The day after Thanksgiving was, as it always is, Decorating Day.
Decorating Day is a National Holiday for Dingles (no, seriously, it just keeps getting more national. At one point during the morning, Sam was facetiming us from New Orleans. He was walking around his apartment in real-time so Mac and I could help guide him in his decoration and light placement. He was surprising his love, Avery, with Christmas when she arrived home at lunchtime).
I’m just… sniff… so proud.
Decorating Day often spreads out beyond a 24 hour period. Many boxes are brought in from the Old Barn, and each is opened to reveal the contents inside. And every year I marvel at how… seriously, how?… special holiday doodads and mementos become delightful surprises every single time I open these boxes for a newborn Christmas season.
Each Decorating Day that we lived with Granny and Grampa, for a year shy of a quarter of a century, Granny would walk through the house oo’ing and ah’ing and laughing at me.
“Lisa, you are nuts!” she would exclaim (and that woman meant it).
Grampa would find me balancing on a countertop, trying to get something to hang just right and offer everything from a step-ladder to a more appropriate tool (than the bottom of my boot). Always with the “If it were me…” preamble.
“If it were me, I’d be using a hammer.”
“If it were me, I’d go with the colored lights.”
“If it were me, I’d use creosote.”
Grampa offered creosote as a solution for a disturbing number of household challenges.
But, from the time we moved in together, they were both all in when it came to Christmas.
Decorating Day… the kids… our official, loopy Dingle Family Christmas (always held on a day other than Christmas, guaranteeing that the cousins could all be together, tearing into their Secret Santa presents all at once in a cacophony of screams, smiles and laughter)… sharing the quiet on Christmas morning before the kids shouted down their number one question upon awaking…
Mooooooom, did Santa Claus come yet?!
So many stories over the years.
And I got to be a part of it, with them.
The thing is – and this I know, because this I’ve learned – we are not entitled to like our family members (or be liked by them). Even the generalized family love that goes something like, “I’ve got your back because we share genetic material” isn’t a given (though that alone is a blessing (and kind of a big one)).
But the ‘like’ thing?
The type of love where you truly like another member of your family, want to spend time with them beyond any sense of familial obligation…
That’s a true gift.
Of course, that kind of love comes with one major drawback.
It is extraordinarily painful when one of these special ones leaves this planet, and we are left bearing the entire weight of the love and memories and stories that it took both of us to create.
It’s hard to wrap our brains around it. Let alone our hearts and souls.
Sometimes the smallest happenings or reminders bring our feelings to the surface.
Sometimes it’s the more universal stuff.
This is the first Christmas without both Granny and Grampa, and I’m feelin’ it.
All week long, I’ve been hearing them as I’ve strung lights or hung garland or walked in with yet more Christmas gear for that one place that seemed a bit empty.
“Lisa, you’re nuts!”
“Hey there, missy, ya need a step-ladder?”
“I remember life on my grandfather’s farm… sold his milk to H.P. Hood, ya know… we would go over on Christmas Eve…”
“Can you help me find this gift for Mother?”
“Lisa, you’ve outdone yourself!”
That last one was announced by Granny after every single Christmas Eve meal, even on the occasion when I accidentally boiled over the gorgonzola sauce. Three times.
Not only did I love them, I liked them.
When JoHn and I moved out of their house (they’d taken me in while JoHn was finishing college, and I was going to school nights, and then they allowed us to stay with them as we saved money for our first house)… anyway, when we moved out, we were so excited to be on our own… all by ourselves!
Two weeks later we were calling them on a Saturday, asking if it was still “Beans and Hot Dogs Night” and then picking up extra hot dogs and crusty bread on our way down to see them. I don’t think we missed very many Saturday night meals with them after that. And a few years later, we were drawing up plans for a house with an in-law apartment attached. That was in August of 1993. We lived together until Grampa died in 2015, and then with Granny until her death earlier this year.
I’m not only grateful that they were such a massive part of our lives, and our kids’ lives. I’m honored.
Through the hours of decorating for Christmas, I’ve been missing them like crazy and wishing they were here, driving me nuts and making me laugh… talking about everyday somethings and nothings.
I was thinking about this as I finished tying the pine garland onto The Inn’s old bannister, my eyes taking in the warm glow of its twinkling lights.
I felt the tingle in my nose, the sting of coming tears.
And then a thought hit me.
The lights this year, and I imagine every year from now, are… sure… reminders.
But they, along with all the familiar decorations and traditions, are also beacons.
A welcome mat for all the memories of love and life and time shared with and by us all… gifts already enjoyed, and those yet to be opened.
And, hey, if Granny and Grampa happen to be watching over us and want to make their approval known… in a non-creepy, non-threateningly haunt-y way… I’m all for it.
Heck, I’m all in even if Grampa wants to make it clear that, “If it were him…” he would have done one or two or all of what I’ve already done differently. Bring it on Old Man.
I miss you guys.
I will always miss you guys.
And I’m grateful for every reminder of you, in our home, which… no matter where we ever are…
Will always be your home, too.
Thanks for readin’.
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