Tuesday, December 7, 2010

That Special Christmas Place...

by Jim Heffernan     

It happens to everyone sooner or later, and this year it’s my turn. I lasted longer than most–not as long as some. This is the first year there will be no Christmas in the home I grew up in.

Many people my age–commonly called “middle”–have only memories of the home where they spent their first Christmas and Christmases thereafter throughout their childhood. Others lived in several places during those years–often in different cities.

But we’re a consistent lot, and our family home stayed intact for close to 45 years, in spite of the loss of my father a dozen years ago and the moving away and marrying of the two boys. This fall we lost our mother, and there will be no more Christmases in that home for us.

I have come to believe that part of the warmth of Christmas felt by most of us when we grow up is rooted in memories of childhood Christmases–happy memories made bittersweet by the passage of time and passing of the people who populated them. And I am coming to understand how Dickens chose ghosts in his “Christmas Carol” to represent his three Christmases.

In a stop last week at the old family home, bereft of holiday decorations for the first time, ghosts of Christmases past–dozens of them–shimmered before my eyes…the place in front of the window where we used to place the tree…the big mirror that used to be festooned with garlands…the dining room table that was always decorated with candles.

As I stood in the hall of the now unoccupied house–framed pictures of family members placed here and there in the main rooms–the sights, sounds and smells of Christmases past, even as recently as a year ago, rushed back for a moment. Our balsam, close to nine feet tall, was there in front of the window, its familiar ornaments shimmering in the colored lights. Gifts encircled its foot and were stacked knee high. The aroma of foods only prepared at Christmastime–Scandinavian sylta, potato sausage, fruitcake, special cookies–wafted from the kitchen.

The sounds of laughter, the tearing of wrappings and voices “Hey, just what I wanted!” “Thanks a million!” “I love it!” filled the room. And above the din, the sound of a well-played piano, full bass chords resounding, treble ringing, “O come, all ye faithful…” and later, a hushed “Silent Night.” We will never hear that piano played that way again.

This year Christmas is not calling on that home except in the memories of those of us who spent so many there that it will always be Christmas place for us no matter where we live.

In every life where Christmas comes at all, there is that one place from childhood where it will live forever. We were lucky to have such a Christmas place for as long as we did.

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1983 

in my book, Cooler Near the Lake (2008), available for sale this Christmas at local bookstores and on line through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Adventure Publications.

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