When I was a kid, the three or four days before Christmas Eve were the longest days in the world. Time got fat and slow and sluggy. How would I ever stand the days, the hours, before it was here?
Usually we were out of school by then and driving Mom batty. Between the five of us kid, there was plenty of bickering to go around. Mom would be getting ready and in a high pitch of making things perfect. Nana and Granddad, Aunt Lena, Aunt Pearl and her boys, and Uncle Lee were all coming for dinner and “The Tree.” We tried to help, we really did. But mostly we made extra messes and made Mom extra cranky. We played Monopoly and Chinese Checkers and Go Fish. One or another of us got mad and tipped the board over or threw the cards. We shook the presents with our names on them. Sometimes we “accidently” tore the paper.
On the day of Christmas Eve, time drug its feet slower every hour. We asked a thousand times, “When is everyone getting here?” “When will we eat?” “Can I open just one present?”
We practiced piano and wrote up a recital schedule of carols to play for our guests. Nana had paid for piano lessons for each of us kids. One after another of us lasted a year or two and then dropped out. Giving up those free lessons is a regret we all share. Who wouldn’t like to sit down at a piano now and knock out a great tune? Oh well.
Mom made eggnog with our own eggs. She separated dozens of yolks from dozens of whites and mixed in sugar, and milk from our cows. Just before everyone got there, she whipped the whites and folded them in to the batter. She served us a taste in little Santa mugs.
Our guests came. We had a terribly long sit-down dinner. Terribly. Long. And then my mother and grandmother and aunts cleared the table. They washed the dishes. Every single dish, fork, knife, bowl, and spoon. By hand. We kept asking, “Are you almost done?” “How much longer?” “Can we open presents yet?” I didn’t much like any of my dishwashing relatives right then. Who cared if the dishes were clean? There were presents waiting. Presents with my name on them.
Finally, Mom and Aunt Lena and Nana and Aunt Pearl took off their aprons and dried their hands. “Yes,” they said. YES!!! We’d go into the living room and my brothers would start handing out presents from the stack of gifts that almost buried the tree. We all open presents all at once. We shouted one over another, “Thank you.” “Just what I wanted.”
Time got up and ran the 100 yard dash.
These days, Christmas comes up on me from behind, sneaky fast. It goes by in a mad rush. I try to find small moments to sit back, to breathe. I think of those who aren’t here anymore Nana and Granddad, Aunt Lena, Uncle Lee, Aunt Pearl. Cleo and Ken and Amber, Dad and Devin. Now I’m the aunt who takes the time to do the dishes first, who smiles at my nieces when they ask, “Can we open presents yet?” “Aren’t you done yet?” And, for awhile, time slows to that old pace and my sisters and I dry our hands. “Yes,” we say, “now.”
I look forward these days, to other things. As a writer, there is plenty of waiting, but more on that at another time. In the meantime, I try not to let any sense of anticipation take away from what’s right here in front of me. What do you wait for and how do you wait?