She is the ghost that hovers around the edges, every December. A bit older than this picture, but I don’t have many pictures. She is the Christmas child I was, going on forty years ago, only a few miles from where I tuck my boys in every night.
For some reason when I was growing up, we set our Christmas tree up, not in the living room on the main floor of the house, but down in a basement level “family room” my parents had carved from an old carport in a haphazard home addition. It was carpeted in thin indoor/outdoor carpet, kept a chill in all seasons, and smelled of the earth and mold that surrounded it on three sides. It was my playroom of sorts. Our family only gathered there once a year, on Christmas morning.
It’s hard to miss all the metaphors for our lightless, lead-footed family life in the remembered trek down the stairs on Christmas morning, once the electric baseboard heaters had shuddered to life to take the bite off the air, the mustiness beneath the hot chocolate and scorched coffee.
But what I remember more, what silvers the edges of my grown-up Decembers, was the stubborn hope of that chubby little girl. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she helped assemble that ancient artificial tree, fluffing its sticky branches. She flung handfuls of plastic silver tinsel. She spun holiday records on her white plastic record player and sang along with gusto.
Despite eleven months of slammed doors and shouted threats and grim silences, despite the knowledge, deeper than sense or language, that the household walked on the tightrope between one ill-places word, one imagined offense and the next moment, the child I was kept Christmas. She guarded wonder, and merriment, and somewhere in herself, peace.
I’m the parent now, in a one-story house where the tree will go front and center, filling the house with freshness. My boys prepare for Christmas in the midst of busy, imperfect but unclouded childhoods. If they could really squint back down the years at that little girl they’d probably pity her, with her solitary carols and her plastic decorations.
When I catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye, there is a part of me, too, that wants to gather her in my arms with apology. With her, for her, I light candles and bake treats and sing carols. But I remember that the Christmas that paraded behind her nearsighted, dancing eyes was wonderful. She practiced and practiced for when she’d be taller, when she would once and for all come up the stairs, and out into the light.
Happily joining in with daily prompts
for December with other good folks
at Write ALM