I owe it all to Rachel. I’ve written about this before, the way she made her kids believe in magic—the way that, for a time when we were very young, she glowed with humor and energy and wonder and beauty in everything she did, and the way that all came together at Christmas time. As I sit writing this, a few days before Christmas 2016, my 60th Christmas, it’s natural to look back upon other Christmases: childhood Christmases, falling-in-love Christmases, new-parent Christmases, teenage Christmases, grandparent Christmases, lonely Christmases…Christmases filled with family and friends—all of them precious in some way.
This year Mike and I will be in California and then Arizona visiting our kids and grandkids. We are so excited to be going together this Christmas, though our visits will be shorter than we’d like! (I have plans in the works for springtime…)
Every Christmas, since my first in 1956, when I was a six-month-old infant with a beautiful and entrancing mother—yes, Rachel, not to mention a kind and loving father, and a brother who loved me so much he called me “his present”—every December since, whether happy and relatively carefree, or saddened as I was while enduring hard times and loss, has left a lasting impact on my view of life. A Christmas card kind of view, Rachel Style.
The card is part Norman Rockwell, all homey and twinkly and smelling like home-baked Swedish spritz and candied oranges, but there’s a liberal dose of boozy smoke haze wafting over the rooftops and a neon tavern light or two blinking on and off in the distance just like Rudolf’s shiny nose.
The house on Sheridan Road had a fireplace the length of the entire living room. One memorable Christmas Eve, Billy and I were sitting on the rug in front of the fire, drinking cocoa and talking excitedly about Santa already being on his way to Wisconsin from the North Pole.
“That sucker is going get a big surprise when he drops down the chimney into that fire,” Mom said, taking a long sip of egg nog.
“Don’t scare the kids, Rachel.” Dad’s voice was always mild, and he assured us that the fire, which was blazing in a newly menacing way, would be out long before Santa and the reindeer arrived. Dad was an excellent camper and he knew how to put a fire out.
We knew Mom was just making “a funny” about Santa. Mom loved Santa. We knew that. After all, she’d taken us to Dickleman’s Toy Store to meet him, spent hours helping us prepare his favorite cookies, and, other than this one slip, she spoke of him in glowing terms, as if he were probably almost as magic as she was.
“He knows everything, and he loves you both more than anything in the world,” Mom had said, which pretty much made Santa her chubby, white-bearded twin or something, because that description fit her like my Barbie’s velvet gloves fit her tiny stiff hands, easy to put on, easy to take off. Magic.
Of course, Billy explained, Mom didn’t really want Santa to burn up in our fireplace. Still, it was unsettling. Later, she tucked us both in bed, nuzzled us, told us stories about Santa’s big night, and about the times she’d glimpsed him in the past. She’d once caught him bringing Rudolf right in on her clean carpet, she said, and another time Santa was rolling around on the floor playing with our dog, Duchess.
“Duchess loves Santa.” She patted Duchess, who was on the bed with us. “Don’t you, girl?”
Duchess wagged her tail and stretched. Billy and I drifted off to sleep. In the morning, there were presents under the tree and Santa’s cookies were gone.
Mom and Dad looked happy.
Billy caught the magic too, and no one else I’ve ever known has come so close to capturing Rachel’s spirit, style, grace, or humor.
“He’s a lot like me,” Mom often said, and she was absolutely right.
Billy didn’t just love people, he became their most loving and loyal supporter—celebrating with them and letting them take what they would, whether his love, money, home, possessions, or heart. For many years, on the day he cut down his Christmas tree, Billy jumped (I’m quite sure, naked), into a freezing stream in the High Sierras of Northern California. That night, wearing warm jammies and cozy socks, with the tree lit and decorated, and the fireplace burning, he would pile up loads of pillows and sleep underneath his tree. It was part of his magic, I guess.
So many memories. There are a lot more, but it’s getting late. Anyway, I know you have your own Christmas memories, your own pictures of the people who shaped your view of this truly magical time of year.
May you be at peace, in your heart and in your life. May you recognize the true gifts and hold them dear. And may you be blessed with abundant and unconditional love.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to All!