Christmas in Maine was routine.
Not a hum-drum sort of thing but rather something to count on.
Thanksgiving led to Christmas Eve at the Congo church that kicked off restless sleep before Santa came.
Before sunrise could emerge my sister and I would locate our bulging knit stockings and empty the contents as our parents looked on.
Then in heightened anticipation of the rest of the day, my mother’s elegant, candle-lit breakfast would be ever-so-slightly rushed.
In record time dishes were washed and put away so that the only thing standing between us and racing toward gift exchanges was Nana Webster’s deliberation.
And trust me when I say her Christmas-day pace was remarkably relaxed.
She admired each gift.
It was held up and received as if it had been personally delivered by one of the three kings.
Because to her it had been.
And as our elder, she got to go first in the slow rotation — one person, one gift at a time.
It’s a cadence I’ve come to love.
To grandmother’s house we go
Halfway through the day we’d bundle up and walk three houses down to be with our other grandparents where happy chaos prevailed.
They were faster, didn’t save paper like mom and Nana, and one of them used expletives like most of us throw out thank yous.
“Well for *&@!#%’s sake, who gave me this?” my grandmother would ask.
With a door always open to nine children and spouses, 21 grandchildren, great grandchildren and long-time friends, even ordinary days in their home were high-energy events.
And rarely a day passed in my youth when I wasn’t in their company for at least part of it.
This segment of the Christmas ritual meant watching as they opened packages between pausing for coffee warm ups, taking calls from friends, and greeting relatives entering and exiting the scene.
Witnessing joy in one another was what these days were about.
As an adult I count my blessings for each year I get to spend with my husband and children.
And it’s inevitable that sometime during Christmas day, reflection will appear.
I’ll miss kicking off wet boots to rush into cousin Berta’s room to see what Santa left.
I’ll sense a longing for the sweet scent of baking bread and will feel the acute, still undefined loss that accompanied the stocking’s end as I reached the navel orange that filled the toe.
Such a poor use of space, I still think . . .
I’ll miss my mom and my dad, the man who modeled agape love.
I’ll think about Nana and Grampie Bob and my beloved Grammie.
Dog memories of Patches, Rocky, Wags and Tippy will color in the background.
And in a flash the foundation responsible for this year’s Christmas will be acknowledged with a nod to the past and a prayer of thanksgiving for the joy I get to witness right here and right now.