The Little Differences Make the Best Memories

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

I don’t remember the ghosts of many a Christmas Past. They’re so often a blur of fast and frantic road trips, my mom’s chicken and dressing with cranberry sauce and her sweet potato pie with little marshmallows on  top, my dad not speaking to anyone other than a grunt of acknowledgment because he was mad about who-knew-what, the kids tearing open presents and me watching it from behind a camera lens…. So often not taking the time to enjoy, just enjoy.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

Christmas Present, this year, was…different. Odd in several ways but, well, refreshing.

On Christmas  Eve,  I  walked  barefoot  along  the  dirt roads where I grew up on my parents’ farm. My dad made his usual  fuss  about  my  being  shoeless.  You’d  think  he’d  have learned by now. Give me any  excuse and I’ll be barefoot and sitting on the floor or in the grass. But just to shut him up, I put on some old loafers and left the house amid the chill. It didn’t take long before the girls were following to see where Mommy was going.

The weather was bleak but in that quiet way that’s close to the Gods, the grasses in the fields high and bright with autumn color, the oaks red and the long-leaf pines green, and a crispness in the air that says  it’s as safe as it’s going to get to tromp through Granddaddy’s woods and avoid the snakes and hornets. But not deer.

The deer are everywhere. Tracks in the dirt, in the ditch, leading into the woods. So naturally that’s where I head.

My uncle  has  had  a  ditch  cleared  in  Granddaddy’s woods. It  follows what used to be a leaf-clogged trickle of a stream where I played and made up books in my head as early as

13 or 14. But on Christmas Eve, it was scraped clean, down to the roots, and after an early morning rain, it was slippery with mud.

So of course, I wouldn’t want to ruin my shoes. I kicked off my loafers in the 40-degree dirt and tiptoed gingerly through the mud, with the girls following, also barefoot. We followed the ditch to the old fishpond where I, at about age 3, was told not to step into the water and ruin my  new white tennis shoes but my teenaged brother dared me to wade out  to  the nearest cypress.  I still think he should have taken the spanking for me.

I picked my path past the brush and bramble piles— last  cleared  when  I  was  6,  around  the  time  we  found  out Grandma would be gone by June, and the adults in the family cleared that patch of land by hand and burned it off, with the fire settling in a tall, dead tree that I thought looked like Christmas lights  to my small, optimistic eyes. I tried to think about Christmas trees instead of how soon my Grandma would die.

“Mommy,” one of the girls fretted, “I have freezing mud all over my feet!”

I explained that we’d all have to wash our feet at the outdoor  faucet when we returned so we wouldn’t track mud, but the girls railed against the suggestion. The water would be even colder! So I reached back into my childhood and explained that a Popsicle stick would be good for scooping the mud from between your toes, especially if you have webbed toes like mine. “You sound like you’ve had personal experience with that,”

Shannon said.

“Yes, and Popsicle sticks are good not only for getting mud from between your toes, but chicken poop, too.”

Ah, the things my kids missed by not growing up on a farm! But maybe that’s why on Christmas Eve night, I decided at the last minute to forgo the indoor meal with all the traditions that are really other people’s traditions. Instead, we lit a bonfire in the backyard and roasted turkey  franks, ate a whole bag of chips with cheese sauce, and I drank a glass of Shiraz while they had hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows. I almost broke into song—“Hymn to Her” was on my mind—but instead we just talked and feasted and giggled and looked at the night sky and poked at the logs on the fire. We finished the last chip just as the rain started.

Then the girls were off to chatting online with friends and dyeing their hair purple while I downloaded a dozen different renditions  of  “Comfortably Numb,” including the techno and bluegrass versions.  And then I was on the phone with a friend for several hours, lost in a paradoxical discussion with her of quantum physics, reincarnation,  Atlantean  history, Nolalaln anthropology, and a past-life mate who  couldn’t stop looking down at his shoes and thinking of our children when he’d heard I’d died. I still get teary when I think of that last part because the sadness was palpable, even from 20,000 years ago, even though he could see everything past and present and future in our time together and knew it all and did it all anyway without fear. There’s a lesson in that….

I went to bed after midnight, after the clock had already turned to  Christmas Day, and received one last pleasant surprise. In my evening  meditation, I reached out my hand and placed it over the heart of a wounded friend to let him know I still cared, and in the meditation, he looked down at my hand, acknowledged it, and stared intently into my  eyes. He didn’t move toward me. Or away. But he placed his hand over mine and held it there. I let him.

I hope to find as much flavor in Christmas Future and I did in this Christmas now past.