Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Hello. In case you were wondering, exams went well, except for one. Then after many hugs, and fending off the last wisps of stress, I boarded a plane to Iowa. Of course, I do not live in Iowa, but my family was there already with my Mom’s side at the Wasserbahn Water Park. (What a place!) Thus began my vacation of lots-of-people-for-not-long-enough. I did see my cousins, of course, and it was a good time. Since United didn’t get my bag to me on time, we had an adventure to some nearby outlets to buy me $70 worth of clothes for which I will be reimbursed. There was also an extremely satisfactory Secret Santa, a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which we found so entertaining that it is posted on Facebook, lots of Uno and Telephone Pictionary, and much cousin bonding on the couch in the hospitality room which was also Uncle Jon’s room. Poor UJ. We spent a quiet Christmas day at my grandparents in Brookfield, MO, and were up very, very early to get on a plane to San Francisco.
My dad’s entire family is in California, but except for him, the rest of us hadn’t been out for six and a half years. There has been some pretty awful drama which you may know about, and the details of which I’m not going to go into right now. Suffice to say, I’m so thankful we went, and that such a thing was even possible, but it was a surreal experience. We met my Granddad’s new wife, Shirley, and saw lots of cousins, whom I knew I had met before, but whose faces were unfamiliar. Last time I saw my cousin Lorenzo, we were kids and we visited the Jelly Belly factory together, this time he got more cheerful with each of four beers. It has been a very long time. We visited St. Mary’s Cemetery where my Grammy’s memorial is. We all stood around in the grocery store beforehand and said “I have never bought flowers for a grave before. How does one do this thing?” We got yellow because that was her favorite color. We visited my Aunt Sharon in the little house in Sacramento where Grammy and all of her siblings grew up. We drove down to Orange County to see my uncle and aunt and cousins. We went to a beach (a beach!) on New Year’s Eve. There was Bananagrams and a deeply competitive game of Silver Screen Trivial Pursuit.
I’m still sort of in awe that all of this could happen. That we could get on a plane in ten degree weather, and get off to see trees heavy with oranges down every other block. That Mary and I could sit there and watch as Grammy’s sister, my Aunt Marge, and Granddad’s new wife next to each other on my cousin Nancy’s couch making friends. That my family could step out of the car on Partrick Road in Napa, where my dad grew up, and smell the eucalyptus, and chew on stalks of anise. I had not remembered that California was so beautiful. Wherever we went I always felt like we were in a valley, surrounded by mountains that looked like cozy giants sleeping in extravagant positions. I could pick out a rumpled shirt-tail here, the crook of an elbow there. The palm trees that were not pruned looked quite silly—as if they were wearing shaggy fur coats beneath a bad hairdo. I looked out the window a lot.
Yet the trip was not idyllic. I suppose I am too old for that to be possible, but it was more than that. We never saw anybody long enough to get properly comfortable with them, and even then my aunt and her lies seemed to lurk a little triumphantly in the corner of every conversation. And there’s another thing. I think I missed Christmas. I mean, really, where was it? There was that one quiet day at Grandma’s, but I was busy packing. It is a silly thought, but I feel as though Christmas and I planned to meet, but missed each other by a few minutes. That doesn’t mean, though, that it didn’t happen. When I got off the plane from Pittsburgh and walked toward the baggage claim, there was a large group with American flags and signs, waiting for their soldier. I was a little shamed to walk past them in my dress and leggings. I was so obviously not the hero they had come to meet. Then my sister jumped suddenly out from behind them trying to scare me and hug me all at once, and I could feel their smiles at our little reunion, and I didn’t feel embarrassed anymore. That was Christmas. In Iowa, we took a cousin picture wearing light-up necklaces. That was Christmas. In California, we drove down the road in our cramped rental car listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and George snored on my shoulder. That was Christmas. Last night driving back from the Kansas City airport the stars above me refused to come into focus. They stayed icy and soft no matter how I squinted, so I closed my eyes and went to sleep. That was Christmas.
Christmas is no less than a promise fulfilled, an expectation realized. We are told every year that Christmas will come again. It does. “When we are faithless, he remains faithful.” He does. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And He is.