Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Favorite Christmas

In the summer of 2000 Aidan was 4 and Brennan was about 1-and-a-half. With no idea of what we were really getting ourselves into, Jo and I stepped off a cliff and moved the whole family from Edmonton to Logan, Utah, a small city (75,000 or so people, including the surrounding county) about a half hour south of the Idaho border, largely populated by Mormons. I didn't have a visa for work; Jo's job was why we were down there, and we discovered that I might be able to do something about that but it would take a chunk of time and an even bigger chunk of change, all directed towards a lawyer. So I stayed home and was a house husband, something that every so often raised an eyebrow down there.

We did eventually make some friends, although it often took both time and some pig-headedness on our parts. Early on Jo and I had to make due with acquaintances, but at least Aidan (and to a lesser extent Brennan, because of how young he was) was able to make friends fairly quickly.

In early autumn there was a problem with something in the laundry room: I can't remember if it was the washer, or maybe the furnace, which shared the space, but whatever it was, I wasn't able to deal with it. I called the landlord, a good and decent man who lived up the block and whose grandson was already Aidan's best friend, and after looking he decided to call in a repairman.

We talked, that repairman and I. Like many others who lived down there, he was surprised to find that someone had moved there from Canada and yet wasn't a Mormon. But he was a nice enough fellow, and already it was good for me to every so often have a grown up conversation.

Fast forward to late December, just before Christmas. We were staying put that year; the drive back to Edmonton to be with my family was close to 12 hours in good weather, and if we wanted to see Jo's family in Peace River another 5 or more hours would be tacked on top of that. And Christmas is not the time of year that either her family or mine travel, due to other commitments. No real friends yet, remember, although we were invited (along with a number of seniors from a residence and a few other unattached families and singles) to our babysitter's home for a big meal on Christmas. And while that ended up being a fine meal, it was so large and unwieldy that it felt a little impersonal, or like attending a charity meal.

Anyhow, one night just before Christmas - perhaps the very night before, although my memory has let that slip away - the doorbell rang. I went and opened the door and was greeted by the sight of Santa Claus, accompanied by a young girl, about 10, dressed as an elf. He made the requisite Santa-like noises, and then, seeing the evident confusion on my face (was this a Mormon tradition I was unaware of?) he pulled down his beard ever so slightly and reminded me that he'd been my repairman a few months before. Turns out he'd recognized somehow that a) we weren't going anywhere, b) weren't having family visit us and c) we were feeling mightily removed from the surrounding community.

I invited him in and we went to find the boys. Somewhere, buried in a box, there are pictures of Aidan and Brennan accepting candy canes from Santa and from Emily the Elf. Neither boy was brave enough to confront him head on, though, and so both had to hide behind Jo and then, with some coaxing from Santa and their parents, reach out just far enough to get their fingertips on the candy canes. Santa talked to the boys, and they played shy, and then he wished us all a very Merry Christmas and left, politely not noticing how close to tears I was.

Both Aidan and Brennan were pretty keen about this visit. After the fact, of course. And to this day Aidan says he thinks he can remember it.

There was no proselytizing that night, so attempt to see us on the rightness of one way versus the wrongness of another. Instead, all we saw was a glimpse of humanity, a man and a child who knew that perhaps just a tiny gesture would be enough to intervene on the potential gloom that can overwhelm you when you're alone - because even together, sometimes we forget and get lost in that loneliness - and remind you that there are good people out there.

We're "alone" again this Christmas. We haven't gone to visit family, and, same as always, they can't come visit us. Our dearest friends live in other cities, although we do have friends here, and will be seeing some of them over the next few days. But we have each other, and we try to step up for other people when we can, and, you know, the peace and quiet of a small family Christmas isn't quite so smothering as it once was.

Merry Christmas, all, and Happy Holidays. And let me leave you with a link to our friend Maria Dunn singing "God Bless Us Everyone" from The Carol Project.

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