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.

My Mama’s Kentucky Derby Pie (with my homemade crust)
Serves 8
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  1. Crust
  2. 1 ¼ c flour
  3. ¼ tsp salt
  4. ½ c butter, chilled and diced
  5. ¼ c cold water
  6. Filling
  7. 1 stick butter, melted
  8. 1c white corn syrup
  9. 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  10. ½ c sugar
  11. ½ c chocolate chips
  12. 1c pecan pieces
For Crust
  1. 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.
For Filling
  1. 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.
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Shannon Evans / Posts / Blog
I'm a wife and mom of two boys through adoption and the good old fashioned way (plus a third bun in the oven). Motherhood has chewed me up and spit me out, but I like the world a whole lot more than I did before I took the gnawing, so I write about it. I'm an ecumenical-minded Catholic convert who was surprised to find Christ continuing to save me long after I "got saved", so I write about Him. I seek to live my life on purpose, so I write about social issues and conscientious spending. I like tattoos, I like sunshine, I like thrifting. I'm a regular contributor at Blessed Is She and I Believe in Love. My writing has also been featured at Relevant Magazine's website and Dayspring's (in)Courage. I am particularly inclined to blabbing about the universality of the human condition and the impact of the Incarnation upon it.
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    There is just something about belonging that smooths over the wrinkled places and makes the living a glorious masterpiece. Later, when we can handle it, we see the wrinkles for what they are…character building moments that we choose to allow or cover. I want to belong a little less to the covering of those grace moments that teach me every day, and instead embrace the tacky giddy with the imperfections. I am so glad you had those memories with your grandfather. Your kids will get them with your father and there is healing in that…like the masterpiece with character wrinkled all throughout. 🙂 His ways are always so much better than ours.

    December 29th, 2015 8:23
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    Shannon Evans

    Beautiful, Dawn! Thank you!

    December 29th, 2015 15:51
  • SimplyDarlene

    I’ve come back and read this twice and my take-away from this piece remains the same: It’s enough to belong to each other.

    Thank you.


    December 31st, 2015 10:20

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