I’ve written about Christmas here before. I’m sure if anyone wants to go back through the many posts you’ll find mention of some good times, some bad times, and a ton of photos I’ve taken of dishes and candy I’ve made.
I’d like to write a little bit about Christmas now though in the context of when Christmas meant something to me. It was Christmas with a little pomp, circumstance, and my Grandparents had the wherewithal to make it spectacular for my sister and I.
So I lost my Grandad to cancer in August of 2000. I was 20 years old and was so angry that he passed away I quit school (college) and tried to just be there for my Grandmother. I was interning (paid) for the local city government doing media integration and just kind of lost in a sea of uncertainty. (I promise this all has a point relating to Christmas).
As Thanksgiving neared my Gram had started to just come out of her depression but as it passed by she was flung right back in it. At first I didn’t understand until it dawned on me – Christmas was when my Grandfather was at his absolute best. He sparkled when it was time to get the tree, decorate, and unpack his meticulous collection of Hallmark ornaments.
As time got closer and closer I decided we had to have some sort of Christmas. After all tradition was a tree, the ceiling decorated, the mantle done with the “Magic” ornaments, and just the year before my Grandad showed me how to do it all.
I waited until she was gone so she didn’t have to see me dragging all the stuff around messing up her house, I knew it would be emotional for her seeing the house lit up and I didn’t want to add to it by making a mess while she was around.
I had not anticipated how heavy it would come crashing down on me. On a cold December day in the year 2000 I walked around to the shed on the side of the house where the ornaments were. I opened the door as I’d done a few thousand times in my life and grabbed a box. I opened it up to make sure it was the right one and I saw these ornaments packed neatly and methodically just as they always were. I sat the box down and cried my eyes out, I cried until my throat was raw and my hands were shaking. Christmas just wasn’t the same for me since. It was Grandad’s thing and I was his helper – no way could I be tasked with making it as perfect as he always did.
Those ornaments aren’t used to this day at my Grandmother’s house.
We talked about it last year or the year before (isn’t it funny how as we get older we can say things like that.. the years start ever so slowly running together) as to why they just sit out there.
Christmas when I was little and living with them was a big deal. The mood around the house was festive, old movies playing, old music playing, my Grandad recording all the specials for us on VHS so we could watch them at will during the holiday season.
He would decorate the dogwood tree out front by stringing lights very taught from the top all the way down to the ground in a “teepee” shape so it resembled one big fir tree.
The ceiling had garland tacked up (green) that draped in about one foot sections and repeated as it ran the lengths of the beams. Each little loop had a pattern it had to follow – silver icicle, silver ball, Hallmark ornament, silver ball, silver icicle, etc.. My sister and I would always find our favorite ornaments and he’d make sure to always hang them on the ceiling. “Find your rabbit in the skate, Hot Rod (that’s what he’d call me)” and I’d feel so proud to pick it out from the seemingly thousands of Hallmark ornaments up there.
The mantle was my favorite. He would string up green garland in the shape of a pine tree and hang the lighted/musical ornaments from it. It was a magical thing to me that he had these little living worlds with people ice skating, Santa flying, and trains carrying brightly colored packages around its circular track. This was all done on the wall, on the mantle were special rocking horses – Hallmark does a line of them (or did) and he had them going all the way back to the early 80’s. Each year he’d add a new one and tell me about it.
The stockings were on the front and I can still see mine – “Keith” written in cursive glue covered in glitter on a big red sock with white trim.
His handwriting was immaculate and so when I would go look under the tree and find presents to me I knew when he had wrapped them and written the “To/From”. His creases were perfect, never too much tape, and my name was written in a script that was part ex-military block letter and part slanted because he held the paper like he was taught back in the early days of his schooling.
He would let me stay up late and our favorite was watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” together and he would tease me that if I made too much noise the Grinch would come take our ornaments, presents, and even our ham… of course I’d counter with the fact that the Grinch (by the end of the show) was totally a good guy with a big heart.
Today was the second time since 2000 that I’d been into a Hallmark store. The first time I got a little emotional and went and sat on a bench in the mall to clear my head. Today, I was emotional but for a different reason.
I went with Romy. I specifically wanted an “Our First Christmas” and “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament – they had to be Hallmark, nothing else would do.
I started showing her the different series and talking about Grandad and it made my heart happy to have all those memories – happy and sad. To remember that Christmas to me was special once and that for all these years I’ve carried it with me. I can barely remember my Grandad in the hospital bed but I can remember him vividly putting up the decorations and him telling me how and why he did it that way. I can remember him telling me that I had to unbox carefully so as to not destroy the packing material they came in (because it’s for more that good looks – it protects them for all the time in between each Christmas).
He was a hell of a man and I spent so long being mad because as I was coming into my own in life he left and I felt like I didn’t get the same benefit as my father or uncles…
It was only a few years ago when someone said “You sound just like Don Rollins” that I realized I soaked up a fair amount at a young age. As stupid as it sounds I forgave him for dying and started to really look back on the lessons he’d taught me.
I can only hope going forward that I can make use of the wisdom he freely gave to me and be a loving, good, providing husband and father that Gavin can love and respect.
I miss him so very much even now but the trip to the Hallmark store today helped me realize that I carry with me much more from him that I’d imagined previously.
Here’s to Christmas magic even if it’s just September.