It’s five am on Christmas Eve morning and I just spent a ridiculously long amount of time arranging eight Christmas stockings for a photograph. One stocking for each of our five kids, one for each of our two dogs, and one for our future-daughter-in-law, who is already family. But, like our kids in a family photo session, whenever one stocking looked perfect, another would spin and set off another.
The stockings hang at different angles. They don’t match. Some have been lost and replaced, some new additions. One has old chocolate smeared on it, another has a frayed edge. The green one is sadly generic because Target was out of the monogrammed ones with W, and I forgot to order a fancy one online.
Our Christmases are pretty and haphazard, like our family. We have wonky stockings, random tree ornaments, and CAT5 cables draped over the tree because the kids need fast speeds for gaming.You know. Priorities.No one looks at the camera at the same time in Christmas pictures. I think that tells a more interesting story.
A special gold plastic ornament hangs on the tree every year. My dad passed away a few weeks after Christmas 2005 when the older four kids were young. With a Sharpie and cheap ornaments, the kids recorded that chapter in their lives with the words, “Grampa, we miss you. Love Bob and Corinna and Bert and Ernie.” Only Grandpa called them by those silly names.
Dad was a storyteller. Every Christmas Eve, he implored me to sleep early so that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer could visit my bedside. Dad told me that, of course, he monitored the brightness of Rudolph’s nose in the room and if it glowed too much, he ushered Rudolph out to get back to work with Santa. Dad was good with animals that way. He also raised a herd of horses in our attic during my childhood. They were magic horses, so I never saw them, but when Dad tucked me in at night, I heard the clop, clop of their hooves inside my room. Whenever his hand hid behind his back against the wall, and their clops sounded like knocking on drywall, my back tingled from the magic.
He left us when he was only 63 years old. I have missed his stories for thirteen Christmases.
My father-in-law is a storyteller, too. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, he shares tidbits of his adventures as a young man in South Africa, India, and England. His stories hint at intrigue, romance and much bacchanalia, and each time I hear them, I’m lost in time and space. In the 1950s, he traveled across post World War II England after leaving South Africa and its new Apartheid laws. He ate chicken and beef in English food, though he knew full well he was really served rabbit and horse meat. He befriended German Au Pairs and traveled to France often, before traveling to India to marry my mother-in-law and settle down.
He is 85 years old now and I know there are more stories left to be told. I hope to hear them all.
I suppose Dad and my father-in-law are part of the reason I tell stories, too. My life is full of twists and perhaps telling my stories helps me feel a little less crazy. I married my soulmate young and entered a foreign culture on familiar soil. I birthed and raised five children. I lost sleep and held their vomit in my hands, and paid them back with dancing in front of their middle school friends and irate lectures when they ignored curfew. I earned another degree, became a teacher, quit being a teacher, and became a writer. I lived without my soulmate for a while, until one Christmas we both decided who we each were and who we were together.
Today, my soulmate and I will wrap a million-and-one gifts for our million -and-one loved ones – together. My mom and my in-laws will spend the day with us, and my kids will be home, too. We will have vegetarian chili and vegetarian lasagna for dinners, because turkey and ham don’t work for everyone. My brother and his family will join us and tomorrow we will all chow down on movie theater popcorn while we watch the new Grinch movie.
We will record our Christmas stories on our tree, in messy-haired morning pictures on our phones, and in our memories. I will write some of them down and for the rest – I hope my kids will continue to tell them in their own time and their own ways.