“Don’t take it personally…holidays are the saddest time of the year for many people,” my brain could not, would not absorb this sentence.
Mom used her hands to iron the wrinkles of Mr. Gobbles’ construction paper feathers. Slow little exhales, burning nose, tight throat. Each feather had a letter of my name written neatly on the back.
Red feather-E, orange feather-M, yellow feather-I, green feather-L, blue feather-Y, purple feather…oh, no. At first I was a little sad that it didn’t work out evenly. Then aha…purple feather-K.
It was a good idea. You can call yourself “Emily K” if your name is Emily Knoll. This trick especially helps if the kindergarten class has 2 Emilys. You don’t have to say the whole name. My letters were very straight, all the same size…I forgot to show Mom the back, but I didn’t want to right now.
Why can’t I spin in the grocery store aisle with arms wide, faster and faster, listen to his feathers flutter, whoa…whoa, no one has EVER spun this fast, canned foods a blur, probably a world record-
“WATCH what you’re doing!” His hand was quick and precise. I know an accident, and I know on purpose. Grab, crunch.
He did not look like my grandpa, but he looked like he was SOMEone’s grandpa. All old people love all children. No. They don’t.
Sometimes if I close my eyes tightly, I can see pages in my reality scrapbook, and the days when more details were added. Pages that were once only a brightly colored paper plate turkey, that now also have a black and white photograph of a stranger–large glasses, a veiny nose tip, deep frown lines–“WATCH what you are doing!” Thanksgiving page.
“He was NOT SAD. He was MEAN.” I no longer felt like crying. He wasn’t on the aisle anymore, and I wasn’t tall enough to reach his face. But I was a good climber, and I also had a good imagination. Our paths could cross again on a different aisle. I could climb into the cart and slap him in the face with my turkey. Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap…I could probably get 5 or 6 whacks in before anyone could stop me.
“Sometimes sad people SEEM mean,” Mom interrupted my violent fantasy. And caught up in my own angry-sadness, the irony of her statement was lost on me, for many years. Hurt people hurt people. Adjectives and verbs and…I get it now.
“Why would a holiday be sad for someone, Mom?” We would collect cans at school for homeless people, and I knew what they looked like because I would see them at the library reading Western books on the worn, upholstered couches.
I knew a lot. He was not homeless. He was clean and dressed nice with a good haircut for an old man.
“There are lots of reasons people get sad on holidays…sometimes they are lonely. He might’ve lost his wife recently.” I knew that “lost” could mean she had died, and probably did not mean that he couldn’t find her.
People don’t like to hear the words “dead” and “died,” so sometimes we say…”my dog passed away.” Or “we lost my dog last night.” And most people will know this means died.
I thought of my own grandmas and great-grandmas. I did not want holidays without them. And that would be sad. Where would we go? My great grandma came to my grandma’s now. My grandma is her daughter.
“Well, why can’t he just be happy that he can have Thanksgiving with his kids and grandkids and other family? He’s not homeless.” THANKful. FULL of thanks. Reasons are everywhere. You have to teach yourself to see them and to say them and to feel the thanks. I had been practicing myself.
My neighbor had SEVEN Cabbage Patch dolls. I had only one Cabbage Patch doll–Lily Lynette. I did not name her. Her birth certificate came in the box. I called her “Lily the Net,” and I did not like her middle name, but my sister said I cannot change it.
I told mom that my friend had seven, and she told me to be thankful for my one. I never said I wanted seven. I was just telling her. And I did love Lily. We would swing together. I was full of thanks for her.
“Baby…you just never know. He may not have other family or…maybe they all live far away or…” Mom was scribbling out items on her grocery list.
He ended up in front of us at the checkout, just like I had hoped. I didn’t know what the word confrontation meant back then. Or intimidation. I only knew that I was not a pretender. He could pretend he doesn’t see me, and he did. But I was not a pretender. I would just stare.
Three bananas, a loaf of white bread, one roll of toilet paper, a package of bologna, a frozen Salisbury steak dinner, the smallest container of pecan ice cream.
Ice cream with nuts: that’s the dividing line between young and old. I had been trying my best to keep my parents away from old flavors, to keep them young. It was an exhausting fight that they didn’t comprehend. I didn’t even know you could buy only one roll of toilet paper. I did not want to think about him going to the bathroom, but I kept thinking it.
I don’t hate you anymore, old man. I really never did. I am so sorry about your wife. Life has a way of humbling us all.
My name was Emily K for exactly one month shy of 19 years. And then Emily S for exactly 2 months shy of 14 years. And then Emily B for exactly 2 years and 3 months. And today, it has been Emily C for 3 days shy of 1 year and 4 months.
Sometimes you stand in the front rows of church with your hands lifted, belting out joyful noises.
Sometimes you sit on the back row even though everyone else is standing, and you just listen with a repentant heart, thinking…I shouldn’t have spanked my daughter so hard this morning RIGHT before we left for church.
Sometimes you only make it to the parking lot, and you can’t bear to walk in, past all the people who love and hug you. So you just text a friend and ask her to please come sit outside in your minivan with you and let you cry while you tell her that he packed and left.
Sometimes you come back too soon, all alone. And the sermon series is called “Songs of Love” and all about things your heart isn’t ready to hear yet, so you have to make a brisk walk sobbing past the huggers, before the service is over, back to a minivan full of no one.
Sometimes you come alone during a holiday sermon, and a little girl inches closer and closer to you with the warmest smile, and she tells you that she wants a Christmas sweatshirt that lights up.
And then sometimes you make it back on the front rows, and not everyone knows about the back row days or the parking lot…but you will never, never forget them. Life’s scrapbook pages are so full of clippings of every sort.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12 NIV)
Family holidays and gatherings change so much over the years. I am thankful for the memories of big holiday gatherings with lots of food and a roomful of family members. Memories of paper plate turkeys.
And I am thankful for holiday alone times too, years when I don’t have my daughters with me, thankful for quiet morning times with God, thankful for all the other people who love my girls, thankful for the good food and laughs they will share in the homes where I no longer go, thankful that I can relax and not cook. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, so I won’t lie and say I don’t miss them. I am thankful that I miss them, thankful they will be back.
Much love to all my family and friends. I hope your day is lovely. And lots of love and prayers to those friends who are going through hard times, friends who can’t be with their family today, friends who are deployed, friends in prison, friends who are eating Salisbury steak and pecan ice cream alone, friends who lost a loved one recently…or not recently, friends who don’t see their blessings, friends who do see theirs, friends who have to work, friends of broken and blended families, friends struggling with addictions, friends who are sick or in the hospital.
Love to my friends who are laughing today, and especially to my friends who are crying. May God bless each of you in special ways.