When the Holidays Aren’t Holly

The Christmas celebrations of my youth were full of great memories that would be hard to recount in a blog.  Being the only child of two devoted parents meant I was loaded to the max on Christmas morning with many of the latest toys, clothes, and music.  We ate breakfast, opened gifts, danced and laughed until it was time to go to the main event.  Even on our way to the main event, we stopped at several houses to keep up the chain of laughter and good cheer – my mama’s mama (Rosye), my auntie and whoever else we wanted to see.  

I had enough cousins to totally make me forget I was an only child because it was highly likely one or more of them would spend at least one night of the holidays at our house.  We danced and laughed so much with each other that we would get into trouble for not going to sleep.  And the dance contests were the perfect stomping grounds for us to hone our newest dance moves snatched from the Saturday morning viewings of Soul Train. No one could beat one of my older cousins doing the Robot. When she dropped down on that knee and swung her arm, the entire room exploded. 

Needless to say, we never went without the most delectable food you can imagine for Christmas day.  All kinds of pies and cakes; vegetables that even I could not turn my head at because I never ate them with my mama; and meat dishes that tickled your nostrils from around the block.  Oh, the home made honey baked hams were my favorite.  For the longest I just yelled, “Mama, can I have some pink meat!” And there was no denying how special I was to have two grandmothers that could make macaroni and cheese.  It was an overload for a straight 24 hours from Christmas morning to the next day every single year. 

Even after my parents divorced, I kept the same cycle of holiday hopping on Christmas day.  I always wound out the celebrations at my paternal grandmother’s (Rosie) home.  I promise you she had the smallest home on the block and the largest crowd in the city.  She really should have had a mansion for as many people as she fed and entertained over the years.  Several times over the years, we had famous musicians in our midst because my gospel genius uncle would bring them to the house.  

If you grew up in such a culture similar to mine, you know how the layout was in the house.  One room had music playing so loud that you could barely hear yourself talking but it was just right for the dancers showing off their new skills.  Another room had card tables for dominoes and spades that rattled when the old men slammed them down even if they did not have the winning score.  The kitchen was the hub of everything with people walking in and out so much that there should have been a revolving door.  There was always someone washing dishes, someone peering in the stove, someone at the table eating, someone leaning over the bar smelling deserts, and that person at the backdoor yelling between the inside and outside because they couldn’t make up their mind about which party they wanted to entertain for the next ten minutes.  

Oh, and the kids running in and out of every room was incredible.  I remember the first year I was no longer interested in leaving that trail of energy alongside my cousins.  I was more interested in the debate going on in the front room about the likelihood of Hispanics outnumbering Blacks within 20 years because we were too bougie to have more than 2.2 kids.  And for years after, I sat in the front room where the tenets of existence were laid out, discussed to ad nauseum, and debated over heaping plates of peach cobbler, pecan pie, and pound cake. 

 

So it went well into my college years.  I showed up to Christmas on my own now without so much as the fanfare from yesteryears because the families were fragmented.  Too many of us were struggling with truly difficult problems so the joy of gathering just disappeared.  On this particular Christmas I showed up a little early and my grandmama was in the kitchen.

I walked in and sat down as was usual and she wasted no time in addressing my playing hookie on Thanksgiving day. 

Just a month prior, when Thanksgiving rolled around, I simply did not feel like being around anyone.  I had a heavy course load during my junior year of college, I was broke even though I was working three jobs, and I was tired.  So, as I was getting dressed to drive home for the dinner, I realized I did not want to comb my hair, put on any makeup, or iron any clothes.  Instead, I threw on some sweats, tousled my hair, and went to Winn Dixie.  I bought a box of yellow cake mix, some icing, and came home.  I mixed the cake and while I waited for it to cook, I sat in the middle of my living room floor and told my daddy I wasn’t coming.  He took a minute to believe me that I was okay, but he finally let me off the phone with a promise to talk the next day.  

I sat on the floor in front of my console floor model television with my sweats on and ate the entire cake.  I remember applauding myself on choosing rest even though I really wanted the pink meat with a heaping side of macaroni and cheese.  Nevertheless, I had no qualms about laying on the floor for the better part of that day eating lemon cake until the phone rang after the sun had set. 

“Hello,” I said into the receiver.

“Staci, this grandmama,” no hint of laughter in her voice. 

“Hi,”

“Don’t do this again,” she said matter of factly as if we had spoken minutes before and was resuming the conversation. 

“Huh?” I replied to her because I really did not register that she was calling to fuss. 

“Don’t sit over there again and be by yourself.  We need you and you need us.” 

“Okay,”

“You okay? Ya daddy said that you’re okay.”

“Yep, I’m good.  Just laying down.” 

“Are you sick?” she asked with a hint of worry in her voice. 

“No, just tired,” I explained. 

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” 

“I didn’t say,” I started

“I said I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m saving you a plate,” repeated with emphasis on the unsaid of – you’re going to eat. 

 

While I did not get upset after the phone call, it did give me something else to consider as I laid on the floor eating the remainder of the most delicious lemon cake I ever ate.  Seriously, I have never had another one as good as that one.  She said they needed me and I needed them.  Never had I considered that in the midst of fatigue, I was rejecting the very thing I needed – energy from people who love and treasure me just as much as I do them.  

So when I showed up early on Christmas day, I was prepared for part two of the discussion about my absenteeism because I did not make the trip the next day as she had mentioned.  My early arrival was well worth the added energy it took to get up and get moving to arrive before everyone else.  Hearing her explain how the mind will pull away when the heart is heavy helped me truly understand what happened that day a month prior. 




She cautioned me in doing so much that my mind became consumed with my obligations that it rejected those things that feed my soul.  She did not fuss and she did not have any tension in her voice.  The time was actually comforting and I am sure the piping hot plate of macaroni and cheese helped to seal the message.  

Our burdens swirl in our mind and consume so much of our energy that we are depleted.  Spending time with people who treasure us is one of several sources we have to restore.  If we miss that time, as so many of us are doing in 2020 due to the pandemic, we find that our reserves fall far too low.  Make sure you read my blog on creative ways to cope as they may be helpful in recovering the positive energy for the holiday season.  If you need some help digging in to recalibrate and restore, please seek some help from a licensed mental health clinician.  You deserve it.