When I was growing up in Closter, New Jersey, there was beautiful blue fir right outside my balcony window. I can only recall one white Christmas. The snow blanketed the pine needles, turning the outdoors into a winter wonderland. It was even more fantastical than anything Hollywood could produce.
Over the years, my mother suggested we go on vacation for Christmas. I was dead set against this. I don’t recall ever believing in Santa Claus, so it’s not as if I was afraid Santa wouldn’t find us to drop off the gifts. Rather, I knew that if we went on vacation that would mean less gifts because the money would go toward hotel rooms.
Also, even as a young child I felt it important for my family to be all together in our home. My father was usually working so we didn’t spend a lot of time together as a whole family. Holidays represented a time for us to come together, and it seemed like for something as holy as Christmas we should be in our house instead of each running off in different directions on the beach and distracted by landmarks. We’d done enough traveling for me to know that trying to please children with seven years of age difference and parents with dissimilar interests never worked.
Once the last of the children had flown the nest, we stopped spending Christmas as a family altogether.
Nine years later, we reunited for Christmas in Florida. Instead of a blue fir, there was a palm tree outside my window.
I remember the first time I ever saw a palm tree in real life. I was in fifth grade and had gone with my family to Florida to see my grandma and go to Disney World. We got off the plane, and pulling out of the airport I saw the many palmed leaves of a palm tree against the backdrop of a blue sky. It looked like a cheerleader’s pom-pom or a wig on a Muppet. I was enamored.
We spent Christmas this year in my grandma’s condo. I remember playing out in the backyard with my little sister, taking photographs of us with the exotic palm trees. The same palm trees still shake their confetti heads into the coastal breeze. But so much has changed…. My sister, for one, is no longer little. She is a woman with a life of her own. She has a career in which she speaks about resolutions and treaties to delegates from around the world. She will one day, maybe before I’m even ready for it, have her own family.
For every new beginning, there is also an ending.
Many years ago, my grandma died. She died on the day of my sister’s high-school graduation.
That was more than a decade ago, and her immaculate white condo still reeks of the cigarettes she smoked that caused her lung cancer. The cigarette smoke is in the white chairs and in the white sofa and seeped into the white carpet. And when I flew back to New York City, I realized my grandma’s smell had clung to my black puffy jacket. A part of her came with me.
I miss my grandma a lot. It was hard for me being back in her place without her even though I’d been there only two other times since she passed away. Various members of my family have spent significant time there, but it’s still her place to me. Her presence lingers so strong that even all these years later her smell is still a part of her home.
In another day or so, the smell of cigarette smoke will leave my jacket, but for now I want to hold onto it. I want to hold onto her.
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