If I were to ever be granted my Christmas dream, it would be to gather family and friends at a snowbound cabin or lodge for the Yuletide. There would be a large room with comfortable chairs and overstuffed sofas. A persistent crackling from a warming fire would echo throughout. We would eat the meals collectively prepared. We would play in the snow, on the slopes. We would sing. We would share stories. We would laugh, maybe shed a tear or two. But no presents would be exchanged.
I'm no Scrooge. I love this time of year. And I won't go off on some tirade against the commercialism of the Birth of Jesus. I'm as much of a consumer as the rest. But not on this day, not for this one glorious day. Today is a time to reflect, to rejoice and to be with those whom I most cherish. If we were blessed with any little ones around, then we would certainly honor our family tradition - a personal visit from Santa to present the starry-eyed Believers with their wished-for presents. I love to watch the wonderment expressed in the faces of children as they learn, experience and explore.
This dreamt of Christmas kinda happened one year...by accident of course. It's funny that I can remember so much detail...yet the specific year is beyond recollection. My daughters were 7 and 4? 8 and 5? 9 and 6? I'm not certain. Somewhere in the years 1985, 1986 or 1987. Or not. It really doesn't matter much, I guess.
As per my family's custom, we had gathered at my parent's house on Christmas Eve. The host usually rotated between my parents and my two aunts. Thanksgiving and Mother's Day were similarly shared. This year it was at "my" house. We'd moved there while I was still in high school. It was all of five blocks from the house in which I "grew up" - from age 2 to 15. This was still very much my childhood neighborhood.
As so this Christmas Eve would be like nearly all the others. A wonderful dinner (my mother was an outstanding cook), followed by Santa's visit, followed by the exchanging of all the other gifts between the family members. My Mom and Dad were there. Both of my brothers, too, joined by my only sister-in-law at the time. My wife and my two daughters. My aunts and some of my cousins. We all have Christmas memories, and this one would have been pretty much like all the others except for a "gift" from God.....ice.
After we had gathered, a small, but sufficient amount of sleet, freezing rain and snow began to fall. It was just enough to glaze the streets and sidewalks. Being Christmas Eve, there was no chance for the city's work crews to adequately being sanding the streets. By the time we had concluded our traditional holiday expression - dinner, Santa, presents, family - it was going to be a bit of a challenge for us to get home. The solution? We would all spend the night at my parent's house!! My wife and I would use my old bedroom in the front of the house. All the bedrooms were full, I think one brother slept on the couch in the den. My wife and I and our daughters. My two brothers, my sister-in-law. And of course, Mom and Dad.
While the preparations were being made to bed the horde for the night, my brothers and I all hit upon the same notion. Mom never threw anything out. She wasn't a pack-rat or a hoarder, but she did keep much from our lives....in the garage! Yes....to the garage! Could it be?????
Yes!!!! Our old sleds were still hanging off of nails pounded into the beams along the back wall. We pulled them down, dusted them off and off we went! This was our old neighborhood so we knew where the good hills were. The best was about four blocks away. And so my brothers and I, as we did so many times so many years ago, trudged off to "The Hill", a fairly steep two block run that didn't pose a threat of any cross traffic at the bottom, which flattened out for another two blocks. On a good, icy run, you could almost make it the entire length!
But this time, it was extra special. My daughters came along as well. Imagine that, being able to share your exact childhood experience with your own children! A few other people soon gathered as well. In Portland, the snow and ice isn't always a yearly event and it usually doesn't stay for long. It doesn't matter that it is now so late into the night...the time is now!
Reluctantly, yet wearily - it's a long walk back up the hill - we finally had our fill of a childhood revisited and, for me, a childhood shared. We headed back to Mom and Dad's for the night. By noon, the ice was gone and we all returned home safely.
I'll keep the dream of the snow-blanketed cabin filled with nothing more than family, friends, food and a festive atmosphere - no gifts allowed. I'll always have the memory of that ice-bound home and sledding down "The Hill", even though I'll never be able to remember the gifts shared that year.