On Saturday I was unpacking the Christmas books to place around the house. As I sat with my second cup of coffee I pulled out Children of Christmas: Stories for the Season, a 1987 publication by Rylant containing six short holiday stories. It was a gift from my mother when the kids were little, and I like to think she guided me to it that morning. I opened to “For Being Good,” sat back, and began to read. It is the story of Philip whose grandfather is coming to spend Christmas with him and his parents. The grandfather’s wife has recently died, and he is alone. Philip has not spent much time with his grandfather, so he is shy and maybe just a little scared, not knowing what to expect. The grandfather is quiet, interacts a little, but spends a lot of time alone. The explanation Philip’s parents give is that he misses his wife. But, as we soon find out, it is more than that. On Christmas Eve on his way to bed, Philip stops by his grandfather’s room with a small ball of cookie dough he wrapped in foil and saved when he and his mother were baking cookies, just in case his grandfather might like it. Philip finds his grandfather on the rocking chair hugging a picture. But it isn’t a picture of his wife as we might expect, it is a picture of Philip’s father when he was a little boy.
And that is when it hit me. I miss the times when the kids were little, when our family traditions were just being established. I miss not just the kids who are grown and gone, or my parents who are no longer on this earth – I miss it all. That’s why traditions are important, and that’s why my daughter still insists that we hang the stockings that grandmother made, that our tree has the ornaments she and her brother made in nursery school, and that we have Christmas Eve dinner with just us. It’s why I bake the peanut blossoms and the sugar cookies with sprinkles, and why we add a new ornament to the tree each year, signifying something special from the year before. And that’s why the tears are OK – they are tears from the heart, from the warm memories I will carry with me forever.