Hi everyone. Today I’m going to break with this blog’s style slightly and give you a stream of consciousness sampling of what I’ve been thinking about today. Because it’s been a bit glum around here. I’m back home in Michigan, where I’m the least “caught up” on grief in terms of being used to Dad not being here, because Mom has to live in this house without him every day, and my sister only lives on the other side of the state, so she’s still more used to getting here and not seeing him. But not me. I’m horrified anew every time I come home.
Moreover, I have a sinus infection and am a bit brain-foggy, but at least I can breathe, which wasn’t the case a week ago. So that’s surely why my nose is a faucet at the moment, and not because it’s Christmas Eve, and Christmas Eve was always the day I went with Dad as he got started on his Christmas shopping, and I didn’t know what else to do today since Dad isn’t doing any Christmas shopping this year.
Two years ago today, for instance, we went to Laurel Park Place, a little mall over on 6 Mile Road, to pick out a scarf for Mom. He was not interested in satisficing: we looked at scarf after scarf, finding several that we’d remember in case we couldn’t find something better, but Dad kept thinking he could find one that was better. We finally found a nice neutral one in cream and pale olive, very soft and warm. Then Dad and I went to the Coney Island and shared a plate of sweet potato fries.
Earlier that day, we had gone to Best Buy for some reason or other. He drove our old 2000 Honda Accord, the break pads of which were virtually worn through. It was rather scary to ride in it.
“Dad, you’ve got to get these fixed,” I scolded him. “We need you to be there at the wedding.” My sister’s wedding was coming up the following May.
I can’t remember when I started Christmas shopping with Dad on Christmas Eve, but I do remember going with him to Borders on December 24, 1990, when I was in the third grade, and checking out the kids’ books while Dad did whatever he was there to do. There I found a nice little paperback set of the Chronicles of Narnia, which I had read for the first time that year at Montessori school.
“Dad! Can I get these books?” I asked him, as eight-year-olds do.
“Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Why don’t we see what you get tomorrow?”
And there they were the next morning under the tree.
Once you’re a grown-up, giving becomes a lot more fun than receiving, or at least I think so. And in that respect, 2012 may have been my favorite Christmas ever.
See, my sister and I decided that we wanted to do something really nice for our parents. They didn’t get to go on a lot of nice trips. So we decided to send them on one. I was living with them at the time, as my job didn’t pay very well, and I wanted to pay down those loans that came due after completing my master’s degree in 2011. But why not take a couple months’ worth of what I was saving on rent and put it toward a really nice gift, just to say thanks?
My sister and I got together at her apartment in Ann Arbor to figure out what we could do. Originally we were thinking Quebec City, because it wasn’t so far away, and Mom could use her French, which Dad would think was pretty neat. But train travel between Detroit and Quebec turned out to be onerous and expensive, and there were no good flights available, either. But you know where people from Michigan go a lot, but where our parents had never been? Florida. At first we balked, because the artificiality of theme parks is what first came to our mind when we thought of the reasons people go to Florida, and our parents wouldn’t be into that. (They opted to avoid ever taking us to Disney World, which is why they’d never been to Florida.)
But then we realized there were cheap flights from Detroit not only to Orlando, but to Miami. And that from Miami, they could drive into a place with authentic culture and tropical beauty, which they’d never experienced before.
So Emily and I got together and looked up and down the Florida Keys (via Google, that is) for a resort that we could afford that actually looked nice. We found Lime Tree Bay Resort, which looked really lovely. We looked at a few others just to be sure, but came back to Lime Tree Bay and excitedly booked it that afternoon. We called Mom’s boss to make sure she could have the time off in April (Dad already wasn’t working so that wouldn’t be a problem) and got the okay, and booked the flights to Miami, and a rental car.
Finally, as Christmas approached, we were left with the problem of how to wrap this present. My sister was busy doing other Christmas things (as she does…she’s much better at that stuff than I am), so it was left to me to go to the local library to check out a travel guide to the Florida Keys. I also went to the Stamppeddler, a little crafting shop in my hometown to get some nice paper and tropical themed stickers and such; printed out some photos from the Lime Tree Bay Resort website, and made up a little booklet on the itinerary we’d planned out for them, complete with all the options, from snorkeling to checking out the literary culture in Key West.
On Christmas Morning, we gave them some other small gifts, and then, when all the rest of the presents were unwrapped and Mom and Dad thought we were winding down, Emily and I said, “Wait, here’s one more. You guys have to open these at the same time.” I don’t remember who opened the library book and who opened the scrapbook brochure, but I do remember them both looking at them sort of puzzledly. “A library travel guide?” and “What’s this little booklet about?” their faces seemed to say. They didn’t get it, because they weren’t thinking big enough.
“YOU’RE GOING ON VACATION!” Emily and I finally said.
“Oh! Wow! Neat!” said Dad. And Mom went around telling everyone about how great her daughters were.
In the five years since, I have said this is a contender for the best money I ever spent. Mom and Dad ended up having a great time. They got some good memories that will last in the spacetime loaf. For Emily and me, their faces as they figured out that they were going on vacation were the memories that will last. Today I’m spending a lot of time in this particular slice.
This was two days before my sister was born.
Forty years ago tonight, my dad proposed to my mom. I wasn’t there for that spacetime slice, of course, but Mom pulled out a little faded picture from that night and showed it to me today. My not-yet-parents looked so happy.
And now it is 2017, and I am sitting next to Dad’s chair, but he’s not in it. There was no last-minute search for the perfect scarf for Mom today, and no chatting over sweet potato fries.
Though Dad wasn’t around last year either, we all just tried our best to ignore Christmas, so this feels like the first actual Christmas without him. Nevertheless, last year there was a lot of talk about heart attacks (following poor Carrie Fisher’s),which led me to have a mild but authentic panic attack on Christmas Eve, something I’d never experienced before in my life. This year it’s just the sinus infection, which is finally starting to maybe get a little better, possibly, knock on wood. The doctor who diagnosed me last week told me those can run in families. Even that brought back a memory: my dad was always talking about “doing his nose,” his word for his regimen to keep his nasal passages clean and healthy. I’ll stop as I’ve probably already grossed you out. But apparently even sinus pressure and runny noses can be emotional matters.
Some Christmases you spend more in the slices of the spacetime loaf. Other Christmases you focus on the present, making memories to be called up later—out of reach in the tangible but not in the heart. I hope many of you are baking your own fresh, warm loaves of memory tonight and tomorrow. For those who can’t, my humble wish for you is that you might also find some joy in slicing the memories baked in the warmth of Christmases past.