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Shopping with the Ghosts of Holidays Past

By Lori Welch Brown

Shopping with the Ghosts of Holidays Past

Holidays make me melancholy.  Given that the holiday season now officially begins before the ghosts and goblins have left the building, the ache is encouraged to fester early and often.  Between Mariah Carey’s voice and the faux pine scent being pumped out, there are ample opportunities to be triggered.  Fa la la la BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.

I’m no Grinch by any stretch, but some of us prefer a slow roll into the holiday season.  Some of us are awash in memories of sitting around the table with loved ones who are no longer here, raising glasses to ghosts.  Some of us are yearning for one last meal with our beloved Dad, would give a kidney to buy Mom one more bottle of her favorite perfume, or are mourning the end of a union.

Please allow us time to dance with our ghosts a bit before launching Cupid and the Easter bunny at us.

As we transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, my memories grow stronger and the grief gains momentum.  I find it harder and harder to stay grounded and present when my mind keeps transporting me back to the holiday of my youth.

In our household, the beginning of the holiday season was marked by two events: Santa waving from his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Day parade and the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog delivered to our door.  Let’s just say the Welch’s didn’t kick off the holidays with peace and joy, but rather a fight between siblings to see who would get to ogle and drool all over its pages first.  That poor catalog would be dog-eared and Kool-Aid stained within hours of its arrival.  I’m sure our parents wished we studied our textbooks or were at least half as excited over them as we were that catalog.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mom and Dad would load me and my brother Marty into the car and we’d head off to Landmark Shopping Center.  This was the era before malls.  It was anchored by Sears and Woodward & Lothrop (and maybe Hecht’s?) and Santa’s workshop was placed in the middle. It was the place where we sat on Santa’s lap and told him which pages he could find the things we wanted. Then we would head off to Sears so Mom and Dad could knock out some Christmas shopping.

Either my parents couldn’t afford babysitters, or didn’t believe in them because as they filled the cart with items that were remarkably the same as the ones on our lists they’d say, “The Sargent’s asked us to pick up these gifts for their nieces and nephews.”  Our neighbors were perfectly capable of doing their own shopping, but this story went unquestioned for years.

That memory brings a smile to my face.  I laugh when I think about the year Mom unwrapped her gift from Dad, a new vacuum.  She had wanted an air hockey table.  Not good, but a step up from the year he got her a butter dish. XXL isn’t great at shopping, but even he knows better than to drag a butter dish home and wrap it up.

For whatever reason, our small house was the Christmas Eve pit stop and gathering place for neighbors and relatives alike.  Dad wasn’t much of a drinker, but on Christmas Eve, the make-shift bar was stocked and the pours were plentiful and generous.  Mom’s brother, Uncle Ronald, was the life of the party.  We were his last stop before heading home, but definitely not his first.  At 6’7”, he held court at our small kitchen table, retelling stories year after year that we never tired of hearing. By the end of the night, he was trying to give each of us kids fresh $100 bills which was like the equivalent of a thousand dollars now.  We were never allowed to keep the money, but he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer so you’d just have to take it and hand it off to mom for safekeeping.  Luckily, Uncle Ronald lived close by, but there were a few years when Dad had to drive him home and put a few bikes together for him.

Years after Mom and Uncle Ronald passed and our childhood home was sold, my Christmas Eve tradition shifted to parties at my bestie Holly’s house.  The house and festive “garage-ma-jal”, as Holly called it, was overflowing with people drinking, smoking, talking, and laughing the night away.  And, the white elephant gift exchange was a highlight not to be missed.

Her husband and kids pulled it off for quite a few years after she passed, but it was never the same without her laughter filling the house.

The memories of holidays past make me smile, but they also make me sad.  I’m grateful for the gifts, but didn’t realize they would disappear before I was ready to let them go.  If only my memories were more vivid.  If only I could remember Uncle Ronald’s stories the way only he could tell them.  If only I could hear Holly’s laugh one more time.  If only I could hug Mom and Dad and thank them for all those trips to see Santa and our time together.

My tree will be decorated, my stockings hung.  And, I will try to stay in the moment and enjoy the time I have with my loved ones after I’ve danced with the ghosts of holidays past and reveled in the memories they’ve left me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my family to yours.  May you be blessed with people and pets to love and may you experience that love tenfold.  And, if your loved ones have gone on before you, I hope your soul is blessed with the memories of their spirits so they can live on through you.

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