Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

kel-112316

And a new tradition begins…

I was never sure if the Christmas sweatshirts were meant as a joke or if my mom was just being festive. She had both a quirky sense of humor and a great love of the holidays so it could have gone either way.

Nearly 20 years ago, she bought herself, my sister and me Christmas sweatshirts on sale at Kmart. They’re exactly what you’re picturing: jaunty red, green and white sweatshirts with plaid appliques of Christmas ornaments or trees or presents. We wore them every Christmas morning through brunch and opening the presents and sometimes for the rest of the day if we didn’t have a need to change. She died 11 years ago this year but I still faithfully wear the sweatshirt every Christmas. Until this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sporting an ordinary gray t-shirt, plain except for a simple declaration across the chest: “Thankful for: REMISSION! 11/24/16”.  On Christmas Day, it’ll be joined by another declaration: “Blessings for…”.

Some people consciously search for something to be thankful for or someone to bless every day. I’m not one of those people. I’m thankful in the moment, seek blessings on the fly.  I’m not a prayerful person. I did eight years of Catholic school, went to Mass six days a week so I figured as an adult, maybe I was “prayed up” at least until my 50’s. But while my circumstances of the past three years haven’t made me a more religious person, I’ve become a more spiritual thinker.

So starting this year, my 50th on this crazy spinning sphere, each Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll add a phrase to my new “holiday” shirt. Something I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, someone I think needs an extra blessing for Christmas.

This year was a no-brainer for thankfulness but it won’t be so easy every year and I’m glad about that. Because it will challenge me to really look at how the year’s gone and give some serious thought about what I’m truly thankful for. And to look outside myself at the people and world around me, take clear note of the trials others are facing and ask the man upstairs to please give them a little help.

I’m interested to see how this project goes for the next 10 or 25 or 50 years. What will a 92-year-old Kelly be thankful for? Who will a 67-year-old me see struggling and in need of a hand?

And the fate of “Jolly Red, the Christmas Sweatshirt”? We’re not totally parting ways. I’m hanging it on my front door instead of a Christmas wreath this year so anyone stopping at our house or driving by will see it. If it makes you laugh or crack a smile, great. If it gives you an extra boost of holiday joy, awesome. I think that’s what my Mom intended all along.

A tale of two houses at Christmas

The light and the dark side of the holidays

 

We’re not Grinches and they’re not the Griswolds. We’re just neighbors with vastly different electric bills for the month of December.

You’ve seen the viral video of the house festooned with thousands of Christmas lights, glowing reindeer grazing on the lawn, neon icicles dripping from the trees, all pulsing in time to Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells”. My neighbors live there. We live in the dark house next door.

When we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, we were all on the same level when it came to decking the halls. Icicle lights on the eaves, luminaries lining the walk, wreath on the front door. Every house was different but together we made a companionable display of holiday cheer.

Then about 2010 or so, giant snowflakes appeared on the front windows of the house to the north. In the years that followed, a herd of glistening deer gathered by the shrubs, a forest of spiral rope light trees sprang up in the front yard, and endless rows of twinkling lights crisscrossed the shingles and siding. Then a big electrical box with cords and cables snaking across the snow and finally, the electronic carolers.

As the neighbor’s house got brighter, the rest of the block went dim. It’s not like we couldn’t compete; the rest of us just didn’t try to. 

When their display went up Thanksgiving weekend, my husband asked what we were going to do this year.

“How ‘bout a sign that says Ditto with an arrow pointing to their house?” I asked.

He suggested that maybe they wouldn’t think that was as funny as I did. I figure if you’ve lived by me for 20 years and you’re still talking to me, you must have some sense of humor.

But since they’re not dicks about it – their timer shuts everything off about 11:00 p.m. which is good since our bedroom and guest room both face “Viva La Christmas” – I took the high road, too. Our front deck railing is now wrapped in white lights which cast a soft glow on the “Peace” sign perching on the little wooden bench.

Though the neighbors’ decorations shout and ours only whisper, our holiday spirit is no less heartfelt. After all, it’s Christmas…and it’s the thought that counts. And I’m thinking a little peace on earth is just what we all need this year.

 

Remembering Mickey, a true free spirit.

Remembering Mickey, a true free spirit.

My grandma said Mickey Gulla was mouthy. Mickey said my grandma should lighten up. My grandpa didn’t say anything because he was married to one and liked the other.

Mildred “Mickey” Gulla died last week at the age of 94. She was a fiery Scandinavian sprite who was married to my grandpa’s friend, Joe, a big strapping Italian cop. They all met in the late 1970’s when my grandparents sold their farm and moved to town. I met Mickey not long after that during a visit to my grandparents’ house and saw her frequently when I was in the neighborhood.

Small in stature, big in voice, Mickey was the first adult that I called by name instead of “Mrs. Someone”. That was unheard of for us kids but she told us to and it was easy to comply because she was such a kid herself.

When I left for college, my parents moved and Mickey went from being my grandparents’ friend to my parents’ neighbor. Often when I came home to visit, she’d be puttering around the yard of her big brick house and we’d share a wave and a called greeting. The last time I really talked to her was Christmas of 2010. On a whim, I bought her flowers and my dad and I tramped across the street in the snow for a holiday visit. She was the perfect hostess, serving refreshments, sharing stories and pictures. At the end of the evening, she walked us to the door, squeezed my arm and said, “You’re full of piss and vinegar, just like your grandpa was.”

