It clearly will be a different Christmas.
For the first time in more than two decades, all members of our family will spend Christmas Eve together and wake up under the same roof on Christmas Day before flying off later that night.
There will be no missing Kelly kid in some far-off land, no can’t-miss Christmas basketball tournament in another city, and no “off year” mandatory time by a member at the in-laws.
We will exchange gifts and stories with only our immediate family before most board evening flights and head off to different posts around the globe. I look forward to hearing their memories of their early childhood Christmases at my parents’ house, a wonderful spot my folks owned for 46 years.
When my dad died a little more than fourteen years ago, mom sold the large family home and moved into a nearby condominium, keeping the memories of the local area alive yet leaving the emptiness and upkeep of an old structure. Only one of seven children remains in that area and visiting siblings shuffled between his home and mom's "step-saver" condo.
Not long ago, mom left the old neighborhood and moved to be closer to my two sisters, a brother and their families. Will our kids even ask what became of the house where they first experienced Santa gifts? Will they share their recollections of the huge backyard, driveway basketball hoop and cozy sidewalks surrounding my parents' home?
The old neighborhood is packed with holiday memories. My first experience of a Christmas play (the nuns of the Blessed Virgin Mary loved to label it “the children's holiday pageant”) occurred just five blocks from that house. The extravaganza was - and probably still is - viewed from an oh-so comfortable Samson steel folding chair in the rear of a packed hall and around parents darting toward the stage with powerful cameras anticipating the perfect Kodak moment when their Freddy - only a blur from four rows deep in the student band - clangs the symbols to mark the surprise conclusion of “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
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I thought about those Christmas plays this week when I considered the number of such events my parents - with seven children - had witnessed. I can remember standing on those steel chairs as a small child, looking toward the entry/exit for my father to come flying in the door late from work, his necktie flopping about his chest as he lunged in the darkness to find the seat my mother carefully guarded with her folded overcoat.
“Did you remember the camera?” she would ask him in a tone all around her could hear. “And what about the film?!”
The crowd - and everyone knew everyone - would begin schussing my mom, index fingers on lips, with the not-so-subtle: “Jane, we can't hear!”
My dad would respond with an answer-all “relax!” He then miraculously would expose a tiny camera with the huge flash that looked like a pie tin with 40-watt bulb in the middle of it that simultaneously lit and blinded the hall and all of its spectators.
When the last carol was sung and the final nativity scene photographed, the venue would shift to the parish hall for conversation and cookies.
“Didn't Michael look just like Joseph?” Sister Mary Arcadia asked me so many decades ago.
“I guess so.”
The scene changed little, except for the quality of camera and the nuns. Substitute Jodi for Jane, me for my dad, and you had virtually the same Christmas pageant experience a generation later. I often came flying in late from work and even used “relax” (I am somehow allergic to “chill”) as a semiconscious response.
I failed to ask my dad if he missed the Christmas play - or the thought of sitting in those folding chairs. What became of the rolls of film he shot from that archaic camera?
I will ask my mom – on the telephone - next week. I will also ask my wife where she stored all of the holiday photos she has taken. I'd like to know because I’d like to see them at our Christmas celebration.
Not only would I love seeing them, but who knows when we’ll all be together again.
As author, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and talk-show host, Tom Kelly has carved a niche as one of the leading real estate and finance journalists. His book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Stewart International, and is available in retail stores and on Amazon.com. He and his wife, Jodi, Dean of the Humanities College at Seattle University live on Bainbridge Island, WA. Their four grown children are spread out around the world and their first grandchild, Myles Thomas, makes them goofy with joy. You can connect with Tom on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tom.kelly.37604303, or check out his website at http://tomkelly.com.
Tom Kelly’s novel “Cold Crossover” is now available in print at bookstores everywhere and in both print and Ebook form from a variety of digital outlets. Follow real estate agent and former basketball coach Ernie Creekmore as investigates the disappearance of his star player on a late-night boat. Check out the national reviews and put “Cold Crossover” on your list.