Oops. I hope you all had a great Christmas. I’m going to get right to the point: I have conflicted feelings about Christmas. As far as celebrating Christ’s birth, I love it; but I used to feel torn between visiting multiple families on both sides of mine and my husband’s families. It was hard to travel so much with young children, and it seemed that no matter how I ordered visits or alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving, someone was always disappointed. I’d pick up on people’s emotions, absorb them, and trying to fix their discomforts. I spent every Christmas of my adult life carrying a level of anxiety about someone being disappointed in what I cook, when I arrive, when I leave, whether or not we visited that year, etc. It never felt quite right.
(This year I used cheap grapevine wreaths to form a garland for my tree, filling in where the cat has bent branches apart. I just cut the vines that wrap around each wreath, then began opening them up and winding them around the tree. Then I separated the individual vines of each wreath, spreading them apart a bit. It took 4 1/2 wreaths. Theres a tutorial here)
When one side of the family quit wanting us to visit at Christmas, we knew it was time to start having Christmas at our home where we’d welcome anyone who wanted to come. My kids are now 19 and 15, it is past time. This doesn’t mean I don’t value the traditions of my parents and grandparents. I do and we still, pretty much, do the same stuff, only we only leave home to visit my father later in the day.
So, I had my grandmother’s favorite Christmas meal: shrimp gumbo, rice, potato salad, and pecan pie at my house and that part of our family came over for a quiet little get together. Could that menu sound more southern? I was so pleased to see her enjoying herself. She’s has had a rough year and going anywhere with a spouse that has dementia can be nerve wracking. But they were able to stay for such a long time, compared to Thanksgiving.
Something that always amazes me is how the fog of dementia can clear in an instant and my grandfather’s personality emerges from it for a few minutes. It is a Christmas gift. At Thanksgiving, my grandmother was making conversation by showing him an enlarged photo of his that I keep over my couch. It is of him on his horse during World War 2. You can see it here.
She asked him, “Where were you when this was taken?”
Now, there’s no way he could tell her that at this point. But sometimes she tries anyway.
He looked at it for a minute, knowing he didn’t know, and said, “Well, I was on a horse.”
We all cracked up. She rolled her eyes and said, “Well then, where was your horse when this was taken?”
His answer, “He was under me.”
That is my Papaw coming out of the shell in the best way he can for a little bit, before it covered him over and he felt so lost and uncomfortable that they had to go home.
So, during Christmas, I didn’t expect him to stay long. He was having trouble placing all of our names, though I can feel he still has an emotional memory of us. He was quiet and didn’t feel like eating all through lunch, but he did let my grandmother enjoy the conversation. We heard about their dog, Ringo, a dog so spoiled that in his old age she would leave her walking shoes on the front porch and wear high heels out the door, so he wouldn’t be suspicious. Once outside, she would sit on the porch and switch shoes so he wouldn’t know she was going on a walk without him.
Anyway, afterward as we finished opening presents, my grandfather pointed to that same photo over my couch and said, “Isn’t that my picture?”
I said, “Yes, it is.” and took it down so he could hold it.
As he took it, he immediately remembered, “That was when I was in the First Cavalry at Fort Bliss. Was it 1943? You know that horse’s name? R992.”
You just never know when it will happen. I felt good about my part in Christmas this year. I felt like I was where I should be, doing what I was supposed to. Everything is obviously not perfect. There are sorrows and changes, but I felt like I was doing what I was made to do. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and will celebrate the new year with people you love.
By the way, I was poking around online and found a field training video of my grandfathers cavalry division just before they went mechanized. Scroll down a ways and it’s the sixth video from the top. (I am posting this mainly for myself.) He’s in there somewhere.