I have a favorite picture of my dad and me. Dancing at my sister’s wedding. I can stare at it, close my eyes and hear the band playing, hear my dad singing along, feel his hand in mine as he twirls me across the dance floor. It’s not one of those posed, stiff, typical wedding type pictures. We both look a little goofy to be honest. That’s what I love most about it.You can see my dad’s bigger than life personality shining through his smile and the twinkle in his eyes. I bet you could hear the laughter that rang out immediately before and immediately after the camera managed to capture that particular moment.
I keep the picture in a frame in my house and on my phone and in my writer’s notebook and on my instagram and on my Facebook. So that memory is always a fingertip away. I don’t often talk about my dad, as much as his memory stays in my mind and heart. Life just doesn’t allow for those trips down memory lane so much anymore.
Or so I thought. Seems I keep that memory alive and out in the world more so than I thought. Maddie was perusing the photos on my phone while we were waiting somewhere for something, as is habit at this time of year, and she came across that picture. Her smiling face matched our smiling faces as she looked up at me and the people around us. She held up that phone and very proudly stated. “That’s my papa! He’s in heaven but I love him.”
It’s extraordinary because that memory of mine that has lived for 15 years through that picture, has passed on to my daughter, born seven years after that papa went to heaven.
A memory so strong it surpasses time and planes of existence. From then to now. From heaven to here. She shares this memory with me and her papa now.
The box will arrive on Monday, two days before the big day. Caitlin will probably grab it first. My sister will then commandeer it and open. Expecting the usually glittery and bedazzled presents that arrive from across the country.
What she will find is even better. Lumpy packages, crinkled paper, an infinite amount of scotch tape, and rainbow index card labels with the carefully formed letters of a four-year old. The gifts are love sent across the miles, but the wrapping is even more. It’s the careful attention of a little girl, who knows of these people who live thousands of miles away and despite the distance and time between them, has them each in her heart.
“They need special wrapping mama,” she says to me. Indeed they do Maddie, indeed they do.
And I know they’ll love it.
There are traditions that carry through the generations- no matter the distance, no matter the time. From Austria to California, from before I can remember, to this Christmas morning soon to come- stockings are one such tradition.
My family’s stockings have all been painstakingly created stitch by stitch, sequin by sequin by my aunt. They hung in our house each holiday- added as we arrived, our spouses arrived, our own children arrived. Each carefully chosen and created for its owner.
Creeping down the 16 steps each Christmas morning in an eternal quest to be the first, our stockings would be perched in the corner of the couch. It was as if the magic of Santa hung in the air around those bountiful scraps of felt.
Long past the age of the innocent magic of Christmas, it came time to remove the stocking from the wall to a new wall. Or so my sister thought. Thus the keeper of the stocking was born. My aunt, prompted by the keeper, once again found herself painstakingly sewing felt scraps into beautiful stockings. For you see, the set could not be broken up. Each stocking on the wall got a match to go live on the other wall. Its partner got made twice- once for the keeper’s wall and once for the partner’s wall.
As littles were born to their bigs- two stockings were made by the same fingers that to date has sewed at least 40 stockings. Ones for the keeper and ones for the owner.
The thing about the keeper’s wall of stockings is that it feels like home. I’m forever grateful to the seamstress whose work enables me to continue the magic of Christmas morning stockings in my own home. The thing about traditions is that someone needs to carry them on. So, dear family of mine, I call keeper.
There are times of the year that strike you below the gut and take your breath away. Fall has not been historically kind to me and mine. Heartbreak in the fall that leads into the holiday season is the worst. It’s that simple: the worst. Coupled with a lot of changes everywhere and a bit of feeling lost and I’ve reached out and requested some pep talks (demanded some may be slightly more accurate). We all need some love right?
They’ve arrived in familiar fashion:
From my dear husband:
“You can do it!”
(4 words characteristically typed in a speedy fashion – he’s not much for words)
From my loving momma:
“Okay, here goes” she types out
“Mom, I want to teach 1st Grade, it’s all I want.” Then “Mom, I got offered 3rd Grade, I don’t know how to do 3rd Grade.” And what did I say? “There is a reason for things and you were chosen to do 3rd Grade, and look at the progress you made with all those kids. Now, you were chosen to do this, anything new takes some getting “used to”, but you know your stuff. Be confident. Smooches.”
(No idea the number of words- maybe you’d like to count- I didn’t need to)
I find myself walking a bit taller, feeling bolstered by the love and support of the people I hold closest to my heart. But still, that nagging feeling simmers just below the surface.
And then this:
From my peanut:
“Mommy you make me happy when you smile. When you don’t, it makes me sad.”
(15 words- which I know only because I keep repeating them to myself over and over and over and over again)
What matters most in this Fall into Winter gloom, is the happiness I can bring to that little heart- which is a part of my bigger heart- which is a part of this heart and that heart and so many more.
Everything else falls away and I find myself…smiling.