They are in the garage right now, mocking me. My careful organizational efforts of summer, making everything easier to find come December, seems to matter little. It is cold, bloody cold. Bitter cold. And though I will force myself to spend time in there this weekend, I don't want to.

It will feel better when I find the box with the teddy bears in the clothes I made them all those years ago. The giant, real silver, jingle bells from 1979, the year I moved to Park City. The dull, ragged, tin foil star my mother had on her Christmas trees every year since she made it in 4th grade. Right around the time of the Great Depression.

This year is the first year I don't have to send any presents in the mail for family members to "get there in time." There is no family left that doesn't live right here in Utah.

My mother was an only child and my father was an only child. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins. My older wacky half-sister I grew up with, who married minutes after she turned 18 and I was ten, passed away two years ago. My father passed away when I was a teenager. And my mother, ah my mother, she of the long goodbye of dementia, passed away in body this summer long, long, long after her mind had left her/us.

I am not sad so much as disoriented. Looking for buoys to tie up to... on to. I will put up a tree and hang the lights and make jolly because it will be lovely to have the house filled with my children and in-law arrangements and all the kids are here.


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They don't care which ornaments are unpacked or music boxes or fancy cocktail napkins. What they want is a big fire in the fireplace and olives to put on all their ten fingers and the chance to giggle together.

And I am grateful, so grateful we have that and I am not confused it is a desired outcome many do not have. I have a male friend never married, looking at the near side of 50 who is a bear this time of year. He barks and kicks and bites words and throws emotions like land mines into crowded rooms. He wants kids. And a wife. And all the trappings. Ditto my friend, female and my age and never married. She wishes she had made different choices when the chances had been there. She wants grandchildren. She wants family. She wants another chance at a life that was busy and important and glamorous but never connected and committed. She didn't see this chapter coming.

Neither did I. I didn't make a marriage work past six years. Either time. I was a very involved parent with kids who never drifted far away geographically. I didn't expect this time of joy and grandchildren close by, I can watch grow up.

So when my daughter confessed she would do right by her husband and her son but she really wanted to pass on the holidays this year, I got it. Really got it. It feels like too much, to work and clean and shop and decorate and cook and be jolly. We all have enough stuff. Can't we just fast forward to the "be jolly" part?

I will get a tree this weekend because they smell so good and I need that aromatic reminder of the season and the flood of memories come with the pine needles and faded fabric angel that sits atop.

I will.

And I will shop for some gifts, mostly books, to share. And some food that is indulgent and beyond our everyday fare. I will play some music that will slam me into times happier and sadder. I will find that silly turtleneck with the reindeer prancing and my giant green Grinch slippers.

Then I will make certain each time I step outside my comfy, messy, tiny home with the drafty places I ignore, I will try to reach out each day to find someone who is in a funk of seasonal despair. I will just listen to the grouchy one and sad one and the angry one (who is both the sad and angry one) and I will try to make a connection. I won't be armed with pockets of candy canes or shiny dimes, as if either of those would be enough to bring a smile anymore. I know from years of experience, the very best thing I can give friends and strangers and family members is time. So I will make some. It means I will take away some of the things I self-inflict that should be done and remember if I have failed to make moments of genuine connections, I have failed to make the season matter. 

The holidays can be joyous and treacherous all at once. I will step lightly the next few weeks and be open to falling into conversations and connections whenever they appear... perhaps this Sunday in the Park....

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.