Read the original post to this series here.
Nothing that I planned for this Christmas season happened.
And then everything that matters did.
I’m looking at empty nest this fall, and so Christmas at home with the kids, in all of our best traditions, feels especially important. I keep saying I’m going to be fine in empty nest. But this time of year, I cry easily anyway. I’ve been a leaky faucet all December. I’ve been cooking with my daughter, like I’m facing my death, teaching her every single recipe I know “for the record.” I’ve been standing and chopping madly, so that I now have carpal tunnel and planter fasciitis. From cooking? Don’t athletes get that? I’m a writer. My carpals are used to my repetitive motion tapping keyboards. I guess just not my knife moves. And all this eating of all these “best of” meals has my stomach in knots. So when we had a massive weather “event” this week, my kids took to the ski slopes, and I took to my bed, hanging my Santa cap on the Christmas traditions that would certainly carry us in these next days.
It happened, avalanche:
- The family Christmas Eve party we’ve gone to for 25 years got cancelled.
- The place where we’ve had Christmas Eve dinner for 25 years couldn’t fit us in.
- My son announced that he has to work bussing tables Christmas Eve anyway.
- Ditto the night of the family game/caroling party we always have.
- All my daughter’s friends are home and vying for her attention. And even if they wanted to let me hang out with them, I’m no fun at all. Unless they want to lie on the couch and rub arnica salve into my feet and wrist, drink bone broth, and watch White Christmas and Holiday Inn over and over. Can’t quite handle It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve had one too many George-Bailey-on-the-bridge moments in the last few months, and I’m sure, come Fall, there’ll be too many to count. So…sing to me, Bing and Fred.
- And so far none of the presents have arrived because according to the NBC Nightly News, UPS is “having a hard time,” (maybe they need Bing and Fred too). And let’s not talk about the news. It’s enough to make me want to curl into an egg nog coma through to New Years and beyond. Or more like a bone broth coma. Come to me, Clarence.
And then my friend had to cancel our annual Christmas shopping day with our friend, the Special Olympian, and all around lover-of-life and spreader-of-joy, Cedar Vance. This is the sacred day when we shop for her mother’s gifts using a carefully planned-out, well-budgeted, Christmas list, but one that in no way can I pull off solo, especially with a limp and a stomach that sounds like it’s churning butter. Let’s put it this way: Cedar puts the drop in shop til’ you drop.
She and her mom feed 30 head of horses twice a day on their Montana ranch, so she’s got…well…stamina. It was no surprise to anyone that she took home a silver and almost a bronze from the Special Olympics World Winter games at Schladming, Austria last year in the Advanced Giant Slalom for downhill ski racing. Cedar is a local hero in more ways than one. She has friends everywhere, and makes them wherever she goes. It’s like she’s in a constant parade when she’s out in the world. The more people the better. The more shiny glittery sugary things, the better. And so yep– you guessed it: she loves the big box stores. I, on the other hand, loathe box stores. Every year I try to convince her to support the mom and pops on Central Ave. in our little town, but she looks at me like I’m sooooo uncool, and so I give in to the box store pre-amble, and ply her with hot cocoa back in town at the end so I can decompress in our little shops and Christmas bells and boughs that hang across the street like George Bailey’s Bedford Falls, officially shop-dropped. She humors me, after her tour of Consumption Junction in all its…glory?
