My grandfather, who had a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for martyrdom, spent the last 15 years of his life wondering out loud if "this would be the last Christmas/birthday/Easter/random Sunday" he would live to see. I have this clear memory of him, sitting in the overstuffed chair in our living room, unwrapping his Christmas gifts (almost always beige socks and Old Spice shaving cream), sighing deeply and sucking his teeth about it. The rest of us would usually roll our eyes at each other and chuckle.
It seems, however, that the older I get, the more I am understanding my late grandfather. I wonder how many more Christmases I will have surrounded by Everyone. Every One. We have had the same little family of people doing the same little family traditions since I was a baby. With a few wonderful additions (the husbands, the children, the in-laws), it's been the same dysfunctional happy bunch for all 38 years of my life. Every Christmas Eve, we've dressed up and eaten Mami's pork. Every Christmas morning, we've gathered in her living room, each one of us taking turns opening gifts as the rest of us oooooh and ahhhhh and call out "Who's that from?" or "Wow, that's nice!"
Not one year...not even once...not because of work or illnesses or death or better plans have any of Us not been there.
* * *
Now, I can admit that I like the material part of Christmas. Always have. My parents were really good about getting me what I wanted (Baby Alive!), and now Hubby is so good at shopping for me that I'm seriously considering just giving him money and sending him off to shop for me all year long. So yes, I like the presents. They're fun.
But even when I was little, I understood that there was a real joy, a true gift, in being able to sit around the tree, my dad's Elvis Christmas album playing for the millionth time, laughing and eating and opening gifts with family. Now, having children of my own, seeing my parents aging more each day, understanding that life really does sometimes hand out senseless tragedies, I appreciate the normalcy, the simplicity, the predictability of having Everyone there.
I've always been big on Christmas. I loved the magic and the frivolity and the sparkle of it all. I was lucky to have grown up in a house where it was a month-long celebration of tinsel and merriment and yes, that Elvis album. But today, as I watched My Boys all building and assembling and playing, as I ate my mom's leftover pork from Christmas Eve, as I started (already) to store away some of the decorations, I realized I have an even stronger sense of immeasurable gratitude for the Christmases past...for the Gift of having Every One there, every year.
Merry Christmas, Grandpa...sorry 'bout the eye rolling.