The following February she sent me a Christmas letter, unapologetically late with a good excuse: she’d tripped and fractured a hip, putting her in the hospital for nearly three weeks. The letter raised a good question (“When you were putting away your Christmas decorations, did you notice when you strip away all the tinsel and glitter, God’s real truth shows through?”), shared her favorite Charles Dickens quote (“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”) and revealed the secret to her long and happy life (“I’m having the best days of my life and I appreciate having everything I need. They are: my faith, family, friends, fun and food – lots of comfort food on cold days! That’s food for thought and thankfulness.”)

The letter ended in much the same way a conversation with Mickey always did, with her hope that I would explore the year ahead with good health and gusto. Like she did, right up until the end. We should all be so mouthy.

It took me eight years to run out of pictures. Today would have been my mother’s 70th birthday and I can’t find a single picture of her that I haven’t seen a hundred times already.

They stop at Christmas 2004, the year before she died from cancer. That’s one of the things you don’t consider when someone dies; there will never be more pictures of them. Sometimes another face takes their place in the line-up and sometimes those left behind just huddle closer for the camera to close the hole. Either way, the photographic evidence of their existence just…stops.

The camera loved my mother, at least the back of the camera because that’s where she usually was. The willing wielder of Polaroids, Instamatics, Minoltas and Sureshots. The camera-toting chronicler of holidays and road trips, family gatherings and the mundane moments of our everyday lives.

My sister and I, acting like we like each other, 1970's.

My sister and I, acting like we like each other, 1970’s.

“Come on, stand closer and act like you like each other,” she’d direct as we posed on street corners and mountains, by road signs and historical markers, on the rocks by the Atlantic, on the sand by the Pacific, in my parents’ living room for graduations, my grandparents’ dining room for birthdays, and in front of 39 years of Christmas trees.

It’s no wonder it only took eight years. My collection of photos with her in them is small though the archives of those she took are immense. I never have to wonder where I’ve been or who I am because she laid it out for me in photo albums and picture frames. So today I’ll start over with a fresh eye to a familiar face, beginning again with one of my favorite pictures.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Here’s looking at you.

My mom does Bogie in her dad's favorite hat.

My mom does Bogie in her dad’s favorite hat.

At the crest of the sledding hill...

 

 

 

 

The sledding hill glowed in the waning moonlight

awaiting the day’s complement

of sled runners and Spongebob moon boots.

An older man came walking through the pines

carrying a saucer in his leather-gloved hands.

He stopped ahead of my inquiring dogs.

“Thought it was a perfect time to try that hill,” he said.

“How was it?” I asked.

He grinned.

“Great. Fast.”

Then he marched down the Gulch trail, whistling in the darkness.

I watched him go,

wishing I’d thought to ask for a turn.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAOn a single sheet of white paper was typed the following:

“In the spirit of Christmas, please use this small gift to help someone LOCAL and in need. With the influence you have, encourage others to do the same.”

Tucked inside the unsigned note was a $25 money order made out to me. The accompanying envelope had no return address and was postmarked from a city about 200 miles from where I live. It was in my mailbox at the radio station recently when I went in to work.

Others at the station received the same package, as did random residents of our community. No one seemed to know who our mysterious benefactor was or why he or she was making this simple request.

I’ve always made donations to causes and people I care strongly about. Even in the days when money was so tight we could barely afford groceries or to keep the heat on, I donated what I could. There is always someone who is worse off than I am and if I can help them in any small way, it makes me feel better as a person to do it.

I cashed the money order and matched it, giving the donation to the Missouri Shores Domestic Violence Center. Domestic violence is an issue that has touched me personally and 25 years ago, someone helped me at a time when I desperately needed it. I have never forgotten that and I hope my donation will provide the same help for someone else.

I don’t have a money order for you but I do have a request: sometime this holiday season, please make a small gift to someone local and in need, wherever you are. If a monetary gift isn’t possible (and sometimes it just isn’t), give of yourself. A shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a hand to steady, a word to comfort. We never know how wide our circle of influence can be or who it encompasses.

To the unknown Santa who prompted this post, thank you for what you’re doing. And thank you for including me.

If you received an unexpected $25 to donate to whoever you wanted to, where would you send it?

What's Christmas without elves?

I hadn’t intended to post again before Christmas. Then Meg stopped at the radio station while I was on the air this morning and here we are. Meg is my friend Jody’s mother. I met her years before I really knew Jody but now my association with her is mostly through him…and the radio station. Meg is a loyal listener to my show and on random Saturday mornings, she surprises me with breakfast. Today the donuts and juice came with an unexpected Christmas gift. Because that’s how Meg is.  Which is how MY mother was.

Mine is a family of motherless children. My Dad, husband, brother-in-law, sister and I have all lost our mothers. The period of absence ranges from about five years to nearly 30 years. But that’s neither here nor there; mothers are missed no matter how long they’ve been gone. Christmas is when I miss mine the most because this was HER holiday. She was a reindeer antler-wearing, Christmas-cookie-baking, every-room-in-the-house-decorating, year-long-Christmas-shopping kind of mom. Martha Stewart on her best day, at the top of her game, with a staff of hundreds, couldn’t have topped her.

A good friend of mine lost her mother earlier this year and is celebrating her first Christmas tomorrow without her. Last week she asked me if I had any advice on how to get through it.  The experience is different for everyone but I tried to give her some ideas I thought would help, and I’ll check back with her after the holiday to see how she’s doing.  Her situation and Meg’s visit this morning got me thinking about what a big role my Mom still plays in my Christmas.

My Mom is the Christmas stockings I hang for every member of the family (four-legged included), the Christmas carols I play on the piano, the Christmas brunch I’ll fix tomorrow, the after-Christmas bargains I’ll shop for next week to get a jump on next year. And if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Santa and his sleigh tonight, look for the elf with angel’s wings flying alongside. That’ll be my Mom, giving him directions, so he doesn’t miss anybody. Because that’s how she was.