The ironing board is set up in the kitchen with half-ironed linens draped over it. My paper-making supplies are strewn about, half-made Christmas cards are covering the counters and the floor in the greenhouse has a coat of milky film under the table. The kitchen floor is splattered with dripped paper pulp, now with footprints on it. I’ve got Jerusalem artichokes, dug from the garden, soaking in one of the sinks. The other sink is full of dirty dishes from the past few days. Last night I didn’t feel like putting my hands in any more water. So I left it all.
I look around this morning and think, “Yup. I’m alone again.”
Three weeks of guests are gone and it’s quiet and unstructured. I miss them all, but I like my solitude. It’s an acquired taste. I can work on my projects, leave them all out and get back to them whenever I want. I can go for a run while the paper dries. I can spend all day in my sewing room, a refuge that calms me and where everything makes sense.
It’s December and I wonder how I did these things while working full time and raising five kids. I know I somehow fed everyone in December, but can’t quite remember how. When I get involved in a project I can go days without eating, and love not having to stop what I’m doing to make a meal. But back then, well, kids needed to eat occasionally. We managed to get to every school concert, sporting event, and church function, and still made cards and presents and baked goods. Oh, wait, that’s right, we were miserable the whole time while pretending to enjoy it. Ok, maybe not always miserable, but stressed. It started the day after Thanksgiving. Or more like the evening of, when he’d play Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to signal the start of the argument season. He knew I hated that and would smirk as he pushed PLAY. Asshole.
I wanted to make the cards and nothing else. After the Santa years, I was done with presents. To me, it was all just was a roomful of shit that no one needed, bought with money we couldn’t spare. And we had to sit around and pretend we liked it, and some of us are better pretenders than others.
But the cards. The cards made me happy. We came together on the cards.
I was given full creative license with the cards. It was the one part of Christmas that didn’t get manipulated into something I didn’t want. It became a bit of an obsession. They weren’t elaborate in the early days together, but every year I felt I had to make them at least as good as the last. I’d stencil, paint, collage, and calligraphy until I got to the point when I made the paper and, well, you know, it’s hard to go backward. The card always held a wallet sized photo of the children, that to me, was everyone’s gift. Taking the photo was a huge project in itself, but an enjoyable one. We had lots of laughs. When the kids were tiny, getting them to sit still and look at the camera was monumental. We had to use film in those days and have it developed! We never even knew if we got a good shot until two weeks later when all thirty-six would arrive in the mail! That was always a fun night, as I recall, sitting and looking at all the rejects and laughing our butts off. (Hey! A happy Christmas memory! There we go!) As they got to be teenagers, the chore was getting them to stop scowling and PRETEND WE ARE A HAPPY FAMILY FOR GOD’S SAKE!
We wrote long letters in those cards, by hand, one by one. We did that together, in front of the fire, sipping cheap champagne. It made our year seem brighter and happier. We’d review the standardized letters we were receiving describing exotic travels, academic awards, perfect grades, athletic scholarships, and fucking lottery winnings, and we’d discuss whether we should include our son’s arrest in only a select few? What about the deer our dog killed? The three-day school suspension? Hmm, let’s see, what else happened this year? It was nice to personalize them and share selectively. We’d laugh. We’d listen to the Boston Pops Christmas concert. We’d stay up too late and then I’d be a tired bitch the next day. Oh well. Fun times. Then there was the year I had to write that he left. It wasn’t fun that year, but you know, writing that over and over was strangely therapeutic. By the thirtieth one I’d stopped crying when I wrote it. Hey, thanks Christmas cards! I think I might be onto something here.
The letters no longer need to be very long as I keep up with most distant friends via Facebook or email. What a different world. It used to be the one time we shared each other’s news. I still feel like it is my gift, though. I want the cards to be beautiful and special. I want the message to convey what I really feel. I want there to be peace on earth. Of course I do. I lose myself in this process as if writing it over and over it might make it true. Amid all the tragedy and weekly bloodbaths in this country, all the loss and grief, I still want to believe there is goodness and light. If I write those words over and over, away from the news feeds and horrific photos, in front of my fire with music playing, each tiny offering of a peaceful wish, a sincere, honest, peaceful wish, at least for awhile it feels like it could be real.
It’s still my favorite part of this season.