Twenty-Two

Twenty-two.

That’s how many years it’s been. That’s how many there are.

Twenty …two.

22

That’s how old he’ll be.

Christmas always makes me wistful for the past, nostalgic even — for the days of sweet little voices clamoring to put the first ornament on the tree and arguing over who gets to put the star on top.  Some ornaments in particular are what have me a bit melancholy this year as well. You see Sonny Boy got engaged this past August. His Girl is a sweet girl (woman, really — but they’re young, and I digress…) whom we adore and look forward to embracing into the family August next at their wedding.

Twenty-two years are the number of Christmases I’ve had with him. Twenty-two ornaments received as gifts from his grandparents over the years.   The first few were candy caned numbers with cute little animals clinging to them to mark how many Christmases he’s celebrated 1 ..2 ..3 ..4 ..5.

As he grew the ornaments changed as his interests changed: assorted baseball themes, a pet turtle, cars and driving.  I’ve saved every box they came in; wrote on the bottom each year it was given.   Each year he would dig his out of the Rubbermaid storage tub, unwrap them from tissue or bubble wrap and hang them all in a line across/around the tree.  The empty boxes would get passed off to us and we’d stuff the tissue or half-popped bubble wrap back inside and stack the empty little boxes back into the Rubbermaid tub. There was always so much laughter! and stories of “do you remember this one?” — even during the tense mid-teen years. There would always be a fire in the grate, and hot chocolate, made-from-scratch in recent years, with lots of whipped cream.

We put the tree up a few days ago.  It wasn’t the same, and my Mother’s Heart was feeling a little empty. Two of the three kids have moved out (and amazingly back in with each other, but that’s another story) so it was just Sugar Bug, the Husband and me. Sugar Bug spent most of her time taking Snapchats and wrapping herself in the red string beads instead of the tree, entertaining herself while we hung ornaments.  There was still laughter, but not as much nor as loud. There was still homemade hot chocolate, just a smaller pot.  The whipped cream was overflowing!  My heart realized that Christmas in Our Home will never be the sort that all these memories have been made of. My head has known this day would come but it was always “some day” and seemed so far off in the future.

I’m trying to not let the longing for nostalgia and the memories overwhelm the joy that we will be celebrating this Christmas season.  I’m trying really, really hard.  I catch myself staring into …nothing… and realize my thoughts have drifted and my eyes have wandered over to our semi-barren Christmas tree, where twenty-two additional ornaments used to hang.  These same little boxes in their own little tub waiting to go to their new home.

Twenty-two.

That’s how old I was when I had him.  That’s how old Sonny Boy will be when he takes His Girl as his wife.

And they will start collecting special ornaments with special memories of their life together for their own Christmas tree.

And suddenly this Mother’s eyes are puddling up. Not with the longing for the past, but with the anticipation of the future.

 

Popcorn on Picnic Tables

After my walk with Lady Bear tonight we came home to find my Dear Husband sitting out back with a fire going in his outdoor fireplace.  We said our “hello’s”, and Lady Bear drank her fill from the pool, as she is apt to do.  I excused myself to get washed up.  While the water was running the breeze wafted some of the smoke up through the window.  Those two combined, and in an instant I was transported to the summer I was six.

We had a ritual, of sorts; at least it seems like one in as far as nostalgia goes.  We lived in a neighborhood filled with kids, where neighbors got to be life long friends, and so did their kids.  On our little corner of Burke street my dad would pile on the Kingsford, let us soak it with lighter fluid, and fire up the grill.  It was Saturday night, and we were cooking burgers outdoors. The Dads, mine and Mr. S, our neighbor, would sit at their picnic table, still in their Saturday work clothes, and play cribbage while we ran around, waiting for the coals to be ready.  The method of scoring cribbage baffled we little ones, and figured it was definitely a game for the grown ups, and we mostly left them alone.  The Moms would be in their respective kitchens forming patties, slicing tomato, washing lettuce.  If one of us was lucky enough to come in at the right time, Mum would let us pour the sugar down the funnel and shake up Kool Aid in the old milk jug we reused so many times it was stained pink.

Most often we’d eat indoors, but every once in a while both families would sit together at the picnic table, and feast on homemade potato salad, corn on the cob, watermelon and lots of burgers.  I loved that picnic table. It had wooden benches and a wooden top, and curved wrought iron scrolling leg supports.  Mr S. had to scrape and sand it every spring and then re-shellac it after a hard Michigan winter would make it all peel.  It was a rich golden amber color.  We’d play games of Monopoly on it, and I’d always want to be banker, not because I was good at math (which I was), but because I would cheat and give myself extra money whenever I passed GO, or bought my properties. I hate Monopoly, I never win, even when I’d cheat.

After dinner was done we were off to take our Saturday night baths, with lots and lots of bubbles from Avon’s pink bubble bath. Those were the best, because we’d sit in there so long we’d get all wrinkly, my two sisters and me, all together in the tub.  And if there were enough bubbles we didn’t even have to use soap! We’d just make mermaid shell bras, Santa beards and Pippi Longstocking pigtails until we were clean.  I’m sure a Barbie or two had to do some acrobatic high dives inbetween saving the Fisher Price Little People from killer sharks and swimming the wide, wide ocean.  Afterward came Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” detangler, and sometimes, pink foam curlers.

But the night wasn’t finished. O no, there was one last thing.  We’d all be cleaned, combed, curler-ed and dressed in our nightgowns then head back out to the picnic table in the neighbor’s back yard, sometimes in slippers, but usually barefoot.  The dads would sit with a cold beer, maybe the moms too, and we’d have a huge bowl of freshly popped popcorn, rich with melted butter and lots of salt, and a little more Kool Aid if any was left.  We kids would melt the leftover styrofoam cups and Dixie plates in what was left of the coals in the grill.  I remember once having marshmallows, and watching them puff up in the heat before they’d catch on fire.  If there were any sparklers left over from the Fourth of July, we’d get to light them up too, twirling and dancing, pretending they were our magic wands.

Thoroughly exhausted, we were ushered up to bed.  We’d have our bedtime Bible story and prayers, be kissed and told not to have any feet fights.  This was a constant problem–the feet fights– since I shared a bed with my little sister.  It didn’t matter, we’d had a great night.