One of the most enduring pieces of advice that former Recovery On Water Programs Director Devlin gave me was the idea that you embrace the trials and tribulations, the struggles, the hardships, the challenges in one’s life, so that when things get difficult the next time, you know you have persevered through the bad stuff before and that you will get through your current drama. The flip side is that you also need to remember the good things, as well. It is so important that you celebrate the good things and hold on to those positive memories, because they too can help you through the bad times.
This year has been a tough one for a lot of people, but frankly, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. 2011? 2016? 2018? Maybe I wasn’t so lucky then, but this Year of COVID? My immediate world for the most part has been decent. T and I have now spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas hunkered down in Chicago–and plan to be here for the New Year, as well–and I have caught myself reflecting on years past (I feel so old saying that).
My friends have often commented through the years that my parents were a bit like the Cleavers of Leave it to Beaver fame when we were growing up. They were always a united front like June and Ward, preferred lectures and teachable moments rather than spankings or being grounded, and raised us with traditional, middle-class family values. Those traditional family values included a lot of family customs and traditions–especially with the holidays, but those customs and traditions were also always in flux due to retirements, long term illnesses, relocations, and deaths outside our immediate four person family.
My dad was an only child and my mom’s sister, Irene, never had children, so Barb and I were the only grandchildren for both sets of grandparents and yes, we were spoiled–especially at Christmas! The drawback to this was that we didn’t have any first cousins our age to hang out with and so there was never really much of a ‘kids’ table during the holidays. Luckily, all of our grandparents had multiple siblings, which meant there were plenty of great aunts and uncles who were a part of our lives, as well as second and third cousins who we idolized.
There are special snippets that swirl around in my memory bank about the holidays. I remember going to church on Christmas Eve and being a part of the children’s choir and then going to my Great Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Anna’s house for a big family Christmas party with my Grandpa Cooper’s side of the family. I remember visiting my dad’s Aunt Margaret and Uncle Cliff around Christmas and Aunt Margaret making waffles for dinner and thinking it was so decadent, but yummy, to have ice cream on the waffles. I remember Christmas Days starting at my parents house with lots of gifts brought by Santa Claus and my dad always making up a couple of batches of Orange Julius, followed by Christmas dinners with our grandparents and Aunt Irene. I remember our traveling as a family to Florida two different years to celebrate Christmas with my Grandma and Grandpa Cooper which was very unique.
As an adult, with living in the West Indies, Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans, there have only been a few constants in my winter holiday traditions: I’ve always had a Christmas tree and our parents still spoil us–even if we aren’t actually together on Christmas Day. Out of all of those trees–a combination of artificial and real–my favorite tree to date has to have been the small artificial tree my Grandma Cooper found at a craft fair and sent me my first Christmas as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Antigua. It had lights and ornaments and was just so cool! I remember how connected to home I felt with that gift and how truly special it was to me.
While I don’t have one favorite Christmas or New Years, I do treasure how magical it was to head ‘home’ for the holidays 8 years ago and ski for the first time in more than 4 years. I mention that because the year before was especially traumatic in my world: I spent the week leading up to Christmas preparing to have my December 28th mastectomy–as well as New Years and my birthday recovering from the surgery. While I don’t tend to wallow in memories of my surgery, those memories do cast some interesting shadows on my awareness of this year’s unique pandemic holiday season.
Finding ways to keep perspective, to remember the good with the bad, definitely helps.
So does keeping up the tradition of having a Christmas tree!
Wishing everyone peace, love and hope as we move through this holiday season!