"I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays - let them overtake me unexpectedly - waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: "Why, this is Christmas Day!" ~David Grayson
Well, not quite - although I do agree with the sentiment, it's obvious it was written by a man. Most of the women I know were busily working on Christmas activities for weeks. I've long felt that if it were not for women, holidays would not be nearly what they are - the positive and the negative side. That, I suppose, is a whole 'nother topic for some other time. But there is much to be said for taking Christmas a little at a time, especially when it comes to priceless gifts.
After the dual dramas of dealing with the moves* of two elderly relatives, we treated ourselves to some early "Christmas gifts". In early October, we - with older sister in tow - made the three hour drive to visit our youngest niece and her dad. Having finally convinced him to make the move last spring, she was anxious for us all to re-connect as soon as possible. We definitely felt the same, as her dad is the husband of the beloved sister we lost two years ago at this time of year. He also suffers from Alzheimer's, so time is of the essence...
Love of and connection to family are strong forces in most people's lives, but I think take on deeper meaning as we age. As a child, I never thought about, nor could I have envisioned, living without either or my parents or my older sisters. Life simply progressed day by day and many of the thoughts and feelings I had concerned things that were somewhat trivial as I look back on them. They were important to me at the time, however, and I do not mean to infer that they were unimportant, for that is the way of youth. If I had needed to be concerned about my relationship with the rest of my immediate family, I might not have had the energy and drive to pursue the thoughts and actions I did in other areas of my young life.
As it was, I had a fairly carefree childhood and blissfully skipped from one year to the next. Perhaps I was overly naive, but I like to believe that the adults in my life gave me the security and confidence to move forward. I ache for those children who do not have that kind of stability in their lives.
My oldest sister went off to college the year I turned two and began teaching the year I entered first grade. She has always been independent, so moved forward in her career, attended graduate school, traveled widely for work and pleasure, and remained single. For most of her life she lived elsewhere in Montana, but always drove home to spend holidays with us. Because of our family-owned floral and greenhouse business, she spent many of those visits home working - either in the store or cooking/cleaning at the house. I never doubted that she would be there and greatly anticipated her visits and hearing stories of her latest travels and adventures. She was always my "Big Sister".
Our middle sister, who was only fifteen months younger than the oldest, also went off to college when I was four. She chose her own route, however, and married the love of her life in her senior year. Because he was in graduate school, they moved east immediately and she completed her schooling there. Never again did she live close, but they - eventually with three daughters in tow - made the long trek back to Montana almost every summer. Again, I never doubted that they would come and longingly looked forward to that one precious week when all the family could be together.
My oldest sister had introduced our other sister and her future husband in college, so she has known him longer than any of us. Even before he married our sister, he blended into our family easily. Raised on a small farm, he had humble beginnings, but chose a career in biochemistry; he eventually earned a PhD, did research, and became a university professor. I fell in love with him early in life, and always, ALWAYS enjoyed talking with him about science, outer space, and spooky "unknowns". I never doubted that we would always have these wonderful conversations.
There is just so much we all take for granted. As little as two and a half years ago none of us foresaw where we would all be today - and maybe that's a good thing. Time and distance have made "in- person" visits difficult, but we have all worked at keeping in touch and that is what really matters.
As with we older ones, life circumstances have scattered our progeny across the country and muddied the waters of connectedness. I understand this. I also know that it takes time and effort to establish and maintain any connection. My sincere hope is that they will find the time and make the effort to do that, because there just is no connection on earth like family bonds.
And so we made that three hour trek for the specific purpose of maintaining those bonds and establishing new ones. For there are new generations and new relationships to become acquainted with. Our youngest niece and her significant other have also made the same drive to see us twice in the last month for the very same reason. They both have busy careers and active lives, so the decision to come, and the notification to us of same, were done with short notice. No matter - we've all learned to "go with the flow" and be as flexible as we can. Perhaps it takes losing someone or watching them slowly fade away for us to truly value those we have here and now. When it comes to those I cherish, I'll take what I can get whenever I can.
It's said that a road runs in both directions and that is certainly true. You see, a simple three hour drive for a weekend visit is not such a simple thing to me - it has great meaning and is one of the finest gifts I could ever receive.
"You have to be vulnerable
to have real intimacy with people.
It's a two-way street, you know?"
~ Michelle Pfeiffer
*For background on the "dual dramas" of the moves:
November Musing - Part 1
November Musing - Part 2