Christmas/Holiday Cheer: If Only In My Dreams

On Tuesday, I traveled to Warsaw to deliver a Christmas wreath to my parents’ graves. I’ve mentioned before that I go the cemetery there three times a year, continuing in some ways what my father did for his direct forebears. December is the month Dad passed away, but in recent years my focus in traveling there has shifted a bit, into honoring and remembering both of them at the holidays. Visiting where they lay buried always makes for a melancholy day, but for some reason I was feeling it all the more this time.

Warsaw is a one-stop-light town right on the Ohio River, in one of the smallest counties in Kentucky. They do have a very nice locally-owned restaurant, though–Jewell’s on Main, on the corner at that light, across from the county courthouse. Lately I’ve taken to calling in a lunch order as I leave the cemetery and then walking the two blocks to a park on the river to eat; it’s a peaceful, contemplative spot. Tuesday was no exception. It was cool enough, but the sun was out and there was little breeze. I was able to find a sunny spot in one of the picnic shelters to tuck into a grilled chicken sandwich and side salad.

There’s always time to walk around town while they prepare my order. I usually take the same route from the cemetery, starting by crossing Main Street at First and going one block toward the river to turn left onto High Street. At the corner of High and Second stands an office building with a cornerstone indicating it was built in 2005. It’s the plot on which my Great-Aunt Birdie’s house stood.

Dad sold the property a few years after Aunt Birdie died in 1997. At the time it was well over a century old but in pretty bad shape from years of benign neglect. I don’t blame the new owner much for tearing it down, even if I miss it. (The last time I was in the house, demolition was already underway. Somehow I was able to go inside and wander around–it was so strange to go walk up the stairs and into the bedroom where we’d sleep on visits and look directly up to the sky.)

The office building sits where the detached garage was, while the land where the house stood is bare. I veered from the sidewalk, over to where the living room had been. Today there’s a clear view of the river that would’ve been obscured by overgrowth in the 70s and 80s.

So, yeah, I might have been thinking about people I’d been with on Christmases past, maybe even wishing I could revisit–just for a few minutes–one of those magical seasons.

I don’t believe there’s a picture of Mom and Dad together on any Christmas Day. That makes sense–one or the other of them would be behind the camera to capture the moments. (Are there any of just Martha and me from when Ben was growing up? I doubt it.) The photo above probably comes from 1980 or 1981, and definitely was taken during the holidays–notice the mistletoe? Either Amy or I is with camera in the living room of our house in Walton, while Mom and Dad are standing in the junction of our bedroom hallway, living room, dining room, and kitchen (the dining room, which we rarely used, is behind them). Is it day or night? Where are we about to go? What would I say to my parents if I could jump back in the scene?

There’s a walking path around the perimeter of the riverfront park in Warsaw. I’ve noticed before that the city has installed enclosed displays periodically along the path, and the local public library uses many of them to show the pages of a children’s story book–you can read it as you walk the path counter-clockwise. After I finished my lunch, I strolled over to the first one, not far from the shelter where I’ve eaten. This month’s installation is a picture book called Christmas Is Joy, by Emma Dodd, published just a couple of years ago. The drawings are mostly of an adult and child deer walking around a snowy wonderland, and the text recounts all the good things that come from being together at Christmas (note that it’s a secular book). As I continued my stroll, I recognized that had the book been around twenty years ago, Martha and I might well have been spending the days leading up to Christmas 2002 reading it to a two-year-old boy in our laps.

As I walked up the hill back toward my car, I understood that it’s not just Christmases from my youth that I might want to relive.

Wishing you and yours the most wonderful of holidays.

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