Ghosts of Christmas Past

Again at Christmas did we weave
  The holly round the Christmas hearth;
  The silent snow posses’d the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve.
The yule log sparkled keen with frost,
  No wing of wind the region swept,
  But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.
            – Alfred Lord Tennyson

The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped and under the tree, the kids are in bed for the night. I’m sitting in the parlor one last Christmas Eve in the house we built for Christmas. I got a real tree this year, the first one I’ve had in years. I wanted to have that smell in here one last time. This tree won’t be chipped at the transfer station, I already know what to do with it after the new year.

She loved A Christmas Carol, loved the book, liked most every movie adaptation, loved the musical version Scrooge with Albert Finney, even loved Bill Murray’s Scrooged modernized take on the story. This year I find myself mulling over Christmases past and present, and wondering about those yet to come.

For years she struggled with Christmas, because it was the time she most missed her mother. Every year when we decorated the tree she carefully unwrapped the old china bells her mother collected, always fretting over the cracked one. She worked hard at being happy in the holidays, and eventually she got good at it. It wasn’t an act, she just kept working at it, building more new good memories each year until the loss became bearable.

Now it’s my second Christmas without her, and already I realize I have my own set of ornaments that I’m paying attention to, the silly and sappy ones we bought in the 90s when she was on her Hallmark binge. Last year I was just numb, but this year I am out of shock. I can see why a lot of people feel like giving the holidays a pass after losing someone, but for me that doesn’t even seem like an option. Bringing the family together was so much a part of what we were that giving them up now would seem like a surrender to something she never gave in to.

In the morning, the house will fill up one more time, probably the last time for me. Like Scrooge on Christmas morning I intend to keep Christmas in the past, present, and the future. I am going to make sure we have one more day here where children are laughing and the conversation runs wild. I’ll remember her, and Kris, and K.C., and Tom, and my Mom. I will say thank you for all the good times here.

Next week, the tree will come down, and I will start packing things up for good here. I am ready to move on to a new place as soon as we get the repairs done. It’s funny, a year ago I thought I would like to spend one more Christmas in the place this year and then start someplace new early in 2014. I didn’t think that was a realistic hope, I figured it was either leave by fall of 2013 or wait until summer of ’14. This mess with the siding has given me the schedule I wanted, although it cost me a fortune. I guess I should be more careful in what I wish for.

Oh, and my plans for that Christmas tree? After it comes down, I’m taking it over to my friend’s place, five miles from the spot Barbara and I met. And on May Eve, her 51st birthday, the 32nd anniversary of the night we met while on fire duty, I will be tossing that tree onto a bonfire.

May we all spend this Christmas, and many more to come, the way she and I spent so many here in the past: surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones.

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