The Last Christmas

If holidays are about traditions, one thing's clear; Christmas will be celebrated at my parents' house. I have spent only two (of 37!) Christmases elsewhere. I was raised in small town Western NY where trees lining Center Street twinkled with lights and the empty lot down the road was frozen over for ice skating during winter months. As in, someone filled it with a garden hose and the neighborhood kids walked over, lacing up their hockey skates. So far north that you can see Canada at the end of the street and snow was almost a given on Halloween. Idyllic? Not always, but generally speaking, yes. 

This house is my childhood. Where my dad played Neil Diamond on the record player and my mom ate a cookie for breakfast every morning. Where my little sister slept with me in my bed for years because I didn't like to sleep alone. Then later where I kicked an actual hole through her bedroom door during a fight (about She-Ra? Barbies?). 

The house we gathered in the morning of my wedding. Where all four of my parents' grandkids will have spent their first Christmases. Where my dad was when he suffered the stroke that killed him. Where I slept with my mom the day he died. They weren't all good times, for sure. But they are all ours. Our history is this house. 

How do you say goodbye to your history? This will be our last Christmas in our childhood home. The For Sale sign goes up March 1. Sure, those memories live inside of me and don't simply disappear. But there is something about walking into this house that evokes such strong images, scents, sounds. Despite all the times of struggle, I feel such love emanating from those walls. I feel a deep sadness that I will no longer walk in through the front hall and picture my dad sitting the family room, getting up to give me one of his bear hugs.

A new stocking will be hung this year, before the boxes are packed, for the newest addition to our family, my beautiful 6 month old niece. I'm a person who tends to experience losses more significantly than joys, but I'm hell bent on soaking up this last Christmas for all the imperfection that it will be.

So this is my love letter/goodbye to, as Miranda Lambert calls it, The House that Built Me.

The Taste of Memories

"What's for dinner?" I asked my mom this question every night as a kid. I was obsessed with her cooking. As I got older I would get home from school, make myself a quick dinner of english muffin pizza before I headed off to my four hour gymnastics practice. Afterwards, when I got home at 9:30pm, exhausted and sore, I would eat a second dinner of whatever Mom had made that night. It filled me up like nothing else could.

These are the things I think of now, as a working mom of two, just like she was. When I feel burdened by all of it I try to conjure up the image of her in the kitchen of my childhood home, buzzing about with the delicious aroma of homemade stuffed peppers filling the house.

I have an old, falling apart folder filled with many of her recipes, some of which have my dad's fax number on top - which means he brought these recipes to work and snuck in a quick personal fax so that I could get my hands on the Tropical Spinach Salad with Grilled Shrimp recipe. Always an intense rule follower, this little act of insubordination on my dad's part makes me smile.

I look at the date on that particular fax: 2006. Only ten years, but it seems so, so long ago. A dream almost. There are no more recipes faxed from Dad, as he died almost five years ago. And Mom's health has changed so significantly that she would not be physically able to write "Bridal Shower Dish!" today as she did on the page of that salad recipe ten years ago. Mom isn't able to cook anymore, either, which is heartbreaking for her and me both. Mom's cooking was a true and pure expression of her love. Lucky for me, I inherited this gift, the joy found in cooking and sharing, from her.