This December 25th will by my twenty-third with my wife Valerie. And in almost a quarter of a century, we’ve yet to wake up in our own bed on Christmas morning.
Valerie is an only child from Toronto and when she moved to Ottawa to be with me, she felt compelled to go home to her parents’ for the holidays. Particularly because her mum’s birthday was the 24th. So for the first five years or so, she’d go home and I’d go to my mother’s in Ottawa for the day and Valerie and I would have a chat on the phone but that was the extent of it.
Then we started alternating Christmases in the different cities and that didn’t work either. It just sort of pissed everyone off on their snubbed years.
After a while, my mum was gracious enough to accept that we’d go to Toronto to see Valerie’s friends and family and my father and his wife and then we’d see my mum on the 27th or something and re-do Christmas. She never said anything but I think it hurt her feelings and it made her feel second-best. For that I am sorry.
Valerie and I have never decorated a tree together (I haven’t decorated one since I was a teenager) or planned our own meal or created our own traditions. We don’t have kids. We don’t buy gifts for each other, originally because we were poor, and then because we simply decided that we’d rather spend four hundred bucks on a restaurant meal in January.
We’ve spent Christmases in hospitals and retirement homes recently. But now that this is the first Christmas without any of our parents, we’re not beholden to anyone. But we’re still going to Toronto because that’s where a lot of our closest friends are and the only children we buy gifts for.
But it’s still one more 25th we won’t be waking up in our own bed and making our own breakfast and opening our own presents beneath a tree we decorated.
But we’re still very lucky. We have friends who welcome us into their homes and include us in their families. I guess they are our family now.
Yes we’re lucky. I know people who will be spending Christmas Night in a tavern because it’s open. And if the patrons and staff there feel like family, good for them. I’ve known those who were thankful for their homeless shelter on the 25th. I’ve had it good.
I’ve been alone in my dive apartment before, listening to records on a Christmas night. All I had was a cheap bottle of wine and a gift basket from my mum. And as I bit into an egg-shaped chocolate while listening to Mahalia Jackson sing some gospel music, as I laid on my third-hand sofa, feeling the spirit, I discovered that my chocolate was really bath soap. That’s what Christmas once was. Eight dollar wine and bath soaps for treats.
We won’t decorate a tree again this year. Or wake up in our own bed for the twenty-third year running. But we will be together. We’ll be warm and we’ll be fed. We’ll toast my mother-in-law on the 24th for her birthday. We’ll remember my mother’s lack of salt in her mashed potatoes and my aunt’s love of soup of any kind. I’ll remember my sick dad in his warmest sweater sitting by the fire in his favourite chair. I’ll remember my father-in-law scrambling to look for more scotch if the bottle was empty. And I’ll remember that my brother was once homeless for at least one Christmas but he isn’t anymore. And if he feels warm and loved in a tavern, well Merry Christmas, Matthew.
And most importantly, in this most traditional of seasons, I’ll ask what I’m being served before I bite into another bath soap again.
Some day, I’ll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.