Happy New Year to everyone. Sorry to be away from all the blogs, but I needed a big computer break for a couple of weeks. The downside of working at home is that I'm constantly in front of my monitor and keyboard, and I felt the tug of real human interaction pulling at me.
I do this every year, in part because every year I visit my Grandma at Christmas. Grandma has no Internet connection, and I'm not even sure Grandma knows what an Internet connection is (although she does have a plasma TV, so it's not all Little House on the Prairie). The family all come together to spend Christmas Eve at Grandma's, a tiny house that she's lived in for 50 years and that gets to be 150 degrees inside when there are two dozen people packed in it and the oven is heating up a cornucopia of pork products. I catch up with family and dress up as Santa to pass out gifts, making smarmy comments in a Ho-Ho-Ho voice. It's been our ritual, and Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without it.
Sadly, though, this probably was the last Christmas at Grandma's. She's afflicted by dementia that's getting steadily worse, to the point where she will almost certainly have to give up her house and living independently this year. The good news is that she's probably going to live with one of my aunts and uncles, rather than go into assisted living, but it's still a sad milestone, both for her aging and for what our family will lose when she's not in that house.
Her home has been more than a Christmas gathering place. It's been our family's HQ, our worldwide headquarters. We all used to live nearby, until the work and school and life pulled most of us away to other states. Each year, piling into that tiny, hot house has been a homecoming. I've lived a transitory life for so long that I don't even really remember what it's like not to move every few years, but I've always cherished the few days where I return to where I grew up, touring the streets where I rode my bike and played army and dug snow forts. I get to feel my roots again.
Grandma's house is the key part of that. It's remained mostly the same since I was a kid, and that's what makes the yearly pilgrimage so special. It's like stepping into a time capsule. I not only see family again, I feel that energy and excitement about Christmas that I did when I was a kid. I get the same tingling anticipation, even though I've reached the stage where Christmas is more about what I give than what I receive.
I knew this day was coming, of course, but it's funny how knowing and accepting are two different things. It became readily apparent, though, when we saw Grandma. It's not that she's that bad, but the forgetfulness, the emotional swings, and the frailty of old age...she may very well live another 10 years and come within striking distance of 100, the way her mother did. It's just obvious that it won't happen in her own home.
Of course, the Hollywood version of this would have all of us packed in the house for one last Christmas shebang, with more heat and noise and laughter than ever. Reality could care less about happy endings, however, as work and weather conspired to keep a lot of family away. We had a very small group this time, and even though it was a delight to see how delighted Grandma was with Libby, I couldn't shake the emptiness of what was normally a house packed like a VW Bug full of circus clowns. I didn't even don the Santa suit to hand out gifts because it seemed a bit pointless, especially since it seemed like it would scare Libby more than spread any Christmas cheer.
We still had fun and I'm grateful I got to see the relatives who did make it. It's likely someone will pick up the torch next Christmas, giving us a place where we can eat and drink and make merry--and a place that's likely to be less hot and crowded. It'll just take some getting used to, because that little house was packed to the attic with a lot of great Christmas memories.