(before everything got a little bit tense and argumentative and sad, which is a story I might or might not blog about.)
Last year, Becky sent this picture to me on Christmas Eve day:
It made me tear up. That is Christmas 1972, when I was 8 months old, the five of us at my grandma's house. It’s one of those awful 1970’s photos, but I love it so much. Look at that big camera my dad is holding, with the flash—the kind that had to have the bulb replaced with each picture—and my mom’s beehive hairdo! Look at how Michelle is loving her new baby doll! And Suzette’s pinafore dress, no doubt crocheted by my mother. There are shadows of the future there: Suzette looks so much like her first daughter, Kayci, would look fifteen years later, and there is something about Michelle kissing her doll that reminds me of her daughter, Lindsay, holding her own daughter Josie. The mountain behind me is the one that I loved my whole life (although I have only ever looked at it, as there are no trails there), which would become a sort of protector to me, a solace from looking. There is still a Becky-shaped gap. There is my grandma Elsie’s handwriting, and the picture itself which she took; she always made sure to take pictures and in doing so left pieces of herself behind, so she is there taking the picture, and I am there, taking pictures in the future because she (and my dad) took pictures.
Just a bad 70’s snapshot. But so much more than a bad 70’s snapshot.
I thought about this picture on Christmas Eve, when it was still peaceful. All four of my kids were downstairs by the tree, watching Christmas movies and waiting for me to finish up some of my baking. I was doing all of the prep work: I made crust for a raspberry pie, and started the berries macerating; I baked the chocolate cake for the next day while I made double-chocolate cookie dough. I browned the sausage for the morning’s casserole and made sure I had all of the ingredients for wassail. As I cooked, I remembered. The Christmases when they were all still little. The Christmas when Nathan was a baby, and they’d all had the chicken pox sequentially so I didn’t do any shopping until December 20. The Christmas when I was pregnant with Jake (he was born five days later) and Haley and I made cookies on Christmas-Eve afternoon to leave out for Santa that night. Her baby Christmas, which was the first year we had a tree. Kaleb’s baby Christmas, when he was sick with an ear infection and so always covered in green boogers no matter how many times I cleaned his nose. The first Christmas Haley knew about the Santa gig. Even last year, when she helped me set out all of the gifts.
Also back further, to my own childhood Christmases. I’m not sure why, but that photo made me remember one Christmas, I must’ve been 16, when my favorite present was a pair of black skinny jeans. They had big, faded flowers on them and made me feel like a seriously bad-ass punk rocker. I loved those pants and I loved my mom for getting me those pants even though she didn’t want me to dress like I dressed or act like I acted.
For me, Christmas isn’t just about this Christmas. Christmas is memory, too. It is the ghosts of all Christmases, past, present, and future, lingering in the periphery. It’s why we moms work so hard to make Christmas magical. Well, we do it for the magic itself. But we also do it to give our children the memory of magic, so that when the magic itself has been revealed, the memory of it comforts and sustains.
Here is our family Christmas picture from 2014:
I look at it and I wonder: what shadows of the future are here? Which memories of this holiday will linger and cheer and make me nostalgic, or make my kids feel that sad/sweet Christmas-Eve memory feeling? Will it be enough to sustain them? Or the me I become in the future?
This, friends, this complicated layering and folding of time with images full of people we love who won’t always be here—this is why I take pictures, even though they are imperfect, and this is why I scrapbook, because then the stories are not only in my memory. It is a way of creating future ghosts that might return to the people we will be the love of who we are right now.