Jeremy’s middle name was Christmas, as the Irish Setter puppy was a gift to my live-in boyfriend at the time. When we broke up, he gave me back the dog. A couple of years later, when Ray and I had a little old Polish lady knit our monogrammed red and green stockings, Jeremy had one too.
After he died, we used it for Brit. Since Brit’s death, I’ve pulled it from a box of decorations each year, felt it, and tucked it back away. A clever friend in Tupper Lake was able to perfectly match our stockings with one for Lincoln. He knows his own stocking, and sniffs it occasionally on the days leading up to present-opening Christmas morning, after Santa Claus has long departed.
With the exception of a couple of years when excessive booze dampened the mood, Christmas in our home was usually a Hallmark movie, at least in my eyes. I love holiday ritual meals, and decorations. I’m fortunate to be a good cook and decorator. For forty-two years, we’ve had turkey soup the night we put up and decorated the tree, a potato-leek soup every Christmas Eve or Day. Ray used to bake for Thanksgiving a pumpkin-pecan pie, the recipe for which he found on the cover of an early 1980s Gourmet magazine.
One year, we hosted the McNaught family for Christmas in Gloucester. We guided them through the rituals Ray and I had created since leaving our birth families. At the end, my sister from Michigan pulled me aside and said, “There is more love in your house than in any other I’ve been in.” She picked it up not just from how we treated each other, and the dog, but also each of them. I tell you this because within months of my mother’s death from cancer at age 72, all of my siblings divorced their spouses. Henceforth, they created compromised holiday rituals with new spouses, or felt sadness in the fragmentation of their rituals as single people. But, our rituals, and decorations, saved over the years, continued, giving us the welcomed role of having our home identified as the place in which to find love and tradition.
But, as anyone reading this, who is now in the senior years knows, even in the most loving of households, holiday traditional meals, and decorating can begin to disappear with aging. I was appalled many years ago when my parents bought an artificial tree for their Florida home, but I now understand and sympathize. Ray didn’t make his pumpkin-pecan pie for Thanksgiving this year. I made an apple one to satisfy the task he was no longer able to manage with his chronic back pain. And, his role in helping me to decorate the house or tree ended a couple of years ago, although he kept the job of carefully packing away the decorations. I still made turkey soup from the Thanksgiving bird’s carcass, which we enjoyed the night before last, despite having no tree.
Like most people our age, we’re downsizing. When you retire, you lose your cash flow to pay bills. Our home of sixteen years, in which we imagined dying, is now for sale. The realtor recommended that we not put up a tree, as it would cut down the appearance of the living room’s size. This is a tough one for me, but so is seeing my husband age, and my siblings too, and experience in myself less excitement about decorating perhaps because Ray and I are no longer doing it together, and perhaps because of my sciatica.
The day is soon coming when we’ll be mailing to our nieces and nephews, and to their children, the beloved snowballs, antique Santas, and glass tree ornaments we’ve bought over the years. None of our family wants us to do so because it represents an end to the dependable holiday rituals at Uncle Ray and Uncle Brian’s house. But, decorating less, purchasing fewer gifts for one another, and switching menus, doesn’t mean that there’s any less love in our home. It could still be a Hallmark movie, but you may have to throw in a handsome nephew to get many young gay people to watch it.
It won’t be in too, too many years, that someone will open a Christmas box and happen upon Lincoln’s, Ray’s, Jeremy’s and my red and green hand-knitted stockings, pull them out and feel them, and remember or not the stories behind them. It won’t matter if they forget, or if they never have turkey soup the night the tree goes up, or potato-leek soup on Christmas. What matters is that it happened, is happening, for us, and it all represents a lifetime of being excited when the person you love most in the world unwraps a little something that reminds them, “I love you,” even if it’s the dog doing the unwrapping. It’s a family thing.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.
“This is the second part of a series, to read part 3 click here”