Twenty Years of Christmas

The tree is down. The house is quiet. Even the dog is still asleep. It is post-Christmas, a time, my middle son tells me, that lasts right up until summer. Summer is the next-best-thing on his yearly highlight reel and when it ends, the Christmas anticipation begins. And although it is a crazy commercialized, Santa-Claus-worshipping, debt-inducing, expectations-inflating time, I love it anyway. I love Christmas.

This year, I completed the twentieth page of my Christmas Memories book. This is big news to me alone. I have some pretty strong suspicions that no one in my house even knows that we own a Christmas Memories book, although I put it out every year, next to the mantel, right below the youngest’s stocking. The first page shows a happy bride and groom on our wedding day. The card thanks the revelers for coming, for witnessing, for being there as we begin our journey together. The rest of the pages are snapshots of our lives. But not really. They are our Christmas pictures, and I am not as creative as many in my selection of photos. Most of them are staged, with a dad behind the lens and a mom off to the side, mouthing “Smile! Smile! No, not the weird smile. Just a regular smile.”

I look at it now, while everyone sleeps. I love the beginning years the most. When it is just the two of us, then three, four, then five. I like to see the faces change. I like to remember who we were, how we were.

On each page of the book, there is the same prompt: Who We Were With and What We Did. I dutifully fill in each section. Toward the end of the book, I start using the pages for note taking, including names of the big gifts given to each kid. And the party guest list, most successful menu items. It is not poignant or sentimental. It is written in that things-to-get-done-before-the-25th kind of way. But the pictures are nice.

As I sit with my coffee on this quiet post-Christmas morning, I have time to read all of the local paper in one sitting. Each article. It’s not that big of a paper and this isn’t much of an accomplishment.

I stop when I see this young face in the Obituary section. This short life. This mom’s son, her 25 year old, died on December 21st. Right around the time I was affixing our twentieth greeting card to the twentieth page of the Christmas Memories book. Right around the time I was perfunctorily recording what we did, who we were with. But before writing about the biggest gifts, and the best. Four days before Christmas, this mom was saying goodbye to her son.

There is no mention of how he died or why. There is just a beautiful picture of a shy boy, looking up through his glasses. He loved hockey. Baseball. Soccer. And cars. He was a talented mechanic. The obituary, like my Christmas Memories Book entries, is not beautifully written. It is brief. It is perfunctory. It is one more thing that this family had to do before burying their child.

I am blessed. My Christmas Memories book, although a little boring, speaks of good times. It wasn’t 20 years of unbridled bliss, but it has mostly been really good. Those annual photos wrapped up years of more good than bad, more happy than sad. We didn’t know, that bride and groom on page one, how it would play out. We were lucky. But also, it is not over. There is another 20 year memory book, waiting in the wings.

I cannot fathom what it might be like to say goodbye to a child of 25. I imagine it would be almost too difficult to recover. But I pray she does. I hope that mom can some day remember the joy. The happy times. The goals scored, the games won. The Christmas mornings giddy with excitement. The car, that no one but her son could fix. The summers, long and warm and lazy. I hope there is a Christmas Memories book buried somewhere beneath the sadness. And she takes it out one post-Christmas morning. One quiet morning when even the dog still sleeps. And sees 20 years of smiles, even the staged kind.

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