26 December, 2008

This Christmas was an intersection of the past and the future; very little was thought about the present as the two arms of time caught us and spun us around and around. We are still reeling and still trying to sort the bittersweet pieces of the day. Were more of them joyful, or sad? I don't always see a great distinction, actually.

My brother proposed to his girlfriend. I awoke to a text message announcing that she said yes. We began the day light-headed from sleep deprivation and joy over the first official extension of the family. Chip will be the first of all us cousins - the first of this generation of Marvin, Heidel, Pickett descendants - to marry and pass on this name. Maybe years from now Chip and Ellen will tell their children about how they married young with hardly anything to call their own, but supremely content because they never wanted to be united with anyone else. I am sorry their children won't be able to see what I can see on this day: the joy and tears in the eyes of the in-laws, the wonder ("Now we are coming full-circle") in my widowed grandmother's eyes, the speechless, proud awe on my cousin's face.

My aunt, Dad's oldest sister, has cancer. We don't know what to expect of the coming year, and her broken sentences and frequently-wet cheeks made no secret of this uncertainty. As we raised our glasses to one new joint life, we were indulging in nostalgia over one that is trying not to wane. Most of the gifts exchanged between the adult siblings were revivals of gag gifts from their childhood. Inside jokes we laugh along with, but can't fully share. I watched my father open an ornament that had been his favorite as a child; an angel aiming a slingshot (at his sisters, dad used to imagine). I watched him laugh, and I wished I could know what he looked like as a little boy stealthily crouching by the Christmas tree, choosing a target for his angel (Sue? or Dianne? or the dog?), and conjuring up in his head an epic battle in which weaponless sisters would surrender and do Chucky's bidding for a month. Similarly, my mother's family gives gifts steeped in the memory of past family homes, favorite childhood toys, and obscure references to family history. Despite photographs, letters, and the odd home video, there are some things that we can only pretend to know about the people who handed life to us. Though they are still a tangible presence, they are legends, mythical beings, in some ways. They carry a whole past that is only shadows and tales to me, but must be called to the forefront every Christmas to remind them who and why they are.

This wasn't a Christmas for thinking about myself (when should it ever be?). It was one for being reminded of what has shaped my predecessors, why they are the way they are, what splendid strands of their lives they have chosen to preserve, and how those choices affect my generation. What strands will my siblings and I hold onto? What sort of grand tapestry of legends and lessons will we fold around our children before ushering them into their own stories?

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