In the last six months I have lost people from every phase of my life. Last month I lost someone I went to Junior High and High School with and someone I worked at Girl Scout camps with. We lost the co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis and in May we lost the Heiromum. The older you get the more people disappear from your life and social and mental landscapes. They still live on in your heart but you can’t call them up or email them or send them a card or hug them any longer. I haven’t had a year this bad since the AIDS crisis when I was losing men I loved at a great rate. I still remember the night my brother called in tears because the last of the guys he had been friends with died and he felt alone. And now he’s gone too from brain cancer.
Most of my family is gone. My sister is the last of my immediate family. We used to have Thanksgiving and Christmases with 16-20 people around a huge table that now sits in storage since it would take up our whole living room. We had a children’s table with eventually, 6 of us. I remember as the 6 cousins came along being moved down the table until they had to make a children’s table. I remember sitting at the big table the first time I was allowed at the table on a huge stack of phone books. Good luck even finding a stack of big phone books now a days.
I remember Christmas Eves at my Great- Aunts and Uncles and the house being filled with big Swedes and full of food and laughter. My big Uncle Winn entertaining us kids in his garden and convincing us that we could see his gnome moved if we turned quick enough. I remember the presents he made us with his big calloused and loving hands. I still use the chest he made me. It holds precious memories like the apron I learned to cross stitch one summer on the gingham pockets with my grandmother.
This year it will probably be just my sister and I at home. At least I have a job and could buy her some gifts for Yule, Christmas and birthday, (hers is the day after Christmas). Some years while I was unemployed it was more a symbol than a gift because there was no money and I paid for Christmas dinner. Last year we took a hike at the Wildlife Refuge we love and saw our beloved white pelicans. I think we may do that this year too as we haven’t heard from our cousins since they cancelled Christmas last year.
I miss all the Christmas stuff me did as kids because I miss the people I did them with not because I want to ever go back to Xtianity. I miss going to choose the perfect tree with my daddy. It had to have a hole in the branches for the tiny carved and brightly painted wooden angels that my dad had brought back from WWII. Each tiny angel was on a slender thread, all carrying something different. We used to hang the battered pink tinsel star that My Aunt Timmy had given me when I was first old enough to remember getting a gift. Cam had a snow man. Aunt Timmy was mom’s college roommate and her kids were considered my cousins growing up.
So we hung that battered and tarnished pink star to shine over the “angel heaven” we created on our tree. We had one special ball that had been my grandmother’s from her childhood in Canada. It had to go close to the trunk because it was so heavy. There were the usual kid made paper ornaments and balls from 3 generations of trees. And last my dad put this gold paper and angel hair covered Victorian angel on the top of the tree. I can remember my dad lifting me up to put it on the top until I got too big and then it was my brother and then my sister.
Dad liked to wait until it was close to Christmas Eve because as far as he was concerned we should follow tradition not fashion and because he was a teacher he didn’t want to do it before school was out anyway. It was always a whole afternoon project done while Mom was at church rehearsing with the choir if we didn’t also have to be rehearsing with the kids choir or while she was in the kitchen baking. She was not welcome while we were doing the tree. She corrected us too much and it was our tree because we had picked it out and helped dad carry the ornaments down in the huge boxes from the attic. We had tinsel unless we had a cat because of the one incident of having to pull it out of the cats butt and fearing it was going to kill her. After that no more tinsel.
I remember long afternoons of cookie baking, grinding nuts in the nut grinder, mixing ingredients and decorating the cookies and covering the umpteen cookie sheets with yet another covering of foil so they could be returned to the oven with the next batch. I remember the house smelling wonderfully of cinnamon and sugar and spices for days.
I remember practicing carols on my guitar because I was the school accompaniest for the yearly caroling the school choirs did at the annual Tour of Homes. This led to my one and only time I ever cut class. The tour started around noon and I wasn’t supposed to play until around 2:30 and a friend and I my senior year decided we were going to go after lunch.
So my friend and I headed up to the house walking with my guitar, we were to sing at the house which just happened to be one of my parent’s friends from our church. Another reason I thought I’d get away with it. We got up the hill and had started on the street where the house was and someone stopped to give us a ride. It was the school principal who also knew my dad when he taught across the street. We accepted the ride and lived in terror for the 10 minutes of the ride. We both resolved never to ditch class again. I’m sure he thought we were nervous because he was the principal and he never asked for our passes which of course we didn’t have since we weren’t supposed to leave early and we ran into the house and got set to play and our choir director never questioned why we were there early. He was just glad to see me and my guitar because this was the choir that needed help keeping in tune. But I never cut class again in high school not even on senior ditch day.
I miss the magic of Christmas Eve in a darkened church. One of the only times a year you felt any magic in church, the other being Good Friday. I remember walking into our huge gothic barn of a church in my cotta and robe with my candle. Carefully following the person in front and smelling all the wonderful pine and singing, singing the simple carols of the season and feeling the waiting hush that always falls over the church. The air of expectance and almost held breath waiting for the magic and I loved being one of the creators of the magic. Leading the carols at our Yule ritual is almost as fun but not quite if simply because the church was filled with over a thousand people.
I miss singing the Messiah the Sunday before Christmas. I miss the parts thundering out through the church. I miss being able to sing whatever part was needed from Soprano to Bass in the Hallelujah Chorus. I miss the choir family but not enough to pretend I believe the words but the music is some of the most glorious ever written and to be with a group of fantastically good singers is some of the most amazing magic you can make. We pagans need to grow enough to do our own.
But most of all I know some people who are dealing with illnesses that will someday make an even bigger whole in future years and it makes me sad.And my sister has kindly reminded me that I’m getting to the age where that happens.