It happened Tuesday night as I was about to unplug the tree.
Hours earlier, Laura had spread out a few wrapped gifts there. The first tag I checked had my Mom's name on it. Visceral emotions arrived in a rush.
It wasn't just the reality kicking in that my father, 91, and mother, 89, are coming to our house for the holidays. I'm not sure that's ever happened during my nomadic adulthood, although I've spent many a Christmas back home with them in the Willamette Valley.
The closest we humans come to time travel, I suspect, is when
memories unlock feelings of the past - especially of childhood. Finding
that tag on that gift under that tree, 12 days before Christmas, turned a
I generally buy the sayings that life is "a journey, not a
destination" and "what happens to you while you're busy making other
plans." The best proof has always lain in my Decembers of yesteryear.
It began early in the month when Mom would transform our living room
into a land of enchantment. Age 3, 4 or 5, I'd memorize the placement of
every ornament on the tree, squint at the lights by day and stare at
their reflections by night.
The top of a bookcase became a fairyland of greens cut from the firs
out back and wax-candle Santas and reindeer and snowmen that would never
be lit. My little-boy imagination made me littler still, almost capable
of walking amid the wax figures. Same went for the nearby gingerbread
house and a nativity scene - we were churchgoers and it wasn't lost on
me that the baby in there was going to be celebrating a birthday soon.
My Mom still tells the story of the year when, just before she
started to decorate the tree, I suggested that we sing the national
anthem. It was an occasion at least as momentous as a football game, I
must have figured.
The overlay for all this delicious anticipation, of course, was the
realization that eventually there would be presents to open.
Christmastime was a merging of the magical and the material, courtesy of
Santa Claus and my parents.
Wrapped gifts started piling up under the tree. Many of the tags read
"From Santa," but somehow that didn't dissuade my conviction that he'd
be visiting late on Christmas Eve.
My much-older siblings played along with the Santa story, although my
sister did inject a little disbelief into the season when she told me
that if I squeezed through the sofa cushions I'd come out inside the
gingerbread house. I tried.
They were away at school during the day, and my Dad was at work. Mom
knew I was spending hours looking at and almost living in the
decorations. She approved.
Dec. 24 and 25 were always great in my family. We'd crack open a few
presents on Christmas Eve - the type you could play with - and often hit
the road to look at lights and visit my grandmother's house across
town. Come the next morning, Santa had delivered, including some
unwrapped extras that hadn't been under the tree in advance.
It was all good enough to validate the buildup, but nothing could
match that lush, leisurely period of childish wonder and expectation.
For adults, the holidays come all too quickly, and the days leading
up are full of extra chores. That's what made my Tuesday night discovery
of a portal to the past so valuable.
My parents are coming to the coast for Christmas.
I can't wait!