Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Traditions are us

It's funny how traditions sneak up on you. The holiday season is one in which we are usually more clear about them, but as it turns out, for me it was the most surprising.
It's always been sort of a family joke. When we were young, Mom struggled mightily to raise us. Some years there was Christmas, and some years it was a non-event. Childhood memories are a mixture of fun and horror, with Mom trying too hard with too little, and nothing ever being quite the way it looked on the glittery cards that would arrive. Kids don't need perfect, it seems. They just need love. One Christmas it snowed heavily. We lived about 1/2 mile from our grandparents, and Mom decided we would hike up the hill with the toboggan to spend the night there. So we set out, in the pitch dark night, freezing cold, in deep snow. When we got there, the only gift she had for her father was a bottle of blackberry brandy and *I* wanted to be the one who carried it inside. Naturally my little hands were numb, and naturally they let go of the bottle at exactly the time that we reached a place where the walk had been shoveled. I think my mom cried. Nobody yelled at me, but I sure was mad at myself. I think there was a half-hearted attempt of gathering up the blackberry snow until talk of glass shards came up. Merry Christmas, everybody!
For most of my adult life, my sister and her husband have had a Christmas tree farm. Kind of ironic when you think about it. Every year Maryanne and I have set up a little shop. Except for the first few years, it has been full of herbs and soaps. There is a picture somewhere of me in the shop, just weeks before my January baby was born. It has always been a part of Molly's life.
Shortly after she was born, we opened our first shop, and had brick and mortar shops until she was 8 or 9.
When you have an herb shop (or magazine, soap company, etc.) and a Christmas tree farm in the family, people assume that your house must be the most wonderfully decorated home in the world over the holidays... that it smells of mulled cider and snickerdoodles, and that you probably throw a little party where people dress in cocktail dresses and natty blazers. They tell us that all the time. You don't. If you're lucky, you can carve out a day or two to frantically try to throw something festive together, but the vast majority of your energy is already on display for the shops. You think to yourself, "See this bow on my head? That's it!"
Over the years, it has become less and less important to me that decorations come out, and last year they were all buried under my brother's belongings, anyhow. This year they'll come out again. Why?
Because this season was a big surprise to me, and it warmed my heart in a way I can hardly express. Molly is about an hour away in college, and was home for Thanksgiving. She worked a few days at a department store, but was itching to work at the tree farm.
I couldn't really understand why she was being so adamant about it. She wanted to work outside in the cold, while she could just stay warm and have nice, set hours at the mall store where they'd play holiday music and hang giant balls from the ceiling.
Finally, it struck me. This IS our tradition, and she wanted to take a more active part in it. For her entire life, this is what we've done, and now that she's grown she wants to be in the middle of it, pulling along with us.
When she gets home next week, I think we'll drag her into the shop and have her with us womenfolk - answering the phone and wrapping soap. Then we'll decorate our tree. But not the pink tinsel one... I don't think I can stand that again.

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