Home for the Holidays

By E. Adam Porter, Editor in Chief

 

In an effort to avoid some of the horrendous “holiday” muzak that follows me around as I do my Christmas shopping — on the radio, in the stores, and at restaurants — I’ve been working on a playlist filled with songs, both traditional carols and more modern tunes, that actually put in the Christmas spirit. As I write this, the day before Thanksgiving — don’t judge — my Christmas playlist is going in the background.

Just heard The Drifters singing White Christmas — something foreign to this Florida boy — and now Perry Como is crooning, “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Cause no matter how far away you roam. When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home…”

By now, you’re probably singing right along with Perry (from Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!). For me, this Christmas, that song has a special meaning. For the first time in too many years, my whole family will be here to celebrate the entire holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

My eldest, Christian, 25, who has been able to catch the occasional Christmas Day dinner during leave from the Air Force, is home for good. He finished his extended enlistment, and is now pursuing a career as an electrician.

For the first time since we put him on a plane to San Antonio for Basic Training nearly seven years ago, he will be joining us for Turkey Day and all our traditional Christmas season celebrations — riding the “train” at the tree farm, cutting and trimming the tree, setting up our train and our Nativity, chugging cocoa and singing carols as we go light looking, sneaking in presents after the little guys fall asleep, and watching our favorite Christmas movies together.

It doesn’t matter that we can quote every line — we cheer for Clark Griswold, laugh at Ralphie’s pink bunny PJs, dance with Danny Kaye, sing with Bing Crosby, fret with Charlie Brown, and hold tight as the Polar Express slides across the ice toward the North Pole, as if we’re watching every story for the very first time. And, at least one of us might just tear up a little bit when a certain narrator says, “…the bell still rings for me.”

On Christmas morning, I will be up well before the sun, making sure “Santa” left everything in order under the tree, finishing up any cookies the Big Guy might have missed, and getting the coffee started. As the sun winks over the horizon, the little guys will come bounding down the stairs, begging to start tearing open the presents. But we will wait for the rest of the family. Mama – still yawning – will pad downstairs shortly thereafter in her favorite fluffy socks. And, at some point, the front door will open, and this grown man will walk into the living room.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that this same guy bounded out of his bedroom to find the bike “he always wanted” waiting under the tree? So many years ago, but, if I squint just a little, I can peek through time. There he is, with his red Santa hat and skateboard company t-shirt, smiling wide as he climbs aboard his new BMX.

There was another Christmas, a few years later, when we worked together, day and night, to finish a halfpipe skateboard ramp that eventually filled one entire side of our backyard. It was the first major building project we worked on together, but it wouldn’t be the last. These days, the way he’s going with this electrician trade, it won’t be long before he’s teaching his old man a thing or two.

A few years after the skate ramp Christmas, we were packing up Chris’ stuff, anticipating the day we would hug his neck and entrust him to the “loving embrace” of the USAF. Thinking back, I’m reminded that, this Christmas, thousands of families all across our great land are contemplating the same departure. Millions more are glancing at the empty chair at their table. Some are comforted that, one day soon, that chair will be filled again. For others, that empty chair is evidence of a heartbreaking promise of many more Christmases and many more empty chairs.

From those across the world serving their country, to those serving their community, to those who have lost their homes in hurricanes or wildfires, and those who lost loved ones to war and sickness and time, “Home for the Holidays” is a gift they will not receive this season. Knowing this, I am even more aware of all the blessings I so often forget to count.

I won’t forget to count them this year. There they are — one, two, three — mama makes four, and Chris’ delightful girlfriend joining us brings my Christmas morning blessing count to five. It’s a small number to mean so much… But, when you haven’t had it in so long, everyone being home for the holidays is all that matters. Not what’s under the tree, but who gathers around it.  

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