Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Long Way Home

For a variety of reasons, we have decided not to return home for Christmas this year....we were just there for 2 weeks at Thanksgiving...drivers on I-75 have all, apparently, lost their freaking's consistently 20 degrees warmer in Georgia...etc., etc.

But the full impact of missing Christmas Eve with my family did not hit me until about 20 minutes ago, when I began to plot out my day (plotting and planning is very characteristic of Virgos...don't be alarmed). With the exception of wrapping the last of the gifts and making a last minute post office run, there is nowhere I have to be and nothing I have to do today.

That would not be the case if we were back home.

Christmas Eve activities and preparations begin in the morning. Cheese dips are assembled...turkeys are basting...children are chasing each other manically around the house while the adults pick at the last of the bacon on the plate near the stove. And, of course, there is always the curious kid shaking and weighing any gifts which bear his name. My grandparents, Daisy and Elmer, provided a home and a hub for all Christmas Eve activity. Papa even had a "one gift before church" rule. So, naturally, we always chose the largest box. One year my one gift before church was a toy piano, which I banged on incessantly while the adults prepared dinner. I'm not sure how I survived that Christmas, although I'm pretty sure that, at some point, I was exiled to the back bedroom.

Granny could be counted on to emerge from the bedroom on Christmas Eve morning in a velour suit of some kind and jewelry. Lots of jewelry. Her hair perfectly coiffed from a well-spent day at the salon earlier in the week and nails always painted in some shade of pink. She helped Papa in the kitchen (although the kitchen and the garden were his domain, he accepted the occasional helper elf) and teased us about what Santa was dropping off that night. They were a team and although they were probably unaware, Christmas at Papa and Granny's was the greatest consistency in my life. Everyone was always there. Every year. Almost without exception. My only regrettable memory of Christmas was when someone very close to me opted out of the celebration. It's the only Christmas that I wish I could forget.

My grandparents have been dead for several years now. No bank envelopes with the grandchildren's names scribbled across the top await in the tree. Sometimes the shrimp tray goes uneaten. The 8-track player, which was actually built into the dining room wall, was sold along with the house and the background music now comes from someone's satellite radio or Internet provider. We still go to church. We still eat a ham. But sometimes it's at Mom's house and sometimes everyone gathers at my aunt's place. And sometimes it's just the 2 or 4 of us. Sometimes Neal is deployed and often the parents of young children don't want to travel far from home on Christmas Eve for fear that "Santa will not know where to find them". But this year, it's us...unwilling to drive 7 hours north through Jellico Mountain and whatever weather await us there...unable to tear ourselves away from a chance to have a quiet Christmas at home. And suddenly, I wish I was there in the thick of it...shuffling a deck of cards for a spirited game of Rummy or Uno...pouring a glass of Oliver wine for Mom while she slices the ham...begging Neal to stop tickling the kids which causes them to scream as if someone is on fire...opening one gift before church.

Mom said in an email last week that this was "the beginning of new era". And, in some ways, I'm afraid she's right. The Army will move us wherever and whenever and we may not always make it back home to the Bluegrass. There could be air fares and work schedules and pregnancies to consider. We may have to consolidate Thanksgiving and Christmas or shift it all back a couple of weeks. But it's not for forever. It's a temporary and uncomfortable condition of the life that we chose in the Army. But one day he will retire and we will move home and Christmas Eve will once again be the flurry of activity that I knew growing up. Because I will make it so. We each have the opportunity to raise our children in whatever environment and with whatever traditions we choose. I may not own an 8-track player, but I can certainly croon to some Bing Crosby as I scribble names across bank envelopes and pass out the one gift before church.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours. 


  1. Definitely some great memories! I know we all miss those Christmas Eve times. Time to make new memories! Miss and love you all!

  2. Daisy and I always wondered but never thought to ask. A lovely, thoughtful post. You're right, you will be able to create Christmas traditions wherever you are. We go to Abby's house now so the grandkids can experience and remember Christmas in their own home. But if their home was movable because of someone's career, the traditions could still be developed and loved. Anyway, this is the year for you to have a very special, very quiet Christmas with Neal. Enjoy every minute of it!

  3. Merry Christmas to you both!!! I know you are a little sad to be away from extended family, and yet a little glad to have a quiet holiday. There's plenty to be said for both!!!

    I'm missing Alex and Shane today, but Alex was on Skype when Bella came downstairs to open presents and stayed on to see her open everything!!! Shane has his phone off or something, so I haven't heard from him in about a week or so. Poor kid is sitting in an empty barracks room! *sad face* They wouldn't let him leave the country to visit us. BUT...The Bella has kept us all entertained all day long! LOL!

    Enjoy your time and drink a happy toast!!

  4. I love this - thank you for writing it. I am all welled up over here. I can remember Christmas growing up like it was yesterday. My world changed when my parents divorced. I had to choose my holidays. Mom got Thanksgiving in NC w/ her and my dad got Christmas. I would later go down to NC to visit my mom after NYE and celebrate again. It became the new normal but I missed the days of having the Christmas at our house, small, quite Christmas - we always did the family stuff in PA w/ hers and his weeks before the holiday. December was a month long celebration.

    Now I am apart of Mike's families traditions and have been for over 7 years now... Lord help me if we didn't get married I would be crushed... it's so neat to be apart of a huge family unit, no matter how loud the kids scream or how exhausting it's a new feeling.

    Sometimes traditions change but the memories won't. I know next year you'll do your best to get back to your happy, holiday place until then savor the holidays alone, spend it like newlyweds and enjoy each other. I'm so happy you're together this year!!! oxoxo

  5. Oh, I love this. <3 Merry Christmas, Ally. I hope you and Neal had your very merry relaxing Christmas you had hoped for and enjoyed every second! Soon your home will be bustling with children and the quiet and relaxing Christmas at home will be replaced with the loud and hectic flurry of events. :)

  6. I know what you mean about not being with's tough living away sometimes and I miss the childhood memories of Christmas too but you're right, we're in charge of making our own traditions...and we will. I hope y'all have had a wonderful Christmas/New Year's season so far!


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