It’s well past midnight, nearly one o’clock. The last present has been wrapped. The only light is from the soft glow of the Christmas tree and screen of my laptop. Everyone else is asleep. The only sounds, my fingers hitting the keys and the steady breathing of our 7 1/2-year-old lab Brinkley, dozing on her pillow bed.
Still a couple of days until Christmas, but decidedly a silent night.
In a few hours, we’ll be driving to north Georgia to see our grandboy, Jacob, a 19-month-old bundle of high-octane snips and snails and puppy dog tails who’s just now getting a bit of a grasp about what this Christmas thing is all about. A large share of the wrapping paper I went through tonight was dedicated to him, probably about a good sized tree’s worth.
Normally, I’m a big fan of the Christmas holidays. Early in our marriage, Cheryl and I arrived at a compromise on the holiday, an even bigger deal than the one that persuaded me to forego my attempts to frame a print of the poker-playing dogs that would be suitable for displaying over our fireplace. As I recall, the negotiations for that one went fairly quickly before we arrived at an equitable solution.
“It would be a great conversation piece,” I argued.
“No,” she deftly countered, then declared the issue decided.
Strictly as a courtesy, I looked up the word compromise and tactfully suggested that she do the same, since our compromise hadn’t, in my opinion, in any way actually met the definition of compromise.
She told me to look up resolved instead, because that’s what it was.
We’ve had a decorative mirror hanging over the fireplace ever since.
Our compromise over Christmas actually was more in line with the classical sense of the word. I would play Christmas music — particularly my two favorites, Dean Martin singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Frank Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” — anytime the notion struck me, including the middle of the summer.
The appropriateness of the music in question led to negotiations in which I actually won something. I agreed to not mention Christmas between Jan. 1 and July 4 and she agreed to quit “misplacing” my music.
This year, however, it’s been hard to get into it, this Christmas thing. I’ve been dreading it, in fact.
This will be my first one without Momma, who was a Christmas Day baby back in 1927.
Riding home the other day, I had the radio on and Sinatra began singing that song.
I had to turn it off.
It doesn’t help that Christmastime has always had a delicate balance between happiness and melancholy. For all the enjoyment it brings, there’s also a touch of sadness just under the surface. And the loss of a loved one can tip that balance, and tip it hard.
Christmas already comes with tons of stress, most of which we place on ourselves. We want the perfect Christmas. We want to pick out the perfect gifts. We want the perfect experience at get-togethers with friends and family. We want Christmas to be what we had when we were kids.
We want. And we miss the magic.
Regardless of how much the ghosts of our Christmases past haunt us today, the truth is, few of us ever have experienced a “perfect” Christmas. You could certainly argue there has only been one perfect Christmas, and that was two millennia ago, and more likely in the spring than in the dead of winter. Each one since has been flawed, but our memories tend to filter out the shortcomings.
It’s no wonder that Christmas affects us so. It caters to our every sense, from the lights to the aromas to the food to the music to the touch of a loved one.
I can’t help missing Momma, just like I still miss Dad, who died years ago. And I can’t keep from remembering all of the holidays I spent with them. No one who has lost a loved one can.
But I can enjoy this time I do have with those I love — my wife, our sons and our families. I can hold Jacob and teach him to play the Elmo drum set I got him. It’ll take a some driving to fit everybody in, but family’s worth that little trouble. And I don’t need for it to be perfect to find perfect happiness in it.
As for Momma, I can look back and know that I managed to spend at least part of Christmas Day — her birthday — with her for 51 years without a single miss. I’d give anything for No. 52. But 51 — not everyone has been blessed enough to be able to say that.
And I know that she and Dad both will be home for this Christmas, too, if only in my dreams.
Email Jim Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.