I was twelve years old, stomach full of pie and knees to my chest, wedged between my sister and brother in the order we came out of the womb. The lights on the tree were twinkling- the multi colored kind that my mama always protested were tacky but my daddy still strung every year. When it comes to children and Christmas decorations, the one gets giddier as the other gets tackier.
I cocked my head as my daddy explained why depression finds him at Christmastime like an unwelcome old foe. I pulled the cord of his words and wrapped it around my brain, winding again and again as I tried to understand. Some of the words found their place at once: words I had heard before, ones I could snap in like a puzzle piece. I knew my grandfather had been an alcoholic for much of daddy’s life. I knew his childhood wasn’t like mine; wasn’t anything close. But I also knew that grandfather who doted on me, his “Cricket”. He, bent and shaky from the Parkinson’s, who ate boiled peanuts while he watched football and let me have chocolate syrup over vanilla bean ice cream at ten o’clock at night. He never drank anything harder than sweet tea anymore. Wasn’t everything all right now?
What I couldn’t understand then is the way pain lodges into your pores and drips out with your sweat at the least desirable times. Decades later, hips widened and skin a bit worse for the wear, I uncoil the words and marvel at the man my daddy was. He set his heart on giving us magic and wonder, over and over again. Every Christmas of our lives was the Christmas he never had. His desire for redemption poured out red and green, but no day on the calendar could make up for what he’d lost. It was never enough, it was never perfect, and every Christmas his heart bled all over again. Who could celebrate?
I was 26 years old, wading through the blanket-thick fog of my mind as I prepared for a holiday season in Indonesia, worlds away from family. The air was 80 degrees, our Christmas tree was 2 feet tall, and my heart was hard as shale. I knew better than to give way to the dark, but how good it felt to dip my toes into that river of grief; but then my heels, my calves, my thighs, until it rushed in and carried me away. Who could celebrate?
Thanksgiving morning I stood in the kitchen, floury hands kneading dough, eyes reading my mama’s words on the screen. I never make the crust from scratch. Can you find a Pillsbury crust? There’s no Pillsbury to be found here, but I am determined. I cross my fingers for good luck, and I lay the soft dough in the pan.
We gather with friends. Susan bakes a turkey she found heaven knows where, the children run around giggling, we devour that Kentucky Derby Pie, and it all feels like home. Everybody’s missing somebody, but everybody’s sure glad to be there together. We belonged to each other and it turned out, that was enough.
I am 32 years old and he’s been with us 5 years, years with scarcely a normal day found in them. And I’ve loved that baby with all of my heart but we’ve broken each other, he and I. I wait for the holidays the way I could never not wait: counting down in July, visions of sledding and mistletoe, my daddy’s daughter through and through. I still get giddy when I smell the evergreens.
But that boy, he will try me, and I’ll yell and I’ll cry and I’ll feel guilty when I hide in my room. The shards of our sin and our pain are left lying around in the gift-wrap for each other to step on in bare feet. Who could celebrate? I’ll think of my daddy and how it was never enough, but how he picked himself up every year. It won’t be enough for me either, these holidays, but what do you do with dreams that are cracked but not shattered? You hold them more gently.
And maybe it comes down to this: that it’s enough to belong to each other. We are ugly and dirty and longing for home and desire will never be met in these walls. But we can be together in the mess, we can laugh despite ourselves and hold one another more gently. We can eat pie and feel the longing while sitting like sardines on the couch. We can receive the gift as it is, warts and all, and we can say the Giver is good. We can celebrate.
- 1 ¼ c flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ c butter, chilled and diced
- ¼ c cold water
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1c white corn syrup
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- ½ c sugar
- ½ c chocolate chips
- 1c pecan pieces
- Combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until you achieve coarse crumbs. Stir in water by the Tbsp until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Roll dough out and put in pie plate, pressing evenly.
- Mix melted butter, syrup, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, and pecans all together in a bowl. Put in unbaked pie shell and bake for 45-55 minutes.