54 degrees on November 26th. The attic conversion upstairs is poorly insulated and chilly. I climb creaky, cracking wooden steps through a narrow passage that I use as a party trick to scare small children who visit our home. The stairwell goes up a sharp incline then abruptly turns to the right, forcing whomever climbs those stairs to go blindly into that space and leave sight of the first floor behind.
Dark wood paneling lines the stairwell and visibility is low due to there being only one light bulb at the very top of the stairs that you have to turn on using a chain and several shoelaces tied end to end, aglet to aglet. Pulling this contraption brings a satisfying *click* and ringing sound from the chain bumping up against the bulb. If you’re not one for needlessly terrifying attics, this isn’t the adventure for you. But the truth is the scariest thing about this room is the stained mauve carpeting and a window AC unit that hangs at an odd angle because old houses have old windows with awkward dimensions and our house is no different.
Even so, I tend to avoid this room because occasionally a wasp or two will find its way in and be unable to find its way back out. The ceiling is pitched on each side, so unless you’re standing directly in the center of the room you can’t stand up straight, and even then depending on your height your hair may graze the ceiling anyways. This makes stinging insects especially worrisome. So, I avoid it, until it’s necessary to brave the wasps with a fly swatter and heavy boot in hand.
And today it was necessary.
I love the Christmas holidays. Much to my husband’s dismay, I fly into full blown Christmas Cheer as soon as Thanksgiving dinner has been devoured. Most years I’m packing up the autumn décor while I’m packing away Thanksgiving leftovers. I do most of the take-down and put-up myself because my family is less enthused about the ordeal than I am. My 8 year old loves the act of enjoying Christmas decorations but not some much the act of decorating. And my husband teeters between Scrooge and The Grinch most years. We’ve spent 10 Christmases together and he’s yet to figure out that my Christmas Cheer will always beat his grumpiness. Silly human.
This year is different though.
This year I slept through most of Thanksgiving. On Black Friday I slept some more, waking only to nibble leftover Cracker Barrel and watch a non-holiday themed movie with my family. The attic door stayed shut and the wreathes and boughs and dozens of strands of lights stayed wrapped and hung and put away. Thanksgiving had come and it had gone and it did it all without inspiring even the slightest bit of Christmas Cheer.
Because I wish I could skip Christmas this year. I wish, like Thanksgiving, I could sleep through the occasion. I wish I could avoid the Peanuts specials that I usually hold so dear; neglect the classic Christmas films that I’ve seen at least 20 times or more. I wish I could press a fast forward button and propel myself through the next two months, stopping sometime in January when I know the hardest part is over.
Because my mother loved Christmas too. And this year my mother is dead.
This year I won’t hear her voice singing Christmas hymns from the kitchen as she busies herself over the ham or the rolls or the potatoes. I won’t see her pulling out her gaudy Christmas jewelry; won’t smell her perfume or her makeup against her cheek. Regardless of the year we’d had or how poor we were or how unhappy she was, my mother made Christmas special. She had a certain talent for creating the magical from the mundane. And this year that magic is gone. And it’s absence is unbearable.
But, there’s a requirement in life, even when mourning a death: you have to keep going. You have to move along.
So, today I climbed the attic stairs. I unpacked the tree. I hung the wreathes and I strung the lights. Because this year we’re missing my mother’s magic, so I have to bring the magic on my own. And if I’m very, very lucky, one day my own daughter will say,
“My mom had a way of making magic out of the mundane. My grandma was the same way. It’s a family tradition.”
Merry Christmas, Mama. I hope you like the tree.