Or the longest Christmas letter you will read, or not!
This is the Christmas I became my mother. It wasn’t planned. I’m not sure it was even supposed to happen, but it did. It’s the way of the world. One generation replaces the other.
It’s easy to go about your day with confidence if you forget to check the mirror before you leave the house. In my mind I am still 21 and looking foxy. That is until I pass by a large window with the sun behind me and my reflection stares back at me in amazement.
“Who are you?”
“I am the new you.”
“You don’t look too new to me. You look like my mother. My mother, my aunts — that’s who looks like that, but not me.”
It is the way and while I might be shocked at how old I have become, I feel very blessed to be as healthy and productive as I am these days. In that respect I am totally my mom.
Mom has been gone for about five or six years now. For some reason, this year, the year my dad passed away has amplified my missing her. Missing both of them.
And, now its Christmas. Things have been so very different this year, I’m not sure if its the two weeks of bad weather holding things up, you know like mail and packages and trips to the store with empty shelves, or something else.
I always wondered why my mom started short-cutting things as she aged. Giving money instead of gifts at Christmas or not putting up a tree or using frozen dough for dinner rolls at the big meal we used to have at their house.
My Christmas spirit got up and left. It began with stuff at my church of 30+ years. Then, what do you buy your children when they have jobs that net them more money than I could imagine earning in my lifetime. Sure, I could make them things, but they don’t even need that kind of stuff… stuff everywhere. I’m guilty of that also.
Since my “retirement” (and I use that word loosely) in April, I have begun a sort of purge. For the past 40 years I have been walking over Christmas cards and letters bundled by year in plastic tubs stored in the “root cellar.” These pieces of paper and colored card stock are filled with memories, people I can’t remember, people I love and stay in tough with, and handwriting. Yes, cursive handwriting. I found that children can’t even read cursive anymore. We, JC and I, actually got into a convo with someone last Saturday about why he thinks they don’t need it anymore. I tend to disagree. In the future there will a special office with trained staff just to decipher cursive handwritten documents.
As I have been casually going through them picking out a few items for a “second” review, I found artwork and letters and thank you notes and tons of photos of smiling children or families together for a Christmas photo. It was like my life was passing before my eyes as I watched my friends’ (Karen Benson McMahon for one) children grow up and then have children of their own. I have yet to finish this particular project but have emptied one or two bins.
Next, were boxes of beautiful German glass Christmas ornaments from the days of the old Kelsch house. I lived in downtown Mandan in a house that was meant for Christmas. My tree was real and stood high under beamed ceilings. With an old thick red carpet over the hardwood floors and a real fireplace, I decorated with old ornaments collected at rummage sales in the 80s, strung popcorn, glass blown icicles from someplace like Sundance and loads and loads of love. Don’t get me wrong, I do have still have a tree. It’s from Lavonne’s Hallmark in Mandan, when Mandan had a Hallmark store. It is the color of the Grinch. It’s decorated with beaded spiders we did as a craft project one year for something to do after dinner with the relatives.
It’s not the same.
My thinking is if I give these treasured items to my daughter, daughter-in-law and two sister-in-law I might still enjoy them on a tree instead of in boxes as they have been for the past 15 years.
After that task, we planned an early Christmas dinner. Rather than fuss with a turkey, we served Salisbury steak, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and Jell-O mold, among other dishes. It was a nice 50s-style meal and I am still paying for it as I type this essay. Okay, typing is an archaic work I’m told. I’m keyboarding this piece. Doesn’t sound the same now does it?
We had our Christmas early, so we wouldn’t tax the children as they have more than four Christmas obligations over the course of the holiday and we are clearing our days for the biggest event of the year, J.C.’s birthday. He’s not getting any younger either. NOT. We are expecting a granddaughter, named Audenia Mae Barnhard, sister to the Fabulous Miss Elle, on Dec. 30., from my daughter, Claire, and her new husband Jason.
And, then in April, another grandchild, a yet-to-be-named boy, giving Lucy and Oliver a younger brother. So heartwarming, that’s seven grandchildren.
Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 40-60 grandchildren (my cousins) that we used to see at Christmas time at my grandparent’s home.
Somehow I thought those days would never end, but they did and my aunts and uncles are slowing moving to the “kingdom” so they can be together again — no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain. There’s a lot of that going on in the world today. I told J.C. “We need to have some parties so we can see people outside of all the funerals we had this year — friends and family”
Finally, there’s the Christmas card thing. I used to design a special card ever year and write a note (not a long one) in each of them. That didn’t happen, not even close. Rather than order special cards, I thought I would send out the ones that I inherited from my father when we cleaned out his house for the last time (yes, we had about three or four or five go-arounds moving them from their house in Gackle, to Jamestown to the assisted living to nursing home and back again more than once). Why waste a good card. That’s my mother talking for sure.
Battling the snow and doing farmers markets well into December meant I was busy filling pfeffernusse cookie orders and making fingerless gloves. For some reason I just can’t quit buying yarn and then playing in my studio. I thought without a full-time job I would be able to design my heart out. NOT. Somehow life gets in the way.
Therefore, if you did not receive a card from me, it’s because with the best of intentions I wanted to take the time to write in them and handwrite your address on the envelope and use of all the mismatched cards hiding in my closet, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. I don’t know — blame it on the knitting machine or recovering the lampshades or shoveling snow. Or maybe this year I need some transitioning time to my new role as the “elder” of the family.
Being my mother means cutting back on dinners, scaled back gifts to the children (not that my children complained about the sacks of money I distributed to a select few), hopefully fun and useful things to the grandchildren, downsizing and all the things that go with it. Unlike my mother, who liked to stay home even more than myself, I am going to attempt a trip southward at the end of the month to see the new granddaughter and warm up a little. It’s not easy for me to be away from my house for an extended period of time, but I am willing to try.
Well, this is the longest Christmas essay I have done in a long time. Rather than working on my Christian Apocalyptic love story, my Kaseman family history book or my other books circling my brain looking to get out of my brain, I had to empty my heart of its unnamed feelings about Christmas this year. It’s a mixture of grief, loss, gain, family, memories and snow — lots and lots of snow.
BUT, as the story goes, “He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. Somehow it came, it came just the same.” Here’s to a Merry Christmas to you all and a healthy New Year filled with sunshine and not so much snow, although we need the moisture.
Love to you all my friends and family. I feel better already.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.