The Spirit of Christmases Past

Every year at this time my mind and heart take me on a ride down Memory Lane. It's emotional, it sometimes includes regret, and it always keeps me in the Christmas Spirit, be that good or bad. But when you get my age there are so many memories, the ride is uneven, hilly, and full of both hairpin curves long, boring stretches...

Anymore, the real trick is to watch my Christmas Pasts roll by and then choose which one to give any time and thought. It changes every day. One day a happy memory, the next day a not-so-happy one. I'm fully aware, however, that I'm not the only one who goes through this; I think just about everyone does.

I remember the Christmases of my childhood, my close but large family (if you consider 15-20 adults and eight children large) singing, dancing, eating, drinking and laughing together. I think about how the grownups played endless games of Hearts and penny Poker while we kids stuck black olives on the ends of our fingers and stole peeks into the sun room that was packed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with brightly wrapped presents. I remember Santa's visits and my beautiful Schwinn bicycle, the Great Garloo, and the toy piano. Christmas was magical then, the one time of the year when I could count on nothing bad happening. Often, I miss the Christmases of my teens. Gifts exchanged with my boyfriend and friends, Christmas dances and parties, Yardley's London Look cosmetics in my stocking, new, mod clothes, and the relatively carefree nature of Christmas when I had no real responsibilities and knew nothing about the financial stress that my parents faced.

This year I'm thinking a lot about the Christmases of my 30's when I worked with the Ventura County Symphony. Every year, my mother took me out to buy a new "concert black" outfit for the annual Nutcracker and Handel's Messiah performances that I took part in. I miss Maestro Salazar's traditional Christmas Eve parties, which I'd attend after the kids were in bed. Afterward, I'd go to midnight Mass, then make a late appearance at the often all-night parties of my friends. It was a busy time of year and I had the energy to keep up the pace that lasted a good six weeks and included rehearsals, parties, shopping, school, and two jobs. It exhausts me just to think about it these days, but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat if someone presented me with a time machine!

The following 15-20 years or so are bereft of memories. I remember absolutely nothing about Christmas in the 90's. In fact, I remember nothing about life in general during that decade. I now believe I had a nervous breakdown, brought on by the abrupt end of my musical career, the breakup of an important friendship, the death of Maestro Salazar, my father's cancer and death, an emotionally abusive relationship, loss of my close circle of friends when I moved to Denver, drug and alcohol miss-use (I will not term it abuse because it wasn't addiction), the deaths of young friends, and the onset of Hashimoto's disease. It's like I fell into a coma in 1992 and didn't come to until 2002 or 2003. Subsequently, my life actually feels shorter; I feel like I should only be in my 50s.

From that time to this I've built some beautiful memories with our family. Having Lynette and her three children as well as my own two sons has made Christmas a happy time again for me. It's a happiness that isn't dependent on gifts, but on spending time together in laughter and love and the warmth of kith and kin. And this year is very special. Last year at this time we believed Nathan would be in Afghanistan right now, but due to a shoulder injury he received as a paratrooper, he's gotten a medical discharge and will be spending the holidays with us. The only downside is that Lauren is in Strasbourg this year. If not for that, we'd have everyone home. Still, we're busy making new memories that will visit me during Christmases Yet to Come in my next decade. I have so very much to be thankful for. I have no reason to complain and if I've learned anything through my life, it is that we only have happy Spirits of Christmas Past if we nurture and treasure our Christmas Present.

I hope your Holiday is happy and full of love and warmth, however you celebrate it (or not).
Photo: Christmas 1959, my grandmother, cousins and myself.