Cousins, California, and Christmas itself…

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.

A Haphazard Winter Tears Christmas Entry

This morning I woke up to go to my eight-o-clock and looked outside to find that it was snowing heavy and windy. Tramping through dry, slippery winter without a hat sounded unappealing, as did Civilization class, so I stayed in bed. Already you and my day have been properly introduced. Isn’t she lovely? At nine I went to Brit Lit where I blinked my way through “Gray’s Elegy” and Christopher Smart’s cat. As I was walking out, Dr. Brown stopped me, and said that I’d seemed so tired lately, was taking fewer notes, and did not seem to be concentrating very well. Was I getting enough sleep? I said I was just ready for the semester to be over. Then I hurried away and tears sprung from some hitherto unknown reservoir of weariness.

I called my mother just to ask about a novel and she heard my panic. I did my French homework, and began to calm down. I walked over to the SAC to pick up a package from home. On the outside was written in sharpie “Dear Alice, Don’t cry in the mailroom. Mom.” I was startled. How had she known? It wasn’t as if she’d sent the package in the last twenty minutes, and all of this fatigue had only hit me today. As I walked back to MEP I wondered, was there something inside so touching, so personal…? That wasn’t like my mommy. Then I remembered something she’d mentioned several days before. She was only joking, saying that now I wouldn’t feel left out while all my friends were opening their big fat care package ordered by their parents for a campus fundraiser. Of course. She did not expect tears and melodrama, she expected laughter and good sense. That was the mother I knew and loved.

This afternoon I sat in the lobby with friends, and just happened to look up my house on google maps. Then I looked up my grandparents’ house,  then Karen’s, then Caldwell… I gave myself a virtual tour of home. In fact, I even tried to drive home from school using street view, but the going was a little slow. So I just switched back to my house and stood in the middle of Scott Avenue, spinning in circles, watching the summer leaves shading my front porch race by again and again. It was almost as good as the real thing. Well, not almost. Just sort of.

As everyone else is beginning their Christmas season, we here at Grove City are entering our stress season. I already have friends studying behind locked doors, and I myself am contemplating who exactly would be a good jailer for my computer. Maybe Katie? Anyhow, true to form, I’m not worried about exams, but I hate them just as much as everyone else. They haven’t begun yet, though… On Saturday night I went to a lovely Christmas party with lots of families. There were about seven different kinds of soup for supper. Then we went caroling and had a gingerbread house competition. I wished I was nine years old again, sliding around in sock feet with a sparkly Christmas sweater and my hair falling into excited, sweaty wisps about my face.

Then last night were the candlelight services at the chapel which are famous, and rightly so. Lots of people from the community come, touring choir sings, the Christmas story is recited, and then everyone lights their candle and Harbison Chapel’s sanctity seems to be consummated yet again as the organ swells and we all sing Silent Night. At “Christ, the Saviour is born; Christ, the Saviour is born” as everyone lifted their candles in solemn unison, and Liesel and I snorted back laughter, I forgot my constant wish that Christmas would arrive faster. Why wish for something you already have?

So to summarize this jumbled entry: Don’t cry in the mailroom, Alice, because in eight days you will be on a plane zooming toward the dear sister you haven’t seen since August, your tall baby brother, your parents, and assorted cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Also, go ahead, be nine years old with pink cheeks and a sugar high, for “Christ, the Saviour is born!” Happy Christmas, goober. Study hard.

December

All day fat snow has been falling–the kind that frosts my coat, clogs my eyelashes and makes me feel quite Puckish. This afternoon, friends and I are walking to Salvation Army to buy sweaters and flannel and Christmas presents. There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing this particular Friday than tramping through northeast-midwest snow in a hat and red peacoat with the FamPan.

When I woke up on the first of December to see the world white-washed, I groaned. “A great, suffocating blanket of ugh has descended,” I told myself, “not to rise again for months on end.” But I put on a sweater-dress and marched out to face it. Then came a peacoat in the mail. And boots out of my closet. And finally Christmas wormed into my soul, (“Well, in Whoville they say the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”) and, also, the flakes gained weight. Really, who can resist a pudgy snowflake? It’s even more adorable than  pudgy baby! Dozens of them nestle in hair, looking for all the world like Titania’s Cobweb and Moth. When I open my mouth to speak, they wander right in tasting of Christmas and glitter. I catch them, and they melt, but while they last they look ever so cuddly. How could George Bailey have jumped off a bridge on a snowy night?

To me, until I tire of it, this snow is useless, glorious manna inspiring my most dire creativity. I will skip my way to Salvo, and buy the biggest sweaters, the brightest flannel, and the most devilishly perfect presents. If only this particular snowfall will keep up I, myself, may demand to carve the roast beast.