December is the month for parties, for gatherings of friends and families. Weekends are suddenly busy. Those of us who have children in college are looking forward to having them home for a month. My own two college kids are here this weekend so that we can go as a family to cut down a Christmas tree. The weather has cooperated; a snowstorm dumped about six inches of snow across the landscape yesterday. The glittering white world outside the sliding glass doors makes our firelit living room that much cozier.
Today, I am busy looking for a Santa hat for With-a-Why to wear to his Christmas piano recital this afternoon and trying to decide what tacky item from the house to bring to a party tonight that includes a "recycled gift" exchange. In theory, I should be also baking something delicious to bring to the party, but I predict we will instead be dashing to the grocery store on our way to grab something already-made. Spouse is writing out a list of chores for the kids to do, including moving the living room furniture around to make room for the Christmas tree we will be getting tomorrow. I am making my usual pronouncements about how the house has to be clean before we bring in a tree. Everyone is ignoring me.
In the midst of this busyness, I am thinking of a conversation I had this week with Kindergarten Friend. We were doing our usual recap of what was going on with family members and friends. My brother is engaged to a woman that Kindergarten Friend has known since childhood, and I told her she'd be seeing them at our party this year. For more than twenty years, my husband and I have thrown a party on the Saturday before Christmas Eve: this year, because it's so close to Christmas, everyone in my extended family will be there.
The holiday season, with its annual gatherings and traditions that never change, can be both a comforting reminder of the stability in our lives and a marker of loss. Kindergarten Friend and I reminisced about the times in childhood that I used to help decorate her family's Christmas tree. Her father died four years ago, but I can still clearly remember his comments thirty-five years ago about the Christmas tree we were decorating; we both laughed at the memory. Her father liked a tree that looked perfect, the decorations all evenly spaced out. I used to say that they were the only family I knew who get a live Christmas tree and shape it and decorate it so carefully that it looked artificial.
It is still hard to believe that Kindergarten Friend and I are both grown up. I have a daughter who will be spending spring semester in London; even some of my kids are adults now! Kindergarten Friend's kids are both still young, but she has a nephew who is about the same age as my daughter. He is in the air force.
"We won't be seeing him over the holidays," she said.
She paused. I said nothing, because I knew what would come next. Every holiday season now, some of the young people in our community are absent.
"He was shipped to Iraq last Friday."