This is the way my family used to look.
There’s my mom, my two brothers and their wives, my darling niece, Maya, Uncle “Jivin'” Ivan and my little cousin Marty. That was a long time ago. Even then, as you can see, I was the centre of attention. That’s me with the red wine in my hand, which is another story.
I haven’t been back to St. Catharines since Jivin’ Ivan died a few years back. Even then, my appearance was only fleeting. Couldn’t get out of there fast enough. (Some people know exactly what I’m talking about.)
I spent a lot of lonely Christmases since my marriage fell apart back in the early ’90s and I had to raise my kids alone, in the townhouse in South Keys, the place where my son Stef and I found a needle as we were walking to the video store. The neighborhood where a fellow stabbed himself to death, the place where several folks were shot in gangland events. The place where Stef and I watched a kitten getting killed by an OC Transpo bus. The place where my daughter Marissa got run over by an OC Transpo bus, and survived.
Aside from the high crime rate, and body count, I have good memories of South Keys. I made the best of being alone at Christmas. I surrounded myself with friends, as most orphans do. They put a warm loving blanket over my despondent carcass. I don’t know what I would have done without those friends, who propped me up when I was feeling low — especially Pete and Brenda, and Roger and Jennette. Pete found my son Stef a PS2 when there weren’t any to be found one Christmas. He saved Christmas that year, and made us a lovely dinner.
Pete’s gone now. So is Roger. They both died this spring.
Now my friends. Brenda and Jennette are widows, alone, like I used to be. It’s my job to keep them steady, make them feel that they are cared for this Christmas. I owe them, big time.
I brought Brenda a Christmas tree. I’m having Jennette over at Boxing Day. They remain a constant thread from my past life, and I’m not about to break that thread, because it means the world to me.
And another thing is happening this year. My old friends Wendy and Ed from St. Catharines are coming for Boxing Day. I haven’t spent Christmas with them since the days they used to drop into my mom’s apartment. We were in high school
We lost touch along the way, got busy raising our own kids, but the way I figure it is this. We were friends when we were young, now we can be friends when we are old. They, too, represent a thread in my life, a link to my past, a reminder of the golds and browns of my mother’s couch, of cases of beer and strobe lights, of Alice Cooper and Valdy played loud on the old stereo.
On Christmas eve, I will surround myself with the newest rendition of my family, the three kids who aren’t kids anymore., their spouses, the dogs, and of course, my wonderful husband, Scott who made me whole again, who soldered the family circle back together.
I will hold him close, especially, because I understand how fleeting life, and love, can be.
We never know when we will be taken, never have an inkling when the family circle will be broken once again, left in tatters for the remainders to put back together in their own way.
So we have to grab on, and hold tight, until it’s time for the new generation to make other arrangements. What those arrangements will be no one will be able to predict.
But I will always be there for them, in the photos that they will bring out at Christmas. Rose, the young girl with attitude surrounded by her mom and family, Rose the single mother who always tried to do her best, and Rose, the old lady in the corner of this year’s picture, the matriarch, bringing all the threads together once again.
On this Christmas, 2014, I remain grateful to the Ghosts of Christmas past for teaching me the importance of family in my life. I’m grateful, too, to those in my present, who make me feel special, if only for a day.
We are proof positive that the family circle, no matter how horribly shattered, can be mended and made whole. All it takes is an imaginary glue gun and lots of tape.
It will never look the same. But as Leonard Cohen so badly sings, there are cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.
Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.