The 48 Hour Christmas

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played–for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2006

Love’s Testimony

Kelly Salasin

I spoke these truths at my mother’s funeral in 2000.

I have the deepest respect for my mother
and  
I’ve always wanted  to be able to offer this kind of public testimony for her–because she was a “background/behind the scenes” kind of person who I felt needed to 
be exalted…

My mom supported and encouraged so many others with their 
dreams and their problems,  but never seemed to need to be the center of 
things or to shine herself.  
For me this made her a kind of hero.   
She was definitely  the “wind beneath my wings” … whether it was acting in a highschool play, going off to college, 
traveling through Europe, moving to VT, or deciding to give up a career and 
be an at home mom.

It was my mother’s constancy of unconditional love and acceptance that made so much 
possible for me.  I always wished that she could have had some of the glory and opportunities 
that I did so it is an honor to glorify her here today.

And I always thought that I would have to get up here and tell people about 
how special she was, but after this summer– 
after all the love letters &cards, poems & paintings, presents & meals 
that were sent her way, I know that others realized the gift she was  too.

And more importantly, there is the testimony that her children offered, each 
and every day this summer in the hospital and at  home, as they lovingly 
cared for mom, and left their personal lives and homes behind. 
  
I was and am touched so deeply by their devotion and by their unified 
strength– 
how they came together and loved my mother whole-heartedly.   
I am continually in awe of this,  and I was blessed to be here on some short 
visits and in her last days to witness this love story.

I’d like to share some glimpses of those last days and hours with you when 
all of us rallied around mom; there were so many beautiful moments, so many 
blessings in the sadness of it all….

So here is a spoken slide 
show of those moments together:
~my brother-in-law Dr. Ken Cramer at my mother1s side, listening to her lungs 
with his stethoscope, tears streaming down his face
~my mother’s eyes closed and unresponsive for hours, suddenly opening wide 
and looking all around  after hearing the cry of my newborn son
~wall to wall air mattresses, arriving daily to be placed around my mother’s 
bed so that each of her children could be there to support her in her last 
hours
~in the wee hours, these beds filled with family who haven’t slept under the 
same roof in fifteen years
~having the little ones toddling around, John and Sequoia and Josh, and to 
see the love they had for their mom-mom
~my aunt cass (my mom’s sister) who massaged my mom’s feet each time she came, even after my 
mom had passed
~to hear laughter coming from a full kitchen of siblings and spouses, 
relatives and friends;  and the meals that arrived daily to feed of all of us
~to share in the sorrow of these days with with each other’s partners, Kenny 
Cramer, Ken Burcham, Casey, Tim, Rich, Frank, and Danny’s Diana who always 
had that beautiful smile and a gift for mom
~to find mom’s brothers and sisters together again to support her
~to see the natural rhythm of the bed-side vigil, always one or two to sit 
beside mom without the need to ask…  holding mom’s hand, telling her how 
beautiful she was, giving her water with a sponge, wiping her mouth and 
brow:  her brother bill, her sister chris, her sister in law Barbara

~the times we all gathered around mom, sobbing, holding onto each other and 
to her, telling her how we loved her and were there for her, thinking she 
was taking her last breaths, only to see her open her eyes and wonder what 
was going on…
~watching Kenny’s tears turn to laughter after this, realizing that his 
stethoscope & medical examination didn’t /couldn’t account for everything, 
particularly mom’s determination
~having Big Dan say at one of these gathering times around mom, that if he 
was a painter, he’d paint this beautiful picture
~the sight of my nephew Corey in tears behind us, and how my niece Jamie 
fell into my sister Michelle’s arms after my mother passed
~little bonnie lying beside mom that last night, staying with her in her last 
hours, and mom waiting to begin to finally let go until Bonnie got up to 
make a pot of coffee
~the incredible pain and blessing of each of us being present around my 
mother as she took her lasts struggled breaths, continuing to breath even 
after her heart had stopped
~the sound of each person’s utter grief
~to have my son Lloyd there when my mother passed, and my son Aidan waking 
just before she was dying, continuing the awesome connection between his new 
life and her ending life this summer
~to watch the love that each one of us gave to her even after she passed… 
causing the nurse and the undertaker to eventually leave to come back hours 
later  to do their work
~to witness the relationship and love that had developed between the nurses 
and my family
~to see my nieces Bekah and Jordan sitting beside my mom alone after she had 
died and lovingly touching her face… while Andrew and Lloyd jumped on her 
trampoline
~to have big Dan bring us all together around mom’s body to offer our words 
of love one last time, and to hear him talk about how special we all were
~to watch my mom’s body being taken, and stand there among sobbing sisters, 
and aunts and uncles on the sidewalk, in the yard and on the porch as 
she left our lives
~to see what a comfort big dan was to my mother, his devotion, his daily 
tears, his touches, and to see the reflection of that in the affection and 
respect held for him by my sisters- for this he has my undying gratitude

For each  of us I think that there will be a “Bonnie” shaped hole in our 
hearts and lives from this time on.  Mine felt like a crater this morning, 
but there is also the blessing that this summer has been for all of us.
My mom’s life, even in its ending, was certainly a success, and so I’d like to close with a poem by Emerson entitled the same.   
I found it on  a card I sent to my mom years ago that she had saved.  It is as true today of her as it ever was,

SUCCESS

To laugh often and much; 
to win the respect of intelligent people 
and affection of children; 
to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
to appreciate beauty 
to find the best in others, 
to love the world a little bit better, 
whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; 
to know even one life has breathed easier 
because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

(please consider visiting The Motherless Muse– my new blog of writing following my mother’s passing)

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