One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the stocking. I don’t know why, exactly, but it is. Maybe it’s because it’s a bunch of little things, all in one present, no wrapping paper to discard, no mess to clean up. Just a bundle of goodness at my fingertips.
Growing up, I had, and do still have, a hand crocheted stocking, made by my Aunt Sylvia. It’s huge. Not as huge as it was when I was 7, but still really big. It’s Christmas red, with a little snowman on the front, and my name stitched right across the top. I have no idea how old I was when she made it for me, but I can’t remember a Christmas without it.
As a tradition, we have always gone to Sylvia’s on Christmas Eve. She is my Mom’s sister, and since the year I was born, up until the year Seven was born, they were neighbors. Side by side, a hill apart. I cannot begin to count the trips I’ve made up and down that hill over the years…not just at Christmas, of course, but for any number of reasons. I am so lucky, to have such a close knit family. My cousin Lisa, Sylvia’s daughter, is a few years older than me, and I count on her as much as I do my own sister. I love her son like he is my brother. I also love Brittani, her niece, again as much as my own sister. We all have stories to tell of that hill and our family, some funny, some ridiculous, some even we can’t understand. But the stories are ours and we will continue to share them, as we were taught to tell stories by those who have gone before us.
One of my most favorite memories is from at least 25 years ago, maybe more. It won’t mean a thing to you, of course. Sylvia’s husband, Tommy, and I, about age 9 or 10, would stay up late into the night and play Nintendo. Not Wii. Not Playstation. Nintendo. The gray box with controllers that were attached to the gray box. It had a couple of buttons and a motion pad. The graphics were, well, better than Atari, but nothing like today. None of that mattered. Together we would play Golf, for hours upon hours in the living room, neither of us ever getting any better or worse, but always ready to keep on playing. We had code names for just about everything, like the Pigeon Wedge, used for aiming at birds, obviously, and for attempting our favorite maneuver – the CJ – a technique known only to us pros as The Creek Jump. We would play until sometimes two in the morning, until one or both of us fell asleep with the controller in hand, and I would finally walk the hill back home.
My parents moved here to the town I live in right after Seven was born, and though the trees have grown fuller back home, I know I could still find my way in the black pitch of night. I’ll get my chance this weekend, when we head over for Christmas Eve. I’ll park at my old house and find my way next door. My cousins will be there, the tree will be trimmed. There will be a still thawing shrimp cocktail on the kitchen table and more meatballs than any house can consume.
But Tommy won’t be there. He lost his nearly 20 year battle with MS this past August. Like a chicken, I haven’t been in the house since the funeral. I can’t even imagine walking in the door now, not seeing him there. Sylvia is the strongest woman I know. For over 10 years, she was his only caretaker. Dressing, feeding, nurse. She could never leave home for any longer than it took to run to get groceries. And now, she lives there alone, free to do what she wants, when she wants.
I wonder what she wants to do.
I wonder what Christmas will be like for her this year, without her husband. I wonder if he had a stocking, and if so, if she will hang it. I wonder if she still bought everyone’s present through Mail Order again this year, even though she didn’t have to. I wonder if she’ll try a new recipe, because she has more time. I wonder if the shrimp will be completely thawed, because she’s not in a rush. I wonder if she would make Seven a stocking like mine someday.
I wonder how it is that life goes on.
We all have things happen that change our lives. Every day we make little choices, or big choices, that affect our world. Some things we accept, some things we fight, some things just knock us over and we choose to brush off our knees on the way back to our feet we or stay there on the ground and cry while the rest of the world tramples on by.
I want to be like her. Like Sylvia. I want to be that strong, in everything I do. I want to always get to my feet. I want to knit my life back together, just like she has.
I wonder if she knows that.
Who inspires you? Do they know it? Maybe this year, for Christmas, you should give them the gift of letting them know how much they mean to you. I bet it’s a gift to you as well.