Home for Christmas
It is Christmas in Camden, Maine. Well, almost. Christmas is still a few days away, so the streets will be heavy with locals doing holiday shopping, and tourists come for the skiing.
The roads will have been salted, so they’ll be clear. The snow hasn’t been bad yet this year, Mom says.
“Just enough to look like a postcard,” says Dad.
I can picture it in my mind. Snow just deep enough to be pretty, but not yet treacherous. The hills will be white, and the ocean a deep, rich blue. The boats will have long since been in drydock, but the harbor will still be beautiful. The statue of Edna St. Vincent Millay will look slightly forlorn, standing all alone in the park.
Whitehall Inn will be decorated to the nines, as usual. Festive wreaths will adorn each door, and the parlor will have a gigantic Christmas tree. The puzzle table will still draw visitors, and many a happy hour will be spent near the fire, chatting with new friends, and drinking a cup of tea.
The Owl and Turtle Bookstore will be doing a brisk business. Some shoppers will come in to browse and buy and leave. Others will come and stay for a cup of hot chocolate and settle in to read by the fire. Neighbors will pop in to say hello, then dash out again, intent on finding the perfect gift for whatever family member has shown up at the last minute.
At home, the kitchen will be warm and toasty, filled with the scents of Mom’s baking. Gingerbread and Snickerdoodles, Appleanna bread and Mom’s famous Country Corn Chowder, the recipe snitched from the Golden Ox in Brewster, Massachusetts.
The grandkids will hover around the kitchen, begging for a taste. “Get away with ya!” Mom will say, but she’ll be smiling when she says it. And if a small hand reaches up to snatch a cookie, she’ll pretend not to see.
“Can we go outside? Can we go sledding? Can we? Can we?” The grandkids will pipe up. The hill outside the house is perfect for sledding, and the day is long with waiting.
“Okay,” Mom will say, “but bundle up warm, you hear? Bundle up warm. I don’t need you getting sick over the holiday.”
And the kids will scurry off to bundle into sweatshirts and jackets, warm socks and boots and mittens.
“Go to the bathroom before you put all that stuff on,” Dad will admonish from his throne in the living room. He’ll be in the recliner, of course, his stockinged feet close to the fire, watching It’s A Wonderful Life on television.
Or maybe not. He might be reading. He’s a big reader, my dad is.
Every year at Hallowe’en he reads The War of the Worlds to us aloud, and we shiver and shriek every time. On Thanksgiving he’ll read the praise selections from the Psalms. On Christmas, he’ll read the nativity story from the Bible.
Somehow, even after all these years, the story never gets old. He’ll have us close our eyes and imagine the young couple, Mary and Joseph, travel weary, just looking for a place to rest. He’ll describe the clear night sky, pinpointed with a million stars, and we’ll swear we can hear the angels singing. He’ll bring the Wise Men that we’ve placed in different parts of the house just a little bit closer to the manger in the nativity set Mom has placed under the tree. The manger will be empty, waiting until Christmas Day to receive the Christ child.
Oh, and presents! With all the grandchildren, the tree will just about be hidden with all the presents! Brightly wrapped toys and games, socks and pajamas. Dad will get new slippers, a new wallet, and a new bathrobe. Mom will get perfume, and something that she unwraps, blushes, and quickly puts away. After all these years, Mom never does say what that present is.
So, it is Christmas in Camden, Maine. And this year, I’ll not be home.
Moved away, didn’t I? Moved away to be out on my own, to make my way in the world, to be independent.
It didn’t quite work out how I planned it. I was on my way to California, where it doesn’t snow, and I wouldn’t have to scrape the ice off my windshield every morning. Golden California, where jobs are hanging off the trees, ripe for the plucking. Movie stars hang out at ritzy places, and I dreamed that maybe I’d get discovered like Lana Turner did, at the soda fountain at Schwab’s drugstore.
I thought I’d make a mark on the world, do something grand, be somebody important maybe.
But that’s not what happened.
My car broke down in New Mexico, and somehow I just stayed. I met a guy. Ron is a nice man, a sweet guy. We’re getting married in the Spring, before the baby comes. I hope my family can be here.
But it’s a long way from Camden, Maine. A long way. And the only thing my parents are rich in is love. Still, I know they’ll be thinking of me.
“Miss? Miss?” A voice shakes me out of my reverie. “Can I get a refill please?”
A customer holds out his cup, and I turn around to get the coffee pot.
“Sorry,” I say, pouring. “I was a million miles away.”
“Yeah, this time of year will do that to ya.”
I catch the boss’s eye. “Say, Charlie, it’s not too busy. Can I take a quick break?”
I go through the kitchen and out the back door. It’s times like this when I almost wished I smoked, but since I don’t I just wrap my sweater around me and look out onto the Sandia Mountains, its snowy nose kissing the sky. It’s a beautiful place, here. But I’m not sure it will ever feel like home.
The boss sticks his nose out the door. “Caroline, we’re getting busy. Can you come back in?”
I wipe away the tears that have escaped from my eyes and go back inside. I look around, but I don’t see anybody that wasn’t there before.
“Big party in the dining room. Can you take it?”
I shrug. Sure, it will keep me busy, and not thinking about home.
I stop at the doorway. Ron is standing there, talking with my dad. A woman turns around, and my eyes widen.
I shake my head because I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
“What the heck?”
It only takes me a minute to cross the room and become enfolded in the arms of my family. Mom and Dad, my sisters, my brother, nieces and nephews. They’re all there. My family. All of them!
“What are you doing here?” I stammer through my tears.
Dad tilts his head toward my husband-to-be, who is standing there grinning, eyes shining. “Merry Christmas, honey,” he says.
I look towards the door and see Charlie leaning against the opening, wiping his eyes with his apron. “Merry Christmas, Caroline,” he says huskily, then turns aside as the rest of the crew begin bringing in a Christmas feast.
Christmas in Camden, Maine has become Christmas in New Mexico. And I am reminded once more that Christmas is not about a place, or presents, or about memories of Christmases past, but about family, and about love.
This Christmas, I am home.