I flipped over the wreath…
I held in my hands to make sure the wire loop was secure but instead of hanging it, I thought about our home. It had plenty of room to raise a family, an office for me, fireplace and nice yard… it was a great. While we had it.
On the back of the wreath was the little tag my wife put on all our keepsakes so she’ll know when we got them. This one read: November 21, 2008. Not long ago but it seemed an eternity.
That was a good year. My job was going well and we bought a house. We had looked forward to that for so long. Dreaming of the day when we wouldn’t be jammed in a small apartment like we’d lived in since our marriage six years before. It had grown tinier with Anna’s birth almost on our first anniversary. We’d pushed to get the purchase closed so we could move in before Thanksgiving and celebrate in the first real home of our own. Diane insisted we stop after the closing to buy the perfect wreath she’d found to go over the fireplace mantle for the holidays. Seeing her so happy and excited made me smile.
During the holiday season, on cold nights, we’d make a fire. I insisted on real wood… not those fake logs. I bought a cord at a time, sometimes getting bigger pieces I’d split myself in the backyard and bring in to stock the wood box next to the hearth. I can still feel the heft of the axe as I swung and when blade bit into the wood. A sharp, crisp, sound in the frigid air. A solid feel all the way from hands, to wrist and up through my arms. In some primal way it meant something good to me… that tactile sense. Then the making of the fire; a bit of kindling and some wadded newspaper to get the smaller pieces going. That first smell of wood smoke as it caught… the crackling and snapping sound as the fire ate into the wood. The moment of holding my icy hands to the fire; warming them and then turning to warm my frozen butt, too. It always felt good. It was home.
We’d sit drinking hot cocoa. Just us three: Anna in her Kermit the Frog pajamas, in front of the fire, cupping her Santa mug in her hands, me and Diane on the couch, my arm around her. We’d watch the flames dance, the flickering orange fingers seemed to tickle the three stockings hanging from the mantle. What was the line from that song, Music Box, from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’sGhosts of Christmas Eve, ‘The fire held the room in its warm embrace?’ Yeah. It was just like that.
The wreath above the fireplace was Norman Rockwell picture-perfect—just as Diane thought it would be. It was like us; a closed loop, whole and certain in its continuity, purpose and meaning. Those were good times; warm times. Two years later it all was taken away.
Diane wants to put the wreath on the wall over the TV. It’s really the only spot we have for it. I don’t want it there glaring at me. I think it misses its place over the mantle and blames me. Join the club.
I set the wreath on the table next to the couch and look out the window, but there’s no absolution there. An early, hard, winter storm had set in. The snow and sleet slapped the windows as if to wake people inside. It was blowing from all directions, like the stinging, agitated, thoughts swirling in my head. We had to let our home go and were still barely getting by. Still I think of what went wrong and what I… what we… lost.
The Christmas lights on the streetlamp outside, white, blue and gold, shimmered through the frosty pane. Inside, the plastic candles with the flickering red lights and holly berry base that my wife had sat on the windowsill were reflected on the glass. Out or in, the colors seemed dim shades of holidays past.
I heard laughter, pure like the ring of the sweetest of bells, and turned. Anna sat at the table in the tiny combination kitchen and eating area. Smiling and laughing, she made gingerbread houses with Diane, whose apron stretched tight over her expected brother that would come with the New Year. Anna looked at me with the gap-toothed Cheshire cat grin she had since losing two top front teeth. She’s beautiful like her mom who saw me watching and beckoned.
When I didn’t move she came over to where I stood looking, but not looking, out the window. “Close your eyes.” I do, then feel soft, warm, lips on mine, the press of her growing belly against me and a one-armed hug, a strong arm that holds me tight. Then another hug from two smaller arms this time that wrap around my waist. Opening my eyes, I see Diane is holding a sprig of mistletoe over my head. She lowered it and put both arms around me. I squeezed her tight feeling again the firm fullness of motherhood in her stomach and breasts—such strength in them and in her. Over her shoulder I saw Anna, face tilted up, her grin dialed to 10x power as she hugged us both.
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, sweetie.”
I whispered in Diane’s ear, “I love you more than I can ever show you.”
Her lips were on mine again, and then she rested her head on my chest.
With their arms around me I realized something with a bone-deep certainty. It stirred what I thought was gone; lost with all those things a year ago. Its warmth backed off the chill and I knew that what’s important in life is my family. They’re still with me, still love me. What we lost were just things. If we want, we’ll get them back one day. We’ve had tough times to get through and we’re still together and love each other. That’s what matters. That’s what counts. One day we’ll have a new house and a fireplace and mantle for the wreath to smile down at us, and a kitchen big enough to fit all of us. It’ll have a great yard, enough to run and play in for Anna and the puppy I promised her… and for my son.
A timer went off in the kitchen; the buzz called for Diane and Anna’s attention. They let go of me. I heard the clatter of metal sheets coming out of the oven and with them the smell of fresh baked cookies. I took a deep breath and sighed at the scent.
The silence outside drew me back to the window. The wind had dropped and snow now drifted down, each fleck a small shaving from winter’s beard, a slow pirouette in the night sky. The flakes flickered in and out of sight as bands of light from car headlights painted them against a dark backdrop.
I turned from the dark and cold outside and picked up the wreath I’d set aside. I hung it on the wall over the TV and stepped back to see how it looked. What I had newly realized, a few minutes ago, was what it stood for. It’s a symbol of home, family and of love. How could I have lost sight of that? It was always there in front of me. Home is where my wife and children are. It’s not some fixed location or piece of real estate. It’s being together and loving each other, no matter the circumstances. That’s what makes a home.
And we don’t need to wait for things we want that we can have now if we choose to. We can find a place that will allow pets… maybe with a park nearby. A puppy would be perfect. I smile as I turn back to my family, “Is there room for me to squeeze in and help with the gingerbread houses?”
VIA: Dennis Lowery.com
- Wreaths Across America (wnep.com)
- Wreaths on Wreaths on Wreaths on Wednesday (thesparklesisters.wordpress.com)
- The Cutest Gingerbread Houses (potterybarnkids.com)