I’ll Be Home for Christmas

We finally put away the Christmas decorations this weekend. Don’t judge. (Okay, fine–judge me and we’ll call it even.  I know how many servings of simple carbohydrates your toddler had for dinner last night.) (The same number that mine did.)

The conclusion of the holiday season always triggers a period of mourning for me.  I begin listening to Mariah Carey in early October and, by Thanksgiving, have fully committed 1/3 of my daily caloric intake to sugar cookies.  Come January, the act of carefully wrapping up and stowing away our many ornaments and mementos is–perhaps melodramatically–funereal in tone: Oh, Happy Santa, how I will miss the painful din of your percussive swan song!  Your dissonant and crudely abridged rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”!  Your faint redolence of battery acid!

After my mother died, my sisters, father, and I sifted through countless boxes swathed with masking tape and her half-cursive scrawl:

“EYES, TEETH, AND FABRIC TRIM” (I can explain…)

“GARLAND AND GERMAN GLOCKENSPIEL” (my malapropism-prone mother was actually referring to a Weihnachtspyramide, but–yeah, I think I’ll give her a pass on that one)

“CAJUN SANTA AND MINI PIROGUE” (I am proud to call the cast of Swamp People (very) extended family)

We each claimed items that held special meaning–knowing that, over the years, we’d probably ship Happy Santa on periodic cross-country field trips to share his irresistible charm.  Like most family heirlooms, they are worth little and everything.  When I hang up my yellowed felt stocking, I can clearly hear three pre-pubescent sisters in matching red velvet dresses wailing “Mele Kalikimaka” in the backseat of a Mazda station wagon.  My mom’s circa-1994 foray into puff paint fashion birthed dozens of aprons stiffened by 3D poinsettias, and I know they’re still shielding many a silk skirt from butter and flour.  I feel truly fortunate to share DNA with women who, years ago, understood and acted on the need for a Christmas hedgehog made from pine cones.

This year, my dad mailed me a gold-rimmed china plate inscribed with “Christmas 1980” (the year I was born).  It is intricately painted with tulips, roses, and the questionably idyllic scene of a Victorian-era estate with what appears to be an arthritic dachshund frolicking on the lawn.  Over the phone, my dad confessed that he hadn’t the foggiest idea who gave us the plate–but he did remember that Christmas.

He and my mother had been living in Brazil for less than four months with their new baby.  My mom flew back to New Orleans so that the grandparents could fawn over me, but my dad was stuck on an oil barge in the middle of the Atlantic–until his boss radioed in on Christmas Eve to say they had a ticket waiting for him back on the mainland.  That 27-year-old engineer caught a helicopter to Rio de Janeiro that night and landed back home in Louisiana on Christmas morning.  His bride and his best friend picked him up from the airport.

“When I got in the car, the radio was playing, ‘I’ll be home–‘”.  Dad’s voice cracked, and the line went silent.

“It was a magical Christmas,” he quietly squeaked.

I’m keeping the hedgehog.  I’ll share Happy Santa.  And I already treasure the plate.

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