On top of one of the bookcases in my studio apartment in Westwood, I have an evergreen Christmas tree. It’s quite small and still alive — its roots now almost getting pot-bound in that green pot it’s in. It’s decorated with a few Christmas ornaments.
My daughter gave this to me a couple weeks ago. I think she’s noticed that for the past couple of Christmases, I haven’t bothered to put up any kind of tree and haven’t been in the spirit of the season. She’s more or less right.
So far in my life, I’ve had 55 Christmases. I remember growing up in East Enterprise, Ind., and those Christmases on the farm with my parents, grandparents and two brothers. I was always anxious to put up the tree, tried to be good in hopes that Santa Claus would take notice and was always excited to open all those gifts.
I got older. I grew up. My grandparents passed away. My Christmases changed.
Once grown up, I had kids of my own. My wife and I put up those Christmas trees, wrapped those gifts for Santa while our children slept on Christmas Eve and always visited my parents — still there in East Enterprise — on Christmas Day.
Our kids grew up. My parents passed away.
So did my twin brother. My wife and I divorced. In essence, Christmases and life kept moving straight ahead. Nothing stayed the same.
Change: I’ve struggled with this my entire life.
I’m a sentimental person and memories, especially this time of year, fill my head with friends and family members no longer here.
I remember my twin brother and how creative he was when it came to wrapping gifts.
I remember my mother fixing oyster soup on Christmas Eve. I remember my grandparents being thrilled to watch their grandsons open their presents.
I remember holding up my infant daughter to place an ornament on the tree. I remember driving all over Cincinnati for that “Alf” talking, stuffed toy that my son wanted.
In the past, these sentimental thoughts have made me sad. My thinking has always been these happy times are history and I’ll never get them back — that the best is behind me.
With the help of therapy, family and friends, this depressed, selfish thinking — ever so slowly — has changed course. At 55, I’m learning a few new lessons in life.
While sorting through the muck in my head, I’ve come to realize that I’m lucky to have memories of those Christmases on the farm in East Enterprise. Those people who are now gone really aren’t gone at all because I remember them vividly. I need to cherish my past and make those memories a part of my future.
With my own children, when they think of Christmases past, I don’t want them to feel sad I’m gone. I don’t want them to have the same fucked up thoughts I’ve had in life. I want them to remember those special times we’ve had together and feel happy and know they were loved.
Maybe it’s about attitude. I need to continue to work on mine.
I have a tendency to not go out around this time of year or do any Christmas partying with my friends. I’ll change that this year. I’m lucky to have those friends who have stuck by me. It’s time to let them know I’m glad they’re in my life.
Somewhere in a box, I’ve got some old Christmas decorations that haven’t seen the light of day in years. Once I find that box, I’ll display those decorations in my apartment.
I recently found a picture of my grandparents taken many years ago shortly before Christmas.
That photo is now in a frame on my dresser.
Thinking back to my twin brother who got so creative when it came to wrapping Christmas gifts, I know I’ll never be as good as he was, but let the wrapping begin. I’ll be up to the challenge this season.
On Christmas Day, I’ll join my ex-wife and my daughter at my son’s house in Clifton. This will be his first Christmas as a homeowner. We’ll open our gifts and I’ll take plenty of pictures, create new holiday memories.
As for that little evergreen Christmas tree on my bookcase that my daughter gave me, I’m going to keep it in my apartment until spring arrives. After that, I don’t think my landlord would mind me planting it outside. It’ll be fun to watch the tree grow.
I’m learning that Christmas, or whatever you want to call it, is really whatever you make of that day.
I think for the Christmases I have left, I want them to be about family and friends, past and present. I want my remaining Christmases to show more appreciation for what I have in my life and think of those who haven’t been so lucky. I need to think and reach out to these people more.
Change. I can do this. I can continue to grow.
Fifty-five Christmases and counting. I don’t know how many I actually have left. I shouldn’t take any of them for granted.
I feel better now. Thanks for listening.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org