Friday, December 10, 2004

Forcing Christmas
In my old family house, there was a bathroom downstairs that had a most remarkable bathing place. It was designed by my late father with Japanese o-furo in mind. It had a tap at a height of about three feet from the floor. It had a showerhead at about seven feet up. And half of the entire room was a tiled area in which to bathe. The exterior wall was one side, the front and back walls were floor to ceiling and the interior wall was about four feet up from the floor inside and about three feet up from the floor of the rest of the room. Tiled steps got us in and out.
We didn't fill that tub too often since it would have taken all the hot water our water heater could produce to fill it even partially but we did sometimes take advantage of all that bathing space. I learned to swim in that pool when I was a wee doggy. But my mother, in later years, put that space to very good use by bringing cut forsythia and dogwood branches in and putting them in jars of water. The heat and steam of showering with the shrubbery would make the cutting bloom out in no time at all. So she could force these blooms without a greenhouse and in the natural course of daily life. Mom knew her plants.
It seems natural, too, in the holiday season to remember those we used to have with us who made Christmas what it was. It hasn't felt like real Christmas for me since my parents passed away. All the family traditions, all the little things that made it really seem like Christmas just don't exist anymore. I still buy presents. I still send cards. I still try to force Christmas like my mother forced those spring blooms. But it doesn't seem to much work. I have the last pictures I took of mom and dad. I was going to use them for their Christmas cards the next year. I don't really look at those pictures though. I can see now the premonitions of cancer that we never saw in mom at the time. I see dad looking pretty fit, all things considered, and hopeful for the planned hip-replacement surgery from which he never awoke.
I have lost something out of Christmas with them. There is little to build enthusiasm on or for. I buy a wreath and even as I'm putting it up I think only of the annoyance of having to take it down again. I buy a small tree that I can set up on a tabletop because my collection of ornaments has been winnowed down to a set that single man can deal with. Nice ornaments but not too many. An old white sheet is wound around the base of the tree to simulate snowy ground and I think back to the old orange cardboard blocks we used to used to build a base around the washtub in which the balled-in-burlap live tree stood. I could point out four trees visible from the kitchen window that had once been in the house as Christmas trees. But it's not my kitchen.
Melancholy is not a good ride into holidays. I should hitch a ride on Santa's sleigh. I should put all the Christmas music I have into an iTunes play list and run it 20 hours a day for the rest of the year. But it would be just too much.
Instead, I will breathe a heavy sigh, work tonight on getting the rest of my Christmas cards ready for mailing tomorrow, look over my presents list and see if there is something I can buy for someone else that will bring some measure of Christmas back to me. Back to my heart, back to my soul. I long for that Christmas shagged with snow, even if we rarely had Christmas snow. I recall a Christmas spent in the middle of the Indian Ocean and remember how little it felt like Christmas. It seems much more like that these days than the tinkling of angel chimes and the resinous smell of pine wood waiting for the fire. I'm not sure Christmas can be forced.

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