I told someone “Happy Christmas” who then launched into a fake British accent to regale me in reply. We had a merry sort of conversation before we went our separate ways, me with the broadest of smiles on my otherwise weary countenance. The calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day holds a myriad of holidays if you include every religion, sect, and nationality. I say, Let’s celebrate each one. But most of all, let us honor the human beings who created those occasions, flawed, tired, and tremulous though they might be.
I think about my mother more and more as I draw closer to the end of my own existence on this earthly plane. She would approve, I think, of the evolution that my cherished wreath has taken. She would not stand on chosen ceremony, but instead greet everyone who rapped upon her front door with an unbridled embrace and a cheer as welcoming as she could fathom. I find myself cultivating the best of her as I find it within me. I think of her today, having schmarrn at some heavenly table with my little brother Stephen, my forgiven father, and a host of other relatives who gather to listen to a heavenly choir.
So this is Christmas, for me: Remembering all of the half-birthdays that we celebrated on July 25th with German chocolate cake for my little brother whose actual Christmas birthday got co-opted by the abundance; imagining a plate of candy cane cookies balanced on the coffee table as children passed around presents wrapped in dime store paper; breathlessly awaiting the sight of snowflakes so we could go sledding after breakfast. In a little while, my son and I will make our own schmarrn in the kitchen of the cabin around the circle where he is staying. We will open a gift or two; and linger over coffee. Later we will gather our contribution to a dinner that a friend of mine and I decided at the last minute to throw together. There will be games, and conversation, and moments at the railing of my friend’s balcony watching for swans on the San Joaquin. I cannot imagine a more perfect day.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the one-hundred and twentieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.