I’m not a big fan of Christmas, but there are a few things about the season I do enjoy.
For example, I think the animated special “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” might be the greatest single-episode program in the history of television. I’ve watched it every year for more than five decades, and it tugs at my heartstrings every time. Maybe it is because I identify so much with the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.
Something else that puts a lump in my throat is the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” While I have lived here in Verona for much longer than I lived in New Hampshire, my mind travels east when I hear that song.
Over the last 35 years, I have only been home for Christmas once, about 33 years ago, and my wife still speaks of that experience through gritted teeth.
We had spent the better part of Christmas Eve day bopping around the country on airplanes and arrived just before midnight. On Christmas morning, my mother, laboring under the delusion I was still 8years old and would want to rush to the tree to see what Santa had brought me, thought it would be fun to wake me and my relatively new bride up at the crack of dawn with a rousing, if off-key, chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
Nonetheless, the magical thing about music – even bad music like that – is hearing it can propel you back to another time in life like nothing else really can.
When I was a kid, a department store chain in New England, W.T. Grant, released an annual Christmas album featuring a variety of famous voices performing seasonal standards. I think mom owned them all, and they included several renditions of the song. The versions I best remember were recorded by Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley.
Any time I hear one of those old crooners – Dean Martin, Jim Neighbors, Burl Ives – doing Christmas music, I am flung back to the drafty living room of our tiny house and my mother’s old record player. I think of snowy New Hampshire winters, Christmas cookies and mom leading us in song as we listened to those records.
Mom wasn’t the greatest singer, but it didn’t really matter. It was more about the experience than the melody.
Still, it seems incredibly unfair that I think of that as “home” when I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
My wife, our two boys and I made plenty of Christmas memories in the house where I still live, but being home for Christmas still recalls someplace else.
When my kids were in college, we would talk of them coming home for Christmas, but then my wife would speak of the annual trip to her parents’ as “going home.”
Perhaps home isn’t so much a place as a feeling. Perhaps home is wherever you are that feels comfortable.
This year, unfortunately, traveling anywhere for Christmas is out of the question. And as my luck would have it, this is one time I’d like to hit the road.
My mother has been battling two types of cancer for several years, and my family thought last year would be her last Christmas. We were wrong. While this year has had many more lows than highs and her health remains incredibly tenuous, she is still with us.
I would love to spend the holiday with her. Even though I’m not a big Christmas guy, I know it means a great deal to her and she would like having me there.
But I also know large holiday gatherings are playgrounds for the virus. With her age and delicate condition, indulging myself now could bring bad tidings in the new year.
Thankfully, she knows that, too.
And fortunately, I have options that were not available when mom and I were singing Christmas songs in the 1960s and ’70s. Video calls were science fiction and those days, and even a long-distance phone call was a special event people tried to limit to truly special occasions.
So, as much as it stinks, I will do the right thing and stay at home, the home in Verona, for Christmas. Maybe I’ll be able to see her again come spring.
A call will have to do this year, and maybe when I call, we’ll even sing.
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”