But Cedar isn’t about consumerism, per se. She’s about spreading Christmas cheer. Singing as absolutely loud as she can in the car on the way, to her favorite: Alvin and the Chipmunk Christmas album, which is…after the third go-around of Christmas don’t be late… you know…pretty heart-warming, actually. She’s got her Santa hat with the red Who-ville curlie-que on the top, and she loves to walk into every store saying a brisk, “Happy Merry Christmas!” and waving the Queen’s wave, which she’s done plenty of times because she’s been in about a hundred real life parades and got a kiss on the cheek from Mr. Shriver in the Special Olympics gala tour of Washington, D.C. before launching off to Austria, and, as she’ll tell you with absolutely no ego, received a hug from the Prince of Austria. Because that’s the thing about Cedar. She has no ego. She’s free like I’ve never seen free before. She rides bareback on horses I wouldn’t dare mount. She flies down ski hills and hugs her way through Walmart (Cedar loves her some Walmart) on a hunt for her mother’s Christmas present, mentioning that they could also use a new fridge. And I tell her, “That’s not on the list, my dear,” and she’s off, around the corner, holding a velvet pillow to her face and saying, “my mother would love this.” And I have to say, “I’m sure she would but she asked for a microwave.” And people look at me like I’m a bad person. So into the shopping cart the velvet pillow goes. And she’s holding a rose, of course, because the woman in the floral department at Costco gave it to her, after she’s eaten triple cream brie, red pepper jelly, and crackers, cornbread, short bread, pretzels, nachos, ham, roasted chicken, and asiago squares and more crackers, and she confesses that she’s allergic to cheese and gluten. But she’s forgotten about that, because now she’s sure her mother needs a quick-dry hair towel, and I have to break the news that her mother has very short hair and probably would rather have warm socks for all the work she does outside in the bitter cold of winter, but she insists that her mom has plenty of socks and absolutely needs a quick-dry hair towel. And so…into the cart goes the quick-dry hair towel. And so it goes. “Happy Merry Christmas, everyone!” she hollers, especially to people with Christmas sweaters on, and for those people, she includes a hug. And the whole world melts around her. Kinda like Eloise, only we’re so everly not at the Plaza, my dear.
So…we’re in the check-out line, our cart full of bags, ready to face the parking lot mayhem. We’ve crossed off everything on the list. And we’ve even found a few special things we know her mother will just love. Pony-tail holders, even. We have three dollars and seventy-three cents left and Cedar’s holding it in one mitten-ed hand, the red rose in the other, and she’s smelling it like it smells like the Garden of Eden, when we all know that Costco red roses don’t smell like anything other than hot dogs and three ply radial tires. And she says, “I’m going to keep this rose alive forever, just like in Beauty and the Beast, because of looooove.” And I tell her that she can also dry the petals in case it doesn’t live forever, and she looks at me like I am the Grinch who stole Love incarnate, never mind Christmas. And then…here’s where I shop ‘til I officially drop. Drop to my knees:
We walk through the automatic doors pushing our heavy cart, and there’s a Salvation Army man standing there, ringing his bell, and the hanging red bucket hundreds of box store be-dazed shoppers have passed all day. And Cedar stops at the bucket. Puts the rose stem in her mouth, of course, because where else would you put it, and carefully folds the three dollar bills in a sort of Olympic origami, and slips them, one at a time, into the bucket. And then the seventy-three cents.
“Aw…Cedar, that’s so good of you,” I start to say, but then I stop. Because that Olympian goes over to the man in the Santa hat ringing the bell, and stands on her tip toes and he leans in, and she whispers something into his ear, and hands him the rose, and they hug each other for what seems like a long time…and she waves at him as he holds up the rose, and she says to everyone coming through the automatic doors pushing heavy shopping carts, “Happy Merry Christmas!” and we sing Alvin and the Chipmunks all the way home, as absolutely loud as we can.
“Cedar, what did you whisper to the Salvation Army man?” I say, over hot cocoa on Central Ave. with the red bells and boughs over our heads.
She looks at me churlishly, elf-ishly, loving-ly, and says, “Laura Munson, what do you think I said to him? I told him Merry Christmas!”
Of course that’s what she said. And I think…of course, Cedar Vance. Of course it’s a Merry Christmas.
And then…wouldn’t you know…Christmas came, avalanche:
“We have a spot for you in the dining room on Christmas Eve.” “We’re having our party after all.” “I got my shift off, Mom, so let’s have our caroling party. And on Christmas Eve, I’ll be home by 10:00 after work so we can have our open-one-gift tradition then.” “There are a bunch of UPS boxes for you over at my house. I’ll put them in your mail box.” And guess what? My stomach…it stopped hurting. And my wrist and feet too. Maybe there’ll be egg nog in my future after all. And maybe next year, we’ll do it all over again. And maybe when they return to the nest, their mother will be just fine. Better than fine. Maybe she’ll learn how to drop to her proverbial knees all the time in wonder and gratitude for the small moments of looooove.
Thank you, Cedar. Wink wink, Clarence.
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February 28-4 (a few spaces